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新幹線に乗り遅れるところでした。

We were on the verge of missing the Shinkansen.

context

I don't see how the above expresses the middle point of an action if the dictionary form of the verb is used. Shouldn't 遅れている be used instead? Using the dictionary form of the verb means, just like the translation suggests, that you're about to experience something, not yet happening.

新幹線に乗り遅れているところでした。

We were on the verge of missing the Shinkansen.

lit. We were in the process of missing the train.

I'm not really sure how to translate this into English, but I think the overall meaning is the same. I haven't found instances of 乗り遅れているところ on Google Books, though. However, 遅れている is community verified on Google Translate: I'm aware that community verified translations are prone to errors.

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    Good question! Upvoted. This answer offers an illuminating explanation. But I think things might still seem murky even after reading it, thus +1 from me. Because 乗り遅れているところだった seems to have been used in a similar way to 乗り遅れるところだった:( 例1)「途中で気がついて引き返しギリギリでオヘア空港に辿り着きましたが、あのまま気が付かなければ、乗り遅れているところでした。」 (例2)「ダイヤモンド会員優先搭乗が始まっています。もし素直に中部行きの予約をしていたら確実に乗り遅れているところでした。」 (例3)「また、モーニングコールなども問題なく対応して頂けました。(前の晩に飲みすぎてMCが無かったら飛行機に乗り遅れているところでした。)」
    – Eddie Kal
    Dec 30, 2021 at 5:31
  • "After verbs in the progressive form", first example is in plain form. I don't see how it's not a mistake from the book. The english translation also confirms that it's before the action, not in progress.
    – Simon
    Dec 30, 2021 at 5:35
  • Why would that sentence have to express the “middle point of an action”?
    – aguijonazo
    Dec 30, 2021 at 5:35
  • @aguijonazo That's from the book. I also just took a look at the book, and as Simon points out, I think that's a mistake on their part. Still a valid question remains unresolved: the practical difference between 乗り遅れるところだった and 乗り遅れているところだった
    – Eddie Kal
    Dec 30, 2021 at 5:45

2 Answers 2

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新幹線に乗り遅れところでした。

This sentence is correct. It is just put in the wrong category in your book. As you say, 遅れる is not a progressive form and doesn’t specify any “middle point.”

You could use the verb in the ている-form.

新幹線に乗り遅れているところでした。

However, this doesn’t mean you were in the middle of missing the train because missing a train is not a durative action. It means that you would have found yourself in a state that resulted from your missing the train.

I would say the difference is in which stage of the scenario to focus on. The first sentence puts focus on the stage where you are still facing the risk of missing the train, whereas the second is more about the (imaginary) situation after you have already missed the train. What actually happened is the same in both. You nearly missed the train (but didn’t).


[EDIT]

In practice, both 乗り遅れるところでした and 乗り遅れているところでした can only describe an event that didn't happen in the end. You don't need context to know it. This is because 遅れる is not something you actively begin to do.

In general, the meaning is determined by what comes before it or, in short, context.

家に帰ったら、家族はちょうど昼ご飯を食べるところでした。
When I got home, my family was just about to have lunch.

家に帰ったら、家族は昼ご飯を食べているところでした。
When I got home, my family was in the middle of lunch.

賞味期限が切れていることに気づかずに、食べるところでした。
I nearly ate it without knowing it was past the expiration date.

賞味期限を見なければ、食べているところでした。
If I hadn’t checked the expiration date, I would have eaten it.

The only sure rule seems to be that the second sense of “in the middle of” is, by definition, not possible with non-durative verbs. But not many verbs are purely non-durative. You can always zoom in on a punctual action or change to see duration in it.

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  • @Simon Aguijonazo said that missing the train is not a durative action, you either miss it or you don't. The ている form of a verb not only expresses a progressive action but also a resultant state, depending on the verb. In this sense, 遅れる focuses on being about to experience something while 遅れている focuses on having recently experienced something, the consequences of it. However, as it has been mentioned, missing the train is not a durative action, so it cannot refer to a progressive action. Therefore, for this verb, the pattern しているところだった is equivalent to するところだった.
    – Nameless
    Dec 30, 2021 at 18:59
  • The above is what I took away from this answer.
    – Nameless
    Dec 30, 2021 at 19:02
  • @Nameless According to both answers, the resultant state would force that sentence into an hypothetical, and that's what I'm confused about. Is something like that impossible: ドアが閉まって列車が動き出した。新幹線に乗り遅れているところだった. 最後のチャンスだった. I could use a past form, but I feel like the progressive/resultant would make it more dramatic. Is this really not possible?
    – Simon
    Dec 30, 2021 at 20:28
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ところだった seems to be treated as a different construct from ところだ in learner's grammar.

Although ところだった can be a past form of ところだ, it has the usage it could have been that... (as explained in the first link).

Whether a ところだった sentence is ambiguous depends on the meaning.

電車に乗り遅れているところだった can only mean it could have been/happened that we missed the train = We could have missed the train (but we didn't). 電車に乗り遅れるところだった means the same. (Note 電車に乗り遅れたところだ is not possible usually sounds odd.)

As an ambiguous example, 外出しているところだった can mean

  • I was out at that time = past tense of ところだ; or
  • I was almost about to go (but was still at home when the phone rang).
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    You said "電車に乗り遅れたところだ is not possible," but could it be possible in such a situation: I just missed the train and I might be late for a meeting, so I text the friend I am meeting to tell them: 「今電車に乗り遅れたところだ!」 It seems I can find examples of this usage online: たった今、電車に乗り遅れたところです! 私はたった今、電車に乗り遅れたところ…笑
    – Eddie Kal
    Dec 30, 2021 at 7:50
  • @EddieKal Those two are meant as jokes. At least Xしたところです cannot be used e.g. in reporting to supervisor when X is a mistake type of thing.
    – sundowner
    Dec 30, 2021 at 13:06
  • I've been thinking about this and I don't understand why would ところだった have a different meaning from ところだ in the past form. Here's my thought process: in the sentence,「家を出るのが、あと5分遅れていたら、遅刻するところでした」,「遅刻するところでした」by itself can be translated as either "I was about to arrive late (but didn't)" or "I could have arrived late", but because we're dealing with a tara-clause, the latter is a must for a natural-sounding translation: "If I had left the house five minutes later, I would have been late." I think the choice of translation depends on what comes before it. Therefore, it can be ambiguous.
    – Nameless
    Dec 30, 2021 at 18:15
  • 遅刻するところでした is usually NOT ambiguous just like 電車に乗り遅れたところだ. There are some aspect factor at play as suggested by aguijonazo's answer, also depends on the action is intentional. Regarding ところだった/ところだ difference, it may be similar to can/could in English.
    – sundowner
    Dec 31, 2021 at 5:12

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