Mamonaku, san-bansen ni densha ga mairimasu. (The train will arrive momentarily on track No. 3.)

Situation 1: An announcement is heard at the station.

アナウンス: まもなく、3番線に電車が参ります。ご注意下さい。

Anaunsu: Mamonaku, san-bansen ni densha ga mairimasu. Go-chūi kudasai.

Announcement: The train will arrive momentarily on track No. 3. Please be careful.

Though it’s rarely used in everyday conversation, you’ve likely heard the word まもなく (soon) before at a train station. When we break down the word, ま (間) is a noun that means “interval,” も is a particle of emphasis meaning “even,” and なく is the adverbial form of ない (there is not). Thus まもない literally means “without interval,” or “momentarily,” and まもなく is its adverbial form:

生(う)まれてまもない赤(あか)ちゃんは、まだ母親(ははおや)からもらった免疫力(めんえきりょく)を持(も)っている。 (Newborn babies still have the immunity they have received from their mothers.)

Other situations in which まもなく is used include formal speeches and literature. The pattern X+まもなく, in which X is a verb in て-form, is often used in literature to mean “soon after X”:

結婚(けっこん)してまもなく、二人(ふたり)は小(ちい)さな家(いえ)を買(か)った。 (Soon after marriage, the couple bought a small house.)

Situation 2: Takako screams in the kitchen.

たか子: キャーッ、ゴキブリ!誰か、早く来て!

母: そんなこと言っていないで、すぐ殺虫剤をかければいいのに。

Takako: Kya—, gokiburi! Dareka, hayaku kite!

Haha: Sonna koto itte-inaide, sugu satchūzai o kakereba ii noni.

Takako: Aaah, cockroach! Someone, come quick!

Mother: Don’t say that kind of thing, just spray insecticide on it.

In everyday conversation the word すぐ, not まもなく, is used to mean “soon.” As such, すぐ tends to sound more direct or urgent. Due to this sense of urgency, すぐ feels more immediate than まもなく and is used in advice, orders and suggestions. Thus, the mother’s すぐ in Situation 2 cannot be replaced by まもなく. すぐ can also be used to blame others or express annoyance as in the following quarrel between Mariko and her older brother:

お兄(にい)ちゃんはすぐ、そんな意地悪(いじわる)を言(い)う。 (Big brother, you’re quick to say such nasty things.)

まり子(こ)は、すぐ泣(な)くからいやだ。 (Mariko, I hate that you cry so soon.)

Bonus Dialogue: Ms. Shiba is chatting with Mr. Tian at work.

芝(しば): ティエンさんは、入社(にゅうしゃ)してすぐ、中国(ちゅうごく)に転勤(てんきん)になられたんですよね?

ティエン: ええ、そうです。

芝: お生まれは、オーストラリアですか?

ティエン: いえ、実(じつ)は、両親(りょうしん)がまだ中国に住(す)んでいたとき、ぼくが生まれたんです。生まれてまもなく、家族(かぞく)でオーストラリアに移住(いじゅう)しました。

芝: そうなんですね。いろんな国(くに)に赴任(ふにん)していらっしゃいますけど、日本にはかなり長(なが)くいらっしゃいますよね?

ティエン: 日本には大切(たいせつ)な人(ひと)がいるので、ずーっとこのままここにいたいんですけど、いつ転勤(てんきん)の命令(めいれい)が来(く)るかと、ちょっと心配(しんぱい)です。

芝: 知(し)らない人が聞(き)いたら恋人(こいびと)のことかと思(おも)いますよ。

ティエン: ハハハ、ご存(ぞん)じの通(とお)り、森(もり)さんのことですよ。ぼくにとって、日本のお母(かあ)さんですから。国の母(はは)と同(おな)じで、早(はや)く彼女(かのじょ)を作(つく)れとか結婚しろとかうるさいんですけど、ぼくは全然(ぜんぜん)そんな気(き)はないんです。

芝: [ひとりごと] うーん、ティエンさんを紹介(しょうかい)してほしいという女性(じょせい)がいっぱいいるんだけど、やっぱり無理(むり)みたい…。

Shiba: Mr. Tien, you were transferred to China right after joining the company?

Tien: Yeah, that’s right.

Shiba: Were you born in Australia?

Tien: No, actually, I was born while my parents were still living in China. Soon after I was born, we moved to Australia.

Shiba: I see. You seem to have been transferred to various other countries, but Japan has been quite a long time, hasn’t it?

Tien: Someone important to me is in Japan, so I want to stay here as long as possible. But I’m a little worried about when a transfer order will come.

Shiba: If those who don’t know you hear that, they’ll think it’s about your lover.

Tien: Ha, ha, ha, as you know it’s Mrs. Mori. She’s like a Japanese mother to me. She nags me, telling me to get a girlfriend or marry as early as possible, just like my Mom does, but I’m not interested in such a thing at all.

Shiba: [To herself] Hmm…. So many ladies want me to introduce him to them, but it doesn’t seem that I’ll succeed.

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