Guide to Adverbs of Time in Japanese

Author Anna Baffa Volpe for article 'Guide to Adverbs of Time in Japanese'

Anna Baffa Volpe

8 min reading time

Today we learn the most common time adverbs in the Japanese language: 中, 先, 去, 前, 来, 再, 後.

The Japanese term for adverb is (ふく)(). This word is composed of:

  • The kanji 詞 which indicates a part of speech

  • 副 which here has the meaning of adverb

(どう)() the verb, the first kanji 動 in fact means to move, movement and (けい)(よう)() adjective.

Many scholars compare adverbs to spices used in cooking; the sentence without adverbs would be unattractive, in the sense that the adverbs enrich and complete the speech giving that extra touch, the same that spices give to dishes


Adverbs for everyday conversation

Let's start with the most common and useful in daily conversation:

  • 今日(きょう) today

  • 明日(あした) tomorrow

  • 明後日(あさって) the day after tomorrow

  • 昨日(きのう) yesterday

  • 一昨日(おととい) the day before yesterday

今日(きょう)()(てん)()ですね。

Today is really a beautiful day!

昨日(きのう)(しゅく)(じつ)だった。

Yesterday was a day of celebration.

Weeks, months, and years

  • (こん)(しゅう) this week

  • (こん)(げつ) this month

  • 今年(ことし) this year

We find in the three expressions the kanji (いま) which means now, the present moment:

今年(ことし)(はじ)め。

The beginning of this year.

(こん)(しゅう)(まつ)

This weekend

The weekend is expressed with the Japanese word (しゅう)(まつ), but we can also find the term in katakana from the English weekend: ウィーケンド.

中・In progress...

The kanji 中 means half, middle and has both spatial and temporal value. Combined with time expressions it translates as by the end of… and no later, for the duration of…, in the middle of…, in progress of….

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(かれ)(こん)(しゅう)(ちゅう)(やす)みです。

He is on vacation (rest) all week.

  • (こん)(しゅう)(ちゅう)within the week, before the end of the week

  • (こん)(げつ)(ちゅう)within this month

  • 今日(きょう)(じゅう)no later than today

  • 今年(ことし)(じゅう)within this year

レポートは(こん)(げつ)(ちゅう)()して(くだ)さい。

Please deliver the report to me within this month.

今日(きょう)(じゅう)(ほん)()()えたいと(おも)う。

I would like to finish reading the book today.

  • 日中 all day long

  • 晩中 throughout the night

These two adverbs indicate the duration of the action:

(いち)(にち)(じゅう)(はたら)いた。

I worked all day.

(ひと)(ばん)(じゅう)()られなかった。

I haven't slept (couldn't sleep) all night.

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先 and 去・The Past

For terms in the past we see instead the use of:

  • 先 which indicates the moment before, previous

  • 去 the past, which is also a verb: ()る with the meaning of to leave, to abandon, to pass

The term expressed by 先 is ambivalent, in the sense that it is used in the past, but also in the future

  • 先週(せんしゅう) last week

  • 先月(せんげつ) last month

  • 去年(きょねん) last year

先週(せんしゅう)はずっと(いそが)しかった。

I've been busy all last week.

去年(きょねん)から日本(にほん)()(べん)(きょう)している。

I've been studying Japanese since last year.

(さき)(しつ)(れい)します

(さき)(しつ)(れい)します is a form of greeting especially in a work context, where those who leave the office early say to colleagues or people who remain in the place: "I apologize if I leave early".

先に therefore refers to the previous moment, to the before.

There are many cases instead in which the same term has the meaning of "future":

(さき)はどうなるか()からない。

We don't know what the future will be like.

It is often heard in conversations, for example:

まだ(さき)(はなし)ですが。

It's too early to talk about it, but…

前・Before

Always remaining in a past context, it is also useful to dwell on the kanji and suffix 前, which means before, previous, anterior.

This kanji is used in expressions such as:

  • two days ago, if I speak in the present and refer to a past event

  • two days before… if the time in which I speak is not present, but I am referring to another moment on the time line

Some examples of the use of 前 are:

  • 三日(みっか)(まえ) three days ago, three days before

  • (さん)(げつ)(まえ) three months ago, three months before

  • (ねん)(まえ) two years ago, two years before

()(ねん)(まえ)(だい)(がく)(そつ)(ぎょう)した。

I graduated two years ago. (two years ago compared to now, present)

(けっ)(こん)する()(ねん)(まえ)(だい)(がく)(そつ)(ぎょう)した。

I graduated two years before getting married. (two years before getting married, past event)

来・Next

来 is the kanji of the irregular verb to come ()る and is used with the meaning of next, future, to come:

  • (らい)(しゅう) next week

  • (らい)(げつ) next month

  • (らい)(ねん) next year

(らい)(しゅう)()(よう)()()おうね!

See you next Tuesday!

では、また(らい)(しゅう)

See you next week then!

再・ Again

Always remaining in the context of the future, here is another determining element in this type of expression: 再, its meaning is again, another time:

  • (かく)(にん) confirm

  • (さい)(かく)(にん) reconfirm

It is therefore used to emphasize the term that follows:

  • ()(らい)(しゅう) twice next week, in two weeks

  • ()(らい)(げつ) in two months

  • ()(らい)(ねん) in two years

後・After

after, between…, used in future context:

  • ()(しゅう)(かん)() two weeks later, in two weeks

  • ()(げつ)() two months later, in two months

  • ()(ねん)() two years later, in two years

2か(げつ)()日本(にほん)()く。

I will go to Japan in two months.

後 is also used when referring to past events by expanding the form with:

それから+Number+Classifier+

それから()(ねん)()(だい)(がく)(にゅう)(がく)した。

I was admitted to college two years later.


In this post we learned all the most common and used adverbs of time in Japanese. You can subscribe to our newsletter here below to stay always up to date with the latest release on our blog 👇

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