477 - て (by; while)

We have A LOT of lessons on the て-form from our N5 and N4 grammar prep.

Just look at everything we've covered so far:

- [NDL #329] - JLPT N5: て-form (Introduction)

- [NDL #337] - JLPT N4: て (descriptive connector)

- [NDL #343] - JLPT N5: て-form (parallel actions & contrast)

- [NDL #365] - JLPT N4: て (reason, cause)


That might seem overwhelming, but the usages of the て-form overlap quite a bit, so having a wide variety of lessons is probably helpful.

A good thing, since we've got another one right here:

JLPT N4: て (by; while)

Among it's many uses, the て-form of a verb can indicate that you want to say "by VERB-ing" or "while VERB-ing."

Here's an example:

プレゼント を あげて つま の きげん を とった。
I put my wife in a good mood by giving her a present.
Literally: “present + を + give (and) + wife + の + put in a good mood / curried favor (=mood / spirits + を + took).”

All this really means is that saying "I gave my wife a present, and it put her in a good mood" is more or less the same as saying "By giving my wife a present, I put her in a good mood" or "I put my wife in a good mood by giving her a present."

I never even thought about this until I pored through grammar books to prepare for the many JLPT lessons we have in our NDLs. Leave it to grammar books to take something that I know and explain it in a way that makes me feel I don't know it. Meh.

All that we really need to remember is that we can use the て-form to loosely connect two or more clauses. Sometimes we'll translate the usage of the て-form as "while," "by," or "without," as in this lesson. Other times it becomes "and." Other times we don't translate it at all.

As we saw in the example above, sometimes the て-form verb means "by VERB-ing." Other times, it means "while VERB-ing."

That is, this usage of the て-form sometimes describes the state in which an action occurs. For example, in the following sentence, the action "walking" occurs while in the state of "holding hands:"

きんじょ の こども たち が て を つないで、 あるいています。
Some kids from the neighborhood are holding hands and walking.
Literally: “neighborhood + の + children + が + hold hands (and) (=hand + を + link together), + are walking.”

In other words, these two actions are occurring at the same time. Maybe it would have been easier if I just translated it as "are walking while holding hands." ^^

This is similar to (thought technically different than) how the て-form can describe actions that occur more or less at the same time, as we saw in this lesson.

While we're on the topic of describing the state in which an action is performed, it's worth pointing out that with negative て-form verbs this tends to be expressed as "VERB-1 without VERB-2-ing."

In Japanese that becomes "VERB-2-ないで VERB-1."


Maybe this will help:

わたしは ふだん、 けしょう を しないで しごと に いきます。
Usually I go to work without doing my makeup.
Literally: “I + は + usual(ly), + makeup + を + don’t do (and) + job / work + に + go.”

The state in which the action "go to work" is taking place is "without doing makeup." But all we have to say is "makeup しないで go to work."

Now is a great chance to memorize the following point, which is extremely important: ~ずに = ~ないで.

For example, the following two sentences mean the same thing:

がっこう に いかないで ちゅうごくご を しゅうとく した。
I learned Chinese without going to school.
Literally: “school + に + don’t go (and) + Chinese (language) + を + learning / acquisition + did.”

がっこう に いかずに ちゅうごくご を しゅうとく した。
I learned Chinese without going to school.
Literally: “school + に + don’t go (and) + に + Chinese (language) + を + learning / acquisition + did.”

I don't know why, but I was about 2 years late learning that ~ずに is the same thing as ~ないで. Hopefully you can avoid the same travesty.

Great news, by the way: If you've been through the lessons linked to at the top of this page, you now know every usage of the て-form that appears on JLPT tests. Nice!

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