A Study of "V-te iru" in Japanese

Taeko Tomioka


    There are a lot of mistakes made by English-speaking students of Japanese and Japanese students of English caused by the discrepancies between the functions of English "be V-ing" Japanese "V-te iru" and also by the semantic differences of verbs. This paper tries to clarify the cause of the problem and searches for a key to facilitate learning of each language in this area by analyzing the meanings of Japanese "V-te iru". Okuda's (1978, 1979) "subject-change" theory is presented as a comprehensive solution to the problem.

1. Introduction
2. Problems
    2.1 Problems of JSL students
    2.2 Problems of ESL students
3. Discussion
    3.1 "Subject-change" verbs
    3.2 Comparison of English and Japanese "progressive" forms
    3.3 Ambiguity in the interpretation of "V-te iru"
    3.4 Stative verbs
4. Conclusion
5. Implications

1. Introduction

    A couple of years ago, sitting in a train stopped at Tokyo Station, I noticed that the electric bulletin board in front said, "We are stopping at Tokyo Station now." The train was at a full stop and had been sitting at the station for some time. The intended message must have been, "We are now at Tokyo Station. ― Tokyo eki ni teisha shiteimasu." On another occasion, my daughter was playing hide-and-seek with some American kids in Kentucky. She said, "He is opening his eyes!" Another example of the same mistake. What she must have meant was "His eyes are open, ― Me o aketeru yo," not "At this moment he is engaged in opening his eyes! ― Me o ima aketeiru tokoro da." These two cases illustrate an error commonly made by Japanese students of English.

    In contrast, I often notice parallel mistakes made by English-speaking students of Japanese. For example, at one time, I heard a friend of mine say, "Tanaka-san ga ittakoto o oboemasu ka?" She should have said, "Tanaka-san ga ittakoto o oboeteimasu ka? ― Do you remember what Tanaka said?"

    Why do these mistakes occur so frequently? In this paper, I will clarify some of the problems of Japanese ESL (English as a second language) students and English-speaking JSL (Japanese as a second language) students and by analyzing the meanings of "V-te iru" in Japanese I will attempt to show why those mistakes occur. Past studies in this area will be also mentioned. I believe this will lead to a better understanding of Japanese "V-te iru" and therefore facilitate learning of each language in this area.

2. Problems

2.1 Problems of JSL students

  The "peculiar behavior" of "V-te iru" in Japanese has long been noticed by English-speaking students of Japanese and their teachers. A "V-te iru" form in Japanese is widely believed to be a grammatical equivalent of "be V-ing" (progressive form) in English. (note 1)

The examples are as follows:

[1] Hanako wa ima hon o yondeiru.
  Hanako is now reading a book.

[2] Hikoki ga sora o tondeiru.
  An airplane is flying in the sky.

  On the other hand, when we take a different group of verbs, the mutual correspondence ends here.

[3] Taro wa chichioya ni niteiru.
  Taro resembles his father. (*Taro is resembling his father.)

[4] Ano hito o shitteiru.
  I know that man. (*I'm knowing that man.)

[5] Sono inu wa shindeiru.
  The dog is dead. (Not: The dog is dying.)

[6] Kare wa futotteiru.
  彼は太っている。   He is fat. (Not: He is getting fat.)

  Alfonso (1980.174-5) collected some of those "peculiar" verbs which behave like [3]-[6] and warned students, "All the verbs in 'Section C' occur often. They should be memorized." Martin (1988.517-9) grouped the meanings of "V-te iru" into three: (A) Repetitive (B) Continuative and (C) Resultative. And he noted there is a group of verbs, "Punctual" verbs, which preclude the continuative interpretation. His list of the examples is pretty long:

aku"come open"iku"go"kuru"come"
kaeru "return" ochiru "fall" kowareru     "break"
deru "emerge" hairu "enter" naru"become"
futoru "get fat"yaseru "get thin"hareru"clear up"
kumoru     "get cloudy"     tsukareru     "get tired"     shinu"die"
Punctual Verbs

To exemplify these verbs clearly, let me put some of these verbs in sentences.

