Using 〜ながら for Simultaneous Actions

    • Verb
    ながら is used to indicate that two actions take place simultaneously. In many ways, it is similar to “while” in English grammar.

    Table of Contents

    What Is ながら?

    ながら is a conjunction, which means that it connects two clauses into a single sentence. Depending on the context, it can be used for contrasting clauses, similar to "though" in English. This page will focus on the other use of ながら, which is to indicate that two actions are taking place simultaneously. This use is similar to "while" in English.

    ながら for simultaneous actions is limited to verbs, since verbs are the type of word that express actions… makes sense, right? To attach ながら to a verb, it needs to be in its stem form.

    食べ + ながら = 食べながら

    Since we're using ながら for simultaneous actions, the next step is to add another action.

    • 食べながら遊ぶ
    • While eating, play

    There you have it! Now that we see how ながら works as a grammar structure, let's check out how it is used.

    Using ながら for Simultaneous Actions

    As we stated at the beginning of this page, ながら for simultaneous actions is similar to "while" in English. Just like "while," ながら attaches to the action that is considered background information. Let's expand on our example from the previous section to understand what this means:

    • 食べながら、友達とマルバツゲームで遊んだ。
    • While eating, I played tic tac toe with my friend.

    As you can see, the sentence above is mainly about how I played a game with my friend. The fact that we did it while eating is background information. Both "while" and ながら attach to this less important clause.

    In English, it is perfectly acceptable to move the "background information" clause to a different position in the sentence, as in: "I played tic tac toe with my friend while eating." You can do this in Japanese too, but its use is mainly reserved for speaking, or literary writing:

    友達とマルバツゲームで遊んだ。食べながら

    This places emphasis on the second part of the sentence. If you decide to move the background information to the end of the sentence, make sure to bring ながら with you. Otherwise you can accidentally change the meaning of the sentence. For example, let's say you want to invite someone out to lunch for a chat. You can say:

    • 今度、お昼を食べながら話しましょう。
    • While having lunch, let's talk sometime.

    Or:

    • 今度、話しましょう。食べながら。
    • Let's talk while having lunch sometime.

    If you leave attach ながら to the other action, though, you would accidentally say:

    • 今度、話しながら食べましょう。
    • Let's eat while talking sometime.

    This sounds like you'll be talking with you mouth full, which is bad manners if you ask me. Just remember that ながら should only attach to the background information (just like "while") and you'll be good to go!

    In addition to specific actions that occur simultaneously, you can also use ながら for actions that are actually ongoing states. Let's use an example to clarify what this means:

    • コウイチは働きながら勉強している。
    • Koichi studies while working.

    Just like in English, this sentence has two possible meanings. It could refer to specific actions that are occurring right now, as in "he is currently studying while at work." However, it is more likely that this refers to an ongoing state in his life; he is working while also going to school and studying. Which meaning is correct can only be determined by the context.

    As a final note, we should point out that ながら cannot be used to describe simultaneous actions that are carried out by different people. So the following sentence is ungrammatical:

    • ❌ 私はテレビを見ながら、姉は料理をした。
    • While I watched TV, my sister cooked.

    Instead, you would need to use a different grammar structure, such as 間に, in order to express two actions carried out by different people:

    • 私がテレビを見ている間に、姉は料理をした。
    • While I was watching TV, my sister cooked.

    Why don't you take a break while checking out the next grammar point you want to study on our main grammar page? Just remember to come back and refresh your memory on what you learned here (or automate it some way with SRS).