Special uses of the Japanese verb 来る (kuru), “to come”

By | January 27, 2015

The Japanese verb 来る (‘kuru’) is often one of the first verbs learned by Japanese students, not just because it is easy to understand but also because it is used somewhat frequently, in both it’s simple form and in a few special usages.

First let’s look at the simplest way to use this verb, where it’s meaning is similar ‘come’ or ‘arrive’.

(Note: this verb has irregular conjugation, see the Notes section at the bottom of this post)

  • 先生が来た
  • The teacher came.

And for a slightly more advanced sentence:

  • 卒業式に友達が来てくれた。
  • My friend came to my graduation.   (Note: both “my”s are implied here)

And now for the special usages, where the meaning can deviate from something physically arriving at a location. Note that in these cases the verb is usually written in hiragana as くる or some conjugated form (きた, etc.).

Special usage 1: using くる to specify the direction of an action

In Japanese, subjects and targets of actions are often omitted. One way the language makes up for this is by using the verb  くる to specify that some action is happing towards the speaker or narrator.

  • お父さんは「ありがとう」って言ってきた
  • My dad said ‘thanks’ to me.
  • 本が落ちてきた
  • The book fell towards me.

In both of these cases saying “僕に” would be unnecessary since that is already implied.

Special usage 2: using くる to describe an action that has been going on until the present time

くる can be used after a verb in the “te” form to indicate the action has been going one for some time up until now.

  • 日本語を独学で勉強してきました
  • Up until now I’ve studied Japanese on my own. (i.e. without taking classes)

In this example it’s a little difficult to capture this nuance in English, but you can think of gathering experience before ‘arriving’ at the present moment.

Special usage 3: using くる to describe something that changed or will change

Putting くる after another verb in the “te” form also can signify that there was some change that has occurred or will occur.

  • やっと分かってきた
  • I finally understand now.

Here きた (past tense of くる) emphasizes the change between “not understanding” and “understanding”. It’s interesting to note that in English a similar usage exists, for example “I have finally come to understand”

  • 僕、強くなってきたぞ。
  • I’ve become stronger.

In this case, the emphasis is on the change of becoming stronger. In this case (and the previous example), you could just remove くる and conjugate the previous verb in past tense and the sentence would be still be valid and understandable.

  • 雨が降ってきた
  • It started raining.

If きた were removed from this sentence, the feeling of “starting” to rain would be lessened and you would end up with just “It rained”.

Special usage 4: set phrase “やってくる” 

This phrase is mostly equivalent to くる, though it feels a bit less modern to me.

  • 熊がやってきた。
  • A bear came.

Special usage 5: Using くる to indicate you’ll be returning

Normally in English if we left for our job in the morning, we would just say “I’m going to work”. However in Japanese typically one says something like “I’m going to work and coming back”.

In fact, the set phrase “行ってきます” is traditionally said to family members by someone who is leaving the house with the intention to return later. The person staying behind says ”行ってらっしゃい” where ”らっしゃい” comes from いらっしゃる which is a more polite way of saying “くる”. (Confusingly, いらっしゃる can also mean “to go” or “to be”).

Another example:

  • 海に行ってくるね。
  • I’m going to the beach.

Again here the english sentence doesn’t specifically say “I’m coming back”, though it is implied.

Special usage 6: Phrase “持ってくる” used to carry or bring something back.

This technically is just an application of the first usage above (using くる to indicate direction), but it’s a common phrase so good to memorize.

  • リビングに行って、本を持ってきてくれる?
  • Would you mind going to the living room and getting a book for me?
  • 友達がゲームを持ってきた
  • My friend brought a game.

Similarly, you can use 持っていく when taking something away.


来る is one of the few verbs in Japanese with irregular conjugation. Here are some of the more common conjugated forms, for the rest and other irregular verbs see the Wikipedia entry on Japanese verbs.

  • ‘masu’ form: きます
  • Past: きた
  •  Negative: こない
  •  Past negative: こなかった
  •  Potential: これる



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11 thoughts on “Special uses of the Japanese verb 来る (kuru), “to come”

  1. Darnell Ford

    I’ve been wrackin my brain tryna understand these concepts with 来る&行く
    but you’ve simplified it greatly! My effin hero!

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks for the comment, glad to have helped! If you have any other questions let me know.

  2. Vincent Maltais

    Its me or kuru and kuraru is a mistake here. You wanted to say ageru kureru morau but instead you said 来る (くるor kita) is for ”to specify that some action is happing towards the speaker or narrator.” What I learned is : kureru. can you answer what I dont understand.

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Sorry, can you clarify your question, I’m a little confused. This post is not about ‘kureru’, it is about ‘kuru’ which is not related to ‘kureru’ at all.

      Also you said ‘kuraru’ which is not in my post anywhere…

      1. Michael

        I think what they’re asking is similar to the question I have. Is there a difference between these two sentences or do they have the same meaning?


        My thought would be the first is emphasizing that he’s saying it to you, whereas the second is more that he’s saying it for your benefit.

        1. locksleyu Post author

          They have a different nuance and I agree with your explanation. The first simply means the action occurred in the direction of the speaker, whereas the second indicates the action was done for the sake of the speaker.

  3. Demetori

    first I wanna say thank you for your awesome and interesting post!
    I‘m still uncertain about this particular phrase:
    my interpretation would be something like:
    I‘m finally drinking sake with Tanaka
    Up until now I‘m drinking sake with Tanaka
    Does that make sense? Or I‘m completely off? Would be awesome if you could help me with this

    Thank you and greetings from Austria

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks for the comment!

      The 〜くる here simply means “I will do ~ and come back”. It is listed in this post as Special Usage #5.

      The “ちょっと” means literally “a little” (though sometimes it can be used as a softener without a strong meaning)

      So the translation of this sentence would be;

      “I’m going to go and drink for a little while with Tanaka”

      The trick is that in English we emphasize on the “going” part, but in Japanese they focus on the “coming” back part. In reality, both “coming” and “going” is involved.

  4. baoutch

    I came here while trying to understand Kaguya Hime no warabe song were the koi form is used twice :

    春 夏 秋 冬 連れて来い

    I really can’t decide which case is used here as it is an imperative form. Maybe #6 as those are both perpetually returning events

    Thank you very much for this very useful post

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Hello, thanks for reading my blog and thanks for the comment!

      For the two phrases you mention, the usage is #5 (Using くる to indicate you’ll be returning), although usage #6 is also related (Phrase “持ってくる” used to carry or bring something back.)

      Since 来い is imperative form, the speaker is asking someone to go and do an action, then come back.

      So “呼んで来い” on it’s own means “Go call XXX and come back” and “連れて来い” means “Go get XXX and break him/her back”.

      連れてくる is a set phrase that is used with people, but in this case it is used with the seasons, making them sound like living things. For non-living things, in everyday Japanese usually 持ってくる (from case #6) is usually used.

      Note that the imperative form is pretty strong and I wouldn’t recommend it that often in everyday conversation, but you see it sometimes in older stories. I think a long time ago the nuance may have been a little less strong than it is now.


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