325 - ては

JLPT N2 Grammar: ては

ては is a grammar point that means “alternately” or “and.”
It is used when you want to express that two actions are being done alternately.

The construction is:

Vて +

When it comes to learning N2 grammar, there are so many little things that you might not even pick up on as a grammar point. For me ては was one of those. While I was reading articles or novels, I would often just gloss over this simple little grammar point without much thought. But knowing these can make a huge different in your understanding. ては is emphasizing a specific point in a sentence, and knowing this makes these expressions much more colorful.

Here is an example:

彼はさっきから答えを書いて消しゴムで消している。
かれ は さっきから こたえ を かいては けしごむ で けしている。
He has been alternately writing and erasing the answer for some time now.
Literally: “he + は + for some time + answer + を + alternately writing + eraser + で + erasing”

In the above sentence, you can see that he didn't just write the answer and erase it once. Using ては shows that he is doing this multiple times, which adds so much more meaning to the sentence. You can infer that he is frustrated, or that he doesn’t know the answer, because of this simple little grammar point.

Here is another example:

彼女は食べて寝、飲んで寝の不健康な生活を送っている。
かのじょ は たべては ね、 のんでは ね の ふけんこう な せいかつ を おくっている。
She is leading a life of poor health, eating and sleeping, drinking and sleeping.
Literally: “she + alternately eats + sleeps + alternately drinks + sleeps + の + poor health + life + を + leading”

As you can see, sometimes ては is used multiple times in one sentence, so it can show more than two actions that are done alternately.

The following sentence also uses ては twice, but it is using the same verb for Vては each time. So in this case it is used to show repetitiveness of the same actions over and over again:

川村さんはダイエットを始めてやめ、始めてやめています。
かわむらさん は ダイエット を はじめては やめ、 はじめては やめています。
Kawamura-san keeps starting and stopping dieting.
Literally: “Kawamura-san + は + diet + を + alternately starting + stopping + alternately starting + stopping”

You might be wondering why sometimes the verb after ~ては only uses the masu-stem (e.g. 寝ます→寝、やめます→やめ). That's just something that people do with sentences like these. Rei, Niko, and I are not really sure why that is the case. However, note that a masu-stem verb is not ever the last verb in a sentence.

In the last example sentence, ては is shortened to ちゃ to be more colloquial. The grammar point is exactly the same, but this is something you can use with friends:

そんなふうに毎日食っちゃ寝してたら豚になるよ!
そんな ふう に まいにち くっちゃ ね してたら ぶた に なる よ!
If you keep (just) eating and sleeping every day like that, you'll become a pig!
Literally: “that + way + に + every day + alternately eating + sleeping + if you do + pig + に + become + よ”

Can you think of a few sentences to illustrate doing two actions alternately?

Try to make a couple of example sentences about thing you do in your everyday life.


This lesson was written by Cassy L., a guest contributor:

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