How to Say You Are Currently Doing Something in Japanese (Sentence Patterns #5)

Updated: Apr 13, 2021


 

To say that you are currently doing something in Japanese, first convert the verb you are doing into its て form; then add いる (casual speech) or います (formal speech).


This structure can also be used to describe a state that someone is currently in based on an action that they did in the past (e.g., to be married). As such, the て form of a verb + いる does not always translate into the -ing form of an English verb.

 

Sentence Structure #1

私は [て form of verb] いる。

わたしは [て form of verb] いる。

Watashi wa [て form of verb] iru.


I am [verb]ing.


One of the most basic sentence patterns in Japanese is “私は [verb].” For example,「私は食べます」("I eat").


But what if you don't want to say that you eat as a general statement? What if you want to tell someone that you are eating at this moment? To do this, you need to conjugate the verb into its て form and then add いる or います:「私は食べている」. (Suggested reading: Japanese Verb Conjugation – て Form)


In this sentence structure, いる / います does not carry its standard meaning of “to exist.” Instead, it works as an auxiliary (or helping) verb. Specifically, it tells the listener that the verb that comes before it is being carried out at the time of speaking.



Examples


何をしていますか。

なにをしていますか。

Nani o shite imasu ka.


What are you doing?



その女の子はテレビを見ている。

そのおんなのこはテレビを見ている。

Sono onnanoko wa terebi o mite iru.


That girl is watching TV.



The [て form of a verb] + いる construction does not always translate as “am/is/are [verb]ing” in English. Sometimes, this construction means something a little more complicated. It’s hard to explain, but [て form of a verb] + いる can mean something like this: The action described by the verb was performed at some point in the past, and it put the topic of the sentence in a certain state that he/she/it is still in now.



Example


私は結婚している。

わたしはけっこんしている。

Watashi wa kekkon shite iru.


I am married.



Notice that this sentence does not translate as “I am marrying,” even though the sentence structure suggests it could. But how do you know when the construction [て form of a verb] + いる translates as “am/is/are [verb]ing” and when it translates as “am/is/are [verb]ed”?


I think it's like this: There are some verbs in English that are often used as adjectives when put in the past tense. For example, “married” is an adjective in the sentence “I am married.” Such verbs often sound strange when used in their -ing form. For instance, the sentence “Today, I am marrying” doesn’t sound natural.



Here's another example:


問題は解決している。

もんだはかいけつしている。

Mondai wa kaiketsushite iru.


The problem is solved.



Since “The problem is solving” doesn’t make sense, this sentence translates as “The problem is solved.”


However, as the next example shows, the meaning can be ambiguous without context.



ドアは閉まっている。

ドアはしまっている。

Doa wa shimatte iru.


The door is closed. / The door is closing.



Because both “The door is closed” and “The door is closing” are valid sentences, the meaning of this example would have to be deduced from context.



Sentence Structure #2


[Topic] は [place] に [て form of verb] いる。

[Topic] wa [place] ni [て form of verb] iru.


[Topic] [verbs] in/at [place].



When the [て form of a verb] + いる construction comes after the particle に, it takes on the “continuous state” meaning (e.g., " I am married"), not the “[verb]ing” meaning (e.g., "I am eating").



Examples


エディは公園に行っています。

エディはこうえんいいっています。

Edi wa kouen ni itte imasu.


Eddie’s at the park.


The straight translation of this example would be something like “Eddie went to the park and is still there.” This sentence does not mean "Eddie's going to the park."



私は日本に住んでいる。

わたしはにほんにすんでいる。

Watashi wa Nihon ni sunde iru.


I live in Japan.


The straight translation would be “I was born in Japan (or I moved to Japan), and I am still living in Japan.”

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