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This activity is from Genki 2 chapter 13 and I was given a question where I was to answer using the potential verb form. Here is what is showed:

Q: 宿題をしましたか。
A: 難しすぎできませんでした.

I understand the potential verb and what すぎる means (too much/excess) as well as する conjugation in the potential form but I'm not sure why すぎる is in te form. The closest thing I could find was that Genki 1 said that the te form is used to describe two activities. Is that the reason here? I cannot use と to combine these clauses, so is the te form what I have to use?

The English translation would pretty much be "Homework is too difficult. Did not do." So two separate clauses. All I'm inferring from this is that te is just used to join them into one sentence. Am I right?

  • This has been discussed so many times. – l'électeur Jul 4 at 0:56
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The answer is that sometimes (often!) you use て-form to describe cause and effect. You can think about it as an extension of connective use to mean 'and (then)', but you do have to be a bit careful about how you use it.

To answer your question directly, in your example, you can essentially translate it as a "so" (or "because" if you reverse the clause order), giving you:

難しすぎてできませんでした.

It was too difficult, so I wasn't able to do it.

I wasn't able to do it because it was too difficult.

The instances where you use the て-form to describe cause and effect are limited to those times when you are not expressing intention or volition. That includes requests, orders, prohibitions etc... The clauses should also come in chronological order.

As such, this most typically is used when you are describing emotions, potential verbs, verbs of state, and things which have already happened (often unfortunate ones...).

For instance, emotion:

ニュースを聞いて、びっくりしました。

I was surprised to hear the news.

(lit. I heard the news, so I was surprised)

potential:

眼鏡{めがね}がなくて、小さい字が読めません。

I don't have my glasses, so I cannot read small characters.

state:

毎日忙しくて、勉強する時間がありません。

I am busy every day, so I do not have time to study.

(unfortunate) past event:

事故があって、電車が遅れてしまいました。

There was an accident, so the train was (regrettably) delayed.

In the following sentences, the starred examples are not grammatical:

① 危ないから、泳がないでください。

*① 危なくて、泳がないでください。

Because it is dangerous, please do not (go) swim(ming).

② 明日、テストがあるから、今日、勉強しなければならない。

*② 明日、テストがあって、今日、勉強しなければならない。

Because I have a test tomorrow, I must study today.

Here, you cannot replace the から with the appropriate て-form, because *① violates the will/intention condition in being a request, and *② violates the chronology condition.

See also: て used as "because"?

Hope that helps!

  • Great answer. Note that *② is actually heard and okay if you treat it as some kind of premise or background. It's more like "since" or "as". – broccoli forest Jul 4 at 5:49
  • @broccoliforest I had heard this from native and non-native speakers, but have been corrected too many times (possibly by grammar purists...) on this myself to ever use it with much confidence :) I guess if someone asks “what are you doing tonight?”, *② would be an OK response; but if the question were “why aren’t you coming to the party?” It might be closer to an unnatural/ungrammatical response? – henreetee Jul 4 at 8:23
  • Yes, not for formal language but quite acceptable for any kind of writing or speech. And it's okay for answering both of your sample questions. Generally I feel it's suitable for any response, just you can't say it out of nowhere. If you want, you must add something like ~ならないんです. – broccoli forest Jul 4 at 8:40
  • @broccoliforest なるほど! – henreetee Jul 4 at 9:26
  • Very detailed answer! Thank you so much! – UCProgrammer Jul 4 at 16:06
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One of the uses of the て/で form is very similar to the English usage of "and" in connecting verbs. See here for more detail.

I would translate

難しすぎてできませんでした

As

(The homework) was too hard and (I) couldn't do it

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