317 - うちに (before you know it)

Don't freak out, but this is now going to be our third lesson on うち(に).

First, let's go back and review the old lessons:

[NDL #96] - Home = I = Inside = While = Before?!
[NDL #97] - Home = I = Inside = While = Before?! 第2
[NDL #310] - JLPT N3: うちに (while)

OK. I'll pretend you actually clicked on those links, studied those lessons like a straight-A student, and now we're ready to move onto today's grammar point. Which is... うちに... again.


Sudden Vocab Break

Quick! Memorize these three words:

転職
てんしょく
change of jobs

繰り返す
くりかえす
to repeat; to do something over again

身に付く
みにつく
to acquire (e.g. a skill)
Literally: "body + に + stick."

Just trust me. You'll need them in a second.


JLPT N3: うちに (~before you know it)

So the うちに that we're looking at today kind of means "before you know it."

Technically speaking, though, it doesn't match up with any single English phrase too well (big shocker there, considering that we're looking at Japanese).

First, note that we'll use this うちに when we have two clauses, Clause A and Clause B:

A うちに B.

As we saw last week, うち can mean something like "while," so the literal translation of this might be:

While A, B.

However, the meaning that we're looking at today is a little different than just "while." Specifically, it's different because the "B" clause that comes after this うちに will always be an unexpected change. So:

A うちに B.

While A, B happened (and B was an unexpected change).

Here's an example:

転職を繰り返すうちに色々なスキルが身に付いた。
てんしょく を くりかえす うちに いろいろ な スキル が みについた。
I kept changing jobs, and before I knew it, I'd acquired all kinds of skills.
Literally: "change of jobs + を + repeat + うちに + various + skills + が + acquired (=body + に + stuck)."

So our "A" is:
転職を繰り返す
てんしょく を くりかえす
(I) keep changing jobs. // (I) change jobs over and over.
Literally: "change of jobs + を + repeat."

Then, the unexpected change / "B" is:
色々なスキルが身に付いた。
いろいろ な スキル が みについた。
I acquired all kinds of skills.
Literally: "various + skills + が + acquired (=body + に + stuck)."

Connecting them with うちに, you might say that a somewhat literal translation of the sentence above is:

While I keep changing jobs, (before I know it), I've acquired all kinds of skills.

But I thought it was more natural to say:

I kept changing jobs, and before I knew it, I'd acquired all kinds of skills.


Are you with me still?

If not, please just pretend that you are. Then we can look at the structure of this grammar point...

Directly before うちに, we'll have one of these:

1) A verb in plain present tense, like 繰り返す (くりかえす), which we saw above. In other words, Vる.

2) A verb in plain present progressive tense, like 読んでいる (よんでいる // am reading). In other words, Vている.

3) A verb in negative plain present tense, like 知らない (しらない // don't know). In other words, Vない.

4) "Noun + の." Later we're going to use the word 語らい (かたらい // chat; talk). So, Nの.

Let's see how these all look when they pair up with うちに:

繰り返すうちに
くりかえす うちに
while repeating (something), (before you know it)

読んでいるうちに
よんでいる うちに
while reading, (before you know it)

知らないうちに
しらない うちに
while one doesn't know/realize, (before you know it)

語らいのうちに
かたらい の うちに
during a talk, (before you know it)


Now, the sentences in this lesson are a bit lengthy... a sort of unavoidable effect of studying grammar functions that link separate clauses.

To make it slightly less intimidating, let's take a look at some of the vocabulary that will show up in the sentences. Note that this is not all of the vocab, just some standout words and phrases...

子どものころ
こども の ころ
one's childhood
Literally: "child + の + time/period."

宇宙
うちゅう
outer space

宇宙飛行士
うちゅうひこうし
astronaut
Literally: "space + aviator"

目指す
めざす
to aim at; to set one's sights on


うで
arm

あざ
bruise; birthmark

同窓会
どうそうかい
class reunion; alumni meeting

恩師
おんし
one's honored teacher

あっという間に
あっというまに
just like that; in the blink of an eye

戦乱
せんらん
war; disturbance; conflict

何百年
なんびゃくねん
hundreds of years


Example Time

Take it one word at a time. You got this.


子供のころから宇宙に関する本を何冊も読んでいるうちに、宇宙飛行士を目指すようになった。
こども の ころ から うちゅう にかんする ほん を なんさつ も よんでいる うちに、 うちゅうひこうし を めざす ように なった。
Since I was a kid, I'd been reading a lot of books about space, and before I knew it, I had my sights set on becoming an astronaut.
Literally: "child + の + (approximate) time + from + space + related to + books + を + several volumes + も + am reading + うちに, + astronaut + を + aim at + ように + became."


ふと自分の腕を見ると、知らないうちに大きなあざができていた。
ふと じぶん の うで を みると、 しらない うちに おおきな あざ が できていた。
I just looked down at my arm, and somehow I'd gotten a big bruise on it.
Semi-Literally: I just looked down at my arm, and before I knew it I'd gotten a big bruise on it.
Literally: "casually / without cause + (my)self + の + arm + を + look at + と, + don't know + うちに + big + bruise + が + was being made."
Note: Ironically, the one sentence that has 知らないうちに, quite literally, "before I knew it," does not have the phrase "before I knew it" in our English translation. Sorry.


久しぶりの同窓会で、恩師や同級生との楽しい語らいのうちに時間はあっという間に過ぎていった。
ひさしぶり の どうそうかい で、 おんし や どうきゅうせい と の たのしい かたらい のうちに じかん は あっというま に すぎて いった。
At my class reunion, I was having all sorts of interesting talks with my old teachers and classmates, and before I knew it, the time had flown by.
Literally: "a long time since + の + class reunion + で, + honored teachers + や + classmates + と + の + fun + talk + の + うちに + time + は + just like that + had passed by (=pass by and went)."
Note: Notice that 久しぶりの isn't technically translated in our English phrase. It didn't seem necessary to me. Aren't all class reunions 久しぶりの?Maybe it's just one of those linguistic differences that we'll never fully understand.


Some Thoughts About "NOUN+の+うちに"

Notice how only the last example has a noun coming before うちに?

That's because in 99% of cases, you will probably hear a verb coming before うちに in sentences like these.

In fact, Rei and I had a very hard time thinking of natural sentences with "NOUN+の+うちに," and ultimately I had to reach out to my editor in Tokyo (who is the ultimate master of Japanese... and who wrote that last example above).

Here are some excerpts of what he told me about this grammar formation...

(Note: No literal breakdowns and stuff for this. Just translations. If you're feeling super motivated, why not try your own breakdowns? ^^)

「名詞+のうちに」はほとんど使わない表現じゃないかな。特に会話では。
I guess we don't really use the phrase "Noun + のうちに." Especially when speaking.

「~するうちに」はごくふつうの表現だよね。
"Verb + うちに" is really common, isn't it?

Then, in regards to the sentence provided above, he wrote:

「語らい」自体、ちょっと古風な言葉だけど、かえって「のうちに」との相性はいいように思います。
「語らい] is somewhat of an old-sounding word, but I thought that it went well with 「のうちに」.

I hope to be as knowledgeable as him someday. ^^

Oh, also, he gave us one last bonus sentence:

その国では激しい戦乱のうちに何百年もの時が流れた。
その くに では はげしい せんらん の うちに なんびゃくねん も の とき が ながれた。
While the country was mired in violent conflicts, hundreds of years passed by.
Literally: "that + country + では + violent / harsh + wars / fighting + の + うちに + hundreds of years + も + の + time + が + flowed."

Yeah... good luck hearing that in a conversation. A history book, perhaps.

That's all for today!




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