8

ほうがいい means:

the particular way "ほう" is "が" good "いい"

So, for example, if it looks like it's going to rain, I might say to a friend:

"今日は雨らしい。傘を持った方がいい。"

But what I'm curious is, why is "持った" past tense? It feels like it means, it WOULD'VE BEEN good to carry an umbrella, so it feels quite inappropriate tense-wise. I ask this question because there's no distinction between future and present tense in Japanese. For example,

"明日来る人は私の友達です。" The dude coming tomorrow, is my friend.

"今、あそこから来る人は私の友達です。 That dude coming our way, is my friend.

So logically, I thought "take your umbrella" would be: "今日は雨らしい。傘を持つ方がいい。"

Instead of "今日は雨らしい。傘を持った方がいい。"

So, why is it that it's past tense?

  • 1
    If feels 100% appropriate tense-wise. Wouldn't they say "It would be better if you brought an umbrella with you." in English when they are NOT talking about the past? – l'électeur May 21 '15 at 7:15
  • 1
    It isn't always past tense though. For example. 彼は怒ってるみたい。話をかけないほうがいい 彼は怒ってるみたい。話さないほうがいい – The Wandering Coder May 21 '15 at 7:29
  • 1
    @TheWanderingCoder [話]{はなし}をかけないほうがいい --> [話]{はな}しかけないほうがいい. You use the present tense for the negative ない. 「~~しないほうがいい」 not 「~~しなかったほうがいい」 (But don't ask me why) – Chocolate May 21 '15 at 7:34
  • 1
    @VladeKR "I should've brought an umbrella" would be 傘を持って行けば(or来れば)よかった or 傘を持って行ったら(or来たら)よかった etc. – Chocolate May 21 '15 at 7:38
  • 1
    @choco, Sorry about the mistype, that was essentially what I was trying to say. OP asked if it is always past tense, that was my way of weakly answering that it wasn't. – The Wandering Coder May 21 '15 at 7:49
17

This 〜た is the perfect, not past; that is, it's indicating a time before some reference time, rather than a time before speech time:

傘を持っていったほうがいい。
Lit. "Having brought an umbrella would be better."

That said, I don't think native speakers actually have such a complicated model (of comparing possible future worlds, one of which where you have brought an umbrella), but rather 〜たほうがいい has just become a way of making suggestions; that is, I think the 〜た has become mostly semantically bleached. However, I'm pretty sure this was the original function of 〜た here.


It is also possible to have the plain form of verbs before 〜ほうがいい, but they don't have a future interpretation but rather a "general" or "habitual" one.

傘を持っていくほうがいい。
"Bringing an umbrella is best."

That is, you're not making a suggestion about something to do at a future time, but making a more categorical statement.

I wish I had an explanation of why it's impossible for the plain form to have a future interpretation here, but I don't.

5

The suffix た does not automatically imply past tense.

In this free online dictionary, for instance, it lists 8 different meanings /usages of 「た」.

https://kotobank.jp/word/%E3%81%9F-556028#E5.A4.A7.E8.BE.9E.E6.9E.97.20.E7.AC.AC.E4.B8.89.E7.89.88

Sure, you may not be able to read it, but it would at least give you a good sign that you should forget about your preconception "た = past tense" for a moment, would it not? 「た」 is important because it is complex.

Look at definition #6, for example. 「さあ、どんどん[歩]{ある}い、歩い」 is an imperative meaning "Keep walking; Don't stop!". It is talking about the present and even immediate future. That is not past tense at all. Not even close to it.

Getting back to your question,

「(Verb phrase ending in た) + [方]{ほう}がいい」

is an extremely often-used expression that talks about the present and/or future -- again not the past. This is not unique to Japanese at all. You would say in English:

"(If it indeed rains,) you will be glad you brought an umbrella with you."

Or would you still ask "Why use the past-tense 'brought'?"?

In Japanese, it is just customary to use the た-form when giving advice and making suggestions to others.

1.「傘を持っていった方がいい。」

2.「傘を持っていく方がいい。」

Both are actually correct sentences, but #1 would be heard much more often.

Sentence #2 would sound like a stronger piece of advice than #1 to the native ear.

  • To any native English speaker, 'If it rains, you will be glad you brought an umbrella with you' has a definite element of past tense; the event might be in the actual future, but it's the past relative to another future point being talked about. – Aeon Akechi Nov 5 '15 at 21:37
  • A better example would be, 'It's time I went away'; I can't tie a single past tense meaning to that. – Aeon Akechi Dec 2 '15 at 22:34
  • According to "A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar" amazon.co.jp/Dictionary-Basic-Japanese-Grammar/dp/4789004546 page 139 "Vinf・past 方がいい may express a stronger suggestion than Vinf・nonpast 方がいい". Is there consensus on which form is stronger? – user1602 Nov 27 '17 at 4:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.