ていない with past events

So I came across this sentence:
About a (real) battle in the past. Would “参加しなかった” work in this sentence?

1 Like

Would that change the aspect of the tense? From V+te+iru to plain past negative?

Hmm… I got the feeling that this is stupid remark judging by you lvl :sweat_smile:

The present progressive is often used to say that something happened in the past and that is still the case. For example, 私、結婚してない as opposed to 結婚していなかった (which I would use if I were currently married and talking about myself in the past, prior to getting married). However, if I said, 結婚しなかった, I’d have to be talking about someone dead, or that somehow the action is otherwise complete, with no way for it to change.

I think it’s the same principle here. Nobody participated, and that is still the case. Analogously to the marriage example, I’d be inclined to say that if the war is over, then 参加しなかった would also work. However, if the battle is ongoing, then it has to be the present progressive.


Sorry, I just thought about this some more, and even though most of what I said in my previous reply still stands, I think I now know why the present progressive is used here (even if we assume the war is totally over).

I think it’s because the topic is 日本人, which groups the entire people of Japan as an existing entity. This entity is still in the state of not having participated in the war.

I was in the process of researching examples of 参加しなかった in the context of battles, and I found the following examples (sorry for the long ones):


Here, the topic is the Missouri Army led by a specific man. The man is dead, so that entity no longer exists, so we can talk about its actions as complete.

しかし、本人はやくざ映画はあまり好みでなかったらしく、『 仁義なき戦い 』シリーズの大ヒットで流行した実録系のやくざ映画には殆んど参加しなかった。

Here, it’s not talking about war, but movie production. The entity that didn’t participate was a particular man, probably dead.
EDIT: Yup, dead. As expected.

If my reasoning is correct, then when the topic is 日本人, we have to consider the entity throughout time, and not just confined to the time span of a particular event. The Japanese people still exist today (hence the present progressive), unlike the other entities in the examples above, whose existence is concluded (hence the simple past).

More examples:


The battle in question ended in the 18th century, so definitely over. But the topic here is インディアン, a still-existing entity.


This seems to be a counter example. The swiss clearly still exist, and this is evidenced by the present progressive at the end as well. However, I wasn’t able to confirm if the article was talking about a war that had already ended at the time of writing, so it may not be a counter example after all…

EDIT: (Oof, so many edits.) Actually, that sentence would be a counterexample as long as we agree that the entity in question still exists. The hypothesis I’m presenting is that if the entity still exists, you should use the present progressive instead of the simple past, even if the event was totally in the past. Perhaps this hypothesis is too strong, and it’s simply that you are allowed to use the present progressive in such situations (but that as long as the event is totally complete, the simple past is fine too. In other words… I didn’t really get to the bottom of your question.)


Great insight!

You made this so much clearer. :scream:


I just asked your question on HiNative: https://hinative.com/en-US/questions/18069837.

I might get embarrassed by how many corrections are needed for my sentences to make a modicum of sense to a Japanese person, but hopefully someone is able to address it fully there


For a little bit of context, that particular war ended long ago.
Thank you, NickavGnaro, the full context is here in case you want to add to hinative:


DRVの勝利を決定的にしたディエンビエンフー の戦いには、日本人は直接には1名も参加していない



Right, and my second-to-last example corroborates that it’s possible to use the present progressive if the entity in question still exists (whereas the thing they acted upon is completely contained in the past). The only question now is whether it is necessary to use the present progressive in such cases.

I’ll give the full context if someone there asks me, but at this rate I’m afraid of giving overwhelming detail that drives potential response-givers away.


Just posting here to let any of you all who are invested in this thread know that I got a response.

The first response basically says that once an event is understood to be in the past, the writer is not bound by the tense, and instead uses tense to convey certain feelings. When the author writes in the non-past form, they can convey a sense of immediacy over the facts/scene.

