What does 中 mean 🤔

Does it mean middle like all the dictionaries say or does it mean something similar to inside? Whenever i think of the kanji as meaning inside, the words its used in tend to make more sense.
Like in 地中 and 地下. They both mean underground but they arent the same word, right? I like to think of 地中 as being IN the ground and 地下 as just UNDER the ground.
Idk. Plz help me

3 Likes

This Tofugu article might help!

There’s kind of a lot of context-specific nuance to cover, and I think it’s worth the read, but if you don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s how they sum it up: “To wrap it up, 中 neutrally refers to the middle, medium, or central position or part, while 内 refers to an inside that is surrounded by an outside, highlighting the boundary between the inside and the outside.”

12 Likes

地下 is used in situations where you are below the surface of the ground, but you are in an open area, like a basement, tunnel, cave, or something like that. This is why a subway is a 地下鉄.

地中 is more like being surrounded by ground. You have soil or rock all around the thing and there’s no space to move or breathe. When a bug digs into the ground, they go 地中, not 地下 (typically anyway).

A 地中鉄 would be very strange.

I get that you basically already knew that, but I figured this might help others as well.

10 Likes

Another great example of 中 is 年中. It’s not “the middle of the year”, but “all year round”. Things happen throughout (inside) the year. Since 中 is defining the boundary as 年 (year) and everything in between, things are happening all the time.

2 Likes

Good point. I think when it’s read じゅう, it means “all ~” or “the whole ~”. There’s also かいじゅう (throughout the world). Whereas in 日中 it’s にっちゅう and means “during the day​”, not “the whole day”.

3 Likes

An interesting observation, but I would be careful trying to ascribe a different connotation to the rendaku form. Rendaku is related to the flow of the syllables rather than the word meaning.

日 and Day are interesting words. They can both mean 24hrs (1 day), or they can mean the time when the sun is out. I would say that 中 has the same connotation in 年中 and 日中, it’s just that 日 is bounded by the period of light and not the hours. Like how English uses ‘daytime’ to clarify that you are just talking about the period of they day when the sun is up.

2 Likes

I agree that rendaku doesn’t usually contribute to the meaning, but in case with 中 there seem to actually be two separate readings with different meanings (e.g. see How do we decide if 中 is ちゅう or じゅう?). Jisho even lists them as separate words: (ちゅう) meaning “during” and (じゅう) meaning “throughout.”

2 Likes

I’ll agree there is some nuance there, but you understand that ‘during’ and ‘throughout’ mean the same thing right?
image
image

1 Like

They CAN mean the same thing, but they sometimes don’t. The fact that “during” can point to a shorter time span within a larger event (that “at a point in the course of”), while throughout is exclusively about the whole thing from beginning to end, is the difference that translation choice is trying to get at, I believe. If I told you that throughout my time in college, I took a psychology class, you’re going to assume my time in college was very brief indeed. I have to imagine the same is true of mixing up ちゅう and じゅう, heh.

3 Likes

Taking a close look, I’ll concede that the じゅう reading is exclusively used for the ‘throughtout’ definition, but still maintain that definition is not due to rendaku, and also that your distinctions are not as hard and fast as they seem.

The じゅう reading of 中 appears to be a special case suffix that can append to any noun. It’s grammatical usage seems to be similar to ‘ish’ in English. This is all just my inference from Jisho though.

The first Jisho (じゅう) example sentence is actually very insightful

いとこたちは2、3日中にくるでしょう。
My cousins are coming in a few days.

The 中 concept get’s translated as ‘in a few’, which seems very different from ‘throughout’. However, unless the cousins are coming from a very remote place, I don’t think they are traveling for 2-3 days to get there, so the ‘throughout’ would not make much sense.

I think the true concept is that the time boundaries are set by 中 as 2 to 3 days, and the focus is within that time. At sometime within the next 2 or 3 days, the cousins will arrive.

The implication in that word choice is the cousins could come at anytime throughout the next 2-3 days.

Which means the that an alternate translation could be: My cousins will come during the next 2 or 3 days.

Which has us dancing around during and throughout again.

Aren’t Jisho example sentences taken from Tatoeba, which people seem to warn against using because there are a lot of sentences written by non-natives? I don’t have a reason to think this sentence is wrong but I personally shy away from the source. Nonetheless, that looks like a pretty loose translation. What the sentence is saying is they are coming within 2 or 3 days, with the 中 serving the “within” function. Throughout a period of 2 to 3 days, they are coming. During a period of 2 to 3 days they are coming. I haven’t had enough sleep so I actually edited this and think i do agree that during is the go to here for natural English, unless you stretch it. So I think you found one where during sounds better with じゅう assuming that’s all right. Of course, Jisho also lists “in the course of” which seems to fit perfectly, but I have no desire to dig deeper into evaluating English glosses. All the same, if we’re talking about the differences, I guess you’ve silently backed off the idea they mean the same? Haha. And that’s the thing I came here to say.

What I actually neglected to say, which would have been much better, is that throughout has a separate physical meaning, which during does not. For something like the aforementioned せかいじゅう, throughout the world, to my knowledge, せかいちゅう is just wrong. Because that would mean during the world. I’m not tied to the idea these two words 100% map perfectly to the Japanese, because I doubt it, but their nuances seem to get us closer and I’m not sure what’s objectionable about that. I am making no claim beyond that during and throughout definitely have cases where only one is acceptable in English, and that they seem to be, on the whole, useful to apply to how one thinks about the Japanese use. Even if you are now against the idea of applying them that way, we’re well past the point of them being always the same so I’m satisfied I’ve said what I need to.

I wouldn’t really say it’s “due to rendaku” so much as just being two readings of a kanji for similar sometimes overlapping meanings I guess, but I don’t think anyone ever claimed rendaku changed meaning! I was just following up on @BadWeather pointing out that because you specifically chose 中 to say both ways of saying it mean the same… for this one, they sometimes don’t.

1 Like

I agree with @Daisoujou that comparing different meanings of English words that were chosen as one of multiple translations of Japanese words isn’t going to lead to very precise conclusions – it may only hint at why the dictionary editors chose one English word over the other.

The reason I mentioned this distinction in the first place is that I read an article about it a while ago, which I failed to find and link in my previous post. I found it now though, so take a look if you like:

The various uses of 「中」| Tae Kim’s Blog

Basically, what I was trying to say is that it doesn’t seem to be rendaku to me. It’s more like a separate word that happens to be written with the same kanji. Jisho was probably just a bit misleading with its examples.

By the way, I did some research on this example sentence, and found it in Tatoeba (which is indeed the source for Jisho sentences, or so they claim). As you can see, it doesn’t have furigana, so we can only wonder if Jisho is correct in assuming that it even exemplifies the use of this specific word as opposed to ちゅう.

I couldn’t find any authoritative readings for that sentence or its parts (although Google Translate and OJAD suggest ちゅう, for whatever it’s worth), but there is this word: 一日中(いちにちじゅう), which seems to be constructed the same way, reads じゅう, and means solely “all day long” – not “within a day” or anything like that. So make of it what you will.

1 Like

This. じゅう is not the rendaku’d version of ちゅう. Those are two independent readings of 中, and which one you use does not follow rendakuing rules.

The fact ぢゅう is pronounced the same as じゅう is a mere coincidence. In fact, when you rendaku ち or つ for whatever reason, you do not change them toし or す. Save for very few exceptions that’s considered a spelling mistake in Japanese.

For example:
みぢか
ちかぢか
あとぢえ
きづく
こころづよい
よこづな

2 Likes