Language | WELL SAID

And before you know it, you'll be using 'itsu no ma ni ka'

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing writers

Itsu no ma ni renshū shita no?

(At what point did you practice?)

Situation 1: After gym class, Mitsuo talks to his classmate Kenta.

光男:健太、今日のシュート、すごかったなあ。いつの間に練習したの?

健太:いや、まぐれだよ。運動なんて久しぶりだし。

Mitsuo: Kenta, kyō no shūto, sugokatta nā. Itsu no ma ni renshū shita no?

Kenta: Iya, magure da yo. Undō nante hisashiburi da shi.

Mitsuo: Kenta, that shot today was amazing. At what point did you practice?

Kenta: Nah, it was a fluke. I haven’t exercised in a long time.

 

The adverbial phrase いつの間(ま)に conveys the idea of “at what point” or “when,” but with the nuance that the speaker has no idea when what is being discussed occurred and is even a bit surprised by its happening. In Situation 1, Mitsuo doesn’t know when Kenta practiced so as to” make such a beautiful shot. The phrase consists of “いつ” (when), the noun-modifying particle “の,” “間” (a noun that signifies time or space) and the particle “に”:

いつの間に帰(かえ)ってきたのだろうか、娘(むすめ)は部屋(へや)で静(しず)かに泣(な)いていた。 (I don’t know when she returned home, but my daughter was sobbing quietly in her room.)

The いつの間に in Situation 1 could be replaced by いつ, making the sentence いつ練習(れんしゅう)したの? (When did you practice?) Doing this strips the original sentence of surprise, however, and it becomes a simple question with no emotion:

いつの間に帰(かえ)ってきたのだろうか、娘(むすめ)は部屋(へや)で静(しず)かに泣(な)いていた。

(I don’t know when she returned home, but my daughter was sobbing quietly in her room.)

The いつの間に in Situation 1 could be replaced by いつ, making the sentence いつ練習(れんしゅう)したの? (When did you practice?) Doing this strips the original sentence of surprise, however, and it becomes a simple question stripped of specific emotions.

 

Situation 2: Mr. and Mrs. Shiba are talking about their baby, Jun.

妻:今日、じゅんが初めて「ママ」って呼んでくれた。

夫:そうか。言葉が遅いと思っていたけど、いつの間にか成長しているんだね。

Tsuma: Kyō, Jun ga hajimete “Mama”-tte yonde-kureta.

Otto: Sō ka. Kotoba ga osoi to omotte-ita kedo, itsu no ma nika seichō shite-iru-n da ne.

Wife: Jun called me “Mom” for the first time today.

Husband: Is that so? I thought the words were coming late, but it seems he has been growing without us even knowing.

いつの間にか is similar to いつの間に but includes the interrogative particle か on the end of it. Since か is included, what follows the adverb should be a statement of fact, not a question. For example, Mitsuo’s question to Kenta in Situation 1 could be phrased this way:

いつの間にか、彼(かれ)は練習していた。 (I didn’t even realize it, but he has been practicing!)

いつの間にか火(ひ)は消(き)えていた。 (Before I knew it, the fire had burned out.)

 

Bonus Dialogue: Two young colleagues are chatting online during a break from teleworking.

三田(みた): こんなふうにテレワークになってしまうと、彼女(かのじょ)ができるチャンスがまた遠(とお)くなったなあ。セレくんは、ゆりちゃんと銀座(ぎんざ)で運命的(うんめいてき)な出会(であ)いをしたんだよね。いいなあ。

セレ: 運命的な出会いかどうかはわからないけど、確(たし)かにに変(か)わった出会いだったな。スクランブル交差点(こうさてん)の真ん中(まんなか)だったから。

三田: それで、その後(あと)、どうやって恋人(こいびと)になったの?

セレ: うーん、どうしてだろう?いつの間にか…としか言(い)えないなあ。三田君(くん)は最近(さいきん)どうなの?恋愛(れんあい)は三田君の得意(とくい)ジャンルじゃないか。

三田: いや、恋(こい)に落(お)ちるのは得意だけど、長(なが)く付(つ)き合(あ)うのは全然(ぜんぜん)得意じゃないんだ。いつの間にか、ふられている。

セレ: ぼくは知(し)っているよ。三田君が、いつもふられるようなことをするからだよ。

三田: そうかなあ?だって、きっとふられるんだから、次の人(ひと)がいたほうがいいだろう?

セレ: うーん、その考(かんが)え方(かた)がふられる原因(げんいん)だって、そろそろわからないかなあ…?

Mita: With (us) teleworking like this, the chances of getting a girlfriend are getting further away. Sere, you had a chance encounter with Yuri in Ginza, didn’t you? Nice!

Sere: I don’t know whether it was fate or not, but it certainly was an odd encounter. After all, it was in the middle of a scramble crossing.

Mita: So, after that, how did she become your girl (lover)?

Sere: Hmm, I wonder how. I can’t say anything but… before I even knew it. Mita, what about you these days? Isn’t this field your area (genre) of expertise, Mita?

Mita: No, I’m good at falling in love, but I’m not good at all at maintaining it long term. Before I know it, I’ve been dumped.

Sere: I know (why). Mita, it’s because you always do something to be (that gets you) dumped.

Mita: I guess, huh? After all, I’ll surely get dumped, so I’ll need a next person (plan B), right?

Sere: Hmm, well that way of thinking is the reason you get dumped. You’ll clue into that before long, no?

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