LearnJapanese Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese





Immediate Events

Posted by Tae Kim

In this section, we will be covering some advanced grammar that describe an action that takes place right after something else has occurred. I suggest you look over this section if you are really serious about completely mastering Japanese, or if you plan to take the level 1 JLPT exam, or if you enjoy reading a lot of Japanese literature.

Using 「が早いか」 to describe the instant something occurred

Vocabulary

  1. 早い 【はや・い】 (i-adj) - fast; early
  2. 言う 【い・う】 (u-verb) - to say
  3. 彼女 【かの・じょ】 - she; girlfriend
  4. 教授 【きょう・じゅ】 - professor
  5. 姿 【すがた】 - figure
  6. 見る 【み・る】 (ru-verb) - to see
  7. 教室 【きょう・しつ】 - classroom
  8. 逃げ出す 【に・げ・だ・す】 (u-verb) - to run away
  9. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) - to eat
  10. 口 【くち】 - mouth
  11. 中 【なか】 - inside
  12. 放り込む 【ほう・り・こ・む】 (u-verb) - to throw into

The phrase 「が早いか」 is used to describe something that happened the instant something else occurred.

While very similar to the 「とたんに」 grammar, it has a strong emphasis on how soon one thing occurred after another as if it's almost simultaneous. This grammar is rarely used outside of Japanese language tests.

To use this grammar, you attach 「が早いか」 to the first verb, then you describe the event that happened the next instant. While it's conventional to use the non-past tense (dictionary form) for the first verb, you can also use the past tense. For example, you can say either 「言うが早いか」 or 「言ったが早いか」. The curious thing about this grammar is that the 「が」 particle comes right after the verb. Remember, you can do this only with this specific grammatical phrase.

Using 「が早いか」 to describe what happened the instant something occurred
  • Attach 「が早いか」 to the non-past or past tense of the verb that just occurred
    Examples
    1. 言う → 言うが早いか
    2. → 言った → 言ったが早いか
  • You can only use this grammar only for events that are directly related.
  • You can only use this grammar only for events that actually happened (past tense).

Examples

  1. 彼女は、教授の姿を見るが早いか、教室から逃げ出した。
    The instant (she) saw the professor's figure, (she) ran away from the classroom.
  2. 「食べてみよう」と言うが早いか、口の中に放り込んだ。
    The instant (he) said "let's try eating it", he threw (it) into his mouth.
  3. 「食べてみよう」と言ったが早いか、口の中に放り込んだ。
    The instant (he) said "let's try eating it", he threw (it) into his mouth.

Using 「や/や否や」 to describe what happened right after

Vocabulary

  1. 早い 【はや・い】 (i-adj) - fast; early
  2. 否定 【ひ・てい】 - denial
  3. 見る 【み・る】 (ru-verb) - to see
  4. 私 【わたし】 - me, myself, I
  5. 顔 【かお】 - face
  6. 何 【なに/なん】 - what
  7. 言う 【い・う】 (u-verb) - to say
  8. する (exception) - to do
  9. 搭乗 【とう・じょう】 - boarding
  10. アナウンス - announcement
  11. 聞こえる 【き・こえる】 (ru-verb) - to be audible
  12. 皆 【みんな】 - everybody
  13. ゲート - gate
  14. 方 【ほう】 - direction, way
  15. 走り出す 【はし・り・だ・す】 (u-verb) - to break into a run

The 「や」 or 「や否や」(やいなや) phrase, when appended to a verb, is used to described something that happened right after that verb. Its meaning is essential the same as 「が早いか」. It is also another type of grammar that is not really used in regular conversational Japanese.

「否」 (read here as 「いな」) is a Kanji meaning "no" used in words like 「否定」. The literal meaning of this grammar is "whether the action was taken or not". In order words, the second action is taken before you even take the time to determine whether the first event really happened or not.

You can use this grammar by attaching 「や」 or 「や否や」 to the dictionary form of the first verb that occurred. Since this grammar is used for events that already have occurred, the second verb is usually in the past tense. However, you can use the dictionary tense to indicate that the events happen regularly.

Using 「や/や否や」 to describe what happened right after
  • Attach 「や」 or 「や否や」(やいなや) to the dictionary form of the first verb that occurred
    Examples
    1. 見る → 見る
    2. 見る → 見るや否や
  • This grammar is almost always used for events that actually happened (past tense).
  • This grammar can be used with the present tense for regularly occurring events.

Examples

  1. 私の顔を見るや、何か言おうとした。
    (He) tried to say something as soon as he saw my face.
  2. 搭乗のアナウンスが聞こえるや否や、みんながゲートの方へ走り出した。
    As soon as the announcement to board was audible, everybody started running toward the gate.

Using 「そばから」 to describe an event that repeatedly occurs soon after

Vocabulary

  1. 早い 【はや・い】 (i-adj) - fast; early
  2. 読む 【よ・む】 (u-verb) - to read
  3. する (exception) - to do
  4. 子供 【こ・ども】 - child
  5. 掃除 【そう・じ】 - cleaning
  6. 散らかす 【ち・らかす】 (u-verb) - to scatter around; to leave untidy
  7. もう - already
  8. あきらめる (ru-verb) - to give up
  9. なる (u-verb) - to become
  10. 教科書 【きょう・か・しょ】 - textbook
  11. 忘れる 【わす・れる】 (ru-verb) - to forget
  12. 勉強 【べん・きょう】 - study
  13. 出来る 【で・き・る】 (ru-verb) - to be able to do

「そばから」 is yet another grammar that describes an event that happens right after another. However, unlike the expressions we have covered so far, 「そばから」 implies that the events are a recurring pattern. For example, you would use this grammar to express the fact that you just clean and clean your room only for it to get dirty again soon after.

Besides this difference, the rules for using this expression are exactly the same as 「が早いか」 and 「や否や」. Just attach 「そばから」 to the dictionary form of the first verb that occurred. The past tense, though rare, also appears to be acceptable. However, the event that immediately follows is usually expressed with the non-past dictionary form because this grammar is used for repeated events and not a specific event in the past.

Using 「そばから」 to describe an event that repeatedly occurs soon after
  • Attach 「そばから」 to the dictionary form of the first verb that occurred
    Examples
    1. 読む → 読むそばから
    2. する → するそばから
  • This grammar implies that the events occur repeatedly.

Examples

  1. 子供が掃除するそばから散らかすから、もうあきらめたくなった。
    The child messes up (the room) [repeatedly] as soon as I clean so I already became wanting to give up.
  2. 教科書を読んだそばから忘れてしまうので勉強ができない。
    Forget [repeatedly] right after I read the textbook so I can't study.