The Vてはじめて、construction is generally taught as its own grammar point to mean "not until X", "only after X". However from what I've been told by other learners as well as natives, this is not a special construction with no special meaning and is instead simply just the て form of a verb followed by はじめて which then acts as an adverb on the next verb.



"only after I returned home did I realise that I lost my wallet" This follows the definition of はじめて given by weblio


I'm told though that it should be interpreted as


"I returned home and for the first time I realised I lost my wallet". Where はじめて is "linked" to 気がついた and not 帰る

The meaning in that second version is similar but not the same. "For the first time" vs "not until X". The emphasis in the former is on the realising while in the latter it's on the action of returning home and the subsequent change.

If this is correct that てはじめて is not a grammar point then the following questions arise,

  • Does the position of はじめて matter in the meaning of the sentence?
  • Why do dictionaries and resources present it as something different?
  • How would you express the idea of "Not until X did Y happen"? the closest I can think of is てから

はじめて usually means "for the first time". However, when you use the ~してはじめて construction, the nuance of this はじめて is closer to "at last" or "finally" rather than "for the first time". Compare the following sentences:

  • 京都に行って、はじめて本物の仏像を見た。
    I went to Kyoto, and saw a real Buddha statue for the first time.
  • 京都に行ってはじめて本物の仏像を見た。
    I was not until I visited Kyoto that I saw a real Buddha statue (although I have long wanted to see one).
    I visited Kyoto and saw a real Buddha statue at last.

The comma is not unimportant, but the correct translation will depend mainly on the context, i.e., his level of interest in Buddhism. In my opinion, the nuance of "at last" in the latter sentence cannot be easily inferred from the basic meaning of はじめて ("for the first time"). This is why people treat this as a special construction.


We cannot translate this sentence naturally using "for the first time". This sentence is not about how many times he has lost a wallet in his life. If that's the case, we should treat this usage of はじめて as something a bit different.

  • Thank you for your answer!
    – Lith
    Sep 12 '20 at 3:41
  • @Lith the term for this is that て+はじめる is an auxiliary verb (or sometimes "subsidiary verb"). Native speakers might not recognize it as a separate thing because, in general, native speakers are not great at understanding the linguistic characteristics of their own language. Sep 29 '20 at 11:18

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