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For the longest time, I thought that a verb ending in て+いる meant that one was currently doing an action, similar to how we use ~ing in English to mean a contuinuing state. So 食{た}べている means "eating".

However, I've run into confusion over sentences like 日本{にほん}に来ている. I thought it meant, "coming to Japan" but apparently it actually means "came to Japan and still here".

After some looking into the issue, it seems that there is a thing in Japanese called a "punctual verb". These are actions that can not be extended or divided, so they're either done or not done. 来る it would seem, is one of these verbs, because you have either come or not. At least, as far as Japanese is concerned.

However, the matter is not entirely resolved for me. Consider this screenshot from this web page:

The typhoons are coming

Shouldn't 台風{たいふう}が日本{にほん}に来{き}ている mean "the typhoons have come to Japan and are already here"? However, according to the dates included in the image, it is clearly depicting that the typhoons are on their way, in the process of coming.

What is the dividing line between a punctual action and a continuing action, and how does one know which verbs are which?

(Please no overly technical linguistic terms. Thanks!)

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I guess the answer ‘It depends on the context’ is not acceptable, then? One thing I notice is that all the meanings assigned to 〜ている are stative, in the sense that they describe some kind of state: a state of habit, a state of progression, or a state of completion. Another thing to keep in mind is that meanings can spread by analogy: perhaps once upon a time 来ている could only mean ‘has come’. –  Zhen Lin Sep 24 '11 at 4:03
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仕事に行っている is the “habitual” usage of ~ている form, which I explained in the answer to the question you linked to. It does not mean “I am on the way to the workplace.” And generalizing it to all ~ている forms is obviously overgeneralization. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Sep 24 '11 at 6:56
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By “overgeneralization,” I refer to the fact that you replaced what is true for 行っている by something obviously false by generalizing it to Vている for all verbs V. As far as I can imagine, 仕事に行っている never means “on the way to the workplace.” I do not know why it does not, but this is just a matter of fact. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Sep 24 '11 at 10:37
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By the way, it isn't the 〜ている form that is punctual: 行く, the verb itself, is. Check this out: homepage3.nifty.com/park/aspect.htm . Basically, "punctual" verbs are those for which Xている can't mean "[currently] X-ing" (circular, I know). I can't write a proper, detailed answer, sorry, but I hope this helps a bit. –  Matt Sep 24 '11 at 14:19
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You're 99% of the way there. There are stative verbs that do not involve motion at all such as ふとる。ふとっている means "is in the state resulting from getting fat" rather than "is currently getting fat" or 死ぬ where 死んでいる means "is in the state resulting from dying" rather than "is currently dying". I think there is a small exception where a subject refers to multiple actors such that 死んでいる, can mean multiple people are dying in addition to people are dead. I'm not 100% about this, so hopefully someone can confirm/deny it. –  Nathan Ellenfield Sep 28 '11 at 14:04

4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I think the question is answered by now, but in any case I just wanted to mention that Martin’s Reference Grammar of Japanese describes three different uses for ~ている:

  1. Repetitive/habitual: 学校を通っている → I usually pass through the school; I’m passing the school these days;
  2. Continuative: 学校を通っている → I am passing the school right now (but haven’t passed it yet);
  3. Resultative: 学校を通っている → I have passed the school (already).

You’ll need context to know which of the three meanings is intended.

Further, as other people have said, some verbs are perceived as “punctual” and don’t have the continuative (no. 2) meaning. They can still be repetitive or resultative. Such verbs include 行く、開く、来る、出る and many others.

You can read the whole section on google books: http://books.google.com/books?id=SszxbMtHbs8C&pg=PA517#v=onepage&q&f=false . There’s a list of punctual verbs on page 518.

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It depends. If the verb expresses something that can continue (e.g. eating) then Vている means that the process is still going on. If the verb expressing something that cannot continue (e.g. getting on a train), Vている means that the action is completed. So it does not depend on additional markers such as まだ or 今 but on the type of the verb.

