Why is the past tense used in this verbs (which doesn't make sense to me at least)



and the translation uses present tense

Survive? That's easy... Because I can't die!

And switched my body for this armor with the power to rejuvenate me

Does it make sense to use the past tense? or it's just how the character talks?

  • Maybe another character (surprisingly) said "お前、生きていたのか!" or something like this before him? Could you add that part and explain the context?
    – naruto
    Nov 7, 2016 at 14:24
  • 2
    The guy in the armor says 死ねなかった because he "couldn't" die in the explosion. Basically they are talking with the past tense simply because they are talking about what happened in the past. And maybe you can forget this official translation which is not really literal. Could you explain why you think using the past tense doesn't make sense to you?
    – naruto
    Nov 7, 2016 at 18:09
  • 1
    Saying "生きていたのか/死ねなかったのだ" does not imply the situation is now different. I don't know why, though I've seen some similar questions here. Maybe のだ/のか plays some role here? If the translation were "It is because I could not die", does this sound better to you?
    – naruto
    Nov 8, 2016 at 3:56
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    It's の+だ, not 野田 (did you see the link?). And again, saying 死ねなかったのだ/死ねなかったんだ in Japanese does not imply you can die now. I can assure this is a perfectly natural way of using past tense in Japanese, regardless of age. He is explaining why he survived the past explosion, and that's simply why he uses the past tense.
    – naruto
    Nov 8, 2016 at 23:57
  • 1
    Maybe this one is more or less related. Another seemingly weird usage of た-form is this, but I think it's not relevant to this question.
    – naruto
    Nov 9, 2016 at 1:47

2 Answers 2


Finally I found an explanation that possibly answers at least your original question. This usage of "past tense" is called 発見の「た」 (ta for discovery) or ムードの「た」 (modal ta).

Most articles about this are written in Japanese, but here's an article written in English: Another Function of the Ta-form: Discovery and Recall

In a nutshell, my understanding is that た/だ, typically after ある/いる/ない, can sometimes express the nuance of "I've noticed ...", "I've just recalled ..." or "(In spite of one's prevoius knowledge/belief,) the fact is...". It actually refers to something in the present.

  • へえ、君はフランス語が読めんですね。
    Wow, you can read French! (although I have thought you can't)
  • (after looking for a wallet for a while) あっ、財布、こんなところにあっのか!
    Oh! There it is, my wallet!
  • そうでし、明日は休みでし。今思い出しました。
    Yeah, that is right, I have the day off tomorrow. I've just recalled that.
  • (after trying to open a door) おっと、鍵がかかって
    Oops, the door is locked.

As you can see, "fixing (or updating) one's previous knowledge/expectation" seems to be the key here. So saying 「お前、生きていたのか!」 is okay because he has believed the opponent in front of him is dead.

References (These are very long articles and I haven't read them all):

Related question:

  • 3
    slightly late response (only two years, ha!), but I think this use of the past tense would be okay rendered in English as well, e.g.: "wow, you could read french (after all)!" "ah, my wallet was here (the whole time, after all, etc)!" "oops, the door was locked (this whole time)". the nuance seems to be exactly as you found (updating a previously held belief), but I just wanted to point out there are potentially even more natural correlations with English phrases. Dec 15, 2018 at 4:26
  • 1
    some other examples (from a class in Japanese linguistics I took this past semester): 「明日は道子さんの誕生日(です・でした)ね」-> former is a neutral description, while the latter is seeking confirmation for a fact that was forgotten; 「あ、コンタクトレンズ、こんなところに(ある・あった)」-> former implies an unexpected outcome (i.e. was found accidentally), while the latter implies the target was being actively sought out. sorry for rambling on this! Dec 15, 2018 at 4:40

After much investigation I came to the conclusion that the use of past tense in these sentences could mean:
1.-Showing confirmation: In the first sentence the character confirms to the hero that he indeed did not died in the explosion.
2.-Dialect: I've read somewhere that some people above 50 in Hokkaido talk with past tense when they should be using the present tense.
3.-Just how the language is: I've read that the concept of tenses is not the same for all the languages in the world, so maybe using the past tense in that way makes sense for the japanese and just need to get used to it.

  • A very similar question posted today: japanese.stackexchange.com/q/40877/5010
    – naruto
    Nov 14, 2016 at 2:44
  • 1. "showing confirmation" is related to this, but I don't think it's relevant in this case. 2. I don't think this is dialectal. 3. Yes I think that's right, but sorry I cannot give a clear-cut answer.
    – naruto
    Nov 14, 2016 at 2:52

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