[7] Okane ga michi ni ochiteiru.
  Somebody dropped money on the street.
  (Not: Money is falling onto the street.)

[8] Chichi wa shujutsu-shitsu ni haitteiru.
  My father is in an operating room.
  (Not: My father is entering an operating room.)

[9] Otto wa totemo tsukareteiru.
  My husband is very tired.
  (Not: My husband is getting very tired.)

  Examples [3]-[9] are incompatibe with English "be V-ing" in two different ways. [3] and [4] are verbs which never take a "progressive" form in English, while in [5]-[9], Japanese "V-te iru" usually doesn't have a "progressive" meaning, but it shows that some activity was done and now the speaker is focusing on the result of that activity. Let's look at some plausible interpretations of each sentence above:

[5'] The dog died and the result of that is still here; the body of the poor dog is lying in front of us.

[6'] He got fat. So he is fat now.

[7'] Money fell from somebody's pocket, and it was lying on the street when the speaker saw it.

[8'] My father entered an operating room some time ago and he is now there.

[9'] My husband got tired after mowing the grass all afternoon, so he is now very tired.

On the other hand, the seemingly same structure in English, "be V-ing", conveys a totally different meaning. (Note 2)

[5''] The dog is dying.
―> The dog is about to die: he is gasping and very weak.

[6''] He is getting fat.
―> He is in the process of putting on weight So he is heavier today than yesterday.

[7''] Money is falling onto the street.
―> Money is now in the process of falling from somewhere onto the street. So you can see some money flying in the air.

[8''] My father is entering an operating room.
―> My father is now being carried into an operating room. He is lying on a stretcher and ready for an operation.

[9''] My husband is getting very tired.
―> My husband has been mowing the grass for a long time, so he is getting more tired every minute.

  As for example [4], textbooks of Japanese (for example, Martin:1981.87) explain that "shiru" is not actually an equivalent of English "know". "shiru" is more like a punctual verb meaning "get to know" and "shitteiru" describes the state after getting to know something; therefore, "shitteiru" is the real counterpart of "know". The problem of English-speaking JSL students is how they can be sure which verbs are puncutal and which are not. The mere fact that a certain verb belongs to a certain group in English doesn't necessarily mean that the closest equivalent of that verb in Japanese belongs to the same group as well, or vice versa. Just as example [4] shows, "know" is a stative verb in English but punctual in Japanese. The question is whether it is a lexical property of the word or a rule-governed phenomenon the student can acquire by applying some rules. In other words, just as the student has to learn that "ashi" in Japanese denotes both "leg" and "foot", is it something he has to learn word by word?

2.2 Problems of ESL students

  In the area of teaching English to Japanese students, these problems haven't been widely noticed. Many textbooks very briefly explain the use of "be V-ing" under a section "Progressive Aspect". "Brush Up Your English Grammar", one of the textbooks being used in Japanese high schools, gives three meanings of "be V-ing" as follows (Araki:1991.26-7)

 (A) action/event in progress:

[10] The typhoon is approaching Kyushu.
  Taifu ga Kyushu ni chikazuiteiru.

 (B) habitual/repetitive meaning with adverbial phrases, such as "always, constantly, all the time, etc.":

[11] The old woman is always complaining.
  Sono obasan wa itsumo monku o itteiru.

 (C) future meaning with verbs such as "go, come, start, leave, return, etc.":

[12] He is returning from London next week.
  Kare wa raishu rondon ni modoru.

And there are notes, saying that certain verbs don't take the "progressive aspect":

  be, have, own, belong to, resemble, contain (verbs of durative state)
  see, hear, feel, smell (verbs of perception)
  wish, want, think, believe, like, love, know, fear (verbs of emotion)

The lists of these verbs and their labels are somewhat different from textbook to textbook, but the explanations are almost identical. As sentences [10] and [11] show, English "be V-ing" looks very similar to Japanese "V-te iru". Therefore, most students tend to have the impression that English "be V-ing" is the equivalent of Japanese "V-te iru" and that there are only a limited number of exceptions, like the verbs above. Therefore the sentences we saw in the introduction section above arise. Here are some more examples. The left of the arrow is the idea the student wants to express and the right is a common mistake made by the misuse of "be V-ing":

[13] Kare no kuruma wa depato no mae ni chushashiteiru.
  His car is parked in front of the department store.