The second response clarifies that using the past progressive and the simple past are also correct for the sentence that spurred this thread, but that perhaps the present progressive is used to emphasize that such a thing is still a fact even now. There are times in Japanese, where, unlike in English, the tense does not match up perfectly with the events. Apparently Japanese learners of English often feel that English is too strict with its tenses xD

Alright, I think the responses from native Japanese speakers will stop coming in, and now I’ll weigh in. I don’t want to say that Japanese tense is purely random (because it’s not). There is a standard, which we learn from our grammar studies here on BunPro and elsewhere. I think that it’s the sense of what is standard that allows authors to convey different feelings by purposely changing the tense.

Also, it’s important that such changes in tense can only be done when the “correct” tense is clear. One thing that I want to explore more in the future is in what situations certain tenses are flat-out wrong, even after the correct tense is apparent. Perhaps any originally past-tense event can be made into any common non-past tense. But I’m pretty sure it’s not possible to turn anything that didn’t happen in the past into some past tense form. Now it’s a matter of exploring the line and being aware of when the boundaries are pushed.


@NickavGnaro You are totally on top of this one! :blush:

I’d like to add my everyday example:

もう 食べた?
いいえ、まだ 食べていない
うん、もう 食べた。
Did you eat yet? (casual)
No, I haven’t eaten yet. (I’m still in the state of ‘not eating’.)
Yes, I already ate.

きのう、晩ごはんを 食べた?
Did you eat dinner yesterday? (casual)
No, I didn’t eat.
Yes, I ate.


I would agree with both of these responses, it’s sort of summarized in the ている② point. It sort of feels like an emphasis of the state without having to be literal given the preceding past tense clause of DRVの勝利を決定的にした which makes it pretty obvious for the reader.


@FredKore The everyday example exposes what I think is the standard grammar. You use 食べていない when you emphasize the current state. When you emphasize the current state, it implies that the state could be otherwise. In this case, they are asking if you ate recently, and it’s still possible for you to eat today, so it’s feasible to use ていない.

When the question changes to the timeframe of yesterday, there is nothing you can do today anymore, so you can’t answer いいえ、食べてない when asked if you ate yesterday. The result is complete and unchangeable, so the simple past tense is used.

What was surprising is that when it came to the OP’s question, we could indeed use ていない with a complete and unchangeable state of affairs, but it turns out that this was just for literary effect. In everyday situations like whether one has already eaten, trying to make it literary will make you sound like a fool, so maybe that’s why I can’t imagine a scenario in which you would say いいえ、食べてない to the second question.

@s1212z Right, it’s definitely emphasizing state. I think my statement “This entity is still in the state of not having participated in the war” is still a pretty accurate way of understanding the meaning, but it’s definitely a literary bending of the rules, only possible because the correct tense was made obvious, as you pointed out.

For any beginners following this thread, I want to emphasize that it’s not that tenses are thrown around randomly, but rather that you first master the rules so you can learn how and when to bend them and sound smart for doing so.


Going by feeling it seems like you’d to have say something like きのうの晩ごはん in order to use 食べてない for the second question. It’s unrelated but this makes me wonder if 晩ごはん works the same as the word dinner, since you can say “Have you eaten yesterday’s dinner” which treats it like an object, or “don’t text during dinner” which treats like a time period.


Just anecdotally, I feel I’ve come to understand ~ていない much more readily as “hasn’t/haven’t” than as “am/is/are not,” like I originally (naively) thought of it. Even if it’s not explicitly included in the phrase, it almost always feels like there’s an implied “まだ” in front: (まだ) … ~ていない。

That said, I’d parse the phrase in question, 日本人は直接には1名も参加していない, as: “Not a single Japanese individual has been directly involved.”

Coming from English, しなかった may still seem somewhat “preferable” to していない here, since the battle is already concluded… but hopefully this perspective can make していない seem like a valid/possible option, instead of causing the “wait… what?” reaction that probably led to this thread :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


Thank you, NickavGnaro for going above and beyond to answer my question. I really appreciate it.


