Table of Contents
- The Basics
- Beyond the Basics
A verb in the ておく form can be interpreted multiple ways, but most commonly it implies doing something in advance for your later convenience. You are getting something out of the way so you can put it out of your mind.
Let's say you're grabbing an early ランチ (lunch) before your class or workout session. Using the verb 食べる (to eat), you can say ランチを食べておく, meaning you're going to eat lunch beforehand so that you can avoid your stomach growling during class, or so that you can make your workout as effective as possible to build more muscle, etc.
Whatever the reason, 〜ておく shows that you are being proactive in undertaking an action that will result in a desirable situation or help you avoid an undesirable situation.
So how can 〜ておく imply all that nuance?
〜ておく is a combination of a verb in the て form and the verb 置く (to put/place), which is acting as a helping verb, a.k.a. auxiliary verb, which modifies the main verb to create a more layered or nuanced meaning. In these cases, the helping verb tends to be written out in hiragana, so you'll usually see it written as〜ておく, not 〜て置く.
Now, most importantly, what meaning does 置く add?
置く commonly translates to "to put/place (something)." When attached to another verb, it implies that you are getting something done so you can put it out of your mind and relax.
So in the earlier example ランチを食べておく, adding 〜ておく shows you are not only going to eat lunch (which you were probably going to do at some point) but also that you are going to eat it and get it out of the way.
In a way, it's sort of like checking a task off of your to-do list. There is something to be addressed (the main verb) and by attaching 〜ておく you indicate that not only are you going to address it, but also complete it. This form also implies that you are doing something because it will result in a desirable situation (like eating to build muscle before a workout) or help you avoid an undesirable situation (like eating lunch beforehand so your stomach won't growl during class, etc).
Although the basic concept remains the same, the nuances of 〜ておく change depending on the context. Often, it means you are preparing for something in advance, but it can also mean that you are taking care of something at hand, or even "leaving something as-is" if focusing on the long-lasting state of something being set-aside.
Are you excited to learn all that? We'll take a look at each nuance more closely in the later sections, so read on!
Conjugating Verbs to Take 〜ておく
To put a verb into the ておく form, simply conjugate the verb into the て form and add おく on the end. Note that 〜ておく becomes 〜でおく depending on the verb it attaches to. Review the て form conjugation if you are not sure how to do this.
In casual conversation, 〜ておく and 〜でおく often get shortened into 〜とく or 〜どく respectively, as in:
- 見る (look) + 〜ておく = 見ておく→見とく
- 読む (read) + 〜ておく = 読んでおく→読んどく
The ておく form of a verb can then be conjugated like other godan verbs. Here are a few basic conjugations of 〜ておく.
〜ておく For Doing Something In Advance
Most commonly, 〜ておく indicates doing something in advance for future convenience. For example, if you know you are going to Japan next year, you may get a head start on studying Japanese to understand the language better once you get over there. To describe this situation, you can use 〜ておく and say:
- I'm going to Japan next year, so I'm going to study Japanese beforehand.
Here, 〜ておく indicates you will study Japanese in preparation for your Japan trip.
The purpose of your action is concrete and clear in this case — you are studying Japanese before going to Japan — but it doesn't always have to be. For example, say you are interested in learning Japanese (which I assume you probably are because you're reading this page), and luckily you have spare time to study now. In this situation, you can still use 〜ておく to say:
- While I have time, I should get some studying done.
Here, 〜ておく indicates that you are aware that there is no guarantee that you will have time to study Japanese later. Maybe you happened to be recently laid off. Maybe you're a busy parent on vacation. Whatever the situation it is, 〜ておく here shows that you want to get some studying done now before the situation changes.
Let's take a look at another example. Imagine you and your friends decide to go to a restaurant over the upcoming weekend. To volunteer to make the reservation, you can say:
- じゃあ、私が予約 [する・しておく] よ！
- Then, I'll make a reservation!
In this situation, you can say that you'll make the reservation with or without 〜ておく. However, if you say 私が予約するよ, it only expresses that you are volunteering to make the reservation, and not necessarily the added nuance that ～おく provides that, "and I've got this" and it will be taken care of well ahead of time.
You can also use 〜ておく when requesting or suggesting someone else take action in advance. For example, in the same scenario, you are too busy and need your friend to make the reservation. In this case, you can also use 〜ておく and ask:
- I'm sorry (to ask you this), but can you make a reservation for us?
In this case, you would use 〜ておく over plainly asking 予約してくれないかな because of the nuance おく carries. As mentioned earlier, おく denotes that you are doing something so you can put it out of your mind. It often implies that there is some time to make a reservation, and they can do it at a convenient time for them as long as it's done in time.
This way 〜ておく sounds less direct, kind of similar to adding "when you get a chance" in English.
