Japanese Grammar

Helping Verbs: …ていく and …てくる

Helping Verb

Last time, you learned how to express giving and receiving, e.g. なかさんがほんおしえてくれた (Tanaka-san taught [me] Japanese). By using the helping verb: てくれる, you can express your gratitude. In Japanese, helping verbs have an important role. In this lesson, you will learn other key helping verbs.

Explanation for How Helping Verbs: …ていく and …てくる Work

Table of Contents
Motion of Subjects
Motion of Objects
Time Flows

The origins of the two words come from the verb: く and る. However, it is common to use Hiragana when they work as helping verbs. As you learned, you combine verbs with helping verbs by using the te-form. Now, let’s move onto the functions.

Motion of Subjects

Motion of Subjects

[わたしは / が] 学校がっこう あるいて(いく / いきます)
Topic / Subject Destination Verb + Helping Verb
[I] will walk (and go) to School.

The concept of “く: to go” and “る: to come” is a little different from English. In Japanese, when you move from your place to other places, you always use く and vice versa. When you combine verbs which indicate motion like “あるく: walk” with ていく and てくる, you can express manner of motion.

えきまであるいて(いく / いきます)。
[I] will walk (and go) to the station.
ここまではしって(きた / きました)。
[I] ran (and came) up here.

When you combine verbs which indicate resultant states with ていく and てくる, you can express motion with the states.

きょうものて(いく / いきます)。
[I] will wear a kimono and go to Kyoto.
ほんをたくさんって(きた / きました)。
[I] have brought a lot of books.

When you combine general verbs with ていく and てくる, you can express motion after you have completed the action.

ワインをって(いく / いきます)よ。
[I] will buy a bottle of wine and go [there].
学校がっこうでごはんをべて(きた / きました)。
[I] ate a meal at school and then came [up here].


Motion of Objects

Motion of Object

かあさん は / が メールを おくって(きた / きました)
Topic / Subject Direct Object Verb + Helping Verb
[My] mother sent an email (and it reached me).

This usage appears with only …てくる when something is transferred to your place. With the above example, “おくる: to send” just expresses an action at the sender’s end. By combining the helping verb: …てくる, you can express whether it reaches you.

なかさんがよるでんをかけて(きた / きました)。
Tanaka-san called [me] at night.
友達ともだちなががみいて(きた / きました)。
[My] friend wrote a long letter [to me].

Time Flows

Time Flow

[わたし は / が] たくさん りょく して(きた / きました)
[Topic / Subject] Adverb Direct Object Verb + Helping Verb
[I] have made a lot of efforts (and come to be who I am today).

ていく and てくる also express a time flow from the past to the future. Comparing the plain expression of the above example: たくさんりょくをしました, you can express consistency from the past to the future. If you combine verbs which indicate change like “なる: to become” with ていく and てくる, you can express a step of change.

失敗しっぱいもたくさんして(きた / きました)。
[I] have made a lot of failures, too.
これからほんべんきょうして(いく / いきます)。
[I] will study Japanese from now on.
徐々じょじょなつになって(いく / いきます)。
[It] will become summer gradually.
すこしずつ大人おとなになって(きた / きました)。
[My child] has grown into an adult little by little.

Let’s delve deeper into the tenses with ていく and てくる. The conjugation will depend on where you put yourself in terms of tense

 Time Flow at Present

The first case is when you put yourself at present. In this case, ていく means future tense and てくる needs to be てきた and indicates present perfect tense.

これからべんきょうして(いく / いきます)。
[I] will study from now on.
たくさんべんきょうして(きた / きました)。
[I] have studied a lot.

Time Flow in the Future

The second case is when you put yourself in the future. This is simple. Both of them indicate future tense.

10じゅうがつからドイツべんきょうして(いく / いきます)。
[I] will study German from October.
ろくがつにはあつくなって(くる / きます)。
By June, [it] will be hot.

Time Flow in the Past

The third case is when you put yourself in the past. In this case, ていく needs to be ていった and indicates past-future tense, i.e. “would.” てくる needs to be てきていた and indicates past perfect tense, i.e. “had done.” 

がつからあつくなって(いった / いきました)。
From February it would become hot.
ちゃんとじゅんをして(きていた / きていました)。
[I] had properly made the preparations.


  1. You use くwhen you move from your place to others.
  2. You use る when you move from other places to your place.
  3. …ていく and …てくる express
    • Motion of Subjects
    • Motion of Objects
    • Time Flow

Helping verbs are not necessary to make a sentence, but are necessary to use natural Japanese. If you have difficulty understanding the concept of the time flow, you may review the tense and aspect section or just skip that. As you proceed learning and read a lot of natural expressions, you will be able to figure it out gradually. Anyway, you can use helping verbs now. Then, what should you do if you would like say “I heard that you ran and went to school.” Next, you will learn how to express quotations.

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