Last night, when I asked my wife to send an email to me, she said もう送っている which I took to mean that she was "sending the message". (The message had a big attachment so I imagined that it could take a few minutes to be sent.) What I later realized is that in this context 送っている meant that "the message has been sent". I thought that Vている is the same as a progressive or -ing form in English. According to my wife, if she wanted to say she was sending the message it would have been, 送っているところ.

Is it true that the 送っている always means continuation of state (ie. "has been sent") or does it depend on the context? Other verbs in the Vている form (for example 食べている) seem to mean continuation of action (ie. "eating"). Does the meaning of Vている change depending on the verb it's used with? Can we divide every verb into a "continuation of state" or a "continuation of action" category or is it more complicated?

Finally, where does てある fit into all of this. From my textbook grammar, I would have thought 送ってある would be the correct phrase for "it has been sent".

Related question: If Vて+いる isn't a gerund, then what is it?

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    I think you mean "When is Vている progressive and when is it perfect?" You are making a basic mistake: confusing gerund and progressive. – user458 Sep 13 '11 at 15:07
  • @sawa I'm not good with grammatical terms. :) I didn't even know what a gerund was until I looked at the other question I linked to. If perfect="continuation of action" and progressive="continuation of action" then that is what I'm trying to ask... – user27478 Sep 13 '11 at 22:16
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    @user27478 - Perfect just means that the action of the verb is completed according to the internal logic of the sentence. In English, "It has been sent.", "It had been sent.", "It will have been sent." are all perfect. – rdb Sep 14 '11 at 1:05
  • For the record, I removed the incorrect use of word “gerund” (finally). The answer by Derek Schaab to the linked question explains why it is incorrect to call the ~ている form a gerund. – Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 22 '12 at 14:26

The key to understanding this difference in aspect (not tense) lies in knowing what kind of verb we're dealing with. For verbs that describe actions (食【た】べる, 走【はし】る, etc) and events (降【ふ】る, 吹【ふ】く, etc), ~ている shows the continuation of an action. For verbs that describe changes in state (死【し】ぬ, 割【わ】れる, 溶【と】ける, etc), ~ている shows the continuation of a state.

Another way to conceptualize this is the idea that action/event verbs can take place over a length of time, while change-in-state verbs often happen instantaneously.

There are some diagrams on page 54 of this book that help a little. I will redraw two of them here (with some modifications) for the sake of convenience:

Type 1: action/event verbs

Diagram for 食【た】べている

Type 2: change-in-state verbs

Diagram for 割【わ】れている

So where does 送【おく】る fit in? We might be tempted to think that 送【おく】る is an action verb, and in a sense it is, as it is transitive and takes a direct object. But 送【おく】る shows an instantaneous change in state: a change from not-sent to sent. This is why 送【おく】っている means "I have sent [it]."

"Ah," you say, "but there are change-in-state verbs that happen over a length of time. How do we deal with those?" Let's look at 溶【と】ける:

アイスが溶【と】けているよ。はやく食【た】べなさい。 Your ice cream is melting. Hurry up and eat it.

アイスが溶【と】けちゃうよ。はやく食【た】べなさい。 Your ice cream will melt away. Hurry up and eat it.

うわぁ、アイスがぜんぶ溶【と】けている。どうしよう? Woah, the ice cream has all melted. What should we do?

友【とも】だちとしゃべっている間【あいだ】に、アイスが溶【と】けちゃった。 My ice cream melted away while I was chatting with a friend.

溶【と】ける is one of those pesky verbs that doesn't fit into just one of our categories above. It could be taken as either an event verb or a change-in-state verb. So 溶【と】けている could be taken as "is melting" or "has melted", depending on the context. Verbs such as 死【し】ぬ, however, show only an instantaneous change in state. 死【し】んでいる always means "has died", and not "is dying".

"But!" you say, not wishing to be denied any chance for objection, "What about using ~ている with expressions of frequency?" This is where ~ている doesn't line up with any of our nice English translations:

古【ふる】くなった細胞【さいぼう】は毎日【まいにち】死【し】んでいる。 Old cells die every day. (not are dying or have died)

毎週【まいしゅう】大阪【おおさか】に行【い】っている。 I go to Osaka every week. (not am going or have gone)

This could be interpreted as a use of progressive aspect, but translating it into English with an -ing verb form doesn't work grammatically.

Movement verbs

Verbs like 行【い】く, 来【く】る, and 帰【かえ】る, which deal with movement from one point to another, look like action verbs on the surface, but in their ~ている forms, they work more like change-in-state verbs:

彼【かれ】は日本【にほん】に行【い】っている。 He has gone to Japan. (He went to Japan, and is still there.)

お父【とう】さんはまだ帰【かえ】っていない。 Dad hasn't come home yet. (He may be on the way home, but the change in state from not-home to home hasn't happened yet.)


There are times when you want to take a change-in-state verb and "zoom in" on the point when the change takes place to treat it like a continuous-action verb. This is what ~ところ is for:

送【おく】るところだ。 I am just about to send it.

