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I have some problems with understanding what is the difference between these two grammatical forms. The explanation that 初級日本語 gives me, is that 間 refers to certain time frame, while 間に refers to certain time frame within that time frame. Is it correct or am I missing something?

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I feel like this question (or something very similar) has already been asked before, but I can't find it right now. –  istrasci Aug 13 '13 at 16:22
    
Before posting this, I searched down in suggestions list and I couldn't find anything. –  razorramon Aug 13 '13 at 16:37
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I wouldn't call it a duplicate, but japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/11410/… is related –  cypher Aug 13 '13 at 21:46

2 Answers 2

It is very simple:

A 間 B 

means;

All the time that A took place B was also happening. (I read my book while it was raining)

A 間に B

means;

While A took place B happend. The nuance to appreciate is that B is an event that occurred (started & finished) at some point during the period A took place. It did not go on all the time. (While it was raining the post was delivered.)

The nuance is very similar to the difference between まで and までに

A まで B

means;

Until A happens, B will continue, constantly (I was watching television until father came home)

A までに B

means;

By the time A happens B will have occurred (started and finished, during the period defined by A まで; it could happend at any point but did not happen constantly. (I will finish my work by 5 o'clock. ie at some unspecified point during the period to 5'oclock)

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I've summarise the following from a Dictionary of Basic Grammar which seems a little different to what you state. Note that I'm not a native speaker.

The time span of the 間 clause and the main clause is the same, while the time span of a 間に clause is wider than the time span of the main clause. For example:  山田さんがぺりに留学している間にお母さんが病気になった。 The period in which she become ill is a portion of the time when Yamda was studying in Paris. If 間に is replace by 間 then the sentence is ungrammatical according to the Dictionary of Basic Grammar.

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