739 - ともなく

JLPT N1: ともなく ([at/with] nothing in particular; without paying attention)

ともなく and ともなしに are used when indicating that an action is done without a particular purpose in mind.

I find that the phrase "nothing in particular" works nicely with ともなく and ともなしに, though in many cases there's not a simple phrase to pair these with in English.

For example, our first sentence uses the phrase:


何を見るともなしに
なに を みる ともなしに
not looking at anything in particular
Literally: "what + を + look at + ともなしに"

Here's the full sentence:


彼女はベランダで煙草を吸いながら、何を見るともなしに空をぼんやりと眺めている。
かのじょ は ベランダ で たばこ を すいながら、 なに を みる ともなしに そら を ぼんやり と ながめている。
She’s smoking out on the balcony, gazing blankly at the sky.
Literally: “she + は + balcony (lit. veranda) + で + while smoking (=tobacco / cigarettes + を + while inhaling), + what + を + look at + ともなしに + sky + を + absentmindedly + と + is gazing.”

Let's just look at the second half of the sentence:


何を見るともなしに空をぼんやりと眺めている。
なに を みる ともなしに そら を ぼんやり と ながめている。
(She) is absentmindedly gazing up at the sky, looking at nothing in particular.
Literally: “what + を + look at + ともなしに + sky + を + absentmindedly + と + is gazing.”

I thought that writing both "absentmindedly gazing" (ぼんやりと眺めている) and "looking at nothing in particular" (何を見るともなしに) was redundant, so I just put "gazing blankly" in our full translation:


彼女はベランダで煙草を吸いながら、何を見るともなしに空をぼんやりと眺めている。
かのじょ は ベランダ で たばこ を すいながら、 なに を みる ともなしに そら を ぼんやり と ながめている。
She’s smoking out on the balcony, gazing blankly at the sky.
Literally: “she + は + balcony (lit. veranda) + で + while smoking (=tobacco / cigarettes + を + while inhaling), + what + を + look at + ともなしに + sky + を + absentmindedly + と + is gazing.”


🚧 Construction 🚧

This, luckily, is easy:

V るともなく/ともなしに


Note that the verb coming directly before ともなく/ともなしに will often be the same as or related to the verb that comes in the clause after ともなく/ともなしに.

For example, we had both 見る (みる // to look at; to watch; to see) and 眺める (ながめる // to gaze at; to view) in our first sentence.

In this next example, we have 読む (よむ // to read) and 新聞をめくる (しんぶんをめくる // to flip the pages of a newspaper):


今朝、読むともなしに新聞をめくっていたら、知人の名前が目に飛び込んできた。
けさ、 よむ ともなしに しんぶん を めくっていたら、 ちじん の なまえ が め に とびこんで きた。
This morning, I was flipping through the paper when the name of someone I know jumped out at me.
Literally: “this morning, + read + ともなしに + newspaper + を + when I was turning the pages of, + acquaintance + の + name + が + caught my eye (=eye + に + jump into [and] + came).”

This "similarity" can be quite vague, however. Our next example has "doing nothing" and "just lying there" getting paired up in our ともなく sentence:


私は何をするともなく、ただそこに横になっていた。
わたし は なに を する ともなく、 ただ そこ に よこになっていた。
I was just lying there, not doing anything.
Literally: “I + は + what + を + do + ともなく, + just + there + に + was lying down (=horizontal + に + was becoming).”


There are some idiomatic uses of ともなく that do not follow the construction rules mentioned earlier.

That is, there are some cases in which we'll have non-VERB phrases directly before ともなく.

For example, we're going to look at:

- どこからともなく (from out of nowhere [i.e. not knowing where something is coming from])

- 誰にともなく (だれにともなく // at [to] no one in particular)

Here are the example sentences:


学校からの帰り道、どこからともなくお祭りの音が聞こえてきた。
がっこう から の かえりみち、 どこ から ともなく おまつり の おと が きこえて きた。
On my way home from school, I heard the sound of a festival coming from out of nowhere.
Literally: “school + from + の + the way home, + from out of nowhere (=where + from + ともなく) + festival + の + sound + が + heard (=be audible [and] + came).”
Note: The nuance is that the speaker could not figure out the source of the sound.

その警察官は、誰にともなく「あの男を追いかけろ!」と叫んだ。
その けいさつかん は、 だれ に ともなく 「あの おとこ を おいかけろ!」 と さけんだ。
The police officer yelled “Stop that man!” to no one in particular.
Literally: “that + police officer + は, + at no one in particular (=who + に + ともなく) +「that + man + を + chase (=[command])!」+ と + yelled.”
Note: More literally, I could have put "Chase that man!" but saying "Stop" would be more common in English, I think.


Although this is N1 grammar, people do in fact use ともなく/ともなしに from time to time.

You might find it a bit difficult to make sentences using this grammar, but it's worth a shot. Practice makes perfect, yeah?

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