Japanese Grammar

Japanese Aspect: the Beginning, Middle, & End of Actions

ところ: Just

Last time, you learned how to express experiences like “まえほんべんきょうしたことがある (I have studied Japanese before)” and “まえほんべんきょうしている (I studied Japanese before).” Now, you can express things in the future, the present, and the past. In this lesson, we would like to focus on what aspects verbs may have.

Explanation for How Japanese Aspect Works

Table of Contents
はじめる and …だす: the Beginning of Actions or Events
わる and …やむ: the End of Actions or Events
つづける and …つつある: the Middle of Actions or Events
…ところだ: Expressing “Just”

Aspects may be divided into three groups: the beginning, the middle, and the end of actions or events. Taking the verb: “to eat” as an example, this may be expressed as the three groups in English like this: you have started eating, are in the middle of eating, and have finished eating. Let’s learn how to express them in Japanese.

はじめる and …だす: the Beginning of Actions or Events

When you express the beginning of actions or events, you connect verbs with はじめる or だす. The conjugation is simple. You can utilize the polite form and attach はじめる or だす instead of ます.

ます はじめる / だす
する ます はじめる / しだす
ます はじめる / だす
ます はじめる / だす
ます はじめる / だす

This conjugation pattern is often used for other forms, too. To do this more fluently, please make sure to master how to conjugate verbs into the polite form. Now, let’s move to the functions

[わたしは / が] ごはんを べ(はじめた / はじめました)
[Topic / Subject] Direct Object Verb
[I] (have) started eating a meal.

This can be translated as “start verb-ing” in English. With the example above, we have used the ta-form at the end. As you have already learned, you need to judge whether it is in past tense or present perfect tense since we use the same form in both cases. Of course, you can use this expression for present and future tense, too.

5時ごじからみ(はじめる / はじめます)よ。
[We] will start drinking at 5:00pm.
毎日まいにちろくにごはんつくはじめて(いる / います)。
[I] start cooking a meal at 6:00pm everyday.
さっきしょうせつみ(はじめた / はじめました)。
[I] have just started reading the novel.
昨日きのうあめきゅうり(はじめた / はじめました)。
[It] suddenly started raining yesterday.

You can also use はじめる as a verb.

あいを(はじめる / はじめます)。
[We] will start the game.
れんしゅうを(はじめた / はじめました)。
[We] started practice.
あめ きゅう り(だした / だしました)
Subject Adverb Verb
It suddenly started raining.

…だす have the almost same meaning as …はじめる, but there are two differences. The first is that …だす implies unexpected actions or events. Therefore, it’s often unnatural to use …だす when you set yourself as a subject and use volitional verbs such as つくる and べる because your own actions can generally not be unexpected ones.

[私が] ごはんを食べ(だした / だしました)
=> Unnatural!
どもき(だした / だしました)。
The child has started crying.

The second difference is that …だす itself cannot be a verb. Thus, the following examples are wrong.

試合を(だした / だしました)
=> Wrong!
練習を(だした / だしました)
=> Wrong!

わる and …やむ: the End of Actions or Events

The conjugation is the same as the above. Instead of ます, you attach わる and やむ to the stem of verbs.

[わたしは / が] ごはんを べ(わった / わりました)
[Topic / Subject] Direct Object Verb
[I] (have) finished eating a meal.

Just like …はじめる, this can be translated as “finish -ing” in English. You can substitute …える for …わる, but this is more formal and only used with volitional verbs.

いつもすぐマンガをみ(わる / わります)。
[I] always finish reading manga quickly.
しちまでにごはんをつくり(わる / わります)。
[I] will finish making a meal by 7:00 pm.
うたうたい(わった / わりました)。
[I] finished singing a song.
うたうたい(えた / えました)。
(Formal) [I] finished singing a song.

When actions don’t have a particular end, e.g. momentary actions: like “う to buy”, …わる doesn’t work well. The verbs used in this form should be ones which take some time to complete.

携帯電けいたいでんを(った / いました)。
[I] bought a mobile phone.
携帯電話を買い(終わった / 終わりました)
=> Unnatural!

Be careful; unlike はじまる, わる itself can be both an intransitive and a transitive verb.

かいを(わる / わります)。
[We] will finish the meeting.
なつが(わる / わります)。
Summer will finish.
ども やっと き(やんだ / やみました)
Subject Adverb Verb
The child has stopped crying at last.

…やむ also expresses the end of actions or events. However, …やむ cannot be used with volitional verbs. You can say “おとこ突然歌とつぜんうたいだした (A man has suddenly started singing),” but cannot say “おとこ突然歌とつぜんうたいやんだ.” Thus, the usage is limited in comparison with the previous grammar.

なかさんのどもはすぐにき(やむ / やみます)。
Tanaka-san’s child stops crying quickly.
ましがり(やまない / やみません)。
The alarm won’t stop ringing.

やむ can be a verb and means “finish,” “stop,” “to be over.” This is generally used for only weather.

あめが(やむ / やみます)。
It will stop raining.
かぜが(やんだ / やみました)。
The wind calmed down.

つづける and …つつある: the Middle of Actions or Events

You already know one of the expressions for the middle of actions or events, which is present progressive tense: ほんべんきょうしている. However, there are some cases which require you to use different expressions: …つづける and …つつある. The conjugation is the same as the above. You can utilize the one for the polite form.

[わたしは / が] 一日いちにちじゅう えいはなし し(つづけた / つづけました)
[Topic / Subject] Adverbial Noun Direct Object Verb
[I] continued talking about movies all day.