〜ておく For Doing Something "For Now"
You can also use 〜ておく to describe doing something as a temporary or tentative solution. Because of the core meaning of 〜ておく (getting something done), you can show that something is being taken care of, at least for the time being.
For example, imagine you and your friends are in an izakaya restaurant and waiting for more friends to arrive. When a server comes up to take orders, you may ask your friends:
- どうしよ？ とりあえず、なんか頼んでおく？
- What should we do? Should we order something to get started?
In Japan, people often wait for everyone to show up by courtesy. It's also typical to share everything that is ordered at an izakaya. So 〜でおく here indicates that you're aware it may not be the exact orders everyone wants because some people aren't there yet, but you're ordering something just to get started. For this nuance, とりあえず (for the time being) is often used with 〜ておく in this use.
Let's take a look at another example. Say your roommate is taking a shower, but they forgot a towel. When they realize that, they shout at you for a towel. When you place the towel somewhere in the bathroom for them, you may say:
- I'll put it here, alright?
By combining 置く with 〜ておく (yes, you can double-up 置く this way!), it expresses that you aren't sure where the best place for the towel might be, but you will just put it wherever to mean, "I'm not looking since I know you are in the shower, I will just reach my hand in and set this down anywhere to respect your privacy while accommodating your request."
And finally, we can use 〜ておく to say:
- Let's wrap up this topic right around here.
In this example, 〜ておく expresses that we're aware that the section is getting long and we should wrap it up for now, though it may not be the perfect place to end it.
〜ておく For Leaving Something As-Is
〜ておく can also imply that you're "leaving something or someone as-is." This often happens when the action doesn't seem to be purposeful.
For example, say you park a bike in front of a bookstore and go in to shop for some books. When you come out of the bookstore, you notice your bike is gone. To remark on this situation, you can say:
- I parked my bicycle in front of the shop, and it got stolen.
In this example, you didn't leave the bike there in preparation for the future or to temporarily address an issue at the time. So, the focus of the sentence is on the abandoned state of the bike with 〜ておく here implying that you had left it as-is.
This nuanced use of 〜ておく often goes well with a word or phrase that also means "to leave something," such as 〜のままにしておく (to leave it as 〜).
For instance, imagine you're with your friend who pulls out their cellphone to text someone. Shockingly, you notice a badly cracked screen on their device, but your friend doesn't seem to care. So you tell your friend:
- それ、そのままに [する・しておく] のは、危ないと思うよ。
- I think it's dangerous if you leave it like that.
Since そのままにする means "to leave it as-is" on its own, you can say the same thing with or without 〜ておく. With 〜ておく the implication is that you're assuming expect your friend would neglect and leave it that way if you didn't say anything and so you're warning them that it's dangerous, whereas without 〜ておく you are simply stating that it's dangerous to leave it as-is in general. 1
Let's take a look at one more example. This time, you forgot to turn the light off again, and your partner nags you about it. In this situation, you can combine つけっぱなしにする (to leave something on) with 〜ておく and say:
- I left the light on and got nagged.
In this scenario, you might have been aware of the situation but didn't "purposefully" leave the light on. You just forgot to turn it off, and 〜ておく here simply indicates you "left it as-is," without implying that you're preparing for or tentatively taking care of something.
Now, what if you left the light on purpose? For example, you may leave the light on at night to deter home burglaries. In this case, 〜ておく of 電気をつけっぱなしにしておく implies that you're leaving it on to take precautions. So, it's the hybrid of 〜ておく for doing something in advance and for leaving something as-is.
Just like this, the nuances of the exact phrase can be different depending on the situation, and sometimes nuances can overlap. In the next section, let's check out some other examples with 〜ておく indicating mixed nuances.
Beyond the Basics
〜ておく For Mixed Nuances
You've learned three different uses of 〜ておく so far – doing something in advance, doing something "for now," and leaving something "as-is." While the use of 〜ておく is clear-cut in many situations, it can also overlap with other uses in some cases.
For example, imagine that you work at a library checkout desk. When someone walks up to you with a few books and tells you that they want to return those books, you may respond with:
- Okay, I'll return them for you.
With 〜ておく, you can express that you'll handle it and get it done for the customer. It is up to you to get it done right away or a little later, but 〜ておく shows that you did take the responsibility from the person. It concludes the transaction and implies that the person is free to leave it with you.
Since 〜ておく here gives the "I've got this!" vibe while indicating that you're taking care of the present situation, it's sort of a hybrid of "getting things done in advance" and "doing something for now."
Next, say you are in a meeting with your boss because a client filed a complaint against you. The boss already phoned the client and apologized on your behalf. To describe this situation, he may use 〜ておく and say:
- I called them and apologized.
