When I learnt Japanese I was taught that a transitive verb in its "te form" followed by the verb "iru" represents a continuous action. However, this is not the case with intransitive verbs which instead represent a state when used this way;

Therefore 開けている means that a subject is opening the door, the action of opening is taking place and perhaps the subject has its hand on the handle of the door and is pulling it. However, 開いている means that the door is open rather than an action in which the door seems to be "automatically" opening.

This creates a confusion in my mind for example, 死んでいる means dead rather than a thing in the process of dying but not yet dead.

Why does the meaning differ so much for the two type of verbs? So, how does one represent continuous actions when using intransitive verbs?

Also, using ところ with a verb, one can present an action which is taking place "this instant". Does the transitive verb in "te form" not do this already?

  • 2
    It looks like things were simplified considerably for your class. Although there's definitely a correspondence between lexical aspect and transitivity, they're actually two different things, and at some point it'll probably help you to learn what the difference is, if you'd like a more accurate description of how -te iru works. – snailplane Jan 26 '15 at 21:49

I guess we cannot directly translate English into Japanese and vice-versa. I think that is a common mistake made by a lot of English speakers. You have to think in Japanese instead. Let me use some of your examples and provide some examples:

  1. ドアを開けている。
  2. ドアが開いている。
  3. 犬が死んでいる。
  4. 飛行機が飛んでいる。
  5. 彼が笑っている。

As a general guide, the thinking process for te-iru forms is "being in the state". For 1, it is very direct. Transitive verbs in the te-iru form can be directly translated into V-ing. Hence, I am opening the door. You can think of it as, "I am in the state of opening the door."

For 2, similarly, think of it as being in the state. So you will get, the door is opened, it is in the opened state. The next question is, how to express "the door is opening (by itself)?" That would be just, 「ドアが開く」. Remember, do not think in English. If you think in English, you will be confused. 「開く」just means open, the act of opening. Hence, naturally「ドアが開く」can be processed as "the door opens". However, it also means "the door is opening"! You should know by now that Japanese depends heavily on context. So, let's put this into context.

The elevator just arrived. ドアが今開く。 The elevator's doors open now/are opening now.

If you really want to express the continuous form, to emphasize on the continual action, then you could also say ドアが開いているところです。

Let's move on for more examples.

For 3, similarly, thinking of the state, the dog is in the state of being dead. For 4, it is translated as the plane is flying... now why is a "V-ing" used here? It is because flying is the state of being in flight! Hence, it makes perfect sense!

And lastly for 5, "He is laughing"; he is in the state of laughter.

Allow me to emphasize the point of being in context again. For example, 「私が怖い」can mean "I am a scary person" or "I am afraid". 「猫が怖い」can mean "I am scared of cats (私は)" or "Cats are scary". So Japanese language is actually very ambiguous and depend heavily on context. Take some time to ponder over it and you will eventually get it!

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I think this site helps you a lot. ( on the condition that you can fully read the hiragana and kanji )


Considering your TOEFL is requiring the vocabulary equivalent with that of 8th grade to 9th grade, that above site is for junior high school students. So in terms of lesson level, I think both are equal.

So granted regarding above, in this case 開ける takes same with 食べる ( to ear ) pattern.

Verbs conjugate according to what comes after, from 6 basic types,
未然形 連用形 終止形 連体形 仮定形 命令形.

In this case, 開ける is a transitive verb, while 開く(ひらく) is an intransitive ( although it has a transitive form too ex 店を開く, meaning, "We open the shop". )

Per the explanation on the site, both are now here taking 連用形, which is I am sorry, for now too difficult for you as for now.

て is an auxiliary, meaning here continuation,

---> [存続]ずっと歩きつづけた。(用言につく)

and いる is a kind of filler verb, which once had a meaning but basically doesn't now.

Maybe the below site will help you to know for which cases you should use 開ける and 開く.


Japanese is difficult, isn't it? A Vietnamese person once told me Japanese is the third most difficult language, though linguistically this has not been proven.

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  • I have tried to learn Arabic too and can say with experience that out of the 5 languages I have been exposed to, it is the most intricate language. That is if we take away the Kanji requirement of Japanese. I my time learning Japanese, I have been confused a lot because the books I used oversimplified many things. – quantum231 Jan 31 '15 at 14:00

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