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Background

According to the 大辞林, the particle は can be used to emphasize a description after attaching to the 連用形 of a verb followed by the particle「て・で」. Example:

少なくとも分かってはいる。

I think this emphasizing function stems from the usual "contrast marker" function of は, as in

故障した車は進んではいくが、速度はかなり遅い。

After reading a few of these example sentences, I noticed that in all of them, the verbs following は were 補助動詞.

Example:

追いかけてはこないでしょう。

Question

Can any combination of Verb1 and Verb2 be used in this construction, as long as the sentence makes sense?

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  • Are you asking if は can be inserted before any V2 as long as [V1]-て[V2] is valid, as in the case of 追いかけてくる, or are you asking if it works with any combination of two verbs?
    – aguijonazo
    Jul 14 at 10:51
  • I'm not quite sure what you mean by valid. I'm asking whether you can insert は between any two verbs as long as the sentence makes sense. Also your use of ひらがな for くる is making me rethink my last example, is くる actually a 補助動詞 here?
    – grove
    Jul 14 at 10:54
  • I meant valid as a compound verb. Regardless of how it is written, the くる in 追いかけてくる does refer to a physical movement and this may disqualify it as an auxiliary verb (depending on how strictly it is defined), but 追いかけてくる is definitely valid as a compound verb, unlike, say, 飲んで食べる. Did you notice the answer you linked (not the question) wrote くる in hiragana, too?
    – aguijonazo
    Jul 14 at 11:13
  • Well, I saw both and ended up sticking with kanji since I didn't think 来る was an auxiliary verb, but I wasn't entirely sure.
    – grove
    Jul 14 at 11:55
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    I think it’s a matter of definition. I’m not completely sure how auxiliary verbs should be defined in a language like Japanese. The きた in コンビニで弁当を買ってきた clearly retains the original sense of the verb 来る, whereas that in 最近暑くなってきた doesn’t. However, both 買ってきた and 暑くなってきた describe one action or change, unlike 飲んで食べた, which is a sequence of two actions. What should we call them if not compound verbs?
    – aguijonazo
    Jul 14 at 12:08
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Whether は can be inserted in [V1]-て[V2] seems to be determined less by the combination of verbs itself than by the function of the て-form, which, of course, restricts combinations of verbs.

It works best when [V1]-て[V2] makes up a compound verb to express one idea. 分かっている, 進んでいく, and 追いかけてくる in your examples all satisfy this condition as you observed.

Other examples include:

一応買ってはおいたが、使わなかった。【〜おく】

やってはみたけど、うまくいかなかった。【〜みる】

気付いたら、どうしても気になってはしまう。【〜しまう】

It also seem to work if the て-form of V1 expresses either a means or attendant circumstances, but mostly in a negative sentence that emphasizes that the action of V2 is not performed by the said means or under the said circumstances.

箸を使っては食べない。

I’m not very sure if this は should be considered part of the [V1]-ては[V2] construction you asked about.

I cannot think of an example that sounds natural, not even a negative one, in which the て-form of V1 expresses a cause, a reason, or one of a series of actions.

In 座って落ち着く in the other answer, 座って can be interpreted as expressing either a means, attendant circumstances. or the first of two sequential actions. Either way, 座っては落ち着く doesn’t make much sense. If I had to make some sense out of negative 座っては落ち着かない, I would understand it as meaning this person chooses to relax not by sitting but by other means.

飲んで食べる, which I used as a counter example in my comments above, also describes two actions except they don’t necessarily happen sequentially. 飲んでは食べる is possible but it describes a way someone repeats to drink and eat alternately and doesn't have the emphasizing effect.

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  • Thank you for this thorough answer! Here's what I thought of yesterday, let me know if you agree. The table found in this page has a nice summary of the roles played by the conjunction particle て. Judging from what you said, は can only be inserted if て expresses a 補助の関係 (auxiliary relation?). This makes sense because if V1 is topicalized by は, V2 must be a "property" of the topic, not an adjacent action.
    – grove
    Jul 15 at 8:20
  • But the case where V2 is a negative seems to be another can of worms. I think the commonly used grammatical constructs てはいけない and てはならない could also fall under this umbrella?
    – grove
    Jul 15 at 8:27
  • Also your last point is very interesting. I didn't know that ては could express repeated action. Thanks again.
    – grove
    Jul 15 at 8:30
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    @grove: Saying it works only in 補助の関係 is the same as saying it works only with 補助動詞, which brings us back to the question of how to define the latter. Those technical details aside, however, I agree it would be correct to say は can be inserted only in the middle of “compound verbs”. I feel negatives with は should be seen as a separate usage. 〜てはいけない and 〜てはならない indeed seem related, and I don’t want to open that can. See this for the last usage of は.
    – aguijonazo
    Jul 15 at 14:46

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