―> Not: His car is parking in front of the department store.

[14] Hanako wa tenisu-bu ni haitteiru.
  Hanako belongs to a tennis club.

―> Not: Hanako is joining a tennis club.

Here, the student thought the closest equivalents of "chushasuru" and "hairu" are "park" and "join", which is true, and applied the grammatical device "be V-ing" for "V-te iru" and that didn't work correctly.

  This results in a serious problem. Somewhere in their learning, Japanese students will likely meet with a lot more exceptions, get confused and feel cheated. In addition to that, this kind of mistake is not as noticeable as other grammatical mistakes, especially to English teachers who do not know Japanese well, because the sentences produced are often perfectly good English sentences, like the ones in the introduction section ― "We are stopping at Tokyo Station now," "He is opening his eyes!" or like sentences [13] and [14]. Even though they are not what the students intended, they are easily overlooked. Furthermore, in most of the textbooks of English used in high schools, we can seldom find any comparison of the target and native languages regarding this grammatical point.

3. Discussion

3.1 "Subject-change" verbs

  Numerous studies have been done trying to grasp the properties of English and Japanese verbs. (note 3) Kindaichi's (1947, 1954) pioneering and very influential study is somewhat similar to Vendler's (1967) verb classification. Like Vendler, Kindaichi recognizes "stative", "durative", and "punctual" verb groups in Japanese. His study noted that Japanese punctual verbs get a "resultative state" interpretation when used in the "V-te iru" form. "shinu" and "futoru" are typical punctual verbs and therefore:

[5] Sono inu wa shindeiru. ―― resultative
  The dog is dead. (Not: The dog is dying.)

[6] Kare wa futtoteiru. ―― resultative
  He is fat. (Not: He is getting fat.)

  This study, however, as well as later ones (Suzuki:1957, 1958, Fujii:1966, Takahashi:1969, Yoshikawa:1971), focused mainly on the temporal length of a situation. It didn't explain why the durative/punctual dichotomy isn't enough to predict continuative/resultative interpretations. It also failed to explain why certain transitive verbs, such as "tomeru" (stop), "shimeru" (close), "mageru" (bend), usually don't receive a resultative interpretation while their intransitive counterparts, "tomaru" (stop), "shimaru" (close), "magaru" (bend), do. In fact, most of the verbs listed by Kindaichi as "punctual" are intransitive verbs. Is there a temporal difference between the activities of "tomeru" (vt-transitive verb) and "tomaru" (vi-intransitive verb)and those of "shimeru" (vt) and "shimaru" (vi)?

[15] Taro wa kuruma o tometeiru. ―― continuative
  Taro is parking his car.

[16] Kuruma ga takusan doro ni tomatteiru. ―― resultative
  There are a lot of cars parked on the street.

[17] Haha wa mado o shimeteiru. ―― continuative
  My mother is closing the window.

[18] Mado ga shimatteiru. ―― resultative
  The windows are closed.

  Okuda (1978a, 1978b, 1979) criticized the foregoing studies and maintained that there is a general lexical meaning common to those verbs which receive a resultative interpretation. He called those verbs "subject-change" verbs, because he found that the subjects of those verbs undergo a certain change as a result of the action of those verbs, and when used with "V-te iru", they receive a resultative state interpretation. In sentences [5] to [9], the verbs, "shinu" (die), "futoru" (get fat), "ochiru" (fall), "hairu" (enter), "tsukareru" (get tired), all suggest physical or locational changes. Some of the "subject-change" verbs can be diagrammed as below:

be alive

|==>  "shindeiru" be dead




not be fat

|==>  "futotteiru" be fat



gained weight

not have fallen

|==>  "ochiteiru" have fallen




be out

|==>  "haitteiru" be in...




not be tired

|==>  "tsukareteiru" be tired



got tired

"xxxxx": resultative state

  On the other hand, in the following sentences, the subject of the sentence doesn't undergo any change however long the activity continues.

