Japanese Verb Tenses


The English language has three basic verb tenses, past, present and future.  There are other tenses in English, such as the passive and past progressive tense, but generally we tend to think in terms of “I went,” “I go,” and “I will go.”  Japanese does not have separate present and future tenses.  For example, one can say, “ikimasita” for “I went,” but if one says, “ikimasu,” it can mean either “I go” or “I will go.”  To the English speaker, lack of distinction between present and future tense appears to be somewhat of an oversight.  But Japanese makes up for this oversight by having other tenses that we never thought of.  My favorite is what is generally referred to as the “passive” tense in Japanese.  It is not the same as our passive tense.  Its use in describing an event literally means, “Such-and-such happened, and it annoyed me.”  To the Japanese, who prefer not to state things directly, it must be a great boon to have a special tense to indicate annoyance.  You can judge for yourself whether the concept works in English.  Imagine that you have the option of saying to someone, “The anvil fell on my foot, and it annoyed me,” or simply, “My foot was fallen upon by the anvil.”  Personally, I like the concept, although I do not believe that the name “passive tense” adequately describes its use.  It would be much more descriptive to call it the “passive aggressive tense.”