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1) ごはんを食べて、ねました。
2) あさおきて、新聞を読みました。

I was wondering, if the part [食べて] and [おきて] are also past tense, because of [~ました]. So the correct translation would be [I went to bed, after I ate.] or is it [I went to bed, after eating.]?

Somehow I can't find similar question to this. Anyway, thank you very much in advance.

2 Answers 2

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The -te construction is used here to describe one event happening after another. More exact translations might be "I ate dinner, then went to bed" or "I woke up, then read the paper."

If you wanted to write "I went to bed after I ate", you might use "食べた後で寝ました" or similar.

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Technically speaking, the ~て verbs are not in a "tense": the て ending is a conjunctive or connective form, basically meaning that the action of the verb happens, and then the next thing happens. The て ending itself suggests that the action of the verb completes (technically a kind of grammatical aspect), but it doesn't tell us anything about when the action takes place (what tense tells us) -- it could be in the past, right now, or in the future.

Read through the Wikipedia links above, those will help you get a better handle on aspect and tense. Then, if you still have questions, please either update your question here, or post a new question.

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  • With the structure Aて、Bました。 A must be in the past (there would be uncertainty with Aて、Bます。 ). Feb 15, 2019 at 8:06
  • @MathieuBouville, only in translation. In the Japanese, the ~て verb has no tense. Feb 15, 2019 at 19:35
  • @EiríkrÚtlendi I get that it doesn't have a tense, but if Aて marks that A completes and we now that it completes before Bました which is unequivocally in the past, then A is necessary an action that happened in the past too, isn't it? I don't think we can say 寝て、ご飯を食べました to mean the same as ご飯を食べて、寝ました
    – jarmanso7
    Sep 24, 2023 at 15:19
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    @jarmanso7, conceptually, yes, the timing of the ~て verb is dependent on the context. On its own, the ~て form of any verb has no tense -- I'm using "tense" here in the technical sense, as in "expressing the time of the action of the verb in relation to the contextual now". The ~て form (often, and etymologically) expresses the completedness of the action, but without regard to time. For that matter, so does the ~た form in some cases. Consider things like 「明日【あした】、スーパーに<b>行【い】った</b>後【あと】で、映画【えいが】見【み】ようか。」 The 行【い】った here cannot be in the past. :) Instead, it's the "completed" aspect. Sep 24, 2023 at 20:38
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    @jarmanso7, an analog in English occurred to me this morning. English has the -ing verb form, which likewise has no definite tense. It is used in the present progressive, but to express the present, you need to add the "to be" verb. On its own, the -ing form says nothing about "when" the action occurs relative to the contextual "now". "I was going to the store yesterday, I will be going to the movies tonight," etc. Sep 25, 2023 at 17:12

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