In this excellent response by @DariusJahandarie , he covered how to say "I have been [verbing]" in Japanese by using ている. He had given many examples of how would could potentially translate ている or てい based on the context.

I'm wondering how you would differentiate between the following:

  • I was [verbing]
  • I had been [verbing]
  • I had [verbed]

I will try a few sample sentences.

  • 昨日は, テストのために勉強しているとき, 彼女が来た。
    She came yesterday while I was studying for my test.

  • 昨夜はあなたが電話したとき, 勉強していた
    I was studying when you had called last night.

  • 私達がその本のことを初めて話したまでに, 一週間私がそれをもう読んでいた
    By the time we had first talked about that book, I had already been reading it for a week.

  • 1
    Just to make sure I understand correctly, did you mean "I will try translating a few sample sentences into English."? Oct 21, 2014 at 4:06
  • None of the "perfect" tenses exist in Japanese (anything with "to have" as a helping verb). For fun, try to think in English without using perfect tenses. Also, Japanese has no future tense. For fun, try not to think using "will" as a helping verb. Japanese verb tense is very limited regarding describing an action's time and duration. Ever wonder why Japanese have so much trouble with verb tensing in English? On the flip side, we get so frustrated trying to explain when something happened if we can't use verb tense.
    – user312440
    Oct 21, 2014 at 20:57
  • @user312440 (1) There is no such thing as a "perfect tense". (2) Because syntax and semantics are so easily confused, statements like "Japanese has no future tense" are misleading for a lot of people. It is not difficult to construct sentences in Japanese which are semantically unambiguously referring to future events using modals and adjuncts. (3) Just because some grammatical element does not line up perfectly with a specific aspect or tense doesn't mean we should throw our hands up and give up trying to describe it -- thinking in such terms can still be quite useful. Oct 21, 2014 at 21:13
  • @DariusJahandarie I'm just thinking the perfect verb tenses in particular, such as "I've been studying Japanese too long", tacitly establish points in time as well as a duration. In Japanese, specifying points in time and duration requires a technique other than verb tensing. Simply, English is very verb-centric language.
    – user312440
    Oct 21, 2014 at 21:43
  • @DariusJahandarie I meant that I would try creating a few sentences. Basically, I had an idea in my head that I wanted to express. The English way, I already knew how to express, but I was uncertain of the Japanese equivalent. Oct 22, 2014 at 9:21

2 Answers 2


I don't know if this answers your question but I would say them as:

Yesterday she came (to my place) while I was studying for a test.

I was studying when you called me last night.

By the time we first talked about that book, I had already been reading it for a week.


Note: I can't comment yet, so I need to answer, even though I think your attempts are just fine.

I think grammatically you have #3 right (with the verbs) anyway. 私たちがその本のことを最初に話した時までに、1週間前からもう読んでいた。

I try to keep it in my head the same was as "would have", which sounds a little wonky in English if you do a literal translation (or always has to me anyway).

来ることを知っていたら、部屋を奇麗にした。 lit: If I knew you come, I cleaned the room. colloquial: If I knew you would come, I would have cleaned the room.

I'm not sure if you could classify it as implication in these cases, but there is no word that directly translates the "would", and in English you can use it at least once, and probably twice.

The real trick though is to not think about the English verb tense you want to say - just know how you'd say it in Japanese. :)

  • 「来ることを知っていたら、部屋を奇麗にした。」 seems a little unnatural to me... I would use 「来ると知っていたら、部屋をきれいにしたのに。」 or 「来ると知っていたら、部屋をきれいにしただろう。」 depending on what I was trying to say. Oct 21, 2014 at 17:35
  • Indeed, those work well but didn't want to jump the gun. Kind of keeping it at the basics. ;) Oct 21, 2014 at 17:42
  • Thank you for the correction. I wasn't quite sure about the wording of #3. In your correction I noticed you used 最初に whereas I used 初めて. From what I understand, doesn't 最初に carry the nuance of "first" as in: "First, we talked. Then we went out. After that, we returned home." Does the inclusion of までに alter the interpretation of 最初に? Oct 24, 2014 at 1:27
  • Disclaimer: I can almost never explain why. :) I learned a lot of my Japanese through repetition and immersion. I never learned group 1, group 2 verbs, etc. If I had, I probably would have forgotten soon after anyway. As such, a lot of my recommendations are based on what "sounds right". In short, I think either way grammatically works so I wouldn't sweat it too much. I do think it sounds better w/ 時 in there, but again -- preference and I probably couldn't tell you for certain either way. Oct 25, 2014 at 2:50

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