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Some tips to differentiate an involuntary act and just a completed act with ~てしまう sentences.

Hi Coco-san. Thanks for making this article, your continueing tutelage is very appreciated.
I wanted to make sure of something. Both "just a completed act" and "a just completed act" make sense but have different meanings. I want to confirm.
"just a completed act" -- here "just" is similar to the meaning of だけ I think. 終わった行為だけ(?)
"a just completed act" -- here "just" is similar to the meaning of ~たところ. 行為が終わったところ、 終わったところの行為 (?)
Gundaetiapo 21:24, 10 August 2007 (EDT)
I wanted to say;
To differentiate [a sentence that has an emotional tone ]and [a sentence that doesn't have it]( = it tells only a fact without regret). But now I don't think it needs "just" in this context.
Sometimes, I, myself, really have difficulties to understand my なんちゃって英語 which I had written. ^^;
Thank you for pointing out and please feel free to correct every article.--Coco  04:22, 11 August 2007 (EDT)
I think you did fine, I was just making sure. Gundaetiapo 09:47, 11 August 2007 (EDT)
I appreciate your questions. It would be a very sensitive matter to explain the differences of nuance the phrase brings. So asking that kind of question and making it sure is very important. Thank you.--Coco  05:20, 12 August 2007 (EDT)

As this article says, ~てしまう is used when the action is completed. On the other hand it is used to express a regret of a speaker. The context shows you which meaning the speaker intend to say. However you can find it easier by paying attention the verb placed before て.


Conscious act (?)

When a verb is a conscious act, it has less possibility of regretted meaning.

Example 1

Let's finish off that assignment, immediately. (?)

This is easy to find because it is a call for people to finish their job. There is no regretful meaning in this sentence.

Example 2

I finished memorizing all Hiragana, so I'm going to learn Kanji from now. (?)

To memorize is conscious act and the speaker did it with his/her intention.

When this kind of positive verbs are placed, Vてしまう would be taken as " had done/ finish ~ing" rather than implication of speaker's regret.

Example 3

ついにマンションを買っちゃった。( in-group talk)
Finally, I bought an apartment house. (?)

Generally,ちゃった is more common rather than てしまった/てしまいました in this type of expression. This sentence has ついに, and the subject is 私. So this has no regretful meaning. A speaker just reported the fact with some playfulness tone.

Unconscious act/ involuntarily act(?)

Example 1

しまった! 鍵をかけるの忘れた!
Oh, no! I forgot to lock the door.(?)

しまった itself is an emotional interjection, like " Oh, no!" " Oh, Shoot!(?)". Thus てしまった form is also used under undesirable circumstances.

Example 2

When I dined at a restaurant, I dropped an expensive wineglass and it had broken.(?)

A speaker didn't expect the wineglass broke, but it happened involuntarily. In this kind of expression, てしまった implies " involuntarily happened ". Then listeners take it as a regretful expression.

Example 3

I could not help laughing at Tanuki's post.

思わず+ てしまった is a common phrase. It is used when people have done things unconsciously.

Sometimes 思わず is omitted. Although it's depends on the context, listeners would take as 思わず+ てしまう. 笑ってしまいました itself has not a negative meaning . On the other hand, 怒鳴ってしまった could be a regretable remembrance. Therefore, the context and the verb would become key factors to understand てしまう form.

Adventitious experience(?)

This has a resemblance to an uninvoluntarily act. But the doer could not control a situation by his/her intention. ちゃった give us a nuance of "casualness" stronger.
Generally ちゃった is more popular rather than てしまった in this kind of usage.

Example 1

I won a lottoly. (?)

This is also " an unexpected things happened" type, don't have a feeling of "unfortunately". This kind of expression has some tone of 思いがけなく.


Example 2

At the restroom of the event site, I have heard the confidential information about the new product of our competitor.(?)

This has also a tone of "unintentional". In this context, a speaker might have felt like dancing. Anyway, this てしまった implies " I didn't intend to hear it". (?)

極秘情報を聞いちゃったよ。( in-group talk. An ending particle よ in this context is common to male.)
This has less seriousness, sometimes even playful sounds are there.

Same verbて形 + しまった with different nuances(?)

Even if you hear/see the same verb with て form and しまった, it's not always have a same nuance. Some of them give us a regretful impressions, others don't. You need to understand the context.
For instance, let's look at the phrase 忘れてしまった。

Unfortunately, I have completely forgotten Japanese.

If a speaker don't want to forget Japanese, "unfortunately" would be appropriate, and this sentence must be so. However, if the speaker wants to tell you his/her regret, 残念なことに/残念ながら would be added. If you hear/see 「残念なことに、私はすっかり日本語を忘れてしまいました。」Then, undoubtedly the speaker expresses his/her regret..

I have completely forgotten all about my ex-lover. (?)

This sentence has すっかり. Also it is hard to find if a speaker wanted to forget or not. So it would be safe to take it as " had completely done" rather than regret. And it would be better to not reply like よかった(です)ね or それは(お)気の毒に. そうですか might be the safest response.

I've left the book that I was going to give it back to you.(?)

In this sentence a speaker mentions her/his fault. Therefore listeners would find a regret of the speaker. Commonly this type of てしまいました would be used with an apology phrase, such as すみません/ ごめんなさい。

The cases of avoiding てしまった

As above explanations, てしまった could have a nuance of "unwished things have happened". That is a reason of a tendency to avoid using しまった form in some contexts. For example,

Mr.Johnson have arrived at the Naritai airport.(?)
Even if a speaker didn't expect Mr. Johnson's coming, he/she wouldn't say ジョンソンさんが成田空港に着いてしまいました. Because it has a high possibility to be taken as if the speaker doesn't welcome Mr.Jonson's arrival. もうジョンソンさんは成田空港に着いています would be a neutral expression.

Mr. Johnson have arrived at Narita ( international airport), instead of Haneda(domestic airport)(?).

This is a natural expression because even if listeners suppose that it "unfortunately" happened, (and it is so,) it is very clear that the unwished thing is "arrived at Narita", not Mr.Johnson's arrival.

しまった and ちゃった

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