[19] Gakuseitachi ga kyoshitsu de sawaideiru.
  The students are making a lot of noise in the classroom.

be making a lot of noise


[20] Tsuru ga ichiwa mogaiteiru.
  A crane is writhing.

be writhing


"\\\\\": continuative action/process

Let's call verbs of this group "Non-subject-change" verbs for convenience. In sentences [19] and [20] above, English "be V-ing" and Japanese "V-te iru" show a perfect match. The following is an extract from the list of verbs in these two groups (Kudo:1982.41) and their translation equivalents:

Subject-change verbs


"open (vi)"


"close (vi)"


"break (vi)"


"form, get finished"


"get smashed"


"get snapped"


"get broken"


"bend (vi)"


"get torn"




"get cured"


"become dirty"


"become warm"


"get cooked"


"get boiled"




"get dyed"




"change (vi)"


"get dry"


"get wet"


"come off"




"get out of place"


"fall down"


"stand up"


"drop (vi)"


"get up"


"drop in"


"gather (vi)"


"fall apart, leave"




"get out"






"go home"




"go out"




"get fat"


"get thin"


"get married"


"get a job"


"start school"


"get used to"










"give up"


"put on, wear"


"put on, wear"


"put on, wear"


"take off"


"change clothes"

Non-subject-change verbs






































































"throw up"


"open (vt)"


"close (vt)"








"break (vt)"































  Okuda's "subject-change" theory clearly explains why, in transitive-intransitive pairs of verbs, transitive ones usually get a continuative interpretation and not a resultative interpretation, even though those pairs convey a very similar meaning and temporal length of action: the subject of those intransitive verbs usually undergoes a change, but not that of transitive verbs. See [15]-[18] above.

3.2 Comparison of English and Japanese "progressive" forms

  In the discussion above, we notice that Japanese "V-te iru" and English "be V-ing" sometimes imply totally reversed states. In English, a progressive form of some verbs (Martin's "punctual verbs" and Vendler's "achievement verbs") refers not to an activity in progress but to a period leading up to the change of state, while a "V-te iru" form of the Japanese closest equivalents to a state after the change. The new version, with English "be V-ing" and Japanese "V-te iru" combined, of the [DIAGRAM 1] is as follows:

   be dying

|==> "shindeiru" be dead




   be getting fat

|==> "futotteiru" be fat



became fat

   be falling

|==> "ochiteiru" have fallen




   be entering

|==> "haitteiru" have entered




   be getting tired

|==> "tsukareteiru" be tired



got tired

                    "xxxxx": resultative state
                    "\\\\\\\\": continuative action/process
                [DIAGRAM 3]

  The diagram above shows complete symmetry. To use Quirk's (1985) terms, the English progressive with certain types of verbs indicates the incompleteness of the change, or a process of changing. (note 4) Contrastively Japanese "V-te iru" indicates the state after a certain change takes place. When verbs which imply no conclusion or change are involved, the interpretations in both languages are like [DIAGRAM 2]; the English progressive and Japanese "V-te iru" have a very similar function. Otherwise, as in [DIAGRAM 3] above, the states implied are totally reversed for English and Japanese. Let's consider more examples:

[21] Kono yofuku wa yabureteiru. ― resultative
  This dress is torn.

   be getting torn

|==> "yabureteiru" be torn



got torn

[22] Taro wa rikonshiteiru. ― resultative
  Taro is divorced.

   be getting divorced

|==> "rikonshiteiru" be divorced



got divorced

[23] Kare no kizu wa mo naotteiru. ― resultative
  His wound is cured now.

   be getting cured

|==> "naotteiru" be cured



got cured

[24] Botan ga toreteiru. ― resultative
  The button is off.

   be falling off

|==> "toreteiru" be off



came off

[25] Chichi wa okiteiru. ― resultative
  My father is up.

