Edit: I was convinced by some people that this question was caused by a misunderstanding or a mishearing. However, I've managed to come across this odd grammar again; this time as text in a chat, along with a translation and context.

When asked about what they would do after graduation, a Japanese friend replied with:


Of which she translated as:

My school life is too busy, so I don't want to think about my future right now

After some probing, she explained:

うーん。「先」は時間を指すだけじゃなく、場所についても使う言葉なんだ。私も無意識に使ってたけど、場所や時間において、前側の意味にもなるし、後ろや過去の意味にもなるんだよねー。 で、私も不思議に思って調べてみました。今いる場所や時間から、後ろを向くと、過去や後ろ側が「先」になる。今いる場所や時間から前に向かうと未来やその場所の端が「先」になる。たぶん。

From the vague explanation, I could only understand that 先 can indeed be used to talk about the future, which is reflected in its dictionary entry.

Could someone clarify? Without context, I would have assumed that the sentence meant I don't want to think about the things that have past.


Old question:

When asked if he is going to some place, my Japanese host often replies with:


I was always confused as to why 「先」 could refer to the future in cases such as this, as I've only been aware of the usage when referring to the past.

Here is an example of a conversation I remember us having:

Me: お風呂{ふろ}に入るの?

Host: 先{さき}に入るよ

In this case, my host explained that it meant that he would go later.

Can someone explain why it did not mean that he had already gone?

  • 4
    I think 先に入るよ means "I take a bath earlier than you.". Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 14:43
  • @YuuichiTam But he explained and said that he was going later, signaling me to go first. Perhaps my memory failed me and he said something similar, but 先に was definitely used, and he definitely went later.
    – eclmist
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 17:15
  • 6
    I think you might hear that incorrectly. 先に入ってよ or 先に入っていいよ or 先に入れよ means "you go first", that is to say, "I will take a bath after you". Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 17:24
  • 2
    There is no future tense in Japanese to begin with.
    – user4032
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 0:02
  • 4
    This question was caused by a simple spelling mistake, misreading, typographical error, or mishearing.
    – chocolate
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 17:42

2 Answers 2


I'm not sure about your question, but at leaset I can explain the example.

Me: お​風呂に入るの?

Host: ​先​に入るよ。

I guess, when you see your host is going to take a bath, you'd like to confirm it. Then you asked "(今から、あなたは)お風呂に入るの(ですか)?"

Then, your host replid "はい、私が先に入ります。" = "Yes, I'm taking a bath before you."

"先" is an expression of the order. "on ahead"


「先に行く」 can only mean "go before", not "go later". It's possible that he's saying something else and you are not hearing the sentence in its entirety. My guess is that he is saying you can go first, or asking if you'd like to go first.

「先に行く?」"Would you like to go first?" <- In this case, he is indicating that you may go first and he'll go later, which may be what is going on in your specific example.

I strongly suggest you ask the host to write it down for you.

  • 1
    An explanation of the downvote would be appreciated. Commented May 29, 2018 at 6:47

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