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TL;DR what does している mean, or what can it mean given various circumstances? What are its limits of use?

I am confused on the meaning of the verb する plus the ている ending. I know する has many meanings such as "to do" or "to wear." However, I am always confused how to interpret している; it seems a little weird. It can be used to mean to have or not to have, as in a part-time job (いいえ、アルバイトをしていません). I think it can be used to mean "wearing," such as どの人が黒いTシャツをしていますか, but since I made this sentence I am not sure. It can also refer to something you are doing, like いま、なにをしていますか.

Since I do not know exactly what しています refers to I find it hard to use in various situations and sentences. How do you personally interpret and make sense of しています as the verb する plus the ている ending in sentences? How can you use しています if it has so many meanings, and how do you know when it can be used and when it does not make sense?

In the genki textbook, する just means "to do," so maybe that is where the confusion caused by its many meanings is coming from for me...

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  • Change Tシャツ to ネクタイ and your sentence will be correct.
    – aguijonazo
    Feb 28, 2023 at 13:22

2 Answers 2

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しています is a combination of する and -ている (or -ています in polite form), both of which are difficult topics.

Meaning of する

You seem to understand this, but する has many meanings. Basic verbs like する, やる, とる, かける, みる and so on have many possible translations, and you cannot understand them just by thinking of a single translation. The same goes with English; you may think take is an easy verb, but to a foreigner, take is a really difficult verb that must be translated in dozens of different ways. You have to accept such a fact and learn each usage one by one.

Meaning of -ている/-ています

Fortunately, the -ている ending basically has only three meanings:

  1. is doing now (progressive)
  2. has done (perfective)
  3. do on a regular basis (habitual)

For details, please read these two questions: When is Vている the continuation of action and when is it the continuation of state? and Habitual aspect

For example, 部屋の掃除をしています is a sentence that, depending on the context, means:

  1. I am cleaning the room (now)
  2. I have cleaned the room (so the room is already clean)
  3. I clean this room (regularly) / My job is to clean the room

今何をしていますか only means "What are you doing now" because it clearly says 今 ("now"), but 何をしていますか by itself can have a habitual meaning, "What do you do (as an occupation)?".

Similarly, アルバイトをしていません is usually habitual; it typically means "I am not a part-time worker" rather than "I am not working part-time (right now)".

指輪をしています is usually perfective; it describes the state of having a ring on your finger, because wearing a ring is usually an instant process.

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Unfortunately, Genki's job is to ease you into Japanese. To get you started. It can't and won't teach you everything, so take what Genki teaches you at face value and not as absolute law. There is a high chance you'll come across a lot of things where Genki has said "this means X" and in the real world you find out it means or can be used a million different ways kind of like する.

Anyway, you are right. している is just the ている form of する. And you are also right that する has many different meanings. A lot more than just the "to do" meaning Genki has taught you.

している is the same verb just in a different tense. I don't think you should give it any more special treatment / meaning than some other ている form of a verb. I understand that する covers a lot of different meanings, but I think that is more of an overall sentence context problem and having to pick / interpret the proper meaning more than anything else when translating to English.

That being said, in my option, I think any ている form should be thought of as "in the state of the verb" instead of just the simple "ing" explanation that many resources will give you. They do this because it's easier to understand when you're first learning Japanese and are coming from an English speaking background. But it's really just being in a state of the verb. Famous example: 死んでいる. This doesn't mean "dying" it means "in the state of to die" AKA "dead".

Like I said before, I don't think している is an exception to this. Taking your example:

いいえ、アルバイトをしていません

I read this literally as:

No, I am not in the state of to do a part time job

But that sounds odd in English. So cleaning it up we get:

No, I'm not doing a part time job.

OR alternatively

No, I don't have a part time job.

As you can see here, している can mean "doing" or "having" from an English standpoint. Things like this can easily add to the confusion of what does する / している actually mean when you try to nail a English definition down when one size really doesn't fit all. So you have to leave it open to interpretation a bit when translating from Japanese to English.

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