   be getting up

|==> "okiteiru" be up



got up

[26] Haha wa daidokoro de ryori o shiteiru. ― continuative
  My mother is cooking in the kitchen.

be cooking
"ryori o shiteiru"


[27] Dareka ga piano o hiteiru. ― continuative
  Somebody is playing the piano.

be playing


                      "xxxxx": resultative state
                      "\\\\\\\\": continuative action/process

3.3 Ambiguity in the interpretation of "V-te iru"

  The "subject-change" verb theory sheds much light on some other interesting points. In Kudo's list above, any Japanese can point out that there are quite a few sentences which can have both interpretations ― resultative and continuative. In the examples above, we saw only "subject-change" verbs get a resultative interpretation in "V-te iru", but in the following sentences, verbs are "non-subject-change", and yet they receive a resultative interpretation.

[28] Haha wa nagaikoto mise o shimeteiru. ― resultative
  My mother has her store closed for a long time.

   be closing "shimeteiru"

|==> "shimeteiru" have closed




[29] Kare wa sekaiju o aruiteiru. ― resultative
  He has walked all over the world.

   be walking "aruiteiru"

|==> "aruiteiru" have walked



                 "xxxxx": resultative state
                 "\\\\\": continuative action/process

  Why is this possible? "Shimeru" and "aruku" are grouped into "non-subject-change" verbs and the subject usually doesn't undergo any change. It seems when the action of the verb is conclusive, which means there is a goal in that action, and the subject of the verb undergoes "any change" after the action is done, psychological or quantative change, a resultative interpretation is possible. Or if there is anything worth mentioning about the state after the change and the speaker is more interested in that and wants to focus on it, he is guaranteed to freely assume a "resultative" interpretation even for "non-subject change" verbs. But it is only possible when the speaker successfully disambiguates the meaning by using the proper adverbial expressions in the proper context. Otherwise, the sentence gets a "continuative action" interpretation just as the "subject-change" theory suggests. In [28], the adverbial phrase "nagaikoto" (= for a long time) and in [29], "sekaiju o" (= all over the world) serve that purpose.

  The following sentences themselves are ambiguous and the listener has to depend heavily on context for their interpretation. Without proper context, the listener more easily gets a "continuative action" interpretation:

[30] Sono chokokuka wa idaina sakuhin o seisakushiteiru.
  The sculptor has produced a great work. ― resultative

or: The sculptor is now producing a great work. ― continuative

be producing "seisakushiteiru"

|==> "seisakushiteiru" have produced



[31] Taro wa seisho o yondeiru.
  Taro has read the Bible. ― resultative

or: Taro is now reading the Bible. ― continuative

be reading "yondeiru"

|==> "yondeiru" have read



[32] Sono otoko wa hito o koroshiteiru.
  The man has murdered a person. ― resultative

or: The man is killing a person. ― continuative

   be killing a person
"hito o koroshiteiru"

|==> "hito o koroshiteiru"
|   has murdered a person



  On the other hand, there are "subject-change" verbs whose change doesn't occur instantly. The following is the list of those verbs and their translation equivalents. (Kudo:1982.43)


"climb up"


"go up"




"go away from"




"advance, go forward"


"fall down"




"increase (vi)"




"bake (vi)"


"get burnt"


"melt (vi)"


"come down"

For these verbs both interpretations are possible and best interpretations are suggested by the context. Look at the examples below:

[33] Sono shojo wa ki no teppen ni nobotteiru. ― resultative
  The girl is on top of the tree.


