The て form of Japanese verbs is extremely important to learn en will expand what you can do in Japanese immensely. If you listen closely you will hear Japanese people use it constantly in all kind of manner and being able to use it yourself will open up all kinds of situations to you. The name て form refers to the ending in most of the verbs in the て form, namely they simply get a て (te). Here are a few of it’s uses:

  • Commands and requests (Please do this)
  • Present continuous (I’m studying, eating, sleeping)
  • Expressing an order of actions (and then I did this)
  • Describing things you did in preparation for the future 
  • Saying what you want 
  • Much, much more….. 

Here are some examples when it is used: 

  まって Wait! 
  たってください = Please stand
  たべています = I’m eating
  とうきょにいってあねをあいます = I will go to Tokio and meet my older sister

Below you can learn how to make the て form for the three different kind of verbs you learned earlier and there are a few examples on how to use the て form. 

How to conjugate the て form

So as you probably have seen already, there are different kinds of verbs in Japanese. If this is new for you, you can read all about it in this article about Japanese verbs. The three kind of verbs get conjugated for the て-form in different ways. 

Conjugating る-verbs for the て form

る-verbs are conjugated into the て-form in the simplest way, the る in the short informal form is simply swapped out for て. 

  • To turn a る-verb into the て-form, simply exchange the る in the short for て. 

So a る-verb like たべる (to eat) transforms into たべて (eat!). Not that hard right? Let’s look at some other examples. 

  できる = できて Be able  
  おしえる = おしえて Teach  
  しめる = しめて Close  

Conjugating う-verbs into the て-form

Conjugating う-verbs into the て-form is a somewhat more difficult exercise because within these verbs there are other groups of verbs that get conjugated differently. This is something you just have to learn. Here is the chart for every group and just like with the る-verbs, you swap the last hiragana character and add the appropriate ending. 

  う, る, つ = って
  む, ぬ, ぶ = んで
  = いて
  = いで
  = して

This is about as hard as it gets. Some of you may have noticed that there is a る in the first group. This is for the verbs that have a る-ending but are not a true る-verb, like かえる. Some examples on how to implement these rules:

  かう = かって Buy
  かえる = かえって Return
  まつ = まって Wait
  のむ = のんで Drink
  しぬ = しんで Die
  とぶ = とんで Listen, hear ask
  およぐ = およんで Swim
  はなす = はなして Say

You may recognize this pattern. It is the same pattern you had to learn conjugating う-verbs into the informal past tense in this lesson about verb conjugation. It’s the same pattern, but in the ending the e is replaced with an a. So when you’ve learned it you have two uses for it. 

Irregular verbs and the て-form

Conjugating verbs in earlier lesson’s you may have noticed that not all verbs conjugate regularly. For example する (to do), くる (to come) conjugate irregularly like explained in this article. The same holds for making the て-form with these verbs and also いく (to go) doesn’t have the same て-form you would expect. 

  する = して Do  
  くる = きて Come  
  いく = いって Go  

As you may have noticed before, there are a lot of irregular verbs but most of them end with する. So when you know how to conjugate する in different circumstances you actually know a lot of verbs. Some examples of the て form for irregular verbs:

  べんきょうしてください = Please study  
  わたしときて = Come to me  
  あそこにいって = Go over there  

Handy chart for conjugating the て-form

How to conjugate Japanese verbs from dictionary form to て-form
う-verb: う   つ   る = って  
  む   ぬ   ぶ = んで  
  = いて  
  = いで  
  = して  
る-verb: =  
Irregular verbs: いく = いって  
  くる = きて  
  する = して  

And in the form of a picture, so you can save it:

How to use the て-form

Now for how to use the て-form. It’s uses are almost limitless, and Japanese people use it almost every living hour to say all kind of things. That’s why it’s so important to learn. Below you can find the most common uses. 

Commands and requests

So the て-form of a verb can for example be used to give somebody an order or to politely request something from someone in combination with ください or おねがいします. Here are some examples and after I will take you step for step how. 

  おきて = Get up!
  みて, みて = Look, look
  おしえてください = Please teach me

In the first example you take the verb おきる (to get up) and because this is a る verb, you only have to replace the る for て and then you get the て form. If you don’t know the difference between るverbs, う verbs and irregular verbs, you can recap in this article about verbs. Some more examples on the て form: 

  スーパーでおにぎりをかってください = Please buy onigiri at the supermarket
  こくばんをみってください = Please look at the blackboard
  くつをぬいで = Take off your shoes
  スーパー = Supermarket    
  おにぎり = Onigiri, little rice balls 
  こくばん = Blackboard    
  くつ = Shoes    
  ぬいで = Take off (て form of ぬぐ)  

Saying someone is doing something with the て form

The basic meaning of a verb is to do something now or in the future, but when someone is doing something at that very moment, you can make it explicit in Japanese by using the て form + いる. You know いる as the verb ‘to be’ for animate objects, so when combined with a verb you are actually saying ‘to be doing something’. 

  • て form + いる means ‘doing something’ 

So for example you could be eating and when someone asks you what you are doing you say: たべている or てべています if you want to be formal. In daily speech, Japanese drop the い so you would hear たべてる or てべてます, but don’t use this in writing. Here are some more examples: 

  Person A: なにをしていますか  
  Person B: ばんごはんをたべています  
  Person A: What are you doing?  
  Person B: I am eating dinner  
  I am learning Japanese now  
  Sam is watching television  
  なに = What  
  しています = Doing (from する)  
  ばんぎはん = Dinner  
  たべています = Eating  
  わたし = I, me  
  いま = Now  
  にほんご = Japanese   
  サム = Sam  
  テレビ = Television