Japanese Grammar

How to Express Experience in Japanese ことがある and ている

Present Perfect Tense: Experience

Last time, you learned how to express discovery and recall by using the ta-form, e.g. “しょかんがあった (There is the library),” and “しょかんがあるんだった (I’ve recalled there is the library).” The various functions of the ta-form must be useful. However, you still need to learn some sentence patterns to express other tense and aspect. For example, if you try to say “Inoue-san has been a doctor before,” what should you do? In this lesson, we would like to focus on how to express experience.

Explanation for the Usage to Express Experience with the Ta-form and the Te-form

In English, you can express experience by using the same form as present perfect tense like “I have studied Japanese before,” and “I have just studied Japanese.” However, you have to use different sentence patterns in Japanese.

Ta-form + ことがある: Experience

Affirmative Negative
ことがある / あります ことがない / ありません
ことがある / あります ことがない / ありません
ことがある / あります ことがない / ありません
ったことがある / あります ったことがない / ありません
んだことがある / あります んだことがない / ありません

The first sentence pattern is …ことがある. The conjugation is very simple. You can just connect the ta-form with ことがある or ことがない.


[わたしは / が] まえ ほん ったことが(ある / あります)
[Topic / Subject] Adverb Destination Verb: Experience
[I] have been to Japan before.

With this sentence pattern, you can express experience like “I have done it before.” If you use the ta-form at the end, i.e. あった / ありました, you can also express experience at some points in the past like ”I had done it before I was 20.” Adverbs and temporal nouns are optional, but they can clarify sentences.

ほんべんきょうしたことが(ある / あります)。
[I] have studied Japanese [before].
うたうたったことが(ない / ありません)。
[I] have never sung a song [before].
20歳はたちまでにあし怪我けがしたことが(あった / ありました)。
[I] had a leg injury until I was 20 years old.
最近さいきんまで海外かいがいったことが(なかった / ありませんでした)。
[I] had never been abroad until recently.

Note: you cannot use this sentence pattern in these two situations: the first is when you express ordinary things and the second is when you express things which happened recently; thus the following examples are unnatural:

あるいたことが(ある / あります)。
[I] have walked before. => Unnatural!
昨日きのうほんったことが(ある / あります)。
[I] have been to Japan yesterday. => Unnatural!

Related Expressions

…が + Ta-form + ことがある
ジョンレノンがここにたことが(ある / あります)。
John Lennon has come here [before].
おおきなしんきたことが(ある / あります)。
A big earthquake has happened [before].
むかしかみなりいえちたことが(ある / あります)。
Lightning has hit my house in the past.

You can express general experience that people share by setting other people, events, accidents or incidents as a subject.

Plain (Dictionary) Form + ことがある
先生せんせいはタバコをうことが(ある / あります)。
There is a case where [my] teacher smokes.
とうさんははたらかないことが(ある / あります)。
There is a case where [my] father doesn’t work.

By using the plain (dictionary) form with ことがある, you can express “there is a case where…” in Japanese. This is not directly related to the expressions of experience, however, try to memorize this here because of the similarity of the forms.

カレーはからいことが(ある / あります)。
There is a case where curries are spicy.
どもべんきょうきらことが(ある / あります)。
There is a case where kids dislike studying.
日曜にちようごとことが(ある / あります)。
There is a case where Sundays are business days.

Be careful; you need to use の when you connect nouns with ことがある. Regarding na-adjectives, you can use な as usual.

Te-form + いる: Experience

(Progressive Tense) ごはんをべている。
[I] am eating a meal.
(Resultant State) かばんをっている。
[I] have a bag.
(Customary Action) 毎日まいにちあさごはんをべている。
[I] eat breakfast every day.

You have learned the three usages of the te-form + いる so far. Considering the characteristics, it may sound unreasonable that the te-form + いる can also express experience. However, this is very natural and a high frequently used expression. With resultant states, momentary actions like “つ: to hold” result in ongoing states like “っている: to have.” We can reword the concept like this, “Momentary actions in the past affect states at present.” Let’s think about the concept of experience in that way, too.

なかさんは 年前ねんまえ インドの会社かいしゃ はたらいて(いる / います)
Topic / Subject Temporal Noun Location of Action Verb: Experience
Tanaka-san worked at an Indian company five years ago.
*Said when you’re asked why he is promoted to a branch manager in India.

If you only read the English translation, you may think “なかさんは年前ねんまえインドの会社かいしゃで(はたらいた / はたらきました)” is right; however when the action is in the past (はたらく) greatly affects the present, the te-form + いる should be used. Here are more examples.

ボブは去年きょねんほん能力のうりょくけんNえぬいちかって(いる / います)。
Bob passed JLPT N1 last year.
むかしほんんで(いる / います)。
[I] lived in Japan in the past.
トムは大学だいがく書道しょどう勉強べんきょうして(いる / います)。
Tom studied calligraphy at university.

You need to pay attention to time expressions. The te-form + いる works to indicate experience only when context indicates that past events are being discussed. With the following examples, 年間ねんかん indicates duration so はたらいている means a progressive action.

[I] worked at an Indian company five years ago.
[I’ve] been working at an Indian company for five years.
なかさんは さん月前げつまえ ひざ 怪我けがして(いる / います)
Topic / Subject Temporal Noun Direct Object Verb: Experience
Tanaka-san injured his knee three months ago.

With the above example, what do you think about the current condition of his knee? The context is Tanaka-san’s performance in a soccer game; “Tanaka-san injured his knee three months ago, so I’m worried about his performance in the game today.” Chances are his knee has recovered, but you are still worried that the injury in the past affects today’s situation. The point here is that experience is not ongoing states. Here are more examples.

さん月前げつまえ手術しゅじゅつして(いる / います)。
[He] had an operation three months ago.
さん月前げつまえにゅういんして(いる / います)。
[He] was hospitalized three months ago.

If his knee has not recovered, resultant states should be used. Note; the difference is just time expressions. With the following examples, the particle から indicates staring points and thus the te-form + いる expresses resultant states (the injury is ongoing).

さん月前げつまえからひざ怪我けがして(いる / います)。
[He] has had a knee injury for three months.
がつからひざ怪我けがして(いる / います)。
[He] has had a knee injury since May.

Difference of ことがある and ている

Both of them express experience, however there are some differences in the usages.

1. ことがある Can Be Used with Nouns and Adjectives

しゃだったことが(ある / あります)。
[I] have been a doctor [before].
おやきらいだったことが(ある / あります)。
[I] have disliked [my] parents [before].

This is a simple, but important difference. ている cannot be connected with nouns and adjectives to express experience.

2. ている Can Be Used for Things in the Near Past

昨日きのうほんべんきょうして(いる / います)。
[I] studied Japanese yesterday.
せんしゅう、テストのじゅんをして(いる / います)。
[I] prepared for the exam last week.

As we mentioned earlier, …ことがる cannot be used for things in the near past.

3. ている Must Affect Something at Present

ラーメンをべたことが(ある / あります)。
[I] have eaten ramen [before].
寿司すしべたことが(ある / あります)。
[I] have eaten sushi [before].

When you use ている, actions you took in the past must affect states or conditions at present. If you just express whether you have experienced something or not, ことがある is more suitable than ている.


  1. …ことがある expresses whether you have experienced something.
  2. …ている expresses experience which affects something at present.

The usage of the te-form + いる, which is to indicate experience, can be an advanced topic. The reason why we have picked it up here is to enable you to identify in which functions the te-form + いる works. Please keep mind the te-form + いる indicates not only present progress tense and resultant states, but also experience as well. In the next lesson, you will learn about Japanese aspect.

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