[34] Sono shojo wa ippo ippo nobotteiru. ― continuative
  The girl is climbing step by step.

 be climbing "nobotteiru"

|==> "nobotteiru" be at the top




[35] Gohan ga kogeteiru.
  The rice is burning. ― continuative

or: The rice is burnt. ― resultative

be burning "kogeteiru"

|==> "kogeteiru" be burnt



                   "xxxxx": resultative state
                   "\\\\\": continuative action/process

According to research done by Kudo (1982.44), of the "subject-change" verbs studied, "98% received resultative interpretations and only 2% received continuative"; on the other hand, of the "non-subject-change" verbs, "about 95% received continuative interpretations and 5% resultative". In the case of verbs in [33]-[35], the possibility of either interpretation is "fifty-fifty". These verbs depend heavily on context for their interpretation. Contextusually indicates clearly which interpretation is possible, but there are some devices to avoid the ambiguity. "V-te iru tokoro da", "V-te iru tochu da", or "V-te iru saichu da" definitely result in a "continuative" interpretation.

[36] Taro wa seisho o yondeiru tokoro da.
  Taro is reading the Bible.

[37] Sono tyokokuka wa sakuhin o seisakushiteiru saichu da.
  The sculptor is producing a work.

  When the action of the verb affects the subject itself as when verbs have reflexive meanings, the interpretation of "V-te iru" is usually resultative. This is consistent with the "subject-change" verb theory.

[38] Ah, me o aketeiru yo.― resultative
  Ah, (his) eyes are open.

   be opening (his) eyes
"me o aketeiru"

|==> "me o aketeiru"
|   (his) eyes are open




Since the object of the verb, "akeru" (= open), which gets changed, belongs to the omitted subject of the verb "kare" (= he), the interpretation is "resultative". Compare with the following:

[39] Taro wa mado o aketeiru. ― continuative
  Taro is opening the window.

be opening the window
"mado o aketeiru"





More examples similar to [38]:

[40] Ano hito wa hige o hayashiteiru. ― resultative
  He has a beard.

be growing a beard
"hige o hayashiteiru"

|==> "hige o hayashiteiru"
|   has a beard



[41] Hanako ga te o ageteiru. ― resultative
  Hanako's hand is up.

be raising her hand
"te o ageteiru"

|==> "te o ageteiru"
|   (her) hand is up



[42] Hanako wa senrei o uketeiru. (note 5) ― resultative
  Hanako has been baptized.

be being baptized
"senrei o uketeiru"

|==> "senrei o uketeiru"
|   has been baptized



Again, compare with the following sentence:

[43] Hanako ga tako o ageteiru. ― continuative
  Hanako is flying a kite.

be flying a kite
"tako o ageteiru"


In a very few cases, continuative interpretations are possible for these verbs in [38] and [40]-[42]. But in those cases, we tend to use other devices to avoid ambiguity:

[44] Kare wa me o aketeiru tokoro da.
  He is opening his eyes.

[45] Ano hito wa hige o hayashiteiru saichu da.
  He is growing a beard.

  Finally, the following sentences show interesting differences in English and Japanese. Referring to the same sequence of events, English provides two verbs ― "put on" and "wear", while Japanese only one ― "kiru". This is because Japanese has a device "V-te iru" to indicate the state after and before an action.

[46] Ima kimono o kiteiru kara chotto mattekure. ― continuative
  Will you wait a minute? I'm putting on a kimono.

[47] Kimono o kiteirukara, totemo atsui. ― resultative
  As I'm wearing a kimono, I feel very hot.

be putting on

|==> "kiteiru"
| have something on/be wearing



put on

This sometimes results in an error by the Japanese student, especially when he starts thinking in Japanese in expressing something in Engligh:

[48] ?She was putting on a kimono all the morning.

What the student means is clearly:

[49] She was wearing a kimono all the morning.
  Kanojo wa asa zutto kimono o kiteita.

3.4 Stative verbs

  Although Comrie (1976.48) mentioned "the distinction between states and dynamic situations is one that seems reasonably clear intuitively, and in practice one finds a large measure of agreement between individuals who are asked to classify situations as static or dynamic,..." this isn't necessarily true in the case of English and Japanese. In English, the verbs mentioned above in 2.2 as lacking in a progressive form are stative verbs. On the other hand, there is a very limited number of stative verbs in Japanese (Kindaichi:1976, 10). The list is very short and includes "iru"(exist), "aru"(exist), "dekiru",(be able to do) "yosuru"(require), "ataisuru"(be worth), "wakaru"(be able to understand), etc., and so-called potential verbs; e.g., "kireru"(can cut), "hanaseru"(can speak).

