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How to talk about repetitive actions?

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How to talk about repetitive actions?

Postby gab.ranucci_515382 » March 10th, 2017 9:59 am

Hi everyone,

I'm a little bit confused when It comes to talk about repetitive actions in japanese.
This is because the book where I'm studying in one chapter says that I can use the form V-ます (the ます form of a verb) and in another chapter says that I can use the form V-て います (the て form of a verb + います).

So, in the first case I could get the sentence:

日曜日は たいてい そうじ を します

and in the second case:

日曜日は たいてい そうじ を して います

Could you possibly tell me whether these 2 sentences have the same meaning?

Thank you in advance.

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Re: How to talk about repetitive actions?

Postby thegooseking » March 10th, 2017 11:42 pm


You can use the plain form of a verb (or the ~ます form in polite Japanese) to indicate something that happens repeatedly, and mostly the repetitive aspect is expressed through an adverb of frequency, e.g.:-
木村は毎日に公園でジョッギングしました - Kimura wa mainichi ni kouen de joggingu shimashita
"Kimura jogged in the park every day."

Like in English, the only reason we know this is repetitive is because of the adverb 毎日に - "every day". Same with the たいてい in your first example.

You need to be a bit careful with ~ています verbs because the ending means something different depending on the verb.
1) For some verbs it's the present continuous: 書く - to write, 書いています - to be writing
2) For some verbs it indicates being in a state: 結婚する - to get married, 結婚しています - to be married (not "to be getting married")
3) For verbs of motion it indicates a perfect tense: 帰る - to return home, 帰っています - to have returned home
But the key thing is that all three indicate being "in a state" of some sort.

So let's take, for example, 犬を飼っています - inu wo katte imasu - I have a dog (lit. "I am looking after a dog"). We use the ~ています form because it's something you keep doing without a definite completion, but it's not repetitive, because it's something you never stop doing. (You need to stop doing something before you can repeat it, right?)

It's a bit of a difficult distinction to get: in English we have the adverbs 'continually' (to keep doing something over and over again) and 'continuously' (to keep doing something without stopping) and it took me quite a while before I really got the difference.

Anyway, I think your second example works, but I would use it more in a situation where I want to emphasise the state of cleaning rather than the action, e.g.:-
日曜日はたいていそうじをしているので、映画館に行けないでしょう - nichiyoubi wa taitei souji wo shite iru node, eigakan ni ikenai deshou
"Since I am usually cleaning on Sundays, I probably won't be able to go to the cinema."

There's no direct link between cleaning and not going to the cinema, except that you can't do both at once, so it is the state, rather than the action, that is the reason marked by ので.

Edit: I realise I explained a lot of the groundwork for the conclusion but never actually said the conclusion itself :oops: So, you can use ~ています for repetitive actions if you can think of the repetitive actions as continuous. Coughing is a great example: 咳をします means "to cough (once)", but 咳をしています means "to cough repeatedly" because even though it's repetitive, we can still think of repeated coughing as a single continuous action. Even in English, we use the present progressive "he is coughing" rather than something like "he coughs repeatedly".

Now that I think of it, ~ています can also indicate repeated actions when the same action is performed by multiple subjects.
第一次世界大戦後のドイツでは、たくさんの人々がインフルエンザで死んでいました - daiichijisekaitaisengo no doitsu de wa, takusan no hitobito ga infuruenza de shinde imashita
"In post-First-World-War Germany, many people died of influenza."

Obviously people can only die once, but if many people die, that could be considered a repetitive action.


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Re: How to talk about repetitive actions?

Postby community.japanese » March 14th, 2017 12:52 am

Thank you for the explanation.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask us.

Yuki 由紀

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