My textbook says 行く is instantaneous (expresses changes from one state to another) and can only be used to describe the result of a change, not movements that are currently in progress. But a Japanese native has told me that it can be used to express an on-going action. For example


describes the father somewhere in the process of the action.

So, as you can imagine, I'm very confused with all this. Could somebody please clarify it a bit? Is my textbook wrong?


4 Answers 4


行っています doesn't express an on-going action in the same way that 走っている might be running. The sentence means that the father has gone to buy some fags and hasn't yet returned.


Whether something is durative or instantaneous isn't a property of verbs, but of predicates:

  • 「道を行く」 is durative
  • 「うまく行く」 is durative (as @user4092 nicely pointed out)
  • 「〇〇を買いに行く」 is instantaneous

With a durative predicate, you get these interpretations:

"My job is going well (currently)."

        /   \  
    ^     ^    
  begin  now
going well        

"My job is going well (every day)."

/                   \
 \  /\  /\  /\  /\  /
  d1  d2  d3  d4  d5
note: this habitual makes it explicit you are currently in the state of this action happening habitually, while the plain-form habitual does not make that explicit

"My job has gone well (twice up to this point)."

/                   \
  \ / \ / ^
   1   2 now

With an instantaneous predicate, you get these interpretations:

"My father is out to buy cigarettes (currently)."

        /   \  
    ^     ^  
 go out  now       

"My father is going out to buy cigarettes (every day)."

/                   \
 \  /\  /\  /\  /\  /
  d1  d2  d3  d4  d5

"My father has gone out to buy cigarettes (twice up to this point)."

/                   \
  \ / \ / ^
   1   2 now

Generally, people explain that the difference between durative and instantaneous predicates is that a durative predicate gets a progressive interpretation (in addition to the other two), while an instantaneous predicate gets a resultative interpretation (in addition to the other two).

I agree with that explanation, but I hope by comparing the pictures of "progressive" and "resultative", you can see how they are pretty much exactly the same concept, it's just that it's the action which is continuing in the "progressive" case, while it's the result continuing in the "resultative" case.

Your question

Your question really has to do with what that native speaker meant. The fact is that 「タバコを買いに行く」 is instantaneous and 「父は今タバコを買いに行っている」 has a "resultative" interpretation.

One possibility is that your native speaker source could have been saying that 「父は今タバコを買いに行っている」 can have the implication 「父は今タバコを買っている」, which is an action 父 is in the process of doing (though not necessarily -- while he went out to shop, he may instead be stuck in traffic or lost).

Another possibility is that your source did not properly convey what they meant, and they were only try to say what the "resultative" picture (and "progressive" picture, in fact) says, namely that the subject is in some on-going state.

  • +1 for awesome charts (and awesome explanation)
    – rintaun
    Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 13:44
  • 1
    I don't think the charts are lining up properly for me. Is there any chance you'd consider making them into images?
    – user1478
    Commented Oct 14, 2017 at 15:09

行っている often means "he has been there" but that doesn't mean you always can't interpret it as "he is going". So, the textbook is wrong in that aspect.

  1. [habitual action] ここのところ医者に行っている: I'm going to the doctor these days
  2. [on-going action] うまく行っている: It's going well

Edit: When you find your father walking the street and you assume 「おっ、タバコ買いに行ってるな」, that 行っている is the durative meaning the on-going meaning.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jQn0ytqSm4#t=0m07s #13 and #5 in the blue shirt pressing the DF is what I'd yell 「行ってる!」.

  • 2
    Can you give some examples where 行っている means "he is going"? Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 6:43
  • (1. habitual action) ここのところ医者に行っている: I'm going to the doctor these days (2. on-going action) うまく行っている: It's going well
    – user4092
    Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 14:17
  • "that 行っている is the durative meaning". Are you sure about this? To me, he (1) タバコ買いに行った, and (2) is still in the resulting state of タバコ買いに行ってる, which is why you can say that sentence in that context. I think the line is not super clear, but since タバコ買いに行く at least sometimes instantaneous, and as far as I can tell, can always be correctly interpreted as instantaneous (as in this case), I would lean towards it always being instantaneous rather than complicating things. Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 2:56
  • Perhaps a useful test here is 〜ところだ. To me, タバコを買いに行ってるところだ could not possibly refer to what someone is doing while they are buying cigarettes, but instead must refer that they are just about to go -- this suggests to me that it's instantaneous. What do you think? Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 3:08
  • 1
    @user4092 How come you didn't add to your answer the examples you gave in your comment? Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 8:10

Cited sentence obviously states a continuous state of his/her father being out and absent. In this case continual ています is indispensable, you can never say 今父はコンビニにタバコを買いに行きます.

In instantaneous sense, like "Tomorrow my father will go to the convenience store to buy cigarettes" (though this expample sounds pretty unreal), you can say 明日父はコンビニにタバコを買いに行きます.

So, roughly, 行きます is instantaneous and 行っています is continuous. Please learn about the continual ている/ています. Here are my try of showing some continous examples similar to your one:

  • 父は出ています。 My father is out now.
  • 彼は入院しています。 He is in the hospital.
  • 田中さんは田舎に帰っています。 Tanaka-san is back in his/her hometown.

Compare these with instantaneous 出ます, 入院します, 帰ります.

  • When I say instantaneous, I'm talking of the 3 verb types to consider when using ~ている: stative (continuous states), continuous (activities that last for some time) and instantaneous (changes that are more or less instantaneous). Textbook says, and I quote, '行く indicates the current state that results from prior movements, NOT movements that are currently in progress.'
    – Daniel
    Commented Nov 8, 2014 at 10:10
  • @Daniel Right. He has already gone out: it is the "going" which was the instantaneous action that 行って describes, and the being gone to buy X which is the continuous state after that which います describes. However, your textbook at some point explains that even supposedly "instantaneous" verbs aren't really. You can talk about the middle of the action, but it's normally so short that not a lot can happen between when it starts and when it ends.
    – Wlerin
    Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 9:59

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