I'm currently studying Japanese from Nihongo Sou Matome N1 book, and I would like your help in order to understand this grammar pattern.

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I'm a little bit confused about its meaning, because in the first sentence, ~ては seems to mean "when". However, in the second sentence, ~ては seems to mean "since, because, due to". So, as these two meanings are quite different from each other, I would like to know what does ~ては really mean.

Thank you so much in advance for your help!

  • 1
    I believe the writer(s) of this book made quite the mistake conflating ては and では here (in the sense of how they're used). The former is used in sentences representing a cause-and-effect relationship, while the latter is simply used for conditional statements. Maybe these two example sentences will better illustrate the difference: ・手が使えなくなってはご飯も食べられない. If you lose the use of your hands you can't eat your food by yourself. 病気ではメンバーから外すほかないな. If he's ill I suppose he'll have to be taken off the roster. (Taken from 研究社五). Hopefully someone can explain this better. – user26484 Aug 29 '20 at 4:29

This (as opposed to a couple of other) usage of ては is, to my mind, just an emphatic use of て form. Importantly, however, it is used where the outcome – or the subjective comment on the outcome – is negative. A little more specifically, in a sentence Aては、B, A expresses the action or state for which the following negative statement B applies.

You sound a little confused about the similar and different usages of 'if', 'when', and 'because' in English... but I would say that you've almost certainly confronted this problem before, when translating たら from Japanese to English. So perhaps thinking about when you translate たら as 'if' vs 'when' will help you to understand this use of ては.

Other example usages of this ては are:


  • When I'm this busy, I can't even read the newspaper.


  • If I'm forced to work like this, I will end up becoming ill.


  • If he comes, he'll get in the way.

(taken from Makino & Tsutsui's 'A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar')

Hope that helps!

(I would, as an aside, suggest you find another resource to complement Nihongo Sou Matome, as it (clearly!) lacks sufficient (or any) explanation of the grammar points. It's not nearly enough to just have the translation, especially when their translations are often awkward in English, and occasionally just simply incorrect. Best of luck!)

  • Thank you so much for your explanation! Then, according to the first sentence of the NSM as well as your explanation, could I say that ては is just a more emphatic way of saying たら (if / when)? However, in the second sentence (...病気では), ては seems to mean から or ので more than たら, so does ては mean also から / ので? Btw, If you could recommend me a good resource to complement NSM, it would be great, since all the books and websites I've seen don't have any sort of explanation of grammar patterns. – Rick Aug 26 '20 at 11:48
  • I wouldn’t personally liken it to たら, as I feel it’s too weak, but I have seen others explain it in this way. The て form for me gives a strong sense of sequentiality, and so a derived meaning of consequence and effect, which is why I process it that way myself. It sounds like you want straightforward English translations/parallels, but at N1 and beyond you aren’t necessarily going to have those. As a result, it may be more helpful to look at Japanese language explanations of the grammar point, in my view. For JLPT N2/N1 specifically, Shin Kanzen Master has those, so perhaps start there. – henreetee Aug 26 '20 at 13:34

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