I am trying to read 変身 The Metamorphosis by Kafka. I have troubles understanding the following :


translated by

he discovered that he had been changed into a bug

First i'm not sure how to understand 変ってしまっている. I think of it as 締まる acting as a subsidiary verb for 変る (+ている form since being locked in a bug body is going to last).​ Something like 変る ~ to transform VS 変ってしまっている ~ to transform and (sadly) be locked in the resulting state.

Second i red about のに here and here but i'm still not sure. Since the "even though" and the "while" meaning don't seem to work here, is it the "represents the speaker's feeling of discontent or regret" use of のに?


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    てしまう is a standard grammatical form. It has various nuances, but here it conveys the sense of "Yikes!" or "OMG" together with the notion that you're not entirely happy about the state of affairs. It fits quite well for what happens in Metamorphosis and the protagonists reaction. – A.Ellett Apr 6 at 14:25

Let's break this sentence down.


At a basic level this sentence breaks up into two fundamental parts:

(A) 虫に変った -- Someone/thing changed into a bug


(B) 気づいた -- Someone noticed something.

What is noticed is being changed into a bug. That would make sentence A the object of 気づいた. Two things need to happen here to complete this joining of sentence A and B.

When you say "I noticed A" in Japanese, the particle that marks what you noticed is に. So, "I noticed A" becomes


But in Japanese, A must be a noun, it can't be a sentence or a verb or anything else. To make sentence A a noun we nominalize it. There are various ways of doing this, but often in a situation like this the nominalizer used is の. This works as follows:

A + の --> 虫に変ったの

(There's no nice way to translate this grammatical construction into English.)

So, now we can put A and B together.

A + の + に + B --> 虫に変った + の + に気づいた --> 虫に変わったのに気づいた。

So notice: the のに here is not the のに you're looking for; this is a different grammatical construct. There are two distinctly different grammatical constructs here: nominalizing a sentence with の and singling out that which was noticed with に.

To get a bit of a better feel for this, let's change the sentence a bit to

Mr B saw Mr A change into a bug.

Again there are two basic underlying sentences:

Mr A changed into a bug --> Aさんが虫に変わった。


Mr B saw [it]. --> Bさんは見た。

In this case, what is seen is marked by the particle を, but still Aさんが虫に変わった needs to be nominalized (again we'll use の). Put together we get


On to てしまう

In English we like short to-the-point objective-sounding sentences: "He noticed he'd changed into a bug." Perfect! But, in Japanese these sorts of expressions come across as blunt, emotionless, and rather inhuman. In other words, 虫に変わったのに気づいた sounds a bit like a droid; it feels like it completely lacks any human feeling or emotion.

The てしまう construct has a wide range of meanings. On one level, it gives the sentence a sense of completeness.

虫に変わってしまった --> He'd completely changed into a bug.

And, I think for a native speaker, there is at least a minimal residue of this meaning in the sentence. But, てしまう can also express shock, regret, disappointment. Just try to imagine your reaction upon waking up noticing that you were no longer human but a bug. You would be in a bit of shock.


The dish was broken.

Here てしまう expresses a sense of finality: the dish is broken and there's nothing that can be done about it; it's been destroyed. And if the dish were something that you were given by, let's say, your gramma, you might be very sad about this. This てしまう is a very powerful and useful construct for expressing such emotions.

But, back to Kafka. We could write:


This would however leave the reader wondering, "is he a bug or not?" Perhaps he only noticed somehow that during the night he'd been transformed into a bug, but currently he's not a bug.

Imagine a werewolf or vampire sort of story. You might read


When he woke up, he noticed that last night he'd changed into a werewolf.

He's not a werewolf right now, but there's some kind of clear evidence that that's what happened.

In the case with Kafka, it's not just that he changed into a bug, but he's still a bug. So, to get this across, we need to say



Why not instead just say


Tense in Japanese doesn't work like in English. There's not really a present tense in Japanese, just a non-past form and a perfective form. I recommend you read up these different forms else where. But, in short, the non-past form (which we often call the present tense) indicates an incomplete state. So,


means something more like "I will become a bug."

  • Thanks for such detailled answer ! I just don't understand "the particle that marks what you noticed is に" : shouldn't it be を ? I know about several roles of に particle but none of them matching this case – xavier Apr 6 at 15:26
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    @xavier Think of it as an idiomatic expression: Aに気づいた。If you said, Aを気づいた you would most likely be understood but it would definitely stand out and sound grammatically incorrect. – A.Ellett Apr 6 at 15:29
  • ok. Just to be sure : you mean this use of に is part of various expressions one just has to learn or is there some intuition / rules behind this ? (like the A を B だと~ pattern for を particle for ex) – xavier Apr 6 at 15:43
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    Yes, に気付くis a set phrase. But you can also break it further into に気が付く. If you think of the literal meaning of 気が付く, it would be something like "to get the mind/attention attached" (which becomes "to notice/realize" in English). If you think of A as the object the mind would get attached to, it becomes natural to use に in Aに気付く. – deeeeekun Apr 6 at 16:06

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