610 - ~てしまう (do completely)

JLPT N4: ~てしまう (do completely)

Before you get into this lesson, be sure that you have read and understood everything explained in our previous ~てしまう lesson (which is much more important than this one): [NDL #609] - JLPT N4: ~てしまう ([unfortunately] ended up).

In that lesson, aside from covering the ins and outs of conjugating this grammar form, we saw that the ~てしまう ending is attached to verbs any time we want to express that an action or occurrence was not desired or is disagreeable to the speaker. For example, we saw:


いとこに借りたDVDを失くししまった
いとこ に かりた ディーブイディー を なくしてしまった。
I lost the DVD that I borrowed from my cousin.
Literally: “cousin + に + borrowed + DVD + を + (unfortunately) lost.”


In this lesson, on the other hand, we're looking at how the ~てしまう ending can be used to emphasize that something was done completely.

An example:


常用漢字はもうぜんぶ覚えしまいました
じょうよう かんじ は もう ぜんぶ おぼえてしまいました。
I have already memorized all of the jōyō kanji.
Literally: “jōyō kanji (=list of commonly used kanji) (=common use + kanji) + は + already + all + (completely) memorized.”


This sentence would be perfectly fine, too:


常用漢字はもうぜんぶ覚えました
じょうよう かんじ は もう ぜんぶ おぼえました。
I have already memorized all of the jōyō kanji.
Literally: “jōyō kanji (=list of commonly used kanji) (=common use + kanji) + は + already + all + memorized.”


But by including the ~てしまう ending, the speaker is adding emphasis to the fact that this task is now finished:


常用漢字はもうぜんぶ覚えしまいました
じょうよう かんじ は もう ぜんぶ おぼえてしまいました。
I have already memorized all of the jōyō kanji.
Literally: “jōyō kanji (=list of commonly used kanji) (=common use + kanji) + は + already + all + (completely) memorized.”


I suppose I could have translated the version with ~てしまいました as "I have already completely memorized all of the jōyō kanji." But I didn't because it sounded a bit like over-translating to me.


How do we know which meaning of ~てしまう is being used?

...is a question that I get a lot from readers.

So, how do we know if the meaning of ~てしまう is "unfortunately" (=the last lesson) or "completely" (=this lesson)?

The answer I want to give: Just go with your gut instincts.

...but people don't like answers like that, so I'll try to piece together something logical-sounding.

Here goes nothing...


💀 If the action that has ~てしまう attached to it can be (or is likely to be) interpreted negatively, then assume it is the meaning of "unfortunately." Likewise, if the action is almost certainly not negative, then assume it means "completely."

We already saw an example in which the speaker almost certainly does not feel negatively about the action in the sentence:


常用漢字はもうぜんぶ覚えしまいました
じょうよう かんじ は もう ぜんぶ おぼえてしまいました。
I have already memorized all of the jōyō kanji.
Literally: “jōyō kanji (=list of commonly used kanji) (=common use + kanji) + は + already + all + (completely) memorized.”


Conversely, something like "losing your cousin's stuff" can most definitely be interpreted negatively, so we can assume that the following sentence's ~てしまう means "unfortunately:"


いとこに借りたDVDを失くししまった
いとこ に かりた ディーブイディー を なくしてしまった。
I lost the DVD that I borrowed from my cousin.
Literally: “cousin + に + borrowed + DVD + を + (unfortunately) lost.”


📚 If the action that has ~てしまう attached to it is something that the speaker had complete, willful control over then assume it means "completely."

In other words, if the action is intentional, then you're pretty safe in assuming that the meaning of ~てしまう is "completely."

An example:

着ない服はすぐ友達にあげるか捨てしまいます。だから、クローゼットは綺麗です。
きない ふく は すぐ ともだち に あげる か すててしまいます。 だから、 クローゼット は きれい です。
I always throw away clothes that I don’t wear or give them to my friends, so my closet is clean [tidy].
Literally: “don’t wear + clothes + は + right away + friend + に + give + か (=or) + (completely) throw away. + so / therefore, + closet + は + pretty / clean / tidy + です.”


