JOK Notebook

An Auxiliary Verb Primer

I've developed a slight fear and loathing of certain auxiliary verbs. How cruelly named they are; "auxiliary" means "giving support; serving as an aid; helpful," and yet I often find that when it comes to -ていく and -てくる, my reference books are most unhelpful. If a sentence contains such a structure and if I don't know what the いく or くる part is really contributing, I often consult a source to see a list of what -ていく and -てくる can mean, only to find no correspondence between my sentence and that list.

I told you last time that I wanted to create a comprehensive guide to the various meanings of -ていく and -てくる so that, once and for all, I could master these auxiliary verbs. I asked one of my proofreaders to compare the lists from several sources, and he found this task incredibly challenging. I understand; after all, I asked him to do it because when I placed the lists side by side, I couldn't tell whether they were saying the same thing in different ways or whether they were actually presenting distinct information.

In the end, after analyzing lots of information on the topic, he found the Daijirin list most comprehensive and trustworthy, so he presented me with that. To round out the picture, I have embellished that list with a few bits of information that Daijirin seemed to lack.

Here is where things stand at the moment (and this list may change over time).

-て行く  (-ていく)

Type 1: indicates that something or someone is parting from the speaker or from something being mentioned

The departure could be physical, temporal, or mental. I previously presented that as Lutlam's explanation of auxiliary verbs. It turns out that all three of those departures fall under Type 1. Here are two more examples (both of physical departures):

The boat pulls away from the coast.

The car rapidly goes farther away.

Type 2: means “more and more”

The balloon gradually deflates.

The day is dawning.

From now on it will become warmer and warmer.

Type 3: indicates that an act or state will continue

Let's forever hand the story down through the generations.

-て来る (-てくる)

Type 1: indicates that something or someone is approaching the speaker

The approach could be physical, temporal, or mental. These two examples are physical:

A boy came running this way.

A bee flew this way.

Type 2: means "more and more"

From then on it became warmer and warmer.

From then on, the Japanese economy grew stronger and stronger.

Type 3: indicates that an act has continued or has been repeated until now

I’ve lived in this village ever since I was born.

I’ve always told you not to cause people trouble, haven’t I?

Type 4: means "to do something while planning to come back"

I’ll go and take a look (and come back).

I’ll go home and leave my bag there (and come back).

Type 5: indicates the appearance of a certain state or phenomenon

Let’s work hard for the child we’ll have.
[Note: The sentence indicates that the child will appear.]

I found a book that I had lost.
[Note: The sentence indicates that the book appeared.]

Type 6: indicates that a state develops or that something becomes true

I’m getting sleepy.

Seems like the tide is getting high.

Type 7: indicates gradual change

While we were playing tennis, it began to rain.

In the afternoon my head began to ache.

Certain examples could go in multiple categories. For instance, if you're playing tennis and it starts to rain, that could be -てくる Type 1 or 6. And if the rain picks up, -てくる Type 2 fits the bill.

In some situations -ていく and -てくる are even interchangeable! That's hard to conceive of in English, as going and coming are definitely opposites. But look at the two sentences about becoming warmer and warmer. One contains -ていく, the other -てくる (both Type 2). The main difference is whether the change will happen in the future or has happened already. 

When working with a particular Japanese sentence and trying to figure out which type of auxiliary verb it has, don't approach this list in too rigid a way or you'll inevitably be frustrated. It's just a guideline, a suggestion, a springboard. I hope it helps in some way!

Let me shift gears and bring your attention to the newest essay:


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