Guide to Adverbs of Time in Japanese
Anna Baffa VolpeGet in touch with me
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 副詞. This word is composed of:
The kanji 詞 which indicates a
part of speech
副 which here has the meaning of
verb, the first kanji 動 in fact means
movement and 形容詞
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:
the day after tomorrow
the day before yesterday
Today is really a beautiful day!
Yesterday was a day of celebration.
Weeks, months, and years
We find in the three expressions the kanji 今 which means
the present moment:
The beginning of this year.
The weekend is expressed with the Japanese word 週末, but we can also find the term in katakana from the English
The kanji 中 means
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….
He is on vacation (rest) all week.
within the week,
before the end of the week
within this month
no later than today
within this year
Please deliver the report to me within this month.
I would like to finish reading the book today.
all day long
throughout the night
These two adverbs indicate the duration of the action:
I worked all day.
I haven't slept (couldn't sleep) all night.
先 and 去・The Past
For terms in the past we see instead the use of:
先 which indicates the
past, which is also a verb: 去る with the meaning of
The term expressed by 先 is ambivalent, in the sense that it is used in the past, but also in the future
I've been busy all last week.
I've been studying Japanese since last year.
お先に失礼します 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
There are many cases instead in which the same term has the meaning of "future":
We don't know what the future will be like.
It is often heard in conversations, for example:
It's too early to talk about it, but…
Always remaining in a past context, it is also useful to dwell on the kanji and suffix 前, which means
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:
three days ago,
three days before
three months ago,
three months before
two years ago,
two years before
I graduated two years ago. (two years ago compared to now, present)
I graduated two years before getting married. (two years before getting married, past event)
来 is the kanji of the irregular verb
to come 来る and is used with the meaning of
See you next Tuesday!
See you next week then!
Always remaining in the context of the future, here is another determining element in this type of expression: 再, its meaning is
It is therefore used to emphasize the term that follows:
twice next week,
in two weeks
in two months
in two years
between…, used in future context:
two weeks later,
in two weeks
two months later,
in two months
two years later,
in two years
I will go to Japan in two months.
後 is also used when referring to past events by expanding the form with:
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 👇