て-form (parallel actions & contrast) | JLPT N5 Grammar

て-form (parallel actions & contrast) | JLPT N5 Grammar

A little while back, we had our first N5 lesson on the て-form.

In that lesson, aside from looking at how to conjugate verbs into the て-form, we also looked at how the て-form can be used to connect a sequence of actions. Like this:

コンビニへ行って、飲み物を買った。
コンビニ へ いって、 のみもの を かった。
I went to the convenience store and bought a drink.
Literally: "convenience store + へ + go (and) + drink + を + bought.

The action "went to the convenience store" necessarily occurred before the action "bought a drink." Thus, we can say that the て-form is combining a sequence of actions.


Then, in our last N4 lesson, we looked at how the て-form can be used to connect descriptive words (often adjectives), like this:

私の犬はかしこくて、フレンドリーです。
わたし の いぬ は かしこくて、 フレンドリー です。
My dog is smart and friendly.
Literally: "I + の + dog + は + clever (and), + friendly + です."

The speaker wants to use two descriptive words to describe his dog, "smart" and "friendly." He can use both in the sentence thanks to て-form's ability to connect descriptive words.


In this lesson, we'll be looking at a usage of the て-form that is similar (all the usages are kind of similar), but just oh-so-slightly different: Using the て-form to describe actions in parallel and contrasting actions.

Here's an example of what I mean by parallel actions:

家に帰ったら手を洗って、うがいをします。
いえ に かえったら て を あらって、 うがい を します。
When I get home, I wash my hands and gargle water.
Literally: "house + に + if/when returned home + hand + を + wash (and), + gargling + を + do."

The speaker is not necessarily gargling water after washing her hands. Rather, she's just saying that she does these two actions whenever she gets home.

On a side note, a Japanese teacher I know recently told me that she started doing this a few years ago, and she claims to get sick less often as a result. Gargling water is a big thing in Japan. It seems that everyone is expected to partake in gargling for the sake of health and hygiene. According to a study by by the Kyoto University School of Public Health in Kyoto, Japan, gargling water does in fact prevent colds.

Anyways, yeah. Parallel action.

While this usage of the て-form can be used for actions that occur at relatively the same time, it can also be used for actions that complement one another:

毎日5時に起きて、9時ごろ寝ます。
まいにち ごじ に おきて、 くじ ごろ ねます。
Every day I get up at 5, and I go to bed around 9.
Literally: "every day + five o'clock + に + get/wake up (and), + nine o'clock + (at) approximately + sleep."

This sentence is not describing a sequence of actions. Rather, it's just describing two actions that fall into the same category, more or less.


We can also use the て-form to describe two actions that contrast with one another:

昨日お母さんが財布を失くして、今日お父さんが眼鏡を失くしました。
きのう おかあさん が さいふ を なくして、 きょう おとうさん が めがね を なくしました。
Yesterday my mom lost her wallet, and today my father lost his glasses.
Literally: "yesterday + mother + が + wallet + を + lost (and), + today + father + が + glasses + を + lost."

Using て-form to express contrast seems (to me) to be common when expressing weak contrast. For example, if you want to say something like "On the one hand, A, while on the other hand, B," then you would need a different bit of grammar (several types of which we'll see in other lessons).

Here's another example of what I mean by "weak contrast:"

わたしは昼はネイルサロンで働いて、夜は居酒屋でアルバイトしています。
わたし は ひる は ネイルサロン で はたらいて、 よる は いざかや で アルバイト しています。
I work at a nail salon during the day, and I'm working at an izakaya at night.
Literally: "I + は + daytime + は + nail salon + で + work (and), + night + は + izakaya + で + (side) job + am doing."
Note: You'll often see/hear アルバイト being translated as "part-time job," but this translation is frequently incorrect. See this lesson to learn why. Also, if you don't know what an izakaya is, then check out this lesson.


Long story short: The -form can be used to connect all kinds of sentences, actions, etc.

I don't think you need to worry too much (or at all, really) about which usage of the て-form is appearing in a sentence. I just learned the different usages naturally without focusing on individual usages. But JLPT tests do seem to divide the different types of て-form usages into separate levels.

While we've now seen every usage of the て-form that will show up on the N5 test, there are still a couple of usages we'll need to cover in preparation for JLPT N4. Something to look forward to, you grammar nerd.

Or is that just me?




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