[50] Eki ni gaijin ga iru.
  There is a foreigner at the station.

[51] Tsukue ga aru.
  There is a desk.

[52] Eigo no kaiwa ga dekinai.
  I cannot speak English.

[53] Iku koto ga dekinai.
  I cannot go.

[54] Sono mondai wa jukko o yosuru.
  The problem needs careful consideration.

[55] Kono sakuhin wa chumoku ni ataisuru.
  This work is worth paying attention to.

[56] Watashi no itta koto ga wakarimasuka?
  Do you understand what I said?

[57] Kono naifu wa yoku kireru.
  This knife cuts well.

[58] Kare wa eigo ga hanaseru.
  He can speak English.

Nitta (1983) says non-stative verbs typically receive a future tense/habitual interpretation in their citation (dictionary) form, while stative verbs typically receive a present tense interpretation in that form. This test is valid for all the verbs listed above. [50]-[58], in their citation forms, receive a present tense interpretation, while the following verbs don't.

[59] Watashi wa kokoro kara otto o aishimasu. ― future
  I'll love my husband with my whole heart.

[60] Watashitachi wa shinbun kara shakai no dekigoto o shirimasu. ― habitual
  We learn what is happening in the world by newspapers.

[61] Watashi wa donna koto ga atte mo kare o shinjimasu. ― future
  I'll believe him whatever happens.

Therefore, this confirms the general observation that Japanese has a very small number of stative verbs. Then, how can we explain the seemingly "strange behavior" of those Japanese verbs? Can we use the "subject-change" verb theory and similar diagrams? Let's look at sentences [3], [4] and some other examples with the diagrams:

[3] Taro wa chichioya ni niteiru.
  Taro resembles his father.

|==> "niteiru" resemble



came to resemble

[4] Ano hito o shitteiru.
  I know that man.

|==> "shitteiru" know



came to know

[62] Kanojo wa otto ni hara o tateteiru.
  She is angry at her husband.

|==> "hara o tateteiru" be angry



got angry
"hara o tateta"

[63] Kare wa tsuma o osoreteiru.
  He fears his wife.

|==> "osoreteiru" fear



came to fear

[63] Otto o shinjiteiru.
  (I) believe my husband.

|==> shinjiteiru" believe



came to believe

Most Japanese verbs which express emotion/cognition behave in a similar way. If the subject of the verb experiences a certain emotion, he undergoes some psychological/emotional change. It also seems that the temporal length of coming to feel/perceive something is almost punctual. So one plausible explanation is that these verbs with "-te iru" should be interpreted as resultative ― the state after some emotion occurs. More example are as below:


"become sad"

okoru/hara o tateru

"get angry"


"become jealous"

yakimochi o yaku

"become jealous"


"become surprised"


"become glad"


"get moved"


"get irritated"


"get confused"


"get impressed"


"get embarrassed"


"get upset"


"get bored"


"get fascinated"

Although this explanation is pretty consistent with the behavior of other verbs and here we are tempted to say that most Japanese verbs, whose translational counterparts in English are stative, are actually "subject-change" verbs, this conclusion might be too hasty and certainly needs to be substantiated by more data. It would suffice to say for now that most of those Japanese verbs are at least not stative and behave like "subject-change" verbs.

4. Conclusion

  Based on what has been shown above, we can make the following conclusions:

  (1) if the subject of the verb undergoes some change ― locational, physical, etc. ― as a result of the action of the verb, "V-te iru" usually carries "resultative" interpretations. In other words the speaker's attention is focused on the state caused by the action of the verb. Therefore the sentence in the introduction of this paper, "The train is stopping at Tokyo Station now" shows the interference of the Japanese sentence "Tokyo eki ni teisha shiteimasu", which has a very similar grammatical device "V-te iru" but has a totally different meaning. The structure of the Japanese verb "teishasuru" can be diagrammed as below:

be stopping

|==> "teishashiteiru"
|  be standing (at...)




