6.4 Exploring the Verbs: Come and Go

The verbs 来(く)る (kuru: to come) and 行(い)く (iku: to go) are among the most frequently used verbs in Japanese. In this module, we will explore their usage, some aspects of which differ from their English counterparts.

Understanding how to use 来(く)る and 行(い)く in Japanese can be straightforward once you get the hang of it, as they mostly align with their English counterparts.

For example, if you want to say ‘the bus is coming’ politely, you would use the ます-form of 来る, which is 来ます (ki masu), as follows:

バス(ばす)が来(き)ます

Basu ga ki masu.

The bus is coming.

Note that the particle が is used instead of the particle は, since the emphasis is placed on the bus performing the action.

 

Conversely, to say ‘the bus is going’, use the ます-form of 行く, 行きます (ikimasu), forming:

バスが行きます

Basu ga iki masu.

The bus is going.

In this context, the particle が highlights the bus as the subject performing the action. Remember from Module 3.3, が emphasises the subject being discussed. Unlike the topic particle は, which often introduces the theme or context of the sentence (like ‘I’ or 私[わたし: watashi]), が directly points to what or who is carrying out the action, such as the bus in this case.

 

In sum, Japanese functions similarly to English.

However, in English, the verbs ‘come’ and ‘go’ are determined by the speaker’s relationship to the movement’s location. In contrast, Japanese verbs 来る and 行く hinge on the speaker’s current location. 来る is used when movement is towards the speaker’s current location, and 行く when moving away.

Let’s dive deeper with specific examples to clarify how these verbs function in different contexts.


Imagine that you and your friend are at each other’s homes. In English, if your friend asks you to come to their place, you’d simply say, ‘I’m coming’.

However, that’s not the case in Japanese. Instead of saying 来ます, you would say:

行きます

Iki masu.

I’m going.

Why? That’s because you’re moving away from your current location (your house) to another place (your friend’s house), hence using 行きます instead of 来ます.

 

So the basic rule is:

  • Use 来る when the speaker is talking about something or someone coming to their current location.
  • Use 行く when the speaker is talking about something or someone moving away from their current location.

 

And the ‘someone’ can even be the speaker!

In the scenario of visiting a friend’s house, you use 行きます because you, as the speaker, are talking about yourself moving away from where you’re now and going towards where your friend is.

 

Then, what about this situation? You and your friend are in the same location and your friend asks you whether you are coming back to where you both are now tomorrow. Would you use 来ます or 行きます?

Well, in this situation, where you and your friend are discussing returning to your current location tomorrow, the appropriate verb to use is 来ます. This is because the action pertains to coming back to where you currently are. So you would use 来ます to express returning to the present location. So you would say:

はい、来(き)ます

Hai, ki masu.

Yes, I’m coming.

 

So, it is all about your current location – considering where you are and where you are going. Once you grasp this concept, these two verbs become a lot more manageable!


For further detail, please watch the following video (about 4 minutes long) created by Shiro Neko Japanese useful to reinforce your understanding of how to use 来ます (the ます form of 来る) and 行きます (the ます form of 行く):

 

Exercise 1

References

Shiro Neko Japanese. “Japanese [#3-4] [GENKI L3]—I’ll Come (kimasu) or I’ll Go (ikimasu)?” YouTube video, 4:24. December 1, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpKPOrjuMcg.

 

 

 

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Japanese Introductory 1 Copyright © 2024 by Iori Hamada is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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