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I always thought that a verb ending in the form along with the いる suffix was the English equivelent of the "ing" form of a verb.


see = 見{み}る, seeing = 見{み}ている

do = する, doing = している

However, according to the Wikipedia entry on gerunds, a gerund in Japanese is when you add the particle .

Say what?

To be honest, I'm not actually that interested in grammatical technicalities, such as what label is applied to what verb form.

What I am very interested in, though, is usage.

So what, precisely, is the difference in meaning and implication between:




(This question is a spin off from "What is the difference between and のは?")

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2 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

I think the confusion here arises from the fact that English can use the "-ing" form of a verb in two different ways: using a verb as a noun (gerund), or expressing a continuous action (progressive tense).

In plain language, adding の to a verb in Japanese transforms it into a noun and makes it suitable to be followed by は, が, or various other particles that need to have a noun preceding them:

映画【えいが】を見【み】る。 I will watch a movie.

映画【えいが】を見【み】るの watching a movie (or, "the act of watching a movie")

映画【えいが】を見【み】るのが好【す】きだ。 I like watching movies. (Slightly different translation since the plural is more natural in English.)

映画【えいが】を見【み】るが好【す】きだ。 (incorrect, since が can't follow a verb; it needs a noun.)

So let's throw ~ている into the mix. ~ている shows the continuation of an action, for which English uses the "-ing" form plus a helper verb:

映画【えいが】を見【み】ている。 I am watching a movie.

Translating 見【み】ているの gets a little weird in English, but it can be used like this:

見【み】ているの [the act of] being in the middle of watching

彼【かれ】が映画【えいが】を見【み】ているのを見【み】た。 I saw him [when he was in the middle of] watching a movie.

And of course, remember that ~ている does not always show the continuation of an action in Japanese. It can also show the continuation of a state:

このいすは壊【こわ】れている。 This chair is broken. (not "is breaking")

かばんの中【なか】に携帯【けいたい】が入【はい】っている。 A cell phone is in the bag. (not "is entering")


こと is the other "nominalizer" (read: noun-making machine) that can be used like の to turn a verb into a noun. Sometimes (but not always!) you can interchange the two:

ピアノを弾【ひ】くのが好【す】きだ。 I like playing the piano.

ピアノを弾【ひ】くことが好【す】きだ。 I like playing the piano.

The full differentiation of の and こと as nominalizers is beyond the scope of this question, but as a quick rule, の is generally used when the outer action happens at the same place or time as the inner action, while こと is generally used when the two can be considered from a removed standpoint lacking immediacy. (For further explanation, please see What is the difference between the nominalizers こと and の?.)

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One thing to note about the continuation of a state topic is that if you DO need to refer to the action as currently being in progress, you use the form 連用形+つつある. このいすは壊れている ("This chair is broken") - このいすは壊れつつある ("This chair is breaking right now!" - as in, you can see or feel it breaking). –  istrasci Jun 20 '11 at 15:07
@Derek: Nice answer. Also, your example spun off another question for me: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/1369/… –  Dave M G Jun 20 '11 at 16:40
@istrasci: Thanks for the additional note about つつある. –  Dave M G Jun 20 '11 at 16:40
Actually, the term gerund for this English form is really horrible, since it can do at least four different things and only one of them is similar to what we usually call gerund in other languages (a verbal adverb, such as "Looking around, I noticed something"). Besides that you have a verbal noun, a verbal adjective ("the walking man"), and a complement form that is used with auxiliary verbs in different constructions, including the progressive tenses ("I am/was/will be/have been/etc. walking."). –  Boaz Yaniv Jun 21 '11 at 9:09
Grammar is hard; let's go shopping! –  Derek Schaab Jun 21 '11 at 12:13
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It is, quite plainly, a verb. But due to the 「~ている」 conjugation, the verb stops being "V" and becomes "be".

「見る」 -> "to see", 「見ている」 -> "to be seeing"
「する」 -> "to do", 「している」 -> "to be doing"

It happens that the English translation is a verbal phrase that contains the English form of the gerund, but it is still a verb overall, with the primary focus now on "be".

English does not really have a form where "be" manifests itself in the present tense when paired with a gerund, but if we shift to the past tense we see it show up.

「テレビを見ていた」 -> "I had been watching television."
「洗濯をしていた」 -> "I had been doing the laundry."

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