I think sentences like the one we have here are pretty hard for us non-native speakers to make. At first glance, my English-loving brain sees no need for ~てしまいます to be included in the above sentence.

I suppose it makes sense if I think of it like, "I... throw away my clothes... and that's the end of it." But again, it's hard for me to remember to use ~てしまう in a sentence like this one.

As is the case with most Japanese peculiarities that don't translate well into English, we just need to get a feel for it.


Here's another willful, intended action, though this one is in the form of a command:


過去の男のことなんてさっさと忘れしまいなさい
かこ の おとこ の こと なんて さっさ と わすれてしまいなさい。
Forget about him (=your ex-boyfriend).
Literally: “past + の + man + の + thing + なんて (=the likes of) + quickly / without delay + (completely) forget (=[command]).”


Forget about him, and that's the end of it.


📚 The "completely" meaning of ~てしまう also has a tendency to be used when the speaker feels that an action was done completely in a short amount of time.

I'm not saying that ~てしまう includes the meaning of "do quickly"―it doesn't. It means "do completely." But it just so happens to show up in a lot of sentences that are saying "do completely (in a short amount of time)."

An example:


フィンランドの文化は日本の文化と全く違いますが、
半年もたたないうちにすっかりこっちの生活になじんしまいました
フィンランド の ぶんか は にほん の ぶんか と まったく ちがいます が、
はんとし も たたない うち に こっち の せいかつ に すっかり なじんでしまいました。

Finland’s culture is completely different from Japan’s,
but I grew completely accustomed to living here in under half a year.

Literally: “Finland + の + culture + は + Japan + の + culture + と + completely + differs + が (=but), + half a year + も + didn’t pass + within / inside (of) + に + completely + here + の + living / daily life + に + (completely) got used to / grew accustomed to.”


↑ Don't be afraid of that long sentence. You can probably understand it if you just take it one word at a time!


Here's "completely ~てしまう" being used in another sentence where something is being done completely in a short amount of time:


Child:
お母さん、おなか空いた。
おかあさん、 おなか すいた。
Mom, I’m hungry.
Literally: “Mom, + stomach + became empty.”


Mother:
急いで何か作っちゃうから、10分くらい待って。
いそいで なにか つくっちゃう から、 じゅっぷん くらい まって。
I’ll make something real quick, so hold on for about ten minutes.
Literally: “hurry (and) + something + (completely) make + から (=because), + ten minutes + about / approximately + wait (and).”


When NOT to use ~てしまう.

This is a bit confusing, but we should not use "completely ~てしまう" in sentences where it is unnecessary to emphasize that an action was done completely.

For example, this sounds a bit odd:

✖ 英検1級に合格してしまいました
✖ えいけん いっきゅう に ごうかく してしまいました。
✖ I have (completely) passed Eiken Level 1.
Literally: “eiken + level 1 (test) + に + passing (a test) + (completely) did.”

(英検 [えいけん] is a popular English proficiency test in Japan, by the way. Like the JLPT, Level 1 is the highest level.)

You either passed the test or you didn't. There is no need to say that you "completely passed." As such, making this sentence without ~てしまう would be more natural:


〇 英検1級に合格しました。
〇 えいけん いっきゅう に ごうかく しました。
〇 I passed Eiken Level 1. // I have passed Eiken Level 1.
Literally: “eiken + level 1 (test) + に + passing (a test) + did.”


Similarly, after hearing an explanation of some sort, we cannot say things like this:

✖ わかってしまいました。
✖ I understand (completely).
Literally: “(completely) understood.”

The sentences "I understand completely" and "I completely understand" sound pretty natural in English, but わかってしまいました sounds strange because the nuance is "I have completely finished understanding." ...which we don't need to say.

If you want to say that you understand an explanation very well, then you can just say:

〇 よくわかりました。
〇 I understand completely. // I understand (very well).
Literally: “well + understood”


Overall, you're going to be hearing and using "unfortunately ~てしまう" much more often than you hear or use "completely ~てしまう."

But you still need to know both of them if you're ever going to consider yourself fluent in Japanese!




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