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I was downloading an update for a phone game I set in Japanese and on the screen it said 「ダウンロード中」and I don’t understand the use of 中. Middle? In the middle of downloading?

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Yes, you are correct that 中 (ちゅう) in this case means "in the middle of ~ ". For your sentence, the simple translation "downloading" is probably the most natural.

It is fairly common to combine a noun with the suffix 中(ちゅう) to express the idea of the "currently in the process of (NOUN)". A few examples of NOUN + 中:

保留{ほりゅう} deferment, holding:  保留中{ほりゅうちゅう} on hold ('in the middle of holding').

貸{か}し出{だ}し lending, loaning:  貸{か}し出{だ}し中{ちゅう} on loan ('in the middle of loaning).

稼働{かどう} operation (of a machine): 稼働中{かどうちゅう} in operation ('in the middle of operation').

You might be wondering "Why not just use the VERB ~ている form instead?". For example, using ダウンロードしている. But to use an active form like that you generally need to identify the subject of the verb, and it is not always expedient to do that. Using NOUN + 中 is a useful way to describe the state where some process is happening but you don't have to specify who or what is performing the action.

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    ている is often used in these messages, but it makes them longer. We need to verb ダウンロード with する. Plus, keigo ends up used, so its しています. – Kaz May 27 at 5:08
  • 中 can be used to indicate being within a particular space as well as time, for example 世界中{せかいじゅう} meaning "in/around/throughout the world". – ConMan May 28 at 23:21
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I think you answered your own question. 中{ちゅう} is a suffix that means "in the middle of". e.g.

道路は工事中だ
The road is in the middle of construction.

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Let a Chinese who learned Japanese before answer this question. That 中 (pronounced as chyuu) actually mean "ing". The katakana is the verb - download, so the integrity is downloading. Of course 中 in both Chinese and Japanese has the meaning of "in the middle of sth", but that is not quite accurate in the context here.

  • "The hiragana is the verb - download" - ダウンロード is a noun and written in katakana...? – Leebo May 27 at 7:26
  • In English, the expression "in the middle of (doing something)" denotes "in the process of (doing something)", so it is in fact an accurate translation in this context. – VVayfarer May 27 at 7:30
  • Corrected. Thanks. – Kayee Joe May 27 at 7:33
  • The direct translation from ダウンロード中 to English is downloading. Yes you can use in the middle of downloading, but that is not the usual expression when you see in your system e.g. Windows. – Kayee Joe May 27 at 7:35
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    @Leebo Yes, but that's not a complete description here. ダウンロード is something called a verbal noun, a noun with verb-like semantic and grammatical traits. Consider the use of in 必要なソフトウェアをダウンロード中です, for example; morphologically you can say there is no "verb" there, but the predicator ダウンロード中です takes a direct object, which is something verbs do. – snailboat May 27 at 9:56

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