Present tense verbs used in (seemingly) past tense

redsee

Member
English
Hi,

I had a question regarding present tense when it comes to verbs in sentences like these:
「なんでそれ言っちゃうの!?」 (said after someone says something ridiculous/inappropriate)
「なんてことしてくれんのよ!」 (in response to another's action they deemed ridiculous, uncalled-for)
I understand that the present tense can represent a habitual action in certain contexts, which is what I would be led to believe here, but seeing the corresponding translations makes me think differently. The translations respectively:
"Why did you say that!?"
"Look at what you've done!"
Does the habitual meaning still apply here—with the translations only taking liberties—or are these special cases that I'm unaware of?

Thank you.
 
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  • SoLaTiDoberman

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Hi,
    your question is quite reasonable and interesting.

    However, I don't think it's very difficult to understand, because the present tense can be used to refer the concept even in English too.

    「なんでそれ言っちゃうの!?」
    My translations are as follows:
    Are you an idiot to say such a thing? 1
    Are you an idiot to say that? 2
    Are you an idiot to have said that? 3
    Why do you say such a thing? 4
    The sentence 3 includes the past tense, but others express the same thing in the present tense.

    「なんてことしてくれんのよ!」
    Do you know the impact/influence of what you did? 5
    Do you know the impact/influence of your behavior? 6
    The sentence 5 includes the past tense, but we don't need to apply it in the sentence 6.
    :)
     

    redsee

    Member
    English
    Thank you for the response!

    I understand the first one now (I think よく言うよ and よく言えるね are used in the same way?), but I'm still not sure on the second one.
    Can it be translated it as "How can you do something like that?!", or is there a particular nuance I'm still not getting?
     

    SoLaTiDoberman

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Can it be translated it as "How can you do something like that?!" ?
    Yes.

    「なんてことしてくれんのよ」 and ”How can you do something like that?" resemble each other, and I think they mean more or less the same.
    The both sentence is blaming of a conduct which has already been done in the past. The speaker is definitely blaming something that happened in the past. But the tense of the sentences is present. The speaker is blaming the guy (second person) right now, for the past event. We may conclude that the present tense can be applied at least in Japanese and in English, in this kind of expressions.

    PS) なんてことしてくれんのよ(なんてことしてくれるのよ)and なんてことしてくれのよ are almost-completely identical in the meaning, probably 99.999%, although the tenses are different.
    Do you think "why do you say that?" and "why did you say that?" are different when the speaker says so just after the second person said 'that'?

    Okay, now I've found the rule:
    To refer a very "near-past" thing, both the past and present tense can be applied.

    What do you think?
     
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    redsee

    Member
    English
    When I hear "Why do you say that?", I associate it with them questioning that person and what they're thinking currently. This may imply that they might say it again, or that they already frequently say it. It could be expanded as "What makes you think you can say that?" Whereas in "why did you say that", I feel like they're questioning why the other person thought they could say that at that point in time (they may be thinking differently now than they did in the past). There's a difference, at least for me personally.
    Seeing as you had something similar in your translations of 「なんてことしてくれんのよ!」, I guess the same applies in Japanese...?
     
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    SoLaTiDoberman

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Maybe.
    In some contexts, I'd think just the same as you said.
    The nuance, however, may depend on each individual's feeling.

    In case of the difference between なんてことしてくれんのよ and なんてことしてくれたのよ, the difference is very minute, subtle or none, at least for me personally. :)
    If there is a difference, なんてことしてくれたのよ may be more serious.
    The possibility increases a little about what they did cannot be restored or mended.
    The possibility increases a little about it's fatality.
    Yet, the difference is subtle.
     
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    redsee

    Member
    English
    In the end, I guess context makes the tense here ultimately inconsequential, huh?
    I think I understand now, or at least understand that it's not worth worrying too much about.

    Thanks again.
     

    Flaminius

    hedomodo
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    I have been thinking and excogitating about an argument for a while but could not get further than my starting point. What I will say below is, therefore, a very tentative opinion.

    I first notice that the following two questions are not really questions:
    なんでそれ言っちゃうの
    なんてことしてくれんのよ
    The speaker is clearly not interested in knowing the reasons behind the word or the details of the behaviour. In other words they are rhetorical questions uttered with intent to rebuke the listener. One can make rhetorical questions with the past tense (e.g., 君はなんてことしたんだ。) but the non-past form is quite common. I would say that this is a modal use of the form and it calls into question the character of the listener. Character being considered more or less permanent, the speaker is motivated to use the non-past, or a form that is not bound by time.

    The Japanese verb system is unendowed with fine morphological distinctions, so a form needs bear a few functions. The past marker -ta is used in the following not as a tense marker:
    さあ、船に乗った乗った。
    This is not a very productive construction but it is unmistakably used for the imperative mood.

    My tentative conclusion is that the two sentences show a modal use of the non-past form.
     

    Contrafibularity

    Senior Member
    Japanese - Osaka
    I would like to comment on the practical use of tense in those sentences, and I think there is a significant difference between using the past/non-past.

    なんでそれ言っちゃったの? Why did you say that?
    I would say this (though in different wording) when I want to emphasize the seriousness of the deed. I think I say this more often than the other because anyone could say something inappropriate anytime. If someone says this to me, I would feel sorry but try to make up for the damage done.

    なんでそれ言っちゃの? Why would/do you say that?
    I would say this (same above) when I want to criticize more severely the person who said it. The implication here is that person does something like that more or less habitually. If someone says this to me, I would feel more terrible about myself and not know what to do. So I agree with Flaminius in that this form calls into question the character of the listener.
     
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