I was studying about とき. I came to know that とき means "when" If used in following sentences:

Format: S1ときS2 (as per my own inference) (Please correct me if I am wrong)

  1. S1- Adj(both i and na) and S2-Anything

  2. S1 - Noun and S2-Anything

  3. When S1 expresses a state and S2 anything

  4. When S1 is a verb but is in ている form

Then I came across a concept, that when S1 is a verb (for now let us take action verb), the meaning will be different as per the tenses used:


私はご飯を食べるとき手を洗う (I wash my hands before I eat)

私はご飯を食べたとき手を洗う (I wash my hands after I eaten)

私はご飯を食べるとき手を洗った (I washed my hands before I ate)

私はご飯を食べたとき手を洗った (I washed my hands after I ate)

After this I came across a sentence:


In this sentence the translation in the same book was given "Mr. Matsumoto always watches TV when he eats"

So, my queries are the following:

  1. Does this sentence (Matsumoto sentence) mean, Matsumoto always watch TV before he eats?
  2. If the sentence means what the book says i.e. "Mr. Matsumoto always watches TV when he eats" wasn't ている supposed to be used to make mean (when it was happening) i.e. 食べている rather than 食べる?
  3. Has, いつも something to do with the sentence making it a "state of being" thereby, allowing the use of "when"?
  4. Does this S1 Verb (action) condition i.e. right before or right after apply in case S2 is adjective/noun; E.g. 私は本を読むとき静かな (thereby, meaning I am quiet before I study?); 私は本を読んだとき静かな (I am quiet after I study (As in context of I am in state of silence after I study); and 私は本を読読んでいるとき静かな(meaning I am quiet when I am studying)? or is there any other rule?

Thanks :)

Book reference: A dictionary of basic Japanese Grammar Pg. 490-492

  • This question may need to be split into multiple questions, since you're asking quite a lot here.
    – ajsmart
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 14:22
  • @ajsmart I will remove the last question and post it as a separate question. The above is just the information I gathered. The last sentence is the main issue, as to why "when was used" and not "before" and; whether て form is a better choice
    – APK
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 14:26
  • There seem to be a lot of questions and answers like this on this site, it's very hard for me to understand how to answer these really extended and rather vague questions.
    – user36788
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 2:25
  • @Ben I don't think it is vague, the above part is what I have studied and inferred the main question is why the sentence means "when" and not "right before" when とき is used like in the above examples
    – APK
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 4:10
  • Perhaps nebulous would be a better word than vague but I don't see how answering this question really achieves anything.
    – user36788
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 11:39

3 Answers 3


Some general thoughts on the difference between 食べるとき and 食べているとき.
Your sentence is:

Mr. Matsumoto always watches TV when he eats.

This is correct because there is a subtle difference between 食べるとき and 食べているとき. In the former, 食べるとき is used to describe habitual actions in a general way. In other words, it is describing Mr. Matsumoto's general habit of what he does while he has breakfast. The length of time of 食べるとき in this case is the duration of his meal. What is being expressed is what happens over the course of that duration of time.

The latter, 食べているとき is generally used to emphasise a specific instance of what he did/does/will do while he eats his breakfast. It is more to do with the action of eating itself rather than the abstract concept of the duration of the meal. Think of it as if we are discussing a particular moment in time, rather than a typical everyday occurrence. In this case, the moment in time is the action of eating. It defines a narrower range of time than 食べるとき.

Having said that, because of the insertion of いつも, the sentence would make sense in either case, in my opinion. Adding いつも guarantees that the listener is aware that we are talking about habitual actions rather than an isolated instance of something. I do think that 食べるとき is still more natural because it refers to the general duration of the meal. And I think it is better to remember that using plain form verbs with とき can describe habitual actions, whereas using ~ているとき generally points to an individual momentary instance of that action.

  • Thank You ! So, is いつも making it a state of being and thereby making it a expression of state?
    – APK
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 16:01
  • It depends on what you mean by the term "expression of state" - this seems somewhat vague to me, but perhaps you are working with a specifically recommended grammar book. How are you defining "expression of state"?. いつも is an adverb which modifies 食べる. It doesn't alter the syntactic features of the sentence, it merely modifies the verb.
    – kandyman
    Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 13:22
  • Though it has not specified. The book has 2 sentence; 私は日本にいたとき田中さんにあた and 肉が高いとき魚も高い。with these two i think it means, it talks about a certain state of being.
    – APK
    Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 12:18

Disclaimer: I am still fairly new to Japanese myself. You may want to take this with a grain of salt, but it seems to work for me.

I think part of the problem is you're reading a bit too much into とき in those verb examples. For me, I think it's easier to understand everything if we consistently translate とき as "when" in all cases, and just look at the verb tenses like so:

私はご飯を食べるとき手を洗う -- I wash my hands when I eat

This does not actually explicitly say "before", however it basically says that eating and washing hands are part of the same event, and since the normal order for someone to do that is to wash their hands first and then eat, that's the natural implication here (the English phrase implies pretty much the same thing).

私はご飯を食べたとき手を洗う -- I wash my hands when I have (already) eaten

Since the eating is past tense, this implies the associated "when" is actually a point in time after the eating has concluded.

私はご飯を食べるとき手を洗った -- I washed my hands when I ate

This is just the past form of the first sentence, with the same implications about timing, just in the past. (As is common in Japanese, the main verb being past-tense automatically pushes any linked verbs into the past, but the non-past-plus-とき construction still implies the two things were happening as part of the same event, whenever that was)

私はご飯を食べたとき手を洗った -- I washed my hands when I had eaten

As with #2, the past tense of "eat" implies that it was concluded before the "when" happened, so that combined with 洗った pushing things into the past as well, we end up with a past-past tense, or in English, the past-perfect "had eaten".

So, given this way of reading とき, then, your last sentence would actually be read exactly as your original translation suggests:

松本さんは朝ごはんを食べるときいつもテレビを見る -- Regarding Mr. Matsumoto, he always watches TV when he eats breakfast.

The difference in interpretation here is not a difference in the meaning of とき (it means the same "when" in both cases), but rather an implied difference in what it means to "wash one's hands when one eats" vs "watch TV when one eats". In the first case, people do not normally expect you to be actually washing your hands and shoving food in your mouth simultaneously, but rather everyone expects the conventional order of washing-then-eating, even though the text doesn't explicitly say it. In the second case, there's no such common assumption, and in fact most people would assume that if someone's watching TV "when" something else is going on, that it actually means they're happening at the same time.

On the other hand, I would tend to translate the ている form as:

食べているときテレビを見る -- he watches TV when he (happens to be) eating

Just as in English, this means something more or less the same as the other (especially if combined with いつも), but just with slightly different nuances. In English, the "when he is eating" form as opposed to "when he eats" tends to imply a bit more that it's a condition that just happened, rather than something that was intended/planned, and I think there's some of this in the Japanese as well. That is, more a sense of "whenever he's eating, he seems to find himself watching TV", as opposed to "When he sits down to eat, he also decides to watch TV".


松本さんは朝ごはんを食べるときいつもテレビを見る。 Mr. Matumoto always watches TV while he eats breakfast. 朝ごはんを食べながらいつもテレビを見る、朝ごはんを食べている時いつもテレビを見る。Are Also the same meaning.

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