How verbs combine- any rules?

Increasingly Im coming across verbs which combine with other verbs like くる、いく、おわる、なおす。Sometimes the te form is used. Sometimes it is the stem of the masu form. Sometimes something else. Is there any common principle behind this? Or is it just a matter or learning. (I keep getting this wrong.)

Hi! All of these are their own grammar points. If you’re doing your study by JLPT level they come up in N4. (Not sure where they are covered if you’re using one of the textbook paths.) I linked each point below and gave short explanations that will give you a bit of an idea of how they are used. The first two take the 〜て form and the latter take the stem form.

てくる and ていく, while having their own nuances, are constructions that mean to do and go or to do and come. They can indicate things like something starting, becoming, starting and continuing to go on. ていく has more of a “starting something” meaning, while てくる is more about “something continuing or having gotten to a certain point”. These can be confusing and complicated, but you’ll get the hang of it the more you see it.

An example:
日本語を勉強していった。(I began to study Japanese.) focuses on the starting point of the action.
日本語を上手になってきた。(I became good at Japanese.) has the nuance that it was a process and happened over a period of time.
*I used the past tense here, but both can be used with either the past or present tense.

Attaching おわる to a verb adds the meaning “to finish”. Examples would be like 食べるー>食べ+おわる (to finish eating), or 作るー>作り+おわる (to finish making).

Attaching なおす to a verb adds the meaning “to do over” or “to repeat”. You can use it with verbs such as やるー>やり+なおす (to do over) or 書くー>書き+なおす (to rewrite).


Thanks yes. Sorry I wasn’t really clear enough. I meant how do you know if it is the te form which is used when you put verbs together or the shortened masu form. Is there some principle behind this?

I was in the middle of a big convoluted spiel when I realised two things:

  1. Explaining grammar is hard (@eclipse77x :clap:)
  2. Bunpro is good at explaining grammar, and unlike me, is probably reliable!

So I looked up two grammar structures that might help illustrate the difference you’re trying to parse out:

{Verb stem} にいく
{Verb て form} いく

Hope that helps :face_with_monocle:


I think a good distinction that may help you out here is that the stem form is the base form for conjugation, as well as combining verbs, as in the case of 〜なおす and 〜おわる. The て-form links actions, events, and states, and can also be thought of as “and”.

You can read a little more about them in the below two articles, one on the て form and one on the stem form. It’s mostly on how to conjugate, but there’s other useful information there as well. In fact, I recommend browsing around the Tofugu site in general, there are many good articles that do a much better job explaining various nuances than I ever could.

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There is no rule that I know of, but this article about the い-stem compound verbs might be helpful:

Generally I’ve come to understand that two verbs connected with い-stem tend to lose their individual meaning to create a new one, sometimes very obviously related, sometimes not. They are literally compound verbs.
落ち着く - to calm down. (To fall and arrive? Kinda makes sense when you know it already, but would you guess it without looking it up in a dictionary?)
I personally think you have to memorize verbs like these as their own individual verbs and not think about them like two connected verbs (because knowing these two verbs individually does not mean you will understand the compound verb in context).

On the other hand verbs connected with て-form don’t lose their individual meanings (this form can be literally translated to “and” most of the time, if not always).
持っていく - to bear. (To hold and go, makes perfect sense.)
With these you can mostly get by without memorizing them. There might be some weird cases here and there, don’t know.

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Am I missing something or is this just a mistake? This doesn’t have any form of 行く in it, doesn’t match the English translation, and you can’t just put て after 勉強? Right? And even 日本語を勉強していった I would translate as being closer to “I went on to study Japanese” rather than “I began to study Japanese”. Am I missing something here?

ーていた is past progressive, like “was doing”. Bunpro – Japanese Grammar Explained
It’s different from ーていった (ーて行った)、which is the “went to” that you’re thinking of. Bunpro – Japanese Grammar Explained

Can’t answer about て instead ofして. I have seen する just omitted entirely in native material in a few cases when the meaning is obvious.

The context of the original example was an explanation of ていく, not ている hence why I thought they made a mistake. I am aware that ていた is the past progressive.

If you have an example of て being used with し being omitted before then I would be very interested to see it as I haven’t heard of that nor seen it before. It is rather different to omitting する.

Yeah I agree. I haven’t seen just て before in place of して.

I was just about to ask a similar question, this is great to find the answer!

It was a typo and thank you for catching it. It was supposed to be 勉強していった, past tense of 〜ていく and I corrected the original post.

I think both translations work. The associated grammar point has ていく defined as “To ~ and go, To go on, To start” and goes on to explain that “This nuance is usually that ‘(A) happened and then went’, or ‘will happen, and then go’. In other words, it will depend on whether いく is in present, or past tense.”

Tofugu has a great article on both ていく and てくる, and explains that ていく can be used to stress the initial point of change, or the starting point of an activity that will continue being worked on into the future.

Again, thanks for pointing that out.

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