There are several things i don't understand in the following


Translated by

Above the table, on which an unpacked collection of sample cloth goods was spread out

For context the narrator wakes up and looks around in his bedroom. The whole sentence being


  1. Why using the potential form in 拡げられていた ?
  2. Could the progressive form be used instead of the past progressive in 拡げられていた ? I suppose it's past progressive to suggest that the "spreading out the sample" thing was done the day before and left out like that since. Could i be guessing right ?
  3. About the て form. I suppose in とい拡げられていた it's a connective て. Could we use て form + past or て form + past + progressive ? I find it disturbing in that context that とく and 拡げる are not in the same forms (apart for the connective て). Or maybe we consider that since とく is connected to 拡げる they "share" the same form / have the same nuances of a passive past action ?

1 Answer 1


First of all, that 拡げられる is not a potential form. It’s the passive form of 拡げる.

Secondly, calling that 〜ている “progressive” is misleading. It describes a state that has resulted from some earlier action or change. 拡げられている describes such a state in the present, whereas 拡げられていた describes one in the past. Although I cannot tell for sure because the main clause is missing, I guess the narrator is describing a state at some time in the past.

とく (解く) is neither potential nor progressive. It is a transitive verb that means “to untie” or “to unpack”. 包み is its object here.

I think part of the reason you find this sentence hard to understand is that とく is used in the active voice while 拡げる is in the passive as we have seen above, yet those two are connected with a て-form. Since the subject is 見本, it does sound like the samples unpacked their own packages (actively) and then (passively) be spread out (to stay in the resulting state). 見本が包みをとかれて拡げられていた would have been better balanced and might have been easier to understand.


(in response to added #3)

The て-form itself is timeless. There are no such things as present て-forms or past て-forms. The tense is determined by the main phrase. といて拡げる and といて拡げた differ in tense but the difference in form is limited to their endings.

A 〜ている form (which I would advise you stop calling “progressive”) can be converted into its own て-form: 〜ていて. Saying 包みをといていて拡げられている or 包みをとかれていて拡げられている is grammatically possible but it sounds very awkward. Like the tense, the aspect to be expressed by 〜ている should also be left to the main phrase.

In this particular case, I speculate the translator saw 包みをといて拡げる as one act and used 包みをといて拡げられる as its passive form as a whole. The apparent mix-up in voice can be explained by this.

I don’t like the way he put it. テーブルの上には包みをといた (or 包みをとかれた) 布地の見本が拡げられていたが would have been closer to the original (or its English translation) and easier to read.

  • OK for passive form, makes more sense. I edited to add the main clause. About 拡げられている is this related to continuation of action VS continuation of state ? Yes active voice for とく VS passive 拡げる disturbs me. For the same reason shouldn't とく be in the た form ?
    – xavier
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 7:24
  • 1
    @xavier: I learned that this is a translation of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. It is describing a scene in the past despite the fact this particular sentence uses the (literary) present tense in the main clause. Yes, it’s related to the question you linked. 拡げる (or its passive 拡げられる) in this context is understood as referring to a past instantaneous action and 拡げられている as the state that resulted from it. The て-form of とく is for its function as a connector, as you rightly supposed. The た-form doesn’t work as a connector.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 8:16
  • Thanks. One last question : is it not possible to use both the て-form and the た form ?
    – xavier
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 10:50
  • @xavier: I’m not sure if I understand you. Please add whatever doubt you still have in your original post clarifying what idea you want to express by using the た-form and the て-form together and what form you have in mind.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 12:56

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