Image from yotsuba

Context: From Yotsuba&, they went gathering chestnuts and one of them had a bug in it so they threw it away. But here the young girl is eating from the rest and her sister is saying that there were still bugs in them that morning.

My question comes from the use of てた in this context. Why is this used instead of the past construct. I can understand it, at least form the English point of view, why it would work if it were paired with まだ or また, and think that the も, serves a similar purpose in this context, i.e. They were coming out this morning as well.

  • Are there certain combinations come together, or imply one another ?
  • What difference, if any, is there between the た and てた conjugations ?

3 Answers 3


虫出てきてた is short for 虫(が)出てきていた.

  • 出て: The te-form of 出る
  • きて: The te-form of くる (来る)
  • いた: The past-form (aka ta-form) of いる (居る)

くる and いる here are both subsidiary verbs. くる denotes actions that is physically or psychologically moving toward you. See Difference between -ていく and -てくる. いる denotes the action is in progress.

So the literal translation would be "Speaking of those chestnuts, bugs were coming out (toward us) this morning, too."

The difference between 出てきた and 出てきて(い)た is simply the difference between "bugs came out" and "bugs were coming out." Unlike instant actions like ドアから歩いて出る, this 出てくる is an action that may take hours. She witnessed bugs which are in the middle of crawling out from the chestnuts.

EDIT: @goldbrick pointed out that this ていた can also be understood as an example of the past perfect aspect (i.e., bugs had completed the action of "coming out" and were creeping on the surface of a table, for example, when she noticed them). For the details of this usage of いる, please see: When is Vている the continuation of action and when is it the continuation of state? I think both interpretations are possible. Where were the bugs found at the time of this conversation?

  • 1
    僕はこの「いた」は「動作の進行」ではなく「動作の結果状態」か「動作を経たこと」の意味と捉えているのですが、その可能性はどうでしょうか。「(今朝見たときには、)虫が(すでに)出てきていた」"bugs/worms had (already) come out"あるいは"bugs/worms were (already) out"みたいな・・・ (進行の解釈は全く頭になかったのですが、いわれてみれば同じぐらい自然に感じます。両立も可能?(でてきていたのも、でていきているのもいた))
    – goldbrick
    May 29, 2017 at 12:33
  • @goldbrick: 私の答えで「(4)虫出てたよ」に気づく前は、「(3)虫出てきてたよ=虫出てきていたよ」を(4)だと解釈して絵を描き始めました。本当に(3)は両立可能だと思います。むしろ(4)のニュアンスで普段話しているようにも思います。
    – user20624
    May 29, 2017 at 12:40
  • @goldbrick 僕は逆に「動作の結果状態」の解釈はほとんど頭にありませんでした。確かに栗から完全に虫が出終わって、皿の上でうねうねしている状態を目撃した、という場合でも「虫出てきてたよ」と言えそうですね。
    – naruto
    May 29, 2017 at 12:47
  • I was looking at that post before, but it doesn't cover the past, and from this other post: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/13115/… it seems like there might be some funny business of past continous, unless stated otherwise, could convey a current state. May 29, 2017 at 14:14
  • 2
    ていた both refers to a ongoing action and a complete action, just as ている does, depending on the context. That's why two native speakers (goldbrick and me) took 出てきてたよ differently ("had crawled out" vs "was crawling out"). Without seeing the pages before and after this, no one can tell which is correct. If you can tell by the context that the girl refers to a complete action here, that's fine. And I'm sure 着いた is the correct choice (I don't own Genki).
    – naruto
    May 29, 2017 at 15:49

(2) その栗{くり}今朝{けさ}も虫{むし}出{で}てきたよ。
(3) その栗{くり}今朝{けさ}も虫{むし}出{で}てきてたよ。

(2) When I saw the chestnuts, a bug just came out this morning, too.
(3) When I saw the chestnuts, bugs were coming out this morning, too.
enter image description here

  • Do you have a source for that ? Also is the just implied or to help with illustrating the grammar ? Is it ambiguous if you leave it out in Japanese ? May 29, 2017 at 14:26

Not sure but I think きてた in the picture is short for きていた(past form of きている). If きた simply means came, きてた means something more like a continuous action.

Of course this is just my opinion. You could read more on the subject about ~て/~ている form.

  • It is true that てた is short version of ていた however that is not that I'm unclear about. While one way to translate ている is as a continuous action in this case it seems a bit strange, i.e. "Bugs were coming out of that chestnut this morning too". It seems more likely it is a past action and I am wondering why use the ていた form as opposed to the simple past. May 29, 2017 at 9:58

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