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Why is ていた form used to talk about present states?

zuotengdazuo

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廃ビルは、昨夜の風雨のせいか大きく崩れていた
元々ボロボロの建物だったが、今は外壁がほとんど崩れ落ち、瓦礫が線路にまで散らばっている。僕は線路脇のフェンスをよじ登ってビルの敷地に飛び降り、崩れた壁から中に入った。
廃ビルの中はひっそりと薄暗く、じっとりと湿った空気に満ちていた。あちこちの穴から日光が筋になって射し込み、床や壁に明暗の複雑な模様を作っている。

Hi. I know ていた form is past perfect tense and it is for some action that had ended previously in the past and the state resulted from it continued to exist (also in the past). But in the text above, the two verbs in red are about present states (i.e. the state that the building has already crumbled currently and the state that the state that the interior of the building is humid. So why is ていた form instead of ている form used to talk about present states?
Thank you.
 

Toritoribe

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It's the same as why 入った is used there. I don't know the usual tense of the narrative part, i.e., whether it's "looking back a memory" or "talking about the present things", but the past tense can be used in both cases as the same reason as the present form can be used. For instance, it can show that the subject found 崩れていた just in a moment past (and now is 散らばっている) if it's talking about now.
 

zuotengdazuo

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Thank you.
it can show that the subject found 崩れていた just in a moment past (and now is 散らばっている) if it's talking about now.
So the 崩れていた and 満ちていた are used to describe that the speaker/subject just found something was the case a moment in the past, namely, the action “found” is in the immediate past although the state of being crumbled or humid is in the present? If 崩れている and 満ちている are used, then the nuance that the subject/speaker just found the building is in such a condition is lost, right?
 

zuotengdazuo

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Thank you for your confirmation.
Can I ask about another example?
そして豪雨が降りそそいだ。滝のような大雨だった。
突然に強引に青空を奪われたような天気に、俺と刑事たちは呆然と立ちつくした。
その時ーー誰もがおそらくは、その雨が普通ではないと感じていた。いつかこういう日が来ることを、本当は誰もが知っていた。平穏な日々がだらだらと続くわけがないことを、このまま逃げ切れるわけがないことを、俺たちはずっと感じていた
Why is ていた form (in red) used there when they are talking about present things? The explanation that the subject just found it is the case a moment ago doesn’t seem to apply here.
 

Toritoribe

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その時~と感じていた。shows that the writer's main viewpoint is now (future of the events mentioned there) and he/she is looking back the past events. It's the same novel as the one in the following thread, right?

 

zuotengdazuo

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Thank you. I see. By the way, can I think that most Japanese novels are written in past tense and the shift to present tense is just for vividness? I think this explains all the uses of 〜た、〜ていた (in the main clause) I’ve encountered so far.
It's the same novel as the one in the following thread, right?
Yes, it is.:)
 

zuotengdazuo

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Can I ask about one more example? I still haven’t grasped the usage of 相対テンス in the relative clause.
持て余していた力を、陽菜さんにもらった勇気を、僕のなかで叫び続けている気持ちを、今こそ全部使い切るために僕は走る。

Why is 持て余す used in ていた form instead of ている form? Doesn’t 持て余していた sound like he had the strength in the past but he no longer has it now?
Thank you.
 

bentenmusume

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This example is really a basic use of the perfect tense here. Remember, the idea of the perfect/imperfect in Japanese isn't about whether or not when an action is taking place compared to now, but whether or not an action is completed from the point in time being referenced.

At the point in time that the main verb 走る occurs, the speaker will have already been in the process of trying to completely use up (使い切る) the strength he previously had an excess of (持て余していた) before he started using it.

This fundamental nature of perfect/imperfect tense in Japanese (as opposed to how past/present/future tense functions in English) is why you can get sentences like 電子マネーを悪用した詐欺に注意しましょう! In this sentence the act of 悪用した didn't take place "before now". The 詐欺 in question hasn't even happened at all (and may never happen, because it's hypothetical). However, at whatever point in time the 詐欺 potentially occurred, the action of 悪用する will (by definition) have already happened.
 

zuotengdazuo

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Thank you for the response. I’ll remember that.
At the point in time that the main verb 走る occurs, the speaker will have already been in the process of trying to completely use up (使い切る) the strength he previously had an excess of (持て余していた) before he started using it.
So 持て余していた suggests that when he started using the strength, the state of his having excessive strength was over. Right?
And does 持て余している work here? If it works, then it means at the time (or after the time) when he started using the strength, he is still in the state of having an excess of it, right?
 

bentenmusume

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If it were 持て余している, the nuance would be that, yes, he still has an excess of the strength throughout the process of running.

(Note that you have an excellent example of this right in the sentence itself with 僕のなかで叫び続けている気持ち. Here, 叫び続けている is preferable to いた here for the very reason that the author wants to convey that this emotion continues to scream out within the protagonist throughout the whole time.)
 