Strange reply to a pretty much already solved question. But just as an added insight, since I started teaching English to Japanese people, one thing I consistently notice is that they misuse the word ‘situation’ allll the time. I have come to the personal conclusion that Japanese language speakers tend to view most things as situations, rather than just a random endless course of events.

In light of that, I have come to start to view the て form as a situation marker. 食べていない To not be in the situation of eating. 参加していない To not be in the situation of participation.

The answers here are already great, but that’s just my personal take on it.


Actually I think we have similar thoughts on this. I didn’t bring it up before, but now that you did…

I was reading an article on the necessary vocabulary coverage to be able to understand texts and infer new words from context. Turns out Japanese has an overwhelmingly larger number of words than most/maybe all other languages, and the author was trying to explain the causes behind this.

One of the points the author brought up was that what counts as a word in Japanese is not a straightforward matter, and this could lead to an overestimation. They then showed the following sentence and asked how many words are in there:


To me, the answer was obviously 4:
食べて / いらっしゃった / らしい / から

However, a native Japanese commenter said that the example was bad because the answer was obviously 5:

The author responded saying the commenter was right, but that foreigners may parse it differently because of how we’re taught it. The fact that there was mutual agreement, and that a Japanese person would call something a simple matter, displaying such great confidence, makes me pretty sure this is not just some dumbass on the internet giving a totally weird idea. It gives me every reason to believe this is how a native Japanese person typically parses the sentence.

Now what this means is that a native Japanese understanding of that sentence separates the て as a whole other, distinct word, while keeping 食べ in its stem!

This got me thinking about the particle で, which is often used to convey the means by which something is done. For instance, バスで行った “went by (means of) bus.” Even when で is use to express reason, as in 病気で倒れた “fell due to illness,” I would insist on understanding it instead as the illness being the means by which the person fell.

With that understanding out of the way, I think the て conjugation in the article’s example sentence is just the same as the で particle. Hence, the sentence should be interpreted something like this:

Because apparently was (gloriously) being by means of eating.

In more natural English, “Because apparently they were eating.” The major difference is 食べ て modifies いらっしゃる, the verb of being, whereas in English, the verb of being modifies the eating.

If we make a simpler version of the sentence:
I would say to interpret it as 食べ, “eating,” て, “by means of / in the manner of,” and いる, “am/is.” All in all, if speaking about oneself, it would be something like “In the manner of eating is how I am.”

Taking this idea further, I noticed that てくれる and all the giving/receiving grammars that use て really do use this “by means of / in the manner of” understanding of て as its own separate word. For instance, in a song about an ex-girlfriend explaining her reasons to her ex for leaving him for another man, one of the lines is this:

ちゃんと「好きだ」という 言葉でくれるの

Obviously で is a separate word here. But if we had instead done this:

ちゃんと「好きだ」という 言葉を何度も言ってくれるの

we could still separate て out as the manner by which someone says.

So going back to your comment, I think I interpret 参加していない as

参加• し (or 参加し) , then て, so that we have “by manner/means of participating” and then いない, “am not.”

Hope that’s interesting food for thought. Here’s the article I referenced throughout this post: https://linnameigetz.com/japanese-vocabulary#i-5


Saying what constitutes word is difficult in every language. Is “good-looking” one word or two? Hard to say. But it has 3 morphemes: good, look, ing.

Even such a simple “word” as いない can be understood as 2 words because there are two morphemes: いる, ない.

It is good to understand what each morpheme means.

Very interesting stuff on te form. It makes a lot of sense.


Completely agree. Actually, straight from the Japanese dictionary, て、is just 手。But in a grammatical context ‘hands’ are similar to ‘situations’. You can find pretty much all of the meanings for て as ‘and’ listed under 手 in the dictionary. My guess is that the kanji was just removed from the word hundreds of years ago.


I am living for these deep dives! Really helps you look at Japanese from a different perspective. So cool guys