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I'm confused by this sentence:

わたしが答える前に急いで川のふちへ歩いていってしまった

Before I answered he had hurriedly walked to the river side???.

歩いている means walking i.e. progressive form but しまう denotes completion of a verb. This seems like a contradiction. How do these two parts fit together and what nuance is carried by this construct? How would it differ from 歩いてしまった? Thanks.

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There is no contradiction. You are just seeing a phrase that is not there.

There is no 「歩{ある}いている」 in 「歩いていってしまった」.

There is, however, 「歩いていく」 in it.

「歩いていく」= "to go on foot", "to walk to", etc. can naturally be combined with 「しまう」. ⇒ "(He) already walked to (the river bank)."

Finally, 「歩いてしまった」 could not be used as it makes no sense here. That means "(Someone) walked (though he was not supposed to).", "(Someone) walked (unexpectedly).", etc.

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The しまう here means to "completely" do something, or to do it to the end as you noted. However, the verb used here is 歩いていってしまった, which is 歩いて+いく and しまう, not 歩いて+いる. Also, unless you have more context to provide, I would not translate this as "he quickly walked", but "I".

  • わたしが答える前に急いで川のふちへ歩いていってしまった。 → Before I answered, I quickly walked all the way to the river side.

Also, it seems more natural to use まで than へ in this case, but I'm not sure where this sentence comes from.

  • With context it is 'He'. The sentence comes from a short story by 川上弘美 called 神様. She uses へ rather than まで. I like the 'all the way' bit of your translation. – user3856370 Jul 29 '15 at 15:57

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