Toritoribe

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By the way, can I think that most Japanese novels are written in past tense and the shift to present tense is just for vividness?
I think "past form" is more accurate. This is related to bentenmusume-san's exlanation, but one of the reasons why past forms are often seen in Japanese novels is that the present form of action verbs doesn't (or can't) express the present state of the action. Probably you can find the present form of state verbs or ~ている form relatively more often than the present form of action verbs when it describes the present scene in narrative parts.

examples in the excerpt in the initial post of this thread
崩れていた。
散らばっている
入った。
満ちていた。
作っている


As I mentioned above, the narrative part of novels often describes a scene, so the past form is more commonly used. Here's a famous poem 火星が出ている by 高村光太郎. You can see all the sentences are written in the present form not only for his thoughts but even for scenes, probably because the main purpose is not to describe scenes objectively.

火星が出ている

要するにどうすればいいか、という問いは
折角たどった思索の道を初めにかえす。
要するにどうでもいいのか。
否、否、無限大に否。
待つがいい、そうして第一の力を以って、
そんな問いに急ぐお前の弱さを滅ぼすがいい。
予約された結果を思うのは卑しい。
正しい原因にのみ生きる事。
それのみが浄い。
お前の心をさらにゆすぶり返す為には、
もう一度頭を高く上げて、
この寝静まった暗い駒込台の真上に光る
あの大きなまっかな星をみるがいい。

火星が出ている。

おれは知らない、
人間が何をせねばならないかを。
おれは知らない、
人間が何を得ようとすべきかを。
おれは思う、
人間が天然の一片で有り得ることを。
おれは感ずる、
人間が無に等しい故に大である事を。
ああ、おれは身ぶるいする、
無に等しい事のたのもしさよ。
無をさえ滅した
必然の瀰漫よ。

火星が出ている。

天がうしろに廻転する。
無数の遠い世界が登って来る。
おれはもう昔の詩人のように、
天使のまたたきをその中に見ない。
おれはただ聞く、
深いエーテルの波のようなものを。
そうしてただ、
世界が止め度なく美しい。
見知らぬものだらけな不気味な美が
ひしひしとおれに迫る。

火星が出ている。
 

johnnyG

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This example is really a basic use of the perfect tense here. Remember, the idea of the perfect/imperfect in Japanese isn't about whether or not when an action is taking place compared to now, but whether or not an action is completed from the point in time being referenced.
...
The latter part of that nails it. But I'd call it aspect--this whole question. Trying to describe aspect in terms of tense is a little like fitting a square peg in a round hole.

English speakers are very aware of tense(s), but often equally unaware of aspect. Too bad this doesn't touch on Japanese, but: Grammatical aspect - Wikipedia

Some other sections there are also relevant.
 

zuotengdazuo

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Thank you all.
As I mentioned above, the narrative part of novels often describes a scene, so the past form is more commonly used.
It's the same as why 入った is used there.
As far as I know, the 〜ていた form usually has two functions, i.e. past perfect tense and past progressive tense, as shown below.
4253C029-B540-4FDC-AC45-2895E2DEC1E4.jpeg

Can the 〜ていた form in narrative part in the novel also be interpreted as past perfect tense or past progressive tense. Just like 昨日の11時、妹は昼ごはんをもう食べていた。or 昨日の11時、妹は昼ごはんを食べていた。? But according to the discussion in the previous posts, the 〜ていた form in narrative part in the novel seems to have different functions. Is that true? (in narrative part, we seldom find such words as もう、〜時, etc.) I think, since Japanese novels, just like English ones, are most typically written in the past tense, so all 〜ているs have to be changed into〜ていたs even if they are describing present states (the now in novels).

but one of the reasons why past forms are often seen in Japanese novels is that the present form of action verbs doesn't (or can't) express the present state of the action. Probably you can find the present form of state verbs or ~ている form relatively more often than the present form of action verbs when it describes the present scene in narrative parts.
Do you mean “punctual verbs” by “action verbs” and “continuous verbs” by “state verbs”? If not, what are “action verbs” and “state verbs”?
 

Toritoribe

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Well, I would say もう is not enough as a key. 昨日の11時、妹は昼ごはんをもう食べていた。 also can mean もう食べて始めていた(でも、まだ食べ終えてはいなかった), i.e., it also can be past progressive. Please refer to the following thread.