The basic function of …つづける is to express continuous actions or events. Just like other verbs, the plain form indicates future tense. Therefore, if you would like to express continuous actions at present, you have to apply the te-form + いる for it.

10じゅうねんうたうたつづけて(いる / います)。
[I’ve] been continuing singing songs for ten years.
ぬまでほんべんきょうし(つづける / つづけます)。
[I] will continue to study Japanese until [I] have died.

Regarding the difference between present progressive tense and …続ける, the former one indicates continuous action at some points while the later one indicates that actions doesn’t finish within a period of time. Therefore, with the examples below, …続ける is not suitable because you are talking about the action at particular time.

昨日の夜7時ご飯を食べ続けて(いた / いました)
=> Wrong!
昨日きのうよるしちはんべて(いた / いました)。
At 7:00pm yesterday, [I] was eating a meal.

In the following case, している sounds something like you are studying Japanese without a rest until you have died. Thus, when you mention a certain period of time, …つづける is more suitable.

ぬまでほんべんきょうし(つづける / つづけます)。
=> Natural!
死ぬまで日本語を勉強して(いる / います)
=> Unnatural!

Note: when you use あめる with …つづける, you need to change the form to …つづく. This is an exception.

あめり(つづく / つづきます)。
It continues raining.
こおり けつつ(ある / あります)
Subject Verb
The ice is in the middle of melting.

…つつある is kind of a new concept that you haven’t learned yet. The plain form: ける indicates a momentary action and will result in the ongoing state: けている. Then, there should be a time of transformation from ける to けている. This is the place where …つつある comes into play. Note: this sounds a little formal.

アフリカは発展はってんしつつ(ある / あります)。
Africa is in the middle of developing.
ゆめ現実げんじつになりつつ(ある / あります)。
The dream is about to come true.

…ところだ: Expressing “Just”

This is a very powerful word. By utilizing this, you can express every aspect: the beginning, the middle, and the end of actions or events with a few exceptions. And, there is no conjugation. You can directly connect verbs with …ところだ.

[わたしは / が] ごはんを つくるところ(だ / です)
[Topic / Subject] Direct Object Verb + ところだ
[I] am about to start making a meal.

When you connect the plain (dictionary) form with …ところ(だ / です), you can express a moment just before actions are taken. If you apply the ta-form for it, you can also express actions which you have not started like “I was about to do it.” Here are examples.

いまからいえかえるところ(だ / です)。
[I] am about to go home now.
ちょうどるところ(だ / です)。
[I] am about to go to bed.
かけるところ(だった / でした)。
[I] was about to leave.
ちょうどでんをするところ(だった / でした)。
[I] was just about to call [you].
[わたしは / が] ごはんを つくったところ(だ / です)
[Topic / Subject] Direct Object Verb + ところだ
[I] have just made a meal.

When you connect the ta-form with …ところ(だ / です), you can express a moment just after actions are taken. This is very useful to express present perfect tense. When you apply the ta-form for it, you can also express the moment at some points in the past.

宿しゅくだいがちょうどわったところ(だ / です)。
The homework has just finished.
電車でんしゃがちょうど出発しゅっぱつしたところ(だ / です)。
The train has just left.
あめがやんだところ(だった / でした)。
[It] had just finished raining.
ほんいたところ(だった / でした)。
[I] had just arrived at Japan.

Only in this context, you can reword this by using the word: ばかり. This word also has some functions which you will learn in other lessons.

ほんいたばかり(だった / でした)。
[I] had just arrived at Japan.
ほんいたところ(だった / でした)。
[I] had just arrived at Japan.
[わたしは / が] ごはんを つくっているところ(だ / です)
[Topic / Subject] Direct Object Verb + ところだ
[I] am just making a meal.

When you connect the te-form + いる with …ところ(だ / です), you can express a moment that you are just taking actions or events are happening. By using this, you can reword other expressions for continuous actions or evens. Since …つつある is a formal word, ているところ is more suitable in conversation.

いまほんんで(いる / います)。
[I’m] reading a book.
いまほんんでいるところ(だ / です)。
[I’m] just reading a book.
こおりけつつ(ある / あります)。
The ice is in the middle of melting.
こおりけているところ(だ / です)。
The ice is in the middle of melting.

Be careful; you cannot substitute ているところ for the following cases.

1. When Verbs Are Non-volitional

あめって(いる / います)。
It is raining.
雨が降っているところ(だ / です)
=> Wrong!

2. When Conceptual Things Are Changing

ゆめ現実げんじつになりつつ(ある / あります)。
The dream is about to come true.
夢が現実になっているところ(だ / です)。
=> Wrong!

3. When …つづける is Used

ぬまでほんべんきょうし(つづける / つづけます)。
[I] will continue to study Japanese until [I] have died.
死ぬまで日本語を勉強するところ(だ / です)
=> Wrong!

Summary

  1. The polite form can be a base for other conjugations.
  2. はじめる and …だす express the beginning of actions or events.
  3. わる and …やむ express the end of actions or events.
  4. つづける and …つつある express the middle of actions or events.
  5. …ところだ expresses “just”at the given moment.

The difference between the two words is clear when you express the beginning and the end of action or events. The expression of the middle of actions or events are a little complicated in comparison. In order to grasp the concept, you need to understand how progressive actions and resultant states work. If you have difficulty, please review the previous lessons. Next, you will tackle the last lesson in the tense and aspect section: the other utilization of the te-form.

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