There are some caveat emptors, though. Some verbs in the Japanese language are not considered continuing, in sharp contrast to other languages. One example is 来る ("to come"). 電車は来ている means "the tram has arrived".

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@DaveMG Yeah. I know what you mean. As for the house: right. "To come" is considered not continuing, thouth, (like "arriving") in Japanese so 来ている is "has arrived". That doesn't make the rule wrong –  xmjx Sep 26 '11 at 9:24
    
I tried to extend my answer a bit. To paraphrase my comment: the house cannot continue to be destroyed, I guess. But "to come" works differently than expected: 来ている is "has arrived" since, in Japanese, coming cannot continue. It is more like "arriving". –  xmjx Sep 27 '11 at 11:55

I found this interesting page that explains the different meanings of 〜ている. The authors self-proclaimed at the bottom of the page that they are expert Japanese teachers so I'm going to trust that page in order to answer your question. (Here is the Japanese version of that page - you need to use Shift_JIS encoding to view it though)

Here are some text quoted from that page (examples are given in romaji so I left them as is):

1.Indicating a continuing action (be ~ing)

*Verbs which are used in this usage are almost transitive verbs.

... examples omitted ...

*Some intransitive verbs whose subjects are animate or other intransitive verbs which express the natural phenomena.

Kare wa heya no naka o aruki mawatte imasu. (He is walking around in the room.)

Kireina kingyo ga suisoo no naka o oyoide imasu. (A beautiful goldfish is swimming in the aquarium.)

Kanojo wa odotte imasu. (She is dancing.)

Soto wa ame ga futte imasu. (It is raining outside.)

Now, you might ask "Is 来る not an intransitive verb whose subject animates?". The thing is, in Japanese 来る is an instantaneous action verb, meaning it focuses on whether the subject has come or not; it does not look at the progress the subject is making in "coming". It is just about "has the subject come or not?". As a result, you can hear that when the subject reaches the destination, the other people who are at that place would shout 「来た!」, and while the subject is still at that place he is "来ている", meaning as far as his coming is concerned, he has already come thus he is still maintaining his state of "already come": 来て+いる.

Then there is a question of what to say when the subject is on the way, i.e. "is coming" in English sense? That's when we use 〜て来る form. While most 〜て来る verbs mean "to do something and return", there are some verbs that when used with 〜て来る form mean "is currently coming here doing X", for example 歩いてくる, 走ってくる, 飛んでくる etc. 歩いてくる does not mean "to walk and return" but "is walking here".

At this point, we haven't really wrapped up why 来ている used with typhoon means that the typhoon is coming rather than it has come, have we? Remember in two paragraphs back I stated that in Japanese 来る is an instantaneous action verb? Well, the thing is there are times people are interested in the process of something coming to their location. The news was announcing an upcoming typhoon so in this situation the coming of the typhoon is the context of interest, and the verb 来る is referring to the movement of the typhoon, thus 来る has now become an intransitive verb whose subject animates, thus 来ている takes the meaning of "is coming" in this context.

If that still fails, let me just take directly from the page linked in the first paragraph: it is a natural phenomenon, which qualifies it to take the meaning of "is coming" .. 許してあげてください :P

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No.

It can mean an action that has already been completed.
ご飯はまだ食べてない。
Aww, but I haven't eaten yet.

今ご飯を食べてるからさぁ。
I'm in the middle of dinner. (can this wait?)

We do the same in English grammar sometimes.
1) I ate dinner

I ate dinner before he walked in the door.
I had eaten dinner before he walked in the door.

Look! I ate my dinner.
Look! I have eaten my dinner.

notice that the past simple can be used in place of the past perfect and present perfect in English.

The only way you know if the Japanese verb is a past or continuous event is by the context or by a modifier such as an adjective in the sentence. Words like まだ or 今 will give you a nice hint.

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