しながら question

For the following sentence I read it as “While I had a vague feeling of anxiety, I stared at the flow of the river.” Why is it the other way around here?
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One thing to always note with the translations of these sentences is that they are not translated literally so the grammar isn’t going to be a 1:1 match.

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In this case I think it’s just an attempt to match the spirit of the original sentence better, since in Japanese the most important part of the sentence is at the end, while in English the most important part is at the beginning. In both languages, it’s clear the the two actions are happening simultaneously. However, in English the main action is typically stated first, with anything after being an “afterthought.” In Japanese, on the other hand, the main action typically comes at the end of the sentence, with everything before that being extra contextual information. So if the order had been kept, it would have changed the focus to the “vague feeling” instead of watching the river. That’s just my hypothesis though, it could just be they felt it sounded more natural this way for whatever reason. I don’t think it changes the meaning that much either way.

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Yeah I might be looking into it too much. I was just confused why they didn’t say it the other around 川の流れを見つめながら私は漠然とした不安を感じました。
Or perhaps how they wrote it is how it’s more naturally said in Japanese?

As I alluded to in my other post, I think if you switched it around like that it would change the focus of the sentence. The meaning would be very similar though.

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This explanation is actually spot on. According to the Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar:

Vmasu nagara expresses an action that occurs concurrently or simultaneously with another action. The action expressed by Vmasu nagara is always secondary to the action expressed in the main clause.

(emphasis mine)

It then shows a hypothetical conversation to illustrate the difference:

ちょっと話がしたいんですが。
(I’d like to have a little talk with you.)

Acceptable response:

じゃ、コーヒーを飲みながら話しましょう。
(Then, let’s talk over a cup of coffee.)

This makes it feel like the focus is on talking, with drinking coffee as a secondary action.

Unacceptable response:

*じゃ、話しながらコーヒーを飲みましょう。
(Then, let’s drink a cup of coffee while talking.)

This makes it feel like drinking coffee is the primary focus, and talking is a secondary action.

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This is how my Japanese teacher explained it to us in class as well. I’m a full time language student and the teachers would mark answers as incorrect if we put the less-important action first.

For example, say we were given the following verbs on a test.
音楽を聞く (listening to music) and 勉強する (to study)

The incorrect answer would be:
勉強しながら、音楽を聞きます。
Literally “I study while listening to music.”
But the nuance is “While focusing on listening to music, I also study.”

The correct answer would be:
音楽を聞きながら、勉強します。
Literally “I listen to music while studying.”
But the nuance is “While actively studying, I have music on in the background.”

As @phyro was saying, basically for this grammar point you just have to remember that the active focus or more important verb goes at the end of the sentence, and the secondary verb at the start.

This kind of thing was really confusing for me at first but I found that as I continued to learn more and more grammar structures, there is a pattern about them that emerges that makes remembering these little quirks easier. What I mean is, this will become more and more second nature to you as you gain fluency :slight_smile:

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I think it simplifies things if you build things up from the most important phrase (the main clause), for example:

Aさん: ちょっと話がしたいんですが。
(I’d like to have a little talk with you.)
Bさん: じゃ、話しましょう。
(Ok, let’s talk.)

This conversation makes sense, so our main clause is sensible. The opposite, however, doesn’t:

Aさん: ちょっと話がしたいんですが。
(I’d like to have a little talk with you.)
Bさん: じゃ、コーヒーを飲みましょう。
(Then, let’s drink a cup of coffee.)
Aさん: ??? (Probably can figure out what you mean, but it might come off as an odd response since you’re not actually communicating your intent to talk with them)

If we think of Vmasu+ながら as a way to add more context to the main idea communicated by our main clause, it becomes a little more clear that ながら is for the dependent clause in the sentence, and that it shouldn’t be swapped with the main clause:

Aさん: ちょっと話がしたいんですが。
Bさん: じゃ、(コーヒーを飲みながら)話しましょう。

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