Japanese Grammar

Past Tense and Present Perfect Tense with the Ta-form

Past Tense

Last time, you learned how to express existence and possession like “えきなかさんがいる (Tanaka-san is in the station),” and “なかさんにはおおきなゆめがある (Tanaka-san has a big dream).” Then, if you would like to say “Tanaka-san was in the station,” what should you do? In this lesson, you will learn how to express past tense and present perfect tense.

How Past Tense and Present Perfect Tense in Japanese Work with the Ta-form

Table of Contents
Conjugation Rule
How the Ta-form Works in Sentences
Advanced Topic: Past Perfect and Past Progressive Tense

Past tense indicates that actions were completed in the past, e.g. I studied Japanese. Present perfect tense has a number of different functions, e.g. to express completion: “I have just done my homework,” and experience: “I have studied Japanese before.” In English, you distinguish the two tenses by using “have.” However, in Japanese, we express the two tenses by using the same form.

Ta-form

When you conjugate verbs into the ta-form, you can utilize the conjugation rule of the te-form. Just like the te-form ends with て, the ta-form works the same as the te-form, but ends with た. Let’s check the conjugation rule.

Ru-verbs: Replace る with た

  Plain Ta-form
To see, look (at), watch
To wear
To eat べる
To answer こたえる こた

Two Exceptions

  Plain Ta-form
To do する
To come

U-verbs: Four Different Rules with One Exception

  Plain Conjugation Ta-form
To buy
To wait
To go back


かえ
う =>   
つ => った
る =>   
った
った
かえった
To die
To hang out
To read

あそ
ぬ =>   
ぶ => んだ
む =>   
んだ
あそんだ
んだ
To write
To swim

およ
く => いた
ぐ => いだ
いた
およいだ
To talk はな す => した はなした
To go * Exception った

Negative Sentences

When it comes to negative expressions, the conjugation works differently from the te-form. There is just one conjugation rule regardless of the type of verbs. You just replace い with かった.

Negative Past-Negative
ない かった
しない しなかった
ない かった
わない わなかった
まない まなかった

Polite Expressions

This is also simple. You just need to replace す with した in affirmative and add でした in negative sentences regardless of the type of verbs.

 Affirmative Past- Affirmative Negative Past-Negative
ます した ません ませんでした
します しました しません しませんでした
ます した ません ませんでした
います いました いません いませんでした
みます みました みません みませんでした

Question Markers with Past Tense

Question markers are always placed at the end.

Past Past-Negative Past-Polite Past-Polite-Negative

の?
なかった
なかったの?
ましたか?
んですか?
ませんでしたか?
なかったんですか?
した
したの?
しなかった
しなかったの?
しましたか?
したんですか?
しませんでしたか?
しなかったんですか?

の?
なかった
なかったの?
ましたか?
んですか?
ませんでしたか?
なかったんですか?
った
ったの?
わなかった
わなかった
いましたか?
ったんですか?
いませんでしたか?
わなかったんですか
んだ
んだの?
まなかった
まなかったの?
みましたか?
んだんですか?
みませんでしたか?
まなかったんですか?

How the Ta-form Works in Sentences

昨日きのう [わたし は ・ が] 寿司すし べ(た / ました)
Temporal Noun [Topic / Subject] Direct Object Verb: Ta-form
[I] ate Sushi yesterday.
さっき [わたし は ・ が] 寿司すし べ(た / ました)
Adverbial Noun [Topic / Subject] Direct Object Verb: Ta-form
[I] have eaten Sushi just now.

In Japanese, the ta-form just expresses that actions were completed in the past. Therefore, you cannot judge whether it is past tense or present perfect tense by looking at the form of verbs. Basically contexts given by temporal nouns or adverbs determine tense.

せんしゅうほんほんを(んだ / みました)。
[I] read the Japanese book last week.
いまほんほんを(んだ / みました)。
[I] have read the Japanese book just now.
しょは(った / いました)?
=> Unclear
しょもうった / いました)?
As for the dictionary, have [you] already bought [it]?

“もう: already” is a very useful word to express present perfect tense. When you would like to confirm something like “Have you done it?” you should utilize もう rather than temporal nouns.

Past Tense and Present Perfect Tense in Negative Sentences

昨日きのう [わたし は ・ が] 宿しゅくだい しなかった / しませんでした
Temporal Noun [Topic / Subject] Direct Object Verb: Ta-form
As for yesterday, [I] didn’t do my homework.
まだ [わたし は ・ が] 宿しゅくだい して(いない / いません)
Adverb [Topic / Subject] Direct Object Verb: Te-form+いる
[I] haven’t done my homework yet.

