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The word 中, meaning "inside" or "middle," can be read なか, ちゅう, and じゅう depending on the type of word it follows, and importantly, context.
When 中 follows a word that signifies a particular location or a particular period of time, it’s read じゅう and signifies "everything within that area" or "all throughout that period of time," respectively.
These are both pretty basic uses of 中, but we’ll go over them in some detail to make sure you understand how they work.
Note: We also have separate grammar pages for 〜 中 and 〜 中, as well as an article that compares 中 and 内. If you aren't familiar with these topics, check their dedicated pages as well!
A Word For An Area + 中
First, let's check out the spatial use of 中. As a quick review, when 中 follows a word for a particular area, it indicates "everything within that area."
Imagine you decide to do some spring cleaning and are determined to make the entire house sparkle. In this situation, you can combine the words 家 (house) and 中, as in 家中, and say:
- I'm going to clean the whole house, from top to bottom, and make it sparkle.
Here, 中 adds the meaning of everywhere within 家, or the house, and conveys that you're fully motivated to make the entire house sparkly clean from top to bottom.
中 can be used to indicate more than just physical spaces. Suppose you’re dating a celebrity. Even though you kept it a total secret, one day some of your classmates catch wind of a rumor that you’re dating someone who is a big deal. In this case, you can combine クラス (class) with 中, as in クラス 中, and say:
- The rumor was spread throughout the class.
In this example, 中 denotes a boundaried area within which the rumor has spread.
The set phrase そこら 中 can also be used in cases like this. The first part そこら is a word indicating an approximate location, like "around there." By adding 中, the phrase basically indicates "everywhere," as in "here and there, all over the place."
So, say you’re a lookout for a famous criminal and you spot some danger. You might call out:
- Look out! There are cops everywhere!
Sometimes, this expression is also written as そこいら 中, but this is a bit old-fashioned.
A Word For A Period of Time + 中
Next, let's check out the temporal use of 中. As you learned earlier, when 中 follows a time-specific word, it signifies "all throughout that period of time."
For example, if you stayed up all night playing video games, you can combine 一晩 (one night) and 中, as in 一晩中, and say:
- I played video games all night.
In the same way, if you took care of a relative's child all day, you can combine 一日 (one day) and 中, as in 一日中, and say:
- I took care of a relative's child all day.
Due to the nuance, 〜 中 is often used with ずっと (all through) to emphasize that something happened from beginning to end of it. For example, if you stayed home all through your summer vacation, you can combine 夏休み (summer vacation), 中, and ずっと and say:
- I was home all through the summer vacation.
Note that 夏休み中 can be pronounced either なつやすみじゅう or なつやすみちゅう. But while なつやすみじゅう means "all through the summer vacation," なつやすみちゅう simply means "during the summer vacation."
If you aren't familiar with 〜 中, you can learn more about it here.
Finally, 〜 中 can't directly follow just any word that signifies a period of time.
For example, you can't really say 三時間中 (throughout the three hours), セール期間中 (a sale period), or 映画中 (throughout the movie). To say that, you have to add 〜の間 (during…) and 中 is usually omitted.
- throughout the three hours
- throughout the sale period
- throughout the movie
Although the use of each 中 tends to follow certain trends, the "rule" as to which 中 can stick to which word isn't really clear cut, so you'll need to learn them by heart. But don't worry! If you keep practicing, you'll eventually get used to the common patterns and memorize them without knowing. 😊
Beyond The Basics
一年中 VS. 年中
By now, you can probably guess what 一年中 means. It's a combination of 一年 (one year) and 中, so it means "all throughout the year." For instance, if you live in a tropical location that feels like summer all year-round, you can say:
- Where I live, it's summer all year round.
Japanese has another similar word, which is 年中. It's a combination of 年 (year) and 中, but the meaning changes slightly without "一" (one). 1
Can you guess how the meaning changes?
While 一年中 means "all year round" or "throughout the year," 年中 is often used to mean "all the time." This is because 年中 technically means "throughout any whole year," and as a result, it evolved into a phrase to emphasize that something is happening all the time or constantly.
So, if a clothing store is running a series of sales promotions one after another throughout the year, you can either say:
- This clothing store has sales all year round.
But in this instance, 一年中 simply denotes that the shop is holding a sale from January 1st through December 31st. 年中, on the other hand, indicates that the store always runs sales, regardless of the time of year.
Note there is also a longer expression, 年がら 年中, which means the same as 年中, but serves to add extra emphasis.
年中 can also be read ねんちゅう. In this case, it refers to the middle class (4-5 years old) of a three-year kindergarten program in Japan. ↩