Here, 〜ておく indicates that your boss took care of the situation by getting the task of apologizing done in advance. But in this case, instead of implying that it is now over and done with and you can put it out of your mind, it sounds more like, "and we'll see how it goes," like your boss isn't sure whether the apology was sufficient. Again, in this example, 〜ておく is also a kind of a hybrid of "getting things done in advance" and "doing something for now."
Let's take another example. Imagine you're driving and trying to find a parking spot for a dinner party, but all you can find is one-hour limit street parking. Obviously, an hour is too short, but you can't find another option at the moment. So you say:
- I think I'll just park here for now.
In this example, 〜ておく implies not only that you're parking and leaving the car as-is but also that you're doing it as a temporary solution.
Lastly, imagine a scenario where you spot some tomato cans in your pantry that you bought 30 years ago and had forgotten about. When you find them, you may say:
- Wow, that's the canned food I bought and left there thirty years ago. I forgot all about it!
In this situation, 〜ておく indicates that you probably bought them because you thought you would use them later. So it was an intentional purpose in the past, but you forgot about it and left it there up until now. So, you can say 〜ておく here is a mix of "getting things done in advance" and "leaving something as-is." I wonder what the inside would look like…🤢
〜させておく For Letting Someone Continue To Do…
You can use 〜ておく with a verb in the causative form ending in 〜させる, as in 〜させておく.
In this use, 〜させる usually expresses that you allow someone to do the action and 〜ておく adds the nuance that you leave it as-is. Combined, it indicates the meaning of "letting someone continue to do…" 2
For example, let's say you're hanging out with your friends at home when one of your friends gets tired and falls asleep on the floor. You are concerned that the floor is an uncomfortable place for her to sleep but end up thinking:
- I should just let her sleep.
In this example, your friend is already asleep, and the nuance added by 〜させておく is that you are allowing her to keep sleeping.
You may also hear this expression when you watch movies or TV shows about detectives. For example, when the detective finds the culprit but decides to leave him at large with the intention to learn more about what is going on through the culprit's activities, the detective may say:
- Let's play cat and mouse with him a little longer.
(Literally: Let's let him swim a little longer.)
泳ぐ means "to swim," so 泳がせておく literally means "let someone continue to swim," but it's used figuratively here to mean intentionally leaving someone at large. It's like the detective is the fisher and the culprit is a small baitfish to attract a large predatory fish.
〜ておく VS 〜てある
Like 〜ておく, 〜てある can denote doing something in preparation for the future. However, the focus of 〜てある is different from that of 〜ておく.
To put it simply, 〜ておく is person-centered while 〜てある is object-centered. In other words, 〜ておく is used when talking about someone doing something with the intent of preparing for the future whereas 〜てある is used to describe the state of something that is the result of a past action.
For instance, 夕飯を作っておく highlights the act of making dinner and getting it done, and 夕飯を作ってある focuses on the fact that dinner is ready because you prepared it in advance.
For better understanding, let's take a look at how you would use these forms naturally. First, imagine you are talking to your son in the morning. You are telling him that you plan to go out in the evening, but you will prepare dinner before you go. In this case, you would use 〜ておく:
- I'll make dinner before I go out.
Here, 〜ておく indicates that your intention to get everything ready before you leave. You can't use 〜てある because you are not describing a dinner that's already been prepared.
Next, say it's already evening. You are just getting ready to go out when your son comes home. As promised in the morning, you already prepared dinner. To let him know that, you can say:
- The dinner is already made, okay?
In this case, you can use either 〜ておく in the past tense or 〜てある in the present tense. When using 〜ておく, your focus is the action of getting dinner ready. It stresses you having prepared dinner. On the other hand, 〜てある pays more attention to the fact that dinner is ready. It does imply that you prepared it, but that information is now in the background.
You can do a few things with this expression to accomplish the same meaning. First, you can replace そのままにしておく with 放置しておく or 放っておく. Second, as discussed in the main text, 〜ておく can be removed from そのままにする. Third, on a similar note you can use 放置する without 〜ておく. However, bear in mind that you can't do that with 放っておく because it's a more integrated expression. If you remove 〜ておく and say 放る, it changes the meaning to "to throw (something)." Finally, it's also noteworthy that 放っておいて, the て form of 放っておく, is a common expression that means "leave me alone." ↩
If the person isn't already in the process of doing something, 〜させておく means you are making or letting them remain in a particular state, either for future convenience or to settle a situation. For example, you have a daughter who is planning to do a homestay at your Japanese friend's house next year, so you tell your friend 来年そっちに行くまでに、しっかり日本語を勉強させておくね！(I'll make sure she learns enough Japanese before she goes over there next year!) ↩