As you can see, we don’t use the ta-form to express present perfect tense in negative sentences. The first example shows the fact that you didn’t do your homework in the past, which should be expressed by the ta-form. However, the second example shows that you haven’t yet done your homework. Essentially, this is not an action competed in the past. This is an ongoing state. Therefore, we use the te-form + いる.

えいは(なかった / ませんでした)。
As for movies, [I] didn’t watch [it].
えいまだて(いない / いません)。
As for Japanese movies, [I] haven’t watched [it], yet.
なかさんは(なかった / ませんでした)。
Tanaka-san didn’t come.
なかさんはまだて(いない / いません)。
Tanaka-san hasn’t come yet.

“まだ: yet” is an important word here. Since we use the te-form for multiple tenses, we can easily distinguish them by placing the key word.

Advanced Topic: Past Perfect and Past Progressive Tense

Past Perfect Tense

Past Perfect Tense

昨日きのう11じゅういちいもうとひるごはんをもうべて(いた / いました)。
At 11am yesterday, my younger sister had already eaten lunch.

This example essentially expresses a state that she had already eaten lunch (*see the chart from when she ate lunch to 11am marked in red). Therefore, we use the te-form + いる to express a state and replace る with た to express that it was in the past.

Past Progressive Tense

Past Progressive Tense

昨日きのう11じゅういちいもうとひるごはんをべて(いた / いました)。
At 11am yesterday, my younger sister was eating lunch.

This example expresses an ongoing action taken at a particular time in the past. Therefore, we use the te-form + いる to express the continuous action and replace る with た to express that it was in the past.

As you notice, the te-form + いた can express both past perfect and past progressive tense. The key word is もう. If a sentence has もう, it will be past perfect tense. If not, it will be past progressive tense.

今朝けさ宿しゅくだいまだして(いなかった / いませんでした)。
[I] hadn’t done my homework yet this morning.
今朝けさ宿しゅくだいはして(いなかった / いませんでした)。
[I] wasn’t doing my homework this morning.

When it comes to negative sentences, the concept will remain the same. The te-form + いなかった can expresses both past perfect and past progressive tense. The key word is まだ.

まだきて(いる / いますか)?
Are [you] still awake?
まだきて(いた / いましたか)?
Were [you] still awake?
まだ宿しゅくだいをして(いる / います)。
[I] am still doing my homework.
まだ宿しゅくだいをして(いた / いました)。
[I] was still doing my homework.

Be careful; when you use まだ in affirmative sentences, まだ will work the same as “still” in English.

More Examples

もう明日あしたじゅんはした(の / んですか)?
Have [you] already prepared for tomorrow?
(うん / はい)、もう(した / しました)。
Yes, [I] have.
(ううん / いいえ)、まだして(いない / いません)。
No, [I] haven’t.
去年きょねんほんに(った / きましたか)?
Did [you] go to Japan last year?
(うん / はい)、(った / きました)。
Yes, [I] did.
(ううん / いいえ)、(かなかった / きませんでした)。
No, [I] didn’t.
もうた(の / んですか)?
Have [you] gone to bed?
(ううん / いいえ)、まだきて(いる / います)。
No, [I’m] still awake.
まだていない(の / んですか)?
Haven’t [you] gone to bed yet?
(うん / はい)、まだて(いない / いません)。
Yes, [I] haven’t gone to bed yet.
昨日きのうよる10じゅうなにをしていた(の / んですか)?
What were [you] doing at 10pm yesterday?
友達ともだちはなして(いた / いました)。
[I] was talking with my friend.
もうて(いた / いました)。
[I] had already gone to bed.

Summary

  1. The ta-form conjugates the same as the te-form, but ends with た.
  2. In affirmative sentences, the ta-form expresses past tense and present perfect tense.
  3. In negative sentences, the ta-form expresses past tense while the te-form expresses present perfect tense.
  4. “もう: already” and “まだ: yet” are the key.
  5. The te-form + いた expresses past perfect tense and past progressive tense.

The ta-form actually has several functions and you have learned one of them here. In order to be able to precisely express tense, you need to know how to conjugate verbs with temporal nouns and adverbs. Please try to memorize them in place. Next, you will learn how to express state-of-being and adjectives in the past.

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