ていた - Grammar Discussion

was doing something

Structure

  • Verb[ ] + いた

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Hi, I’ve got a question about this grammar point. Is there a particular reason why
Verb[て]+いました isn’t considered a valid (I suppose more polite) equivalent of
Verb[て]+いた ?

Is it wrong?

I thought it may be ungrammatical and looked it up. But I found this Imabi page with a couple of examples where it’s used with this “past progressive” meaning.
私は働いていました。
彼が戦争に対する思いを語っていました。

I also found these two with a google search:
https://www.jpf.go.jp/j/project/japanese/teach/tsushin/grammar/201403.html
https://benesse.jp/teikitest/chu/english/english/c00009.html
They are a bit difficult for me, but they seem to confirm that the usage is correct.

So I’ve got two questions:

  1. can I consider -て+いました correct? [In which case it may be worth adding it as a possible answer]
  2. is -て+いた already polite? (i.e. would I sound impolite/too casual in using it?) If so what changes and what “levels” of politeness are they? (I know this question may not make sense…)

P.S. I hope this usage of the Community pages is correct. Or is it better to ask in the popular threads?

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Hey :cowboy_hat_face:

Yes! This is the correct way of using the community forums! Feel free to ask as many questions as you want :smiley:

TL: DR

ていました is correct and valid polite usage of ていた. Thanks to you I have realized that we don’t have an example using it! It is assumed that all verbs can become polite by adding ます・ました so there is no need to mention them.

Ranking of politeness:
ていました, used when you speak to a customer, someone you meet for the first time, boss, in newspapers (when you want to express politeness to reader/person hearing what you say), etc
ていた can be used in casual speech between friends, also used in formal writing when politeness is not necessary (like in encyclopedia, it makes it shorter and there is no need to be polite to reader when pure, “rough” information is presented.
てた can be used in casual speech


ていました is correct and valid polite usage of ていた. Thanks to you I have realized that we don’t have an example using it!

ていました and generally ます form is not mentioned in the structure section because the convention used in grammar books and the like is that only the dictionary form (also called short form and casual form) is mentioned when explaining the structure of grammar points. After all, a dictionary form is the basic form of a word used as a dictionary entry. And since every verb can become polite by adding ます (ました when it comes to past) then it is not necessary to mention both.

This is a very good question. ていた by itself is not polite, it only becomes polite after adding ます and the like. When ます is added it becomes polite towards people you are talking to (or towards people who are reading whatever you wrote, that is why newspapers are written using polite language since you want to be polite to your clients. Also, warnings on the website are written using the polite form.).
(Advanced:
There are also honorific forms that are used when you want to exalt someone you are talking about.
Since it exalts person you are talking about it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to talk to that person, you can talk using honorifics to your friend about actions made by someone you want to exalt like a professor. In that case you don’t have to add ます since the listener doesn’t require politeness. Of course when you are talking to the professor himself, you have to use polite language.)

By the way, short-form is “rough” as the Japanese call it. In other words, it doesn’t have any politeness in it. It makes it rude in some circumstances, like when you talk to a person you meet for the first time. Short-form is also used in for example in formal writing, when there is no need for politeness, for example Wikipedia and all encyclopedias are written using the short form. They are “rough”, they have to be “formal” but not necessarily polite. That is why I don’t really like to call it casual form.

Also, you can use a short form when talking with someone to whom you want to be polite, but only when talking about yourself. When you talk about listener you use polite language.

You can also use short form when you are person that has the higher position. When you are the boss you can (but doesn’t mean you have to) talk casually to your subordinates, while they have to talk to you using polite language.

When it comes to ていた you can make it more casual by removing い.
行っていた→行ってた

I hope it helps,
Cheers!

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As always clear and complete. Thank you very much!

As you inferred the lack of an example that used て+いました was one of the reasons why I thought it may not exist. The other was that I didn’t get any warning about it being too polite.

Then I’ll be less worried the next time I override an answer marked wrong due to a formality mismatch.

I think I got too spoiled by all the “too polite” “more polite” and expected it always.
Also, sorry for making you write all the explanation of the levels of politeness.

P.S. I’ll be using these grammar points pages from now on. Maybe someone else will have the same doubts one day.

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