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I am trying to understand something from the N4 and N5 practice test book. I think the sentence has revealed a gap in my understanding of the use of 「-て」 verb conjugation.

The complete sentence is:

きのうはうちに( かえって )何をしましたか

(where the bracketed part was to be filled, and I have inserted the correct answer).

Word for word, I would translate this as:

  • きのう - Yesterday
  • うち - Home
  • かえって - Returning (or something similar)
  • 何 - What
  • しました - Doing

But I am having trouble understanding the meaning as a whole; I think this is down the use of the 「-て」 verb. Some ideas for a rough translation are:

Yesterday, I/you returned home by what method?

Yesterday, I/you returned home and did what?

Yesterday, what happened when returning home?

None of these really seem likely. What am I missing here?

  • Is this an example sentence with solution? うち has no particle, are you sure you have the correct solution? – Earthliŋ Nov 28 '12 at 11:22
  • Sorry, yes I missed it off. I'll correct now. – Bill Cheatham Nov 28 '12 at 11:27
  • Also, 何 is a question word, so I'd expect the question marker か at the end... – Earthliŋ Nov 28 '12 at 11:29
  • By the way, the ~て form has nothing to do with the しました at the end of the sentence, so you might to change your question title – Earthliŋ Nov 28 '12 at 11:49
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The ~て form can be used to chain sentences together. That is, any two sentences can be made into one by changing the verb of the first sentence into its ~て form. The result can be translated with the conjunction and and means that the first sentence happens and then the second.

In your case

きのうはうちにかえりました。何をしましたか。
Yesterday you went home. What did you do?

becomes

きのうはうちにかえって、何をしましたか。
Yesterday you went home and what did you do? or better
What did you do after going home yesterday?

  • For others looking for examples of the same thing, I have discovered this is introduced in chapter 16 of Minna no Nihongo 1. – Bill Cheatham Nov 28 '12 at 15:14

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