Status of the Ques

  1. Answer to 1st Ques has been given by ナルトさん. But any new answers or thoughts or suggestions are really appreciated!!

  2. Answer to 2nd can be extended, as only a touchstone was laid down by ナルトさん, and this is a limitless answer, so anyone is free to give their opinion.

  3. I have tried to give answer to Ques 3 on basis of ナルトさん reasoning but I am not sure about it. So, this question requires more in depth answer. Also please correct me if I am wrong!! :)

Hi (Please note that the ques only pertains to Japanese punctual verbs)

Using ている has been tricky for me. I have always stumbled upon, as when to use ている form and when to use た/だ form (Past) in cases of Punctual Verbs. So, in order to get a better understanding I revisited my English grammar book, to see the difference between Simple Past and Present Perfect. Over there I found a few rules that were to be followed, to distinguish, between Present Perfect and Past. Following are the rules that were laid down:

English Grammar Principles for usage of Present Perfect and Simple Past

(Please note I would be using only those verbs that are Punctual Verbs in Japanese)

  1. Where time is used or the focus is on the time, use Simple Past E.g. I turned on the light at 8. Whereas, if time (whether known or not, is immaterial) is not used then we use Present Perfect. E.g. I have turned on the light. As Simple past (In English) focuses on the point of time a thing/act happened.

  2. When you tell about life experience and travelling experiences, use Present Perfect. E.g. I have graduated and I have been to NY 3 Times.(This part has already been answered by @The Japan Nomad Girl)

  3. Time when in essence has not been completed, like this week, this year etc (however usage of last week or likewise vocabulary would make time in essence complete and would make the sentence Simple Past). E.g. I have worn new shirts this week.

  4. When the Action has been performed in the Past, but the focus is in present, then we use Present Perfect E.g. I have lost my bag (Focus on Present). Whereas, when focus is in the past, use Past. E.g. I lost my bag (Focus on Past).

  5. When we talk about travelling/residing action. In case, if we imply that I am still there or still in the place of travel then we use Present Perfect. Whereas, we use Simple past, though it would state that I went/resided/etc. It won't mean that I am still there. This is same in Japanese as well, like 行っている and 住んでいる. This last point does not need an answer.


Q1. Do the Punctual Japanese Verb (Please note I am only concerned with Punctual Japanese Verbs) also apply the above English Grammar principles for differentiating the use between ている (present perfect) and た/だ(Past). That is to say, whether the Punctual Japanese Verb are used identically in the above referred cases.

E.gs. Point 1: Will 私は明かりをつけている (Present Perfect) be used as time has not been mentioned and 私は8時に明かりをつけた (Past) be used as time has been mentioned

Point 3: Will 私は今週新しいシャツを3枚着ている (present perfect) be used as the week has not ended, and 私は今週新しいシャツを3枚着た (Past) be used as week ended.

Point 4: Will 私はバッグを紛失している (Present perfect) be used when we Focus in the present. Whereas, 私はバッグを紛失している (Past) be used when the focus is in Past.

Q2. Are there any other ways to differentiate between the ている (present perfect) form and た (past) form when we talk about Japanese Punctual Verbs?

Q3. Could anyone highlight the difference (also the difference in nuance) between ている (present perfect) form and た (past form) in cases of Punctual Verb!? (I have been literally struggling to differentiate between Punctual Verbs ている form (Present Perfect) and た (Past) for over 1 month and my Japanese Language learning has come to a halt for past 1 month, as I am not able to differentiate between the both)

Please Note:

There are other posts (even at the Stackexchange) but the difference highlighted is mostly pertaining to Durative Verbs and Not Punctual Verbs, and where the concept of Punctual Verb is highlighted, it is not dealt thoroughly and it creates lot of confusion. So, an answer to this question might give clarity upon the individual concept of Punctual Verbs' ている and た forms, and would also highlight the difference in Present Perfect form in Japanese and Present Perfect Form in English. Following are some links which though has dealt this issue but has focused more on Durative Verbs than Punctual Verbs:

  1. Is 寝る a stative or active verb?
  2. Is there a distinction between ‘did" and "have done" in Japanese?
  3. When is Vている the continuation of action and when is it the continuation of state?
  4. Why is a verb in the past (た形) contradicted with ~ていない?

As I have been struggling for months on it, I would be really grateful, if you take the time to answer these questions.

Thank You


I understand this is difficult. As an English learner, I read the English grammar rules you cited more than 20 years ago, and I still often wonder how to correctly use the past tense and the present perfect in English :) This takes a very long time, so don't let this halt your studying of Japanese. The good news is た and ている are often interchangeable, as shown below.

English present perfect and Japanese ている are different in several ways.

Where time is used or the focus is on the time, use Simple Past

This is not true in Japanese. We can safely say 昨日は23時に寝ているよ as a response to "You look sleepy". This is related to the bullet 4; the action was performed in the past, but the focus is in present (i.e., why I look sleepy now).