  (2) As for the rest of the verbs, "V-te iru" is usually interpreted as "continuative" action. Here English and Japanese show complete parallelism.

  (3) If the object of the verb refers back to the subject, the change the object undergoes is the change of the subject. In this case, the sentence receives a resultative interpretation. The second sentence in the introduction, "He is opening his eyes!" is the result of the interference of the similar Japanese sentence "Ah, me o aketeiru yo!"

  (4) Since all verbs except stative verbs have some action, whether it is punctual or durative, the speaker can freely shift his focus, even for "subject-change" verbs, to the "continuative" action, if there is some temporal duration he wants to talk about. Therefore the phrase "me o aketeiru" can be diagrammed as below with two possible interpretations:

[38] Ah, me o aketeiru yo.
  Ah, his eyes are open. ― resultative

or: Ah, he is opening his eyes. ― continuative

be opening his eyes
"me o aketeiru"

|==> "me o aketeiru"
|  his eyes are open




(5) In the same way, "non-subject-change" verbs can have a "resultative" interpretation, if the speaker focuses on the change after the action. Most often the change is the "psychological" or "quantitative" change of the subject.

[63] Kare wa zuibun sake o nondeiru ne.
 He has had a lot of drink.

be drinking

|==> "nondeiru"
|   has drunk



(6) Most English stative verbs have non-stative counterparts in Japanese. And with "-te iru", those non-stative verbs indicate the state after they come to experience certain emotion/cognition.

5. Implications

  The "peculiar" behavior of "V-te iru" forms of Japanese verbs, as viewed by English-speaking people, are considered to be caused by the assumption that the closest lexical counterparts in the two languages share all their characteristics. In the previous sections, we have seen that this is a very dangerous assumption. In two different languages, the closest equivalents of some verb can refer to different aspects of the verb. Just as "know" in English refers to the whole state where that holds true, "shiru" in Japanese refers to the action "get to know" and the state after that should be referred to by "shitteiru". As Nara (1985) noticed, "events" should be the same all over, but the ways to lexicalize those events are different from language to language. This kind of semantic information should be explicitly taught to students. Just giving students translational equivalents is not only not enough but also might lead them astray.

  And at the same time, we have seen cases where seemingly similar devices in grammar ― "V-te iru" and "be V-ing" in this case ― function in contrary ways. So when we teach ESL students "English progressive aspect", it is not a good idea to give students the explanation that "be V-ing" in English is "V-te iru" in Japanese. We should avoid using "V-te iru" as a translational equivalent. It would be better, if explanation in Japanese is necessary, to use "V-te iru tokoro desu".

  When to make resultative interpretations and when to make continuative interpretations in Japanese is pretty straight-forward and rule-governed. If the JSL teacher shows how most Japanese verbs behave compared to those in English, students would get a pretty clear picture of Japanese "-te iru".

  Finally, second language teachers should be fully aware of the discrepancies between the student's native and target languages. Since the student can never be completely free from his native language, in producing a sentence in a foreign language, he makes mistakes which are apparently caused by interference of his native language. When teachers write textbooks, they should pay attention not only to the target language but to the student's native language as well.

  Since this study mainly focuses on the structure of Japanese verbs, more endeavor is expected to be done in the future from the opposite side; i.e., the study of English verbs compared to those of Japanese.


 1. Here I will limit myself to the problem in main clauses. But a lot of interesting phenomena are observed in subordinate clauses, especially in a prenominal position, such as in relative clauses. This study also focuses on the cases when "V-te iru" conveys a different meaning from its simple present/past forms.

 2. As you may notice, the interpretations of "be V-ing" in English need more careful attention. Even in these limited examples, they are not as homogeneous as they look.

 3. See for example Kindaichi (1976), Vendler (1967), Quirk (1985), etc.

 4. By "certain kinds of verbs" he meant "processes", "accomplishments", "transitional events", and "transitional acts" verbs.

 5. In this sentence, because of the verb "ukeru" (= receive), Hanako undergoes change.


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