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I came across the following example sentence in a dictionary.

今晩は冷えますね。It’s cold tonight, isn’t it?

I thought 冷えます, being a verb, would mean "will become cold". But the translation above makes it clear that it is the current temperature that is being talked about.

I also thought that 冷えている would be the correct way to talk about the current state of the weather. However, example sentences with 冷えている that I could find in my dictionaries were all about cold beer/watermelons.

冷蔵庫にスイカが冷えていますよ。There is a chilled watermelon in the refrigerator.

But surely the distinction between 冷える and 冷えている cannot just be weather vs beer. I must have misunderstood or overlooked something about tense and aspect and Japanese verbs.

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Assuming this sentence is said in the evening, 冷える in 今晩は冷えますね refers to a current state, not something in the future. That is, the correct translation is "It's cold (now)" rather than "It's gonna be cold (in the future)". Basically it's just another way of saying 今晩は寒いですね.

This 冷える is one of those verbs that (sometimes) describes a state rather than an action. In other words, 冷える used like this is semantically a bit like adjectives. English has similar puzzling examples (eg. "It sucks" means "It's bad", and "It rocks" means "It's awesome"), too, and we have to get used to such stative verb usages one by one.

Note that this type of "adjective-like" 冷える can be used only to refer to coldness the body is feeling, so it's more like "I feel cold" rather than "something is cold". When you describe the air or a watermelon, the ordinary grammar applies.

  • 足が冷える~! I have cold feet! (present)
  • 冷えますね。 It's cold (now). (present)
  • 空気が冷えます。 The air will be cold. (future)
  • 空気が冷えています。 The air is cold. (present)
  • 冷蔵庫のスイカが冷えます。 The watermelon in the fridge will be cold. (future)
  • 冷蔵庫のスイカが冷えています。 A watermelon in the fridge is (now) cold. (present)

You can use 冷える referring to something in the past or the future:

  • 昨日は冷えましたね。 It was cold yesterday, wasn't it?
  • 今日は冷えますね。 It's cold today, isn't it?
  • 明日は冷えますよ。 It'll be cold tomorrow.
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  • Thank you for pointing out that 冷える is a stative verb. By the way, is あたたまる similar in usage?
    – LAMC
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 8:23
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    @LAMC Yes, you can say "あたたまるー!" when you are feeling warm and comfortable (e.g., right after entering an onsen).
    – naruto
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 8:29
  • Thank you! Does the style of speech sound different if one uses those verbs instead of the adjectives さむい/あたたかい?
    – LAMC
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 8:35
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    As @Ryo pointed out, 冷えますね tends to sound a little more mature or classy than 寒いですね, but the difference is not large unless you are a small child.
    – naruto
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 8:49
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If I feel like adding a nifty and/or grown-up tone to 寒い, 冷える would be the first choice. In such usage, 体が in front is often omitted.

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I thought 冷えます, being a verb, would mean "will become cold". But the translation above makes it clear that it is the current temperature that is being talked about.

I agree with the part that it would mean "will become cold," and disagree with that it's the "current temperature" from the translation. In fact, even with the English sentence, It’s cold tonight, isn’t it? I could infer the meaning that It will be cold tonight, won't it?, had I heard the sentence in, say, the afternoon or somewhere before the night.

Reading the Japanese sentence 今晩は冷えますね I could only get the meaning It's gonna be cold tonight or somewhere along the line, and it does not seem to be talking about something right now at all.

As for the form 冷える and 冷えている, your understanding is already correct. 冷える is something in the future gonna get cold and 冷えている is the state-of-being right now is cold. So ビールが冷える is the beer's gonna get cold and ビールが冷えてる is the beer is cold. Although I'd personally prefer あのビールが冷{つめ}たい for that beer is cold.

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  • Additional note: if I heard someone say 今晩は冷えますね during the night, then it'd mean the same thing as 今晩は冷えてますね in that context. The answer talks about their general differences only.
    – dvx2718
    Commented Feb 5, 2023 at 14:14

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