“Coming” and “Going”: Getting your Japanese in motion

Hiraku is Confused - How does one use Kuru vs. Iku?

Two of the most commonly used verbs in Japanese are “行く” (iku, to go) and “来る” (kuru, to come). Though they may seem simple, since their meanings and usages don’t quite match up with their equivalent English words, they can often be a pain to use correctly! To help you become masters of Japanese motion, our Japanese Language Coordinator, Minoru Aizawa-sensei, has a few pointers for you regarding their basic meanings and usages.


Using 行く (iku) vs. 来る (kuru)

First, you have to keep in mind that 行く (iku) indicates motion away from the speaker, while 来る (kuru) indicates motion toward the speaker. Let’s investigate the following four examples. Assuming you aren’t currently in Tokyo now, which of the following make no sense regardless of context?

  1. 田中さんは、来週 東京に行く。
    Tanaka-san wa, raishuu toukyou ni iku.
  2. 田中さんは、来週 東京に来る。
    Tanaka-san wa, raishuu toukyou ni kuru.
  3. 私は、来週 東京に行く。
    Watashi wa, raishuu toukyou ni iku.
  4. 私は、来週 東京に来る。
    Watashi wa, raishuu toukyou ni kuru.

The answer is (4): you cannot “come” to Tokyo from where you currently are. This is the same reason why the following Japanese translation does not make sense, either:

  • 友だち1:何時ごろ来る?
    Tomodachi 1: Nanji goro kuru?
    Friend 1:  What time are you coming to my place?
  • 友だち2:8時ごろ来るよ。
    Tomodachi 2: Hachiji goro kuru yo.
    Friend 2:  I will be coming from there around eight o’clock.

As you may rightly assume, friend 2 needed to say “8時ごろ行く” (hachiji goro iku) instead of “8時ごろ来る” (hachiji goro kuru) since they are moving away from where they currently are to where their friend is.

Time-specific motion? Using “~ている” (~te iru) with motion verbs

These two verbs belong to the category of  “motion verbs.” When they are used in combination with “~ている” (~te iru), they indicate motion taking place at a certain time instead of a motion currently in progress. Here are some examples of this:

  • 田中さんは、今  銀行に  行っている。
    Tanaka-san wa, ima ginkou ni itte iru.
    Tanaka-san is at a bank now.
  • 田中さんは、きのうのパーティに  来ていた。
    Tanaka-san wa, kinou no paati ni kite ita.
    Tanaka-san was at yesterday’s party.

Using “~てくる” (~te kuru) figuratively

These verbs aren’t just used for actual movement, but figurative movement as well. “~てくる” (~te kuru) can also indicate a certain change-of-state moves toward your personal realm (i.e. time frame, space, etc.).

  • 去年の2月はあたたかかったが、3月はとてもさむくなってきた。
    Kyonen no nigatsu wa atatakakatta ga, sangatsu wa totemo samukunatte kita.
    It was warm in February of last year, but it grew colder in March.
  • このごろ あつくなってきた。
    Kono goro atsukunatte kita.
    It has become hotter recently.
  • これからはもっとあつくなってくると思う。
    Kore kara wa motto atsukunatte kuru to omou.
    I think it will become much hotter from now on.
  • これからはもっとあつくなってくると思う。
    Kore kara wa motto atsukunatte kuru to omou.
    From this point on, I think even hotter temperatures will be coming up.
  • このごろ日本語が分かってきた。たくさん勉強したらもっと分かってくると思う。
    Kono goro nihongo ga wakatte kita. Takusan benkyou shitara motto wakatte kuru to omou.
    I have come to understand Japanese recently. If I study more, I think I will come to understand it even better.

“行く/来る” (iku/kuru) may not be as simple as some of you initially thought, huh? But that’s just what makes learning a foreign language so interesting! がんばってください~

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