When you tell about life experience and travelling experiences, use Present Perfect.

This is true in English, but Japanese has a dedicated construction for this (~たことがある). For example "Have you (ever) seen fireworks?" is (今までに)花火を見たことがありますか. (EDIT: You can still say 今までに3回花火を見ている describing your past experience, but ~たことがある is more common, and ~ている sounds like this fact is relevant in the current situation.)

今週新しいシャツを3枚着ている vs 今週新しいシャツを3枚着た

The former is said in the following situations:

  1. when you're still in the middle of the week and you'll probably wear more shirts until the week ends
  2. when the week already ended but this fact is somehow closely related to something in present

The second one is tricky. Although you have said this question is irrelevant, I think this one is closely related to your concern. In particular, please read the survey result in the PDF file I introduced (it's in Japanese, so please read the survey on pages 4 and 5). ている/た are often interchangeable and the distinction is closely related to the speaker's mood, or how much this fact is related to the current situation. This question about the "habitual aspect" is closely related, too ("it's how close you are feeling the action is on your mind.").

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  • ありがとう, Naruto-さん, This answer has really helped me, thanks for taking the time for writing this long detailed answer. – APK Jul 30 at 6:15
  • Just a bit of clarification, Does point 4 apply in (all/most) of the situations instead of Point 1, where time is mentioned. Like you used in the 昨日は23時に寝ている example? Now had the focus being in past 寝た would have been applied, right ? I hope I got that point right ! – APK Jul 30 at 6:22
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    @APK Or it may be just a description of a past experience, but it's hard to distinguish.... 5年前に寿司を食べている sounds like he has eaten sushi, and it was 5 years ago, and this fact is somehow important now. – naruto Aug 1 at 0:06
  • @ありがとうナルとさん, could you please read my answer, and give your thoughts about it :) – APK Aug 1 at 7:33
  • Also Naruto San, if a question comes 誰が明かりをつけたか? So, will we use, つけている or つけた in the answer,, because the focus can be both on past and present. Since we are asking who turned on the light, does not it imply who (in past) turned on the light. Also, it can be present as well, because the focus is also on the present status of the light that it is on. So, i am confused as to what focus might be – APK Aug 1 at 8:29

Answer to the 3rd Ques, all thanks to firstly God and then @naruto さん. I was stuck with it for 1 month (and only focused on how to use ている and nothing else). So, I wrote it immediately (I.e. as soon as I comprehend naruto さん's answer. So please don't mind grammatical errors and repetitions. I did not fare it out, it is a raw thought only


神様さまとナルトさん, 本当にありがとうございます!!!! I finally understood, the concept. You are absolutely amazing !!! Let me explain, how I understood it. See, in case of Punctual Verbs, it is obvious either the thing is done or not done. And as once a thing is done, instantly no time exist between (so it can be either will do (future) or done (past). This thing was clear till this moment. Now, what you made me think 💡, about the concept is the part of focus. Now, since puntual verbs are either done or will do state, once they are done it means that action is done (past) so it cannot be in present at all. So, if a ques arises that makes a focuses on the present, about an act that is done in the past, ている has to be used. Now one might ask why? The reason is since punctual verbs are either done or will do state, as no present state exists i.e. even in case an action is performed and if we aspectually do a punctual act in present like turn on the light, it would technically be a past, as the turning on the light is technically done (as there is no time gap between on and off). So now to overcome with this difficulty, I assume Japanese came up with ている. So as to focus on the present aspect of the aspectual punctual act which technically was done in the past. That is to say, we use ている in case where we want to focus not on the past, because たwould create a confusion, but on the present aspect about it. I'll tell you an example, if one asks when did you turn on the light? The answer would be in た form because the focus of the question, if you think carefully, is on the past aspect (like when did he in the past. Whereas, if one asks a question, why can I see the TV turned on, the focus of the question when you think deeply on the present aspect of the thing that was already completed, so here ている would be used (i.e. answer would be because I have turned it on)

Further, there are different YouTube videos, pages, blogs etc etc. If you also go through them, they will mostly tell you the secondary aspect about it (I.e. ている is used when talking about the state of the object that hasn't been changed, talking about what are you seeing right now etc.) All of these uses, as per me (i.e. I THINK and am not 100% sure) is some sort of hint as to when the focus is on the present and not the basis, and as per me (not 100% sure) the grundnorm i.e. the focus of the question or statement on the present aspect of a thing that has been done in the past.

I am really not 100% sure, I tried different books to check if my reasoning works or not and it has worked.

Please correct me if I am wrong or lacking !!! I posted it to help beginners like me to grasp the difference in nuance between ている and た.

Another example

Where did you put your bag, here since the focus of ques is on the past, た would be used. e.g. I put it in the library (私は図書館の机に置いた). Where is your bag?, in this ques, if we use similar circumstance that we put it somewhere, here we would however use ている (私は図書館の机に置いている), as the focus of your ques is in present (i.e. where is it?)

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