Up to now my understanding of ~てくる has been very vague. No matter how many explanations I read, in practice my translations always feel uneasy. Here are a few unresolved doubts I have:

  • From what I understand ~てくる signifies inception or continuation depending on the verb with which it's used. How can I tell which verbs entail which meaning? From what I understand the former meaning is more aligned with changes in state (なってくる, 分かってくる, 太ってくる, etc.), wheres the latter comes in to play with verbs that involve activity (like 押してくる and 運動してくる).

    My first question is regarding "state verbs". When てくる (as opposed to other tenses) is attached to words of this class of verbs the meaning is always "start to ~", correct? So "あなた、 いつか私を愛してくる” means "You will come to love me in time"; and "私は義理を感じてくる” translates to "I start to feel a sense of duty"? Can "感じてくる" not mean "continue to feel", that is, without the implication of inception?

    My questions concerning "activity verbs" (not really sure of the correct terms here) are much the same. "運動してくる" means "continue to exercise" and "押しこんでくる" means "continue to push in", I think. Is the concept of inception altogether absent? Would it be incorrect to translate those lines as "start to exercise" and 'start to push in" respectively"?

  • I'm under the impression that when てくる is attached to a verb which indicates a process of change, inception is signified; whereas when it is attached to a verb that doesn't involve change (like 押す or 泣く) the indication is continuation. Could someone better explain the difference between verbs which entail either inception or continuation?

  • When it comes to verbs which involve change ~てきた is usually translated to English as either has~ or has begun to~, for example, "私は太ってきた" is translated as either "I have begun to get fat" or "I have become fat". To me, those two translations offer two different meanings, yet I often see such translations used interchangeably regarding that verb and others like it. The former translation indicates a change has started and is continuing in the present, right? The latter states a change has completed and the results of said change are persisting in the present. Clearly I'm misunderstanding this kind of usage of ~てきた. Why are these differing translations used seemingly interchangeably?

While these aren't are all my doubts concerning ~てくる, they are the largest. Please help me better understand.

  • I think your question about the durative/punctual contrast would be better off asked separately from your question about ~てくる. – snailboat Sep 10 '14 at 22:48
  • Ah, yeah, probably. I only really care about the contrast in relation to ~てくる but perhaps asking about it directly is too off-topic. I'll do some editting. – ElSigh Sep 10 '14 at 23:38
  • It's wrong to translate 私は太ってきた into "I have become fat" in the sense that you once became fat and still remain so, though it can mean "I have repeated becoming fat". – user4092 Sep 10 '14 at 23:43
  • So then the correct translation is "I have begun to get fat"? What about other verbs: would translating "きれいになってきた" as "has become pretty" also be incorrect? – ElSigh Sep 11 '14 at 0:22
  • 2
    I know that you are essentially trying to ask a VERY good and important question -- one that many others will thank you for asking. The misinformation (starting with "inception or continuation") contained within the question, however, is so great in quantity that at least I would not know where to start if I were to respond. It would require such a long post just addressing your misunderstandings for a starter. – l'électeur Sep 12 '14 at 0:26

Note:I cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information below so take it with a grain of salt. Any comments that point out inaccuracies would be appreciated.

While I can't fully answer your question because I'm still learning myself, I can still provide some information that you don't know. I haven't found a textbook that goes into depth about the usage either which is very annoying.

Maggie does explain some concepts of the usage but in my opinions doesn't go into enough detaillink

I'm not sure how much Japanese you can read but anyway.

link 「~てくる」は、物理的に、また、心情的に、ものごと・状況などが話の中心点(ときに話し手であったり聞き手であったりします)のほうに近づくという意味合いを表します。




The gist if you can't follow the above is that the different uses depend on whether the verbs are 意志 or 無意志 with verbs like 食べる、見る、する being 意志 and 落ちる、なる being 無意志. With 意志 verbs the usages would correspond to usage (2) and (4) from below and 無意志 would correspond to (3) and (5).

Here's the definitions from Excite. Try to read these definitions and then understand which usage these examples fall under(you can check which usage is which because it shows them on their website)











(1) 話し手の方へ向かって動作が行われ,その話し手の方へ近づく意を表す。

(2) (すぐに現在地に戻ることを前提にして)別の場所へ行って動作を行う意と,現在地に至る前に別の場所である動作を完了・実現した意を表す。

(3) ある事態が出現し,またある現象が現れる意を表す。

(4) 動作が継続・反復されて現在に至るまで続く意を表す。

(5) 事態が進行してある段階に至る意を表す。

I hope this comment will at least benefit you in some way although it won't fully explain the usage.

  • Wow, great links. The differentiation between 意志動詞 and 無意志動詞 really helped. – ElSigh Sep 14 '14 at 15:28

~てくる has those meanings.

  1. to do something and come back here
  2. someone does something toward the speaker
  3. gradual change ([edit] or accumlation of acts)

So, 運動してくる makes sense only when it's used in the meaning of 1.

As for difference between ~てくる and ~てきた, the former means the gradual change progresses from now on, and the latter indicates a gradual change that started before now. If you stand in the course of the change, you can say either, though the focus is different.

  • Thanks so much user4092 for not giving up on me up to now. Just to be clear, almost all the words and translations I have given here were taken from resources such as English textbooks and around the net. Regarding "someone does something toward the speaker", is ~てくる often used in this sense? If gradual change isn't implied elsewhere would it be safe to assume it's the exclusive meaning (for example, would "見てくる" and "押してくる" mean "look towards me" and "push me" respectively)? – ElSigh Sep 13 '14 at 11:49
  • Regarding your last paragraph: "[T]he former means the gradual change progresses from now on", could be interpreted as ~てくる indicating inception, which you said is wrong. Does the change progress from now on, or did the change already start and the focus is on the future? – ElSigh Sep 13 '14 at 12:02
  • Any of 1.2.3 meanings are quite common. What 押してくる means is not only "push me" but also "push something upcomming way to the viewpoint", 見てくる is as well. What it actually nuances is vulnerability of the side that includes the viewpoint. Inception is expressed with ~し出す or ~し始める. "Gradual change" inevitably includes inception and they can indicate the same thing from an objective viewpoint, but that's not the main focus of ~てくる. – user4092 Sep 13 '14 at 15:07
  • I see. Do you think you could reword "push something upcomming way to the viewpoint"? As it is, it's a little difficult to understand. – ElSigh Sep 13 '14 at 15:29
  • PoV Patient <---- Agent – user4092 Sep 13 '14 at 15:54

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