19

In the Pokémon anime, Ash says "I choose you!" when he starts a battle. Why does he use the present tense instead of "I chose you" or "I'll choose you"? In the original Japanese version, he says "kimi ni kimeta", which literally means "I decided on you" or "I chose you", i.e. the past tense. He'd never use the present tense in this situation in Japanese.

Doesn't it sound right to say "I chose you" here?

3
  • 1
    A note on the translations - the first grammatical form is one that closely connects the action in the past to the present. "I have chosen you" connects the choosing act to the current moment in time and is a bit more similar to "I choose you", while "I chose you" may (or may not) refer to a distant point in the past. Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 13:18
  • It bears consideration that the 'I decided on you' form means "I decided (just now, in this battle) to send you in next' - that it's a roughly instantaneous choice. I doesn't make much sense of Ash to be saying "I chose you (twenty years ago, along with scores of other pokemon)" Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 20:15
  • For what it's worth, "Pikachu, I choose you" is alliterative between "chu" and "choose." I don't know but that could have influenced translation choice. Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 14:35

2 Answers 2

43

This is what’s called a “speech-act.” He makes his choice official by saying it. Speech-acts are in the present indicative. The classic example is the traditional wedding ceremony, which has several of them: “Do you take ...?”/“I do,” “With this ring, I thee wed,” and “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

He (and his rivals) are saying this in the context of a sporting match, where it seems to be a rule of the game that trainers must announce the Pokémon they send into the arena. It’s therefore somewhat similar to players having to say, “Check!” in Chess, but even more like needing to say, “J’adoube” (“I adjust [it]”) to be able to touch a piece without moving it.

This could also have been phrased in the jussive mood. “Let Picachu battle!” would have been like “Let the games begin,” “Let there be light,” or “Red Rover, Red Rover, let Alice come over.”

5
  • 15
    I think the term you're looking for here is (following Searle's/Austin's usage) performative utterance. Speech acts are a broader category, which includes both performative utterances (where the utterance itself accomplishes the outcome) and non-performative utterances (where you accomplish something as a consequence of the utterance, but not intrinsically as part of the utterance, like asking someone to pass the salad).
    – A_S00
    Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 20:35
  • 1
    @A_S00 A good reference if someone wants to look it up and find out more, so thanks! I think this falls more on the side of a speech-act by that definition, since Ash needs to actually release the Pokémon from its Pokéball, separately from telling his opponent that he is doing so. Either way, it’s in the simple present tense.
    – Davislor
    Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 22:25
  • I appreciate your answers. It's quite interesting that the present tense is more appropriate in English even though Ash uses the past tense in the original Japanese version.
    – kuwabara
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 0:23
  • 3
    @kuwabara I’m not familiar with that. In general, good translations use correct grammar for the target language. And mainstream dubs usually try to make sense to kids in their country, over being absolutely faithful.
    – Davislor
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 0:33
  • I'm a sucker for the old iussive mood.
    – Daron
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 18:00
15

You would say "I chose you" after the choosing has happened. "I choose you" is more appropriate in the moment of choosing. Since Ash typically says it as he is throwing the pokeball, the present tense makes sense. I can see an argument for the past tense being acceptable, as he would have necessarily made the decision before reaching into his bag to grab the pokeball, but the present tense is a little flexible and can be used for actions momentarily in the past.

Given that both options are acceptable, I can see why the translators would prefer using the present tense: using the present tense is more "active" and makes the statement a lot more energetic. The past tense would be a more passive statement, as the action has already happened in his mind in the past. Using the past tense could also create confusion, as it might be unclear whether Ash is referring to having chosen the pokemon in question just moments before (when he reached into his bag), or if he is referring to the moment that he chose to be friends with that pokemon in the first place, hours, days, or years prior. The past tense doesn't make it clear, but the present tense does.

12
  • Excellent answer to an interesting question!
    – uriyabsc
    Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 10:04
  • 2
    Why not "I am choosing you!" ?
    – Edheldil
    Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 15:17
  • 7
    @edh Choices happen momentarily, and so it isn’t an ongoing action we would use with “-ing.” Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 16:07
  • 6
    @kuwabara Different languages often use the distinctions between their tenses (and other grammatical structures) in different ways. "Present tense" vs "past tense" is a really broad categorisation that exists more for giving them a name so we can talk about them; it doesn't dictate the exact dividing line between them. It's a perfectly normal situation for Japanese to use the past tense in a specific nuanced situation where English uses the present tense. The translators should use English structures that convey a similar meaning to the original, not use the tense with the same name.
    – Ben
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 4:57
  • 1
    @Edheldil Contrary to what Azor says, I think "I am choosing you" would be grammatical. It's just slower and more methodical than "I choose you"; looking at Google Books, it usually comes with an explanation, something like "I am choosing you because ...". The closest thing to a simple declaration I found was is “And I am choosing you, Kate, if you will have me.” ("Married to the Marquess", Rebecca Connolly, 2015)
    – prosfilaes
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 19:18

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .