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Intermediate Japanese Language Learning with Dazai Osamu

Complimentary Japanese Reading Lessons From Maplopo Schoolhouse

Season ONE—水仙 (Page Seven)


EP.7 Spotlight: ~ている, Dazai Osamu (太宰治), Daffodil (水仙)

Video file / Audio File / Online Intermediate Japanese Course

~ている, EP.7 transcript | Intermediate and Advanced Japanese

In this lesson, we’re gonna take a  look at the supporting verb, ている.

We’ll cover a number of these little magic  makers in the course as they lend a lotta’ color and nuance to Japanese. Supporting  verbs are… magical. They ENLIVEN words. They breathe meaning into sentences, lend  nuance… create a certain sense… they are   critical to the language, and critical to  understand well as we work toward fluency. We’ll also cover a number  of auxiliaries… after all, both tend to work very much  hand-in-hand… so-to-speak.

Supporting verbs can appear be a bit unwieldy. But, they’re really quite simple. There is a logic to them… a… beauty, almost. And when we get an understanding as to how all  these sinewy parts work in harmony to keep the language moving…, when we learn how things  are built, and not just how they ARE…, that’s when we can finally  start to lay down a nice bit of mortar that really gets things to stick.

So, let’s get to stickin’.


About as useful a supporting verb as they get. It’s everywhere. And, given how common it is, it’s no  surprise it shows up this early in the story. But before we dive into ている itself…, let’s  take a quick sidestep and talk some philosophy.


Well, with that little いる in there we are,  in fact, talking about “existence,” right? It’ll take just a bit…, and it’ll provide  you with a view of supporting verbs you can carry with you forever. You’ll be able  to classify your choices almost on a dime when you think about conjugation, you’ll be free of the need for memorization hacks, and you’ll walk away with an understanding of  the one thing supporting verbs actually do for a main verb… and that one thing  isn’t just “providing support.”

We’ll talk about two simple things.

Things that are concrete,  and things that are abstract.


Let’s start firmly on the ground  with things that are concrete.


So, things that are concrete are…, for one: REAL.

They’re actual, specific things or instances… …things that exist in reality or in real experience. They’re perceptible, and substantial… And, most importantly, they’re not abstractions. …meaning…, they are not ideas.

In contrast…

Things that are abstract ARE ideas.

They’re disassociated from any specific instance…, They’re impersonal and detached… They’re entirely immaterial. Things that are abstract   are conceptual or non-specific. They are in fact, IDEAS…. qualities…We cannot touch, see, smell, hear  or taste things that are abstract.  But we CAN do all of that  with things that are concrete.

Okay. So, what in the heck does this  have to do with supporting verbs?

Well, in a word, everything.

Because in general, Japanese verbs that stand  solo… (without the adornment of a supporting verb or an auxiliary)… tend to lean toward being  abstract. Or, they connote the future. This means they do not allow us the ability to talk about a  current state… that they cannot be understood as referring to anything that is happening now…, to  nothing related to a current or present moment. Knowing this can help us cut through a lot  of guesswork when it comes to understanding the intention of even the shortest passage, and  can help us build better sentences in Japanese.

For a nice cut and dry way to see this,  let’s consider the verbs 生きる and 死ぬ. When these verbs stand alone… without the assistance of a helping verb, they remain in their purest form… they are conceptual (abstract)…  they express the idea of life, the idea of death.

When we attach ている to each, however, the verb  gains access to the real world… it gains a certain sense of reality… something we can experience…,  and something with more specificity to it. We’re now given the ability to talk about being  alive, or about someone who has died—we’re given the opportunity to create real, concrete  meaning… not simply discuss the concept of life and living, like the famous Kurosawa  movie, 生きる, but of actually being alive.


So how about this idea of unadorned  verbs leaning toward the future? How do we know that’s what we’re dealing with? Well, context, of course, tells  many-a-story, and that’s true here as well. Let’s take this sentence for example:

(Speaking in Japanese )

So, we’re expressing the future  here, right? We’re going to go home. We wouldn’t be inclined to think this  is a verb leaning toward abstraction,  but we do know this sentence is NOT talking about  the present without a supporting verb attached.

Same here:

(Speaking Japanese)

はしる  sans a supporting verb is  expressing a future thing. There should be no question that this  is a future oriented action verb.

Cool? Okay, so, that should help with  listening, speaking, reading and writing. In a nutshell: in most cases, a verb needs a supporting verb to refer to anything related to a present moment. And, this hereby ends the philosophy portion of  this lesson. That’s the why of supporting verbs…

Let’s have a look at ている itself.

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