送【おく】っているところだ。 I am sending it right now. (implies that the speaker has her finger on the button for "Send")

送【おく】ったところだ。 I just sent it.

Naturally, ところ can also mean "place", so you might have to do some contextual sleuthing to figure out which is meant:

ビルが崩壊【ほうかい】しているところを見【み】た。 I saw the building as it was collapsing. (note ~ている in Japanese, was in English!)

道路【どうろ】の崩壊【ほうかい】しているところを直【なお】す。 We will repair the places where the road has collapsed.

~つつある, attaching to the ~ます stem (壊【こわ】れつつある), can be used like ~ところ, but is more common in writing than in speech.


The main difference between ~ている and ~てある (aside from the fact that ~てある requires a transitive verb, which I'm sure you already know), is that ~てある implies the existence of an actor who performs the action for some purpose. ~ている, on the other hand, has no such implication, and reads as though the action occurred with no particular purpose. Thus we can draw the following contrast:

○ 寒【さむ】いので、窓【まど】が閉【し】めてあります。 It's cold, so the window has been closed.

× 寒【さむ】いので、窓【まど】が閉【し】まっています。 It's cold, so the window is closed. (incorrect)

Suppose, however, you walk into a room with an open window, and you have no idea whether the window was opened for some purpose. In this case, ~てある is incorrect:

○ あ、窓【まど】が開【あ】いている。 Ah, the window is open.

× あ、窓【まど】が開【あ】けてある。 Ah, the window has been opened. (incorrect)

  • +million Wow! Thanks so much. Your detailed response really cleared up my confusion... – user27478 Sep 14 '11 at 18:35
  • Which app you used to draw that illustrations above ? – Narutokage Nov 14 '16 at 3:09
  • @Derek Schaab I'm still confused with the: 寒いので、窓が閉めてあります。 -> It's cold, so the window has been closed. Why can't we just say: It's cold, so the window is closed.(it's a state of 'being closed', right?) and for the あ、窓が開いている。-> can we say, Ah, the window is being opened? instead of 'Ah the window is open.' – Flonne Nov 22 '17 at 14:51

To answer your first question, I'd say it depends on context. The もう in your first example indicates that it's supposed to be read as a continuation of state, while the ところ in the second example indicates it's supposed to be read as a progressive.

One might also ask what the relation between 〜た, 〜ている, and 〜てある is. Here is an illustration I once read:


The train is coming into view.


The train has just arrived.


The train has arrived and passengers are boarding.

来てある is ungrammatical basically because 来る is intransitive. The 〜てある construction implies a certain agency: someone performed an action on something and it remains in that state (by some deliberate action or inaction). Drohan gives the following examples in A handbook of Japanese grammar:

戸が閉まっている。 The door is closed.

戸を閉めている。 The door is closed. They are closing the door.

戸が・戸を閉めてある。 The door has been closed (and has been left so).

  • "来てある is ungrammatical basically because 来る is intransitive" - but isn't 閉まる intransitive too, so how come 閉まってある is fine? – Lukman Sep 13 '11 at 12:39
  • Oops, I mistyped. I'll fix that. – Zhen Lin Sep 13 '11 at 13:06
  • (Edited, due to it being a typo.) Additionally, I think using "just" in the translation for 電車が来た is a little off. There are separate grammar points which express the meaning of "just" in Japanese. 来た merely shows the action has completed, and implies nothing of when, no? – phirru Sep 13 '11 at 13:11
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    @phirru That is a different verb. Your examples include the transitive verb しまう, which should not be written in kanji as 閉まう but as 仕舞う. But the verb in question is しまる, which is written as 閉まる. – user458 Sep 13 '11 at 15:12
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    I think that usage dictates that 電車が来た means it's come to view, and 電車が来る is "it will come". – Axioplase Sep 14 '11 at 3:03

送る is not a change-of-state verb, so 送っている means "is sending", not "has sent". So you are right, the correct form for the situation you are describing is 送ってある (or simply 送った).

That being said, are you sure she did not say もう送ってる? I sometimes hear てる as a contracted form of てある (although probably not "correct" strictly speaking), but using ている for てある sounds quite unnatural to me.

  • See Derek's answer, paragraph 4. Are you perhaps confusing the terminology "state change verb" with "stative verb"? Because 送る seems like it could certainly be an active state-change verb. – jkerian Aug 22 '12 at 5:05
  • @jkerian, I'm not confusing the two, I'm saying that 送る is an action verb, i.e. the ている form expresses the progressive, not the perfective. But I'm losing confidence. Looking online and inquiring with other speakers, it seems some people would even use 食べている to mean "have eaten". This is not a natural use for me, but maybe I'm biased wrt. dialect and/or age group. Maybe I should ask another question about this from a diachronical/regional standpoint. – dainichi Aug 22 '12 at 15:21

protected by snailboat Mar 13 '13 at 17:45

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