I think, since Japanese novels, just like English ones, are most typically written in the past tense, so all 〜ているs have to be changed into〜ていたs even if they are describing present states (the now in novels).
Sorry, but I don't understand what you mean.
 

zuotengdazuo

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Thank you. I will refer to the link.
Sorry, but I don't understand what you mean.
I just mean the past form (including だった、かった、ていた、てきた、ていった, etc) is the “default” form in the narrative part in Japanese novel. That is why ~ていた is used extensively in narrative part extensively to describe states, even if some are present states. Sometimes when the writer describes a present scene/state/action, the writer can use ~ていた and ~ている interchangeably. And in this case ~ている is just for vividness and there is no major difference between ~ていた and ~ている, except the nuance mentioned in post #3. (But if the temporal adverbial shows that the scene/action is in the past, we have to use ~ていた) Does it makes sense?
By the way, could you explain “action verbs” and “state verbs”?
 

bentenmusume

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I'm honestly still a bit confused by how you're perceiving past tense as used in novels. When you read a novel in English, do you perceive all the uses of past tense as "present states" that have been "changed" into past tense because that is the "default" form used in novels? I don't. I just read it as a certain narrative voice, and I don't necessarily consider how the events in the novel are happening vis-a-vis "now."

Incidentally, johnnyG-san's post is also quite important. I (mistakenly) said perfect "tense" above, but in fact past/present/future tenses as we have in English are tenses, while perfect/imperfect as they exist in JP are correctly described as aspects, not tenses. The difference is (as I mentioned above, though I flubbed the terminology...which I'll blame on it having been over 15 years since I took my last linguistics class) that tense is about when an action happened along a past-present-future timeline, whereas aspect is about whether it was complete/incomplete with respect to a certain point in time.

Here's an interesting discussion on the precise subject of whether Japanese "tenses" are actually tenses (as they're often described in English-language textbooks) or aspects: Are Japanese "tenses" aspects in disguise?
 

Toritoribe

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By the way, could you explain “action verbs” and “state verbs”?
Punctual verbs(瞬間動詞) and durative verbs(継続動詞) are both action verbs(動作動詞). State verbs(状態動詞) are verbs that express the present state by their dictionary forms, for instance いる, ある, 要る or できる. These verbs don't have ~ている form (できている is the ~ている form of another できる "to be finished").
 

zuotengdazuo

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When you read a novel in English, do you perceive all the uses of past tense as "present states" that have been "changed" into past tense because that is the "default" form used in novels?
I sometimes do this when reading English novels. Especially when I encounter unreal/real conditional clauses, which can be confusing in terms of temporal sequence or other nuances.
So what is your suggestion when encountering the past form at the end of a sentence (in narration) in reading Japanese novels? Just forget the temporal sequence and just think of them as perfect aspects? (But my grammar book says we need to pay attention to 绝対テンス and 相対テンス) But I worry that if I do so, I might miss some nuances.
I sometimes see native speakers of Japanese claim that there is no tenses but aspects in Japanese while some others (including in some textbooks) claim tenses exist in Japanese. So I often get confused as to this point. But your link my be helpful. I will refer to it. Thank you.
 

bentenmusume

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Well, then I think in that case that perhaps you're overanalyzing tenses in English novels as well.

I'm a bit curious if this is simply academic curiosity on your part, or whether you actually feel lost with the flow of time when you are reading a Japanese novel. Do you actually find it difficult to follow how the flow of time is being expressed, or is it simply the fact that Japanese handles this different from English (or your native language) that is confusing you?

It's a bit hard for me to give you a "suggestion" on how to interpret the past form at the end of a sentence in a Japanese novel, because I don't really feel a need to interpret it one way or the other in my native language either. Novels narrated in the past tense always seem to exist in a sort of state where the narrator is narrating events that have already happened in the sense that the narrator is telling a story, but are meant to be perceived in the "present" of sorts.

It doesn't really confuse me in English, so by extension it's never really confused me in Japanese either. (Especially because given the aspective nature of Japanese, it's all relative anyway.)

In any event, if you have any examples where the flow of time is genuinely unclear to you, it might be more worthwhile to discuss those, rather than trying to understand Japanese verbs as a whole in terms of the concept of tense as it exists in English.
 

zuotengdazuo

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Well, then I think in that case that perhaps you're overanalyzing tenses in English novels as well.
I only analyze the tenses in conditionals that are confusing to me in English novels, which, however, doesn’t mean I analyze the tense of each sentence. I do perceive the tenses in narrative part in English novels that way, but that doesn’t thwart me from understanding the text. So I think it’s fine to think that way.
Do you actually find it difficult to follow how the flow of time is being expressed, or is it simply the fact that Japanese handles this different from English (or your native language) that is confusing you?
It’s the latter. The constant shifting between past form and present form in narration does confuse me initially.
Novels narrated in the past tense always seem to exist in a sort of state where the narrator is narrating events that have already happened in the sense that the narrator is telling a story, but are meant to be perceived in the "present" of sorts.
If by this you mean there is a default tense (past tense/form) in Japanese novels, then I feel I don’t need to overthink the tense too much.
In any event, if you have any examples where the flow of time is genuinely unclear to you, it might be more worthwhile to discuss those, rather than trying to understand Japanese verbs as a whole in terms of the concept of tense as it exists in English.
You are kind to suggest that.
 
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