Table of Contents
- The Basics
- Uses of うち
- Beyond The Basics
内 (うち), is a word that originally means "inside." When it's written in hiragana and combined with particles, it's used to specify the scope of quantity or time. For example, うち can be used to specify the number of items in total:
- Out of three eggs, one was broken.
Paired with the particle の, うち is used to mean "out of" three eggs, which is the total number of the eggs we are talking about here. There are gazillions of eggs in the world, but in this case, you're narrowing down the scope to three — as if you're using うち (inside) to say "within the range of three eggs."
うち can also be used for a period in time. In this case, it expresses the duration of a period when a certain situation remains in effect. For example, let's say you have a resolution to make some Japanese friends by the end of this year. In this case, you can use うち and say:
- By the end of this year, I'll make some Japanese friends!
In this sentence, うち highlights the boundary between "inside this year" (before this year is over) and "outside this year" (next year). Combined with the particle に which drops a pin in the timeline, 今年のうちに refers to "this year, before it changes to next year," so it translates to "by the end of this year."
Patterns of Use
In this section, we'll list the basic patterns used with うち.
Noun + の + うち
うち can follow a noun, but in this case, you'll need to add the particle の between the noun and うち.
- one of the two things
- I finished my homework by the end of the summer vacation.
い-adjective + うち
うち can directly follow an い-adjective, as in:
- It's so much work when the kids are little.
な-adjective + な + うち
When うち follows a な-adjective, you'll need to add な between them.
- Let's make a lot of money while we're still popular.
Verb + うち
うち can also follow verbs. When it indicates a time period, it's common to attach to いる, the 〜ている form, 〜れる form, and 〜ない form of a verb.
- While I'm in Japan, I want to visit many places.
- Let's go home before it gets dark.
Uses of うち
うち For Narrowing Down Items
When the particle の and the word うち follow a specific number of something, it's used like "between," "among," or "out of (a specific number)" in English. It indicates a range of items in which you make a differentiation between them.
You can make various patterns using numbers with counters. For example, to say "two out of three people," you can use the counter 人 and say:
- Two out of three people are pianists.
Or, if you buy a series of ten comics and so far you've read the first four, you can use the counter 巻 and say:
- Out of ten books, I've read four books so far.
Similarly, 〜のうち can be used to compare different options. So if you are torn between two jackets, you may say:
- Between these two, I'm torn on which one I should go with.
As you can see in the last example, sometimes the particle で follows 〜のうち to clarify the base range of comparison. In the same way, you can use 〜のうち(で) to describe one person or thing as having more of a quality than all other people or things in the range group:
- He is the tallest of the five.
Note this うち can be replaced with 中, as in:
- He is the tallest of the five.
To see the difference between うち and 中, check out this article!
うち For A Period In Time
When うち gets used for a scope of time, it works like "while it's (still)〜," as in:
- Let's get some sleep while we still can.
Just like yin and yang, the word うち (inside) always implies that there's another half of the pair ー 外 (outside). In this case, the outside means a time in the future after the うち period is over. In other words, うち indicates the length of time until something is over, or until a certain situation ends.
So combined with an action or situation, うち adds the nuance "while that action or situation still lasts" or "before that action or situation ends." So 寝れるうちに translates to "while we still can sleep."
Just like the above example, what follows after うち is commonly the particle に that can drop a pin in the timeline. For example, if you want to write down something you just learned before you forget, you can say:
- Before I forget it, I'll make a note.
(Literally: While I'm still not forgetting it, I'll make a note.)
In this example, 〜うち expresses the time during which a given state 忘れない still remains in effect, and に is used to specify the period of the time you take for the action of jotting the memo down.
You may also see this use of うち with other particles, such as the subject marker が and the topic marker は. For example, the followings are common phrases:
- Criticism is proof that they care.
(Literally: While receiving criticism, you are still in bloom.)
- It's better to struggle when you're young.
(Literally: When you are still young, you should experience some struggles.)
Beyond The Basics
〜うちに VS 〜間に
You've learned how 〜うちに expresses the time before a given action or state ends. When what comes before 〜うちに is something that indicates an interval of time, 〜うちに can be replaced with 〜間に.
For example, imagine your baby finally falls asleep and you want to eat your lunch while they are still napping. In this case, you can either use 〜うちに and 〜間に and say:
- While the baby is napping, I'm going to eat lunch.
Although the above sentences are very similar, there is a difference in nuance between うち and 間. That is, うち emphasizes the end point of the nap and adds the nuance "before the nap is over" or "while the current situation still lasts." However, the word 間 simply refers to the "time interval" between the beginning and the end points.
Thus, when there's not a clear starting or end point, うち gets used rather than 間. For example, imagine you grab a bottle of orange juice for your friend from the fridge and tell them that they should drink it before it gets warm. In this case, it's difficult to specify when the cold temperature of the juice first began and when it will end, so using 間 sounds a bit off:
- Please drink it while it's cold.
In the same way, if you want to do some weeding outside before it gets hot, うち is better suited as the time boundary cannot be specified:
- I'm going to pull weeds before it gets too hot.
Tense of the Clause Before うち
As you've seen, うち can be preceded by different types of words. One last note is that the clause that comes before うち usually has to be non-past tense, even if the main clause is in the past tense.
- I had my iPhone stolen while I was asleep.
There may be some exceptions (as is always the case), but that's the general rule of thumb!