The expression 間に (
aida ni) joins the noun 間, which means
interval (of time), and the particle に.
間に is used to indicate an action that takes place in the period of time between two events. For this reason, 間に is translated as
in the period when.
There are also some additional expressions that use the kanji 間 and express the concept of time interval.
In this post we are going to learn the various uses and meanings of 間に through real examples of its use.
As mentioned, the main use of the expression 間に is to indicate a period of time in which an action is performed. 間に can be used after any kind of noun, verb, or adjective:
間に expresses a momentary action performed in a period specified in the sentence. Let's see an example to better understand this nuance:
Please call me while I'm free.
This example sentence indicates the action of
making a call. This action is not continuous over time: making a call is a one-time action in the time period specified by 間に.
For this reason 間に expresses doing a single action (which begins and ends) in the indicated time period.
Akiko reads the book while the children are away.
In this second example we can better understand the nuance of meaning of 間に.
In this example, in fact, the use of 間に indicates that Akiko reads when the children are not there. Since 間に is used the action of reading is not continuous for as long as the children are away: Akiko reads when the children are away, but in the same period it does other things too, reading is not a continuous action all the time period.
間に is often compared with 間 (without the に particle). While 間に indicates an action that starts and ends in the indicated time period, 間 indicates an action that instead continues for all the time.
Let's see an example to clarify this use:
Mr. Smith taught English the entire time he was in Japan.
In this case the use of 間 indicates that Mr. Smith continued to teach from the beginning to the end of his time in Japan. In this sense, the most appropriate literal translation is
all the time.
When 間に is used in sentences containing まで (
up to), its meaning changes and translates to
until. Let's also see an example here:
Please call us between 1pm and 3pm.
In this example, using まで in conjunction with 間に indicates the limit in a period of time. There is always the concept of interval expressed by 間に, but the use of まで extends this meaning by putting a time limit in the indicated period.