Using toki in Japanese -
Intermediate Lessons: 13

In this lesson, you will learn to use toki in Japanese (時 - とき) to express the time when some states or actions exist or occur.

toki in Japanese

とき (toki) connects two sentences and expresses the time when the state or action described in the main sentence takes place.

Sentence Patterns

Let's take a look at the sentence patterns first...

Verb dict-form とき Main sentence
Verb ない-form とき Main sentence
Verb た-form とき Main sentence
い-adjective とき Main sentence
な-adjective + な とき Main sentence
Noun + の とき Main sentence

As shown above, the different forms of Verbs, い-adjectives, な-adjectives and Nouns that are connected to とき are the same as the forms when nouns are modified.

Let's use some examples to show how to form sentences using toki in Japanese...


図書館で本を借りる とき、カードが要ります。
toshokan de hon wo kariru toki, ka-do ga irimasu

Meaning: When you borrow books from the library, you need a card.


使い方が分からない とき、田中さんに聞いてください。
tsukaikata ga wakaranai toki, tanaka san ni kiite kudasai

Meaning: When you don't know how to use it, ask Ms Tanaka.


体の調子が悪い とき、医者へ行きます。
karada no choushi ga warui toki, isha e ikimasu

Meaning: When I am not feeling well, I visit the doctor.


暇な とき、テレビを見ます。
hima na toki, terebi wo mimasu

Meaning: I watch TV when I am free.


母が病気の とき、会社を休みます。
haha ga byouki no toki, kaisha wo yasumimasu

Meaning: When my mother is sick, I take a day off work.


学生の とき、あまり勉強しませんでした。
gakusei no toki, amari benkyoushimasen deshita

Meaning: When I was a student, I did not study much.


子供の とき、よく海で泳ぎました。
kodomo no toki, yoku umi de oyogimashita

Meaning: I used to swim in the sea when I was a child.

Tense Does Not Matter in Adjective & Noun Sentences

The tense of adjective sentences and noun sentences which modify とき is not affected by the tense of the main sentence.

In example 6 above, the English translation is "When I was a student, I did not study much". You used past tense for both the first sentence and second (main) sentence.

However in Japanese, you don't need past tense for the noun sentence in front of とき (学生のとき - gakusei no toki). Tense does not matter here.

In example 4 above, the English translation is "I watch TV when I am free". You can also say 暇なとき、テレビを見ました (hima na toki, terebi wo mimashita), which translated to "I used to watch TV when I was free".

In both cases, it's still 暇なとき (hima na toki). The tense of the な-adjective sentences in front of とき is not affected by the tense of the main sentences.

Let's use another two examples for toki in Japanese with adjective and noun sentences.


母は若い とき、きれいでした。
haha wa wakai toki, kirei deshita

Meaning: My mother was beautiful when she was young.


鈴木さんは二十五歳の とき、結婚しました。
suzuki san wa nijuugo sai no toki, kekkon shimashita

Meaning: Mr Suzuki got married when he was 25 years old.

As you can see, both examples are talking about past events but the tense of the adjective and noun sentences are not affected by the main sentences (in Japanese).

toki in Japanese has Different Meanings for Verbs in Present or Past Tense

With verbs, it helps to keep in mind that non-past form indicates an action that happens "all the time" or is "not yet completed". The past form is used when the action is "over and finished".

Let's check out some examples...


日本へ行く とき、カメラを買いました。
nihon e iku toki, kamera wo kaimashita

Meaning: I bought a camera when I was on my way to Japan.
(before reaching Japan, on the way there)


日本へ行った とき、カメラを買いました。
nihon e itta toki, kamera wo kaimashita

Meaning: I bought a camera when I went to Japan.
(arrived in Japan and bought a camera there)

In example 1 above, 行く (iku) indicates that the action had not been completed. The speaker bought a camera somewhere on his/her way to Japan. (the camera could be bought in his/her own country).

In example 2 above, 行った (itta) indicates that the action had been completed and the speaker bought a camera after arriving in Japan.

More Examples for toki in Japanese with Verbs

  • 寝る とき、「おやすみなさい」と言います。
    neru toki, "oyasuminasai" to iimasu

    Meaning: I say "Good Night" before going to bed.

In this case you cannot use 寝たとき (neta toki) because it will mean that you are saying "Good Night" while you are sleeping.

  • 部屋に入る とき、「失礼します」と言います。
    heya ni hairu toki, "shitsurei shimasu" to iimasu

    Meaning: I say "Excuse Me" before entering the room.

In this case you cannot use 部屋に入ったとき (heya ni haitta toki) because it will mean that you are saying "Excuse Me" after you have entered the room. It's considered rude if you do this to your boss.

  • 今朝友達に会った とき、「おはようございます」と言いました。
    kesa tomodachi ni atta toki, "ohayou gozaimasu" to iimashita

    Meaning: I said "Good Morning" when I met my friend this morning.

In this case you cannot use 今朝友達に会うとき (kesa tomodachi ni au toki) because it will mean that you were saying "Good Morning" before you met your friend. You would be talking to no one if you did that.

Common Mistake While Using toki in Japanese

There is one common mistake that many people make when they using toki in Japanese. とき (toki) is a time expression.

Therefore if there is already a time expression in a sentence, you don't add in とき after that time expression.

For example, 朝 (asa - morning) is already a time expression, so you cannot combine it with とき and say 朝のとき (asa no toki).

If you use a term that is not a time expression like 眠い (nemui - sleepy), then you can combine it with とき and say 眠いとき (nemui toki). For example...


朝の とき、コーヒーを飲みます。 X
asa no toki, ko-hi- wo nomimasu X

朝コーヒーを飲みます。 O
asa ko-hi- wo nomimasu O

Meaning: I drink coffee in the morning.


眠い とき、コーヒーを飲みます。 O
nemui toki, ko-hi- wo nomimasu O

Meaning: I drink coffee when I am sleepy.

Using Verb て-form いる with toki in Japanese

You can also use Verb て-form いるとき to express the time in the middle of action, while you are doing something.

For example, ご飯を食べているとき (gohan wo tabete iru toki) means in the midst of eating.

  • ご飯を食べる とき
    gohan wo taberu toki
    Meaning: before eating meal
  • ご飯を食べている とき
    gohan wo tabete iru toki
    Meaning: in the midst of eating meal
  • ご飯を食べた とき
    gohan wo tabeta toki
    Meaning: finished eating meal

Let's use some examples to show this...

  • ご飯を食べている とき、山田さんがうちへ来ました。
    gohan wo tabete iru toki, yamada san ga uchi e kimashita

    Meaning: While I was eating, Mr Yamada came to my house.
  • ゆうべ寝ている とき、地震がありました。
    yuube nete iru toki, jishin ga arimashita

    Meaning: While I was sleeping last night, there was an earthquake.

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