What does ま mean in this sentence?


Bonus question: What is the function of の in this sentence?


いつの[間]{ま}に is a set phrase meaning literally "during what time", generally questioning the timeframe during which something happened.


The speaker is expressing surprise at the rain having stopped while they were unaware of it. "[During what time/when] did it stop raining?!" Alternatively, if it's narration, it could also say "Before [we] knew it, it had stopped raining."

The phrase can also be used differently:

A: Did you do [XYZ]?
B: いつの[間]{ま}に!?

Here the speaker is exclaiming exasperation at not having had time to do [XYZ]. "When exactly did you expect me to do this?!" or "You should be aware that I could not possibly have had time to do this."

  • If possible, could you comment on how/if いつの間に differs from いつの間にか? Thanks. – user3856370 Nov 3 '18 at 9:31
  • 1
    I don't know the proper grammatical terms here, but 「いつの間に」 is actively posing the question "When […]?". 「いつの間にか」 on the other hand is part of a statement: パーティーは終わっていた – the party was over; いつの間にかパーティーは終わっていた – the party was over before [we] knew it. – deceze Nov 3 '18 at 10:06

ま in this case is 間 meaning 'duration' or 'while' or 'interval'. You've probably heard it before and just don't realise it. Example, 間もなく(まもなく)電車が到着します.

Regarding いつの間に, think of it as 'at some point in time', or 'at some moment or another'. So your sentence means 'at some point (when exactly we're unsure) it stopped raining'.

  • Thanks, makes sense. But what does the の mean in the sentence? I know it’s possessive and also a question marker sometimes but here it seems to be neither. – shenk Nov 2 '18 at 22:47
  • I don’t think that translation is correct. IMO it should be “when did it stop raining‽” As in, the speaker being surprised at the rain having suddenly stopped. – deceze Nov 2 '18 at 23:09
  • I guess it could be that. The nuance in both translations is that the precise time that it stopped is unknown to the speaker. – VeryCommonName Nov 3 '18 at 3:23

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