420 - ~ながら (while)

Before we start, let's look at some verbs:

見る(みる // to see; to look at

聴く(きく // to listen [e.g. to music]
飲む(のむ // to drink
作る(つくる // to make; to cook
立つ(たつ // to stand

旅(を)する(たび[を]する // to travel; to go on a journey
アルバイト(を)する(to work [part-time]

Note that the first verb is an ichidan verb, the second set are godan verbs, and the last two are する verbs. (If you don't know what that means, I wouldn't worry about it; but it can help with conjugation.)

There are some things that, no matter how many times we come across them, I cannot help but mention.

One of those things is that although アルバイト tends to be translated to "part-time job," it can still be job with "full-time hours." I wrote about this in the following lesson: [NDL #19] - The 40-Hour Part-Time Job.

Second, although 聞く (きく) can mean "to hear" or "to ask," when we are talking about listening to music, it is common to use this kanji version: 聴く (きく).

Since you have an incredible memory (or an incredible power to scroll to the top of this lesson), you now know all of the verbs we just introduced.

Do you also know how to conjugate them into masu-form?

That would be...


Sweet! We have conjugated our verbs.

That's all for this lesson.

...You wish. Lazy.

Next let's look at the masu-stems of the verbs (which we get by removing ます):


Conjugating verbs into masu-form---and also into masu-stems---should be like second nature to you, as it is such a crucial skill for Japanese fluency. It may take time to become second nature, but just remember that that's the goal.

Look forward to being like, Whoa, I just conjugated without thinking! Or maybe you're already there, in which case you should eat some cake to celebrate.

Grammar Time:

JLPT N5: ~ながら (while)

In English, we say:

VERB while VERB-ing
eat while walking
study while listening to music
cry while eating ice cream
scream while exercising

In Japanese, we can say:


More specifically, we add ~ながら to the masu-stem of verbs in order to say "VERB while..."

You're a pro at making verbs into their masu-stems, so this will make total sense to you:

V-Masu-Stem-ながら = V while
ながらみながら // look while...
聴きながらききながら // listen while...
飲みながらのみながら // drink while...
作りながらつくりながら // make while...
ながらたびしながら // travel while...
アルバイトをながらwork while...

Ready for our first example?

わたし は いつも おんがく を ききながら しごと を します。
I always listen to music while working.
Literally: “I + は + always + music + を + while listening + job + を + do.”

Not too complicated, yeah?

Well, until you start to overthink things.

Let's overthink things!

One downside to studying grammar in any language is that you start obsessing over things that normal human beings don't care about.

In doing so, you lose your grip on reality---err, I mean, "natural language"---and start saying weird stuff.

Case in point: I get SO confused about which verb is the "main verb" in a sentence like "V1 while V2."

In Japanese, they have a rule for this: The "main verb" of the sentence should come after ながら.

So this is correct:

レシピ を みながら、 すきやき を つくった。
I made sukiyaki while looking at a recipe.
Literally: “recipe + を + while looking at, + sukiyaki + を + made.”

The "main action" is making sukiyaki. Looking at a recipe is just something you do in addition to this main task (or rather, in order to accomplish this main task well).

Compare with the following sentence, which sounds strange:

× すき焼きを作りながら、レシピを見た。
× すきやき を つくりながら、 レシピ を みた。
× I looked at a recipe while making sukiyaki.
× Literally: “sukiyaki + を + while making, + recipe + を + looked at.”

The main action, which is "making sukiyaki" should come after ~ながら. So this sounds a bit strange.

The English translation doesn't seem all that awkward to me, but maybe I'm not as good at English as I'd like to believe (don't tell the editor I work for in Tokyo!).

Are you getting confused? If so, don't sweat it, because Japanese people rarely think about which verb is coming before or after ~ながら.

We just saw an example above that would probably sound a little strange to a native Japanese speaker, but there are plenty of examples of sentences in which the order of verbs being used with/after ~ながら can be changed naturally. In fact, Rei had a hard time coming up with an example that did sound strange.

Another brain-melting piece of information that my grammar books point out about ~ながら is that it is used with "verbs of continuation."

For example, spiteful Japanese grammarians would state that the following sentence is wrong:

× わたしは立ちながら仕事をします。
× わたし は たちながら しごと を します。
× I do my job while standing.
× Literally: “I + は + while standing + job + を + do.”

I don't really understand why. How is "standing" or "sitting" any less of a "continuing action" than "listening (to music)" or "drinking?" I don't know. But apparently this phrasing would be "more accurate:"

○ わたしは立って仕事をします。
○ わたし は たって しごと を します。
○ I stand when doing my job.
○ Literally: “I + は + stand (and) + job + を + do.”

I think I should write a book.

I'm going to title it How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.

Chapter 1 will be titled, "Correct people when they misuse Japanese verbs of continuation."

But the grammar point itself makes sense, yeah?

I hope so:

まいあさ ちち は コーヒー を のみながら ニュース を みます。
Every morning my dad drinks coffee while watching the news.
Literally: “every morning + dad / father + は + coffee + を + while drinking + news + を + watches.”

Note that the two verbs can also describe actions that take place over a long period of time.

For example, we could say:

わたし は せかいじゅう を たび しながら、 しょうせつ を かいています。
I’m writing a novel while traveling around the world.
Literally: “I + は + around the world + を + traveling + while doing, + novel + を + am writing.”

Also good:

おとうと は むかし、 レストラン で アルバイト を しながら、 だいがく に かよっていた。
A long time ago, my (little) brother worked at a restaurant while going to college.
Literally: “younger brother + は + long ago, + restaurant + で + (part-time) job + を + while doing, + university + に + was commuting.”

Disgusting grammar rules aside, ~ながら really is a vital tool in your Japanese speaking kit.

So master it! You'll find lots of opportunities to use it. For example, you could try to make sentences like these for your next lesson or language exchange:

I eat cookies while studying.
I dance while cooking spicy Thai food.
I watch anime while feeling sorry for myself.
I think about Japanese while pretending to listen to my mom.

The list goes on.

Bonus Sentence:

なんでも きいて ください。
Please ask me anything you'd like.
Literally: "anything + ask (and) + please."

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