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The phrase 在瞬间 zài shùnjiān seems literally to mean 'in an instant'. But usage-wise, is it more like 'at some point'? Or am I off the mark?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I think the better way to analyse "在瞬间" is to break it down to "在"+"瞬间" or even "在"+"瞬“+"间".

"瞬“ originally means "[the eye] opens and closes, or, blinks". Because our eyes blink very quickly, this character extends to another meaning-"very short while, very short time period".

"间" means "the interval between two things[or time points]"

So "瞬间” literally means "the interval between the time points when the eyes opens and closes", OK, just means "very very short time period".

"在" is a preposition here and means "in", so "在瞬间“ means "in a very short while", "in an instant".You could also say,

我会在5分钟内回来。 I will be back in 5 minutes.
Here, "在5分钟内" has the same consruction as "在瞬间". You could say,
我会在瞬间回来 I will be back in an instant.
Ok, you would say it only when you have the magic power :D Just kidding.

Also, "瞬间” could be used as an adverb to mean "instantly, immediately"(=在瞬间 in this case).

我瞬间鼓起了勇气。 I got up my nerve immediately.

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+1 and accept. all of the answers were good, but i only learned later (while conversing with someone who, while not a native speaker like you, has 20 years of experience speaking chinese) and they suggested doing the same thing: "在"+"瞬“+"间". the logic being that "在"+"X“+"间" influences the way the meaning works. –  magnetar Jan 15 '12 at 21:08

I don't think 在瞬间 is used as often as 一瞬间, 瞬间,在那一瞬间,etc, which means at that very moment.

However, I can think of one situation where 在瞬间 can be perfectly used.

那座桥在瞬间崩塌了。

This sentence means the bridge collapsed in no time. So yes, 在瞬间 means in an instant in this case.

If you can provide more context, I'll be more than happy to follow up.

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that's a perfect answer without context, actually. thanks for the broad range of usage examples. –  magnetar Jan 12 '12 at 11:44

I have never heard it used to mean "at some point." As far as I know, it always means "instantly" and is used to describe something which happens in the space of a brief moment. One illustrative phrase is "瞬间即逝" (shùnjiānjíshì), "to disappear (in the blink of an eye)." Indeed, 瞬 itself is quite close to the meaning of the English phrase "the blink of an eye" and 瞬间 preserves that sense.

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