Japanese Short – Using てしまう to express regret and completion

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Japanese has an easy way to express that something happened regrettably, or that something was finished. It’s up to context to know which one of the two is intended, but usually it’s the former. Let’s dive into this in this first Japanese Short.

A more accurate way of describing the former meaning would be that “something happens with a lack of premeditation or control over how things turn out”.

This often expresses something you regret. For example: you’ve missed your bus, You forgot to buy something.

母のプレセントを買うのを忘れてしまう。*

I (unfortunately) forgot to buy my mom’s present.

Or more nuanced: “To my horror and sorrow I forgot to buy my mom’s present”

It’s also commonly used when something happens that you didn’t intend to do.

町で迷ってしまうから、遅れた。

Because I [inadvertently] got lost around town I’m late.

An entirely different (but less used) meaning of てしまうis that one “carries [verb] out with determination”. In most cases it means that the action pertaining the verb is finished.

本を読んでしまった。 I finished reading the book

Since it’s used a lot and Japanese people are lazy when it comes to grammar, there’s a contracted informal form of てしまう resulting in ちゃう. It sounds childish, but older people will still use it too nowadays.

Take notice that this form changes slightly whether the Te form the verb ends in てorで:

犬が宿題をたべてしまう。 My dog eats my homework

犬が宿題をたべちゃう。 My dog eats my homework (informal, present)

犬が宿題をたべちゃった。 My dog ate my homework (informal, past) **

本を読んじゃった。 I finished reading a book (informal, past)

Want to read some more examples about these short forms, check out Maggie Sensei’s blog post.

Thanks for reading, Japanese has many different verb forms and I plan on going over many of them in weekly Japanese Short blog posts.

* のをis a handy construct to turn a sentence into a noun when having to use multiple verbs. Read more about it here

** I don’t use “regrettably” in the translation anymore, since it can be derived from context.

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