Brief Japanese – history of て form, why is it so iregullar and why の can follow and all its uses explained.
Yo! I am mrnoone and want to share with you everything I know about て form (briefly).
Since Japanese students have a lot of problems because it has so many uses, strange conjugations, and seems incredibly irregular in general. So I have decided to solve all of those issues with this post.
To understand て form we have to go back in past to see how it all started, and why modern Japanese learners have to memorize its conjugations.
It all started in classical Japanese with an auxiliary verb つ (auxiliary forms, unlike normal verbs, are dependant, that is they cannot function by themselves and are added to various conjugations of verbs and adjectives).
つ originally expressed completion of the action (like た and ました in modern japanese), certainty (like 確かに in modern japanese), and affirmation. Later it also expressed the meaning of parallel actions in つ〜つ construction, which is alive even today).
未然形（imperfective form (things that not happened), nai stem)
連用形(conjunctive form (connects), masu stem)
終止形(predicative form, ending form)
連体形(attributive form, noun modifying form)
已然形(realis form (thing that happened, used with ば and ども as in けれども)
命令形(imperative form) used for orders
In this table, we can see some very, very familiar forms.
The modern て form originates from the 連用形 of the つ form.
The 連用形 (conjunctive form, continuative form, masu-stem, or formal conjunctive) is the form of a verb that indicates simultaneous or sequential action. Auxiliary verbs that express something completing were attached to 連用形 and つ was one of them. Combination of the complete meaning and simultaneous/sequential action meaning gave us one of the て form functions.
(I think many might find it interesting that 連用形 also works like a nominalizer, for example
When it is followed by particle に (に行く), similarly 連用形 of adjectives also allows them to function as nouns, that’s why particle は can follow 連用形 of adjectives, and why 多く is considered a noun as in 多くの) since て form is 連用形 of つ, therefore, it also has some of this properties, that’s why we can sometimes see において followed by particles like の、は、も for example においての、にしては、にしても）. This usage gave birth to many modern, independent nouns.
連用形 also can modify verbs and all inflected forms that follow it, in other words, it works as an adverb.
連用形 (masu stem)
連用形 + て
(To make it simple, I used modern forms of verbs)
Then the sound changes happened, because people simplified pronunciation, to talk easier and faster.
The first sound change was the I sound change (the same I mentioned in the previous post about history of i adjectives, which gave birth to い adjectives). The き and ぎ conjugations changed to just い.
Then the nasalized sound change happened and び、み、に became nasal ん and were followed by a voiced version of the following article (in other words で for te form, だり for たり and so on)
And then ち、ひ and り changed to つ, which changed into つ (which in Heian period changed to small, つ making pronunciation even easier).
As you probably noticed, I have omitted modern verbs ending with う. There is a reason.
Well, they didn’t exist back then, as they are the product of voice changes themselves and had more complicated conjugations.
At the time
連用 + て
思ひて(ふ changed into ひ)
I won’t go into details about why ふ changes to ひ, since it’s for another article, but it has a lot to do with why we pronounce は as wa.
As I mentioned above, ひ changed to つ so we get the modern form.
思ひて(ふ changed into ひ)
And this is why te form has seemingly illogical conjugations, but you know it now. :>
As for the functions of modern て form (which evolved from the classical functions):
Action completed after another action:
I ate and went to sleep. (That’s why happened 1 hour ago)
2) Simultaneous actions or states.
It rains and thunders.
The cat is fat and small.
Notice that states are expressed by adjectives and intransitive verbs.
3) Contrast (Similar to が – but)
I went shopping and (or but) my younger sister went to the cinema.
Notice that actions are done by different people marked by は (which expressed contrast). This is a special case of simultaneous actions.
4) Means and manners (an action that is used to achieve a certain result)
I am making a meal with a frying pan.
5) Reason and cause
I have an upset stomach because I ate a lot.
I ate a lot and I have an upset stomach.
It expresses the reason/cause only when て is followed by verbs in potential form, and words expressing feelings て困（こま）る、て嬉（うれ）しい、て大変（たいへん）、てびっくり、て疲（つか）れている、て心配（しんぱい）、て休（やす）む、て安心（あんしん）、て◯が痛（いた）い、て気持（きも）ちがいい).
6) Convey request (special use of the 5, where ください or other word is omitted)
(PLEASE) HELP ME!
7) Expressing condition with は：
If you drink cola before going to bed, you won’t be able to sleep.
Usually what follows ては is a negative consequence.
8) ては ては repeating action (this comes from つ〜つ mentioned at the beginning）
I only work and sleep, work and sleep.
9. In all kinds of expressions, followed by ください てもいい and so on.