Connecting clauses are used to create complex sentences by introducing several pieces of information into one single sentence. Needless to say, it’s very important to know these constructions in order to get your Japanese communication skills to a higher level.

There are two ways to connect clauses in Japanese:

  • By using the “-TE” form of verbs
  • By using the conjunctive base of verbs (also called “connective”).

However, differences exist between the two.

-TE Form

The -TE form of verbs can be used to express a succession of actions or a multiplication of descriptions.

Note: The -TE form can also indicate a means or a cause. Foreigners learning Japanese will usually always use particles such as KARA (から) or NODE (ので) to translate “because.” But do keep in mind that the -TE form can also convey the concept of cause in Japanese.

In our complex sentence, several verbs will appear in the sentence to illustrate the succession of actions. All of these verbs will get the -TE form EXCEPT the last verb. This last verb will take the tense (past, present, for example) and the form (negative, for example), and all the preceding verbs will be understood according to that last verb conjugation.

Yuubinkyoku ni itte hagaki o kaimashita.
I went to the post office and I bought postcards.

Tsuyoi kaze ga fuite ki ga taoreta.
The wind blew hard, the tree fell.

In the last example, we can understand that a cause / effect relationship exists without even using the particle KARA (translated as “because”).

Literally, that sentence could be understood this way: “The wind blew hard, and the tree fell.” Now, just bring out the cause and effect to make them obvious, and translate the sentence properly: “The tree fell because the wind blew hard.”

Ane ga nekkuresu o katte, watashi ga handobaggu o katta.
My sister bought a necklace, and I bought a handbag.

When the subject remains the same through the whole sentence, the different actions can take place at the same time, simultaneously: “I’m doing something while doing something else.” In that case, the construction has the same meaning as the particle -NAGARA (ながら).

Kare wa isoide gakkou ni ikimashita.
He went to school, hurrying.

Conjunctive / Connective Base

The conjunctive base of verbs (which is frequently used to conjugate a verb into the polite form with -MASU, and many other usages) is also called the connective base, since it “connects” actions to each other.

Unlike the -TE form, the connective base can never indicate a cause or a means. Neither can it be used for actions that might take place at the same time, as we observed with -TE.

And to finish, using the connective/conjunctive base to build complex sentences conveys a more formal tone to the sentence compared to the construction with the -TE form.

Yuubinkyoku ni iki hagaki o katta.
I went to the post office and I bought postcards.

Ane ga nekkuresu o kai, watashi ga handobaggu o kaimashita.
My sister bought a necklace, and I bought a handbag.

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