1. ハワイへ行く時、帽子を買う。 
  2. ハワイへ行く時、帽子を買った。 
  3. ハワイへ行った時、帽子を買う。
  4. ハワイへ行った時、帽子を買った。

If I completely understand these, will I have undertood half of all the complex issues in Jp [relative tense] (相対テンス) ?

( but before we can get to that, we first have to understand these 4 sentences. )

What is a reasonable description of a "complete understanding" of these 4 sentences? I think it should at the very least include these:

(A). giving a simplified explanation to distinguish the 4 sentences.

(B). giving the biggest problems with that simplified explanation.

Could someone answer A and B ?

A. -- Here's the simplified explanation. If a speaker says (1-4) in Japan --

  • 買う。 means the speaker hasn't bought the hat.  買った。 means the speaker has.

  • 行く時、 means buying the hat in Japan. 行った時 means buying the hat in Hawaii.

This is good as a 1st approximation. However, . . . see responses to B.

B. -- Thank you for bringing up Mr. Niwa's page :

... されている http://www.geocities.jp/niwasaburoo/48toki.html のキャッシュ



 上の二つの文は、「どこで習ったのか」という違いがはっきりあります。  「行く時」では「まだ行っていない」ので、タイではなく、ふつうは日本で習い、「行った時」では「もうタイにいる」ので、タイで習った、となると説明します。

I think that in both of these sample sentences, studying of the Thai language could've been in Japan or in Thailand.

 タイへ行った時に、タイ語を少し習った。 <--- Esp. in this second example. If this happened a long time ago (like 10 years ago), there is almost no sense of ordering (study then travel OR travel then study) expressed in this sentence. Do you agree?

  • 1
    What is the question? After reading your "question" I really wonder whether you've read the link you provided. Or may be you want a generalization on "how relative tenses work in general" (which is quite broad) Oct 4, 2016 at 19:20
  • Yes, the link provides an answer to A (in Jp). _____ (but the Jp answer isn't very well-written, and a good Eng.-lang summary may be of great use and interest to ppl here.) _____ So my main interest is in B.
    – HizHa
    Oct 4, 2016 at 19:40
  • You can see a more in depth explanation here ( geocities.jp/niwasaburoo/48toki.html ) (enc: EUC-JP) Oct 4, 2016 at 21:54
  • 3
    @HizHa I recommend the pair of books 『初級を教える人のための日本語文法ハンドブック』 and 『中上級を教える人のための日本語文法ハンドブック』. Can you see this chapter at Google Books? books.google.co.jp/books?id=0eprLex8sr0C&pg=PA68
    – user1478
    Oct 5, 2016 at 6:33

2 Answers 2


When going to Thailand, I studied a little of Thai.
Because 行く refers either to the present or future, it means that I studied Thai BEFORE going to Thailand.

When I went to Thailand, I studied a little of Thai.
This has the exact same meaning as in English. I went to Thailand, THEN I studied Thai.


Variations of : 私が作った料理を一口食べるなり、父は変な顔をした。 Why 食べるなり rather than 食べたなり?

  1. 私が作った料理を食べる時、父は変な顔をした。

  2. 私が作った料理を食べた時、父は変な顔をした。

1 could be past habit, or one-time event -- maybe closer to the beginning of the meal.

2 doesn't sound like past habit. It could be (1) after one bite, (2) closer to the end of the meal, or (3) some event in the past.

  1. 私が作った料理を食べる時、父は変な顔をする。

  2. 私が作った料理を食べた時、父は変な顔をする。

These are recurring events. (habit)

3 is closer to the beginning of the meal.

4 could mean (1) after one bite, or (2) closer to the end of the meal.

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