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Chinese Grammar: 刚 & 刚才

Our Lupishu is a little confused right now. When he first caught sight of these two words & 刚才, he thought since they looked alike and shared the same meaning of “just now,” that maybe one was just a shorter version of the other. However, that’s not the case at all!

and 刚才 are two words that are used in different situations. It happens; there are a few traps in Mandarin Chinese that you need to learn to navigate and avoid. So if &刚才 are also ganging up on you, now it’s time to learn when to use which!

Both & 刚才 mean “just, just a moment ago” and refer to actions that occurred a short while ago. In most cases, however, these two characters aren’t interchangeable.

There are a few big differences between the two that will help you distinguish when to use which.

Difference #1: and 刚才 are two different types of words

Both may be placed before the verb in the sentence, but one's an adverb, and the other's a time word, so as you can imagine, you don't use and 刚才 in the same way in a sentence.

is an adverb

means just, just a moment ago. So when something happened just a moment ago, you can use to describe that. is an adverb and is therefore always placed right before the verb it refers to. As an adverb, can also be used before an adjective. 刚才 cannot.


Subject + + Verb/Adjective


I just learned about it.

We’ve just finished eating.

中国 多久
He hasn't been in China for long.

It got dark just now.

The size is just right.

刚才 is a time word

If you want to talk about an action that happened just now, just a moment ago, use 刚才. 刚才 is a time word, and as such, which is placed either before or after the subject.


Subject + 刚才+ Verb / 刚才+ Subject + Verb


刚才 巧克力
She didn't eat chocolate just now.

刚才 洗手间
She went to the bathroom just now.

刚才 哪儿
Where did you go just now?

刚才 can modify a noun

刚才 can also be used directly to change a noun into something that happened just now. Simply add after 刚才 and place them in front of a noun, like so:

刚才 + + Noun


刚才 事情 生气
What just happened really made people angry.

刚才 话说 没错
What you said just now is right.

Be careful, you can’t do the same with .

Difference #2: 刚才 and refer to different moments in time

刚才 and may both refer to "just a moment ago", but how short or how long ago can that moment ago be? Well, 刚才 and don't see things the same way.

刚才: just a moment ago, really

刚才 is a fixed, absolute time word that represents a moment ago. On a timeline, you’d place it right before “now”, in the past. It emphasizes the fact the action took place really recently. The time 刚才 expresses is really short: depending on the situation, it’s a few seconds, a few minutes or a little more, but usually no more than 30 minutes.


Weren’t you using it just a moment ago (just now)?

刚才那个 声音 什么
What’s the noise we just heard?

To know: Being itself a time word, 刚才 doesn’t go well with other mentions of time, and you can’t use it to refer to events of a specific duration.

: a relative moment ago

highlights the fact the action took place just now, too, but in contrast to 刚才, it is a lot more flexible. The length of the short time frame refers to is relative and depends on the speaker’s feeling. **As long as it feels recent to you, you can use to talk about something that happened a few minutes, a few hours, a few weeks, or even months ago. ** Also, you can use to talk about nearly any point in time, as long as there’s context: you can use to talk about something that just happened, has just happened or will just have happened. As you see, it’s a lot more flexible than 刚才.


中国 多久
He hasn't been in China long. (= it hasn’t been long, but surely it’s more than a few minutes)

公司 一般 愿意 招聘毕业 学生
Companies usually don’t want to hire students that have just graduated.

and a specific time

can also be accompanied by a specific time, to show the time since the action happened and now. Its structure is then: Subject + + Verb + Object + Duration.


I just bought my phone two days ago.

5 分钟
He came here just 5 minutes ago.

Comparing & 刚才 in the present and very recent past

When you’re talking about something that happened just a moment ago, very recently, it seems like you could use either or 刚才. Which one should you choose? This is the trickiest part of & 刚才 as each word has a slight difference in nuance.

Talk about situations still in effect with

When you’re talking about something that just happened, is relevant to the present situation, and still is in effect, is the word you’ll want to use. If the action that just happened still has an impact on what you’re talking about right now, then you should use .

usually doesn’t require a in their sentence, especially when you’re talking about a verb with a clear result.

Talk about recent changes in a situation with 刚才

In contrast, if there’s a gap between the action that just happened and the present situation or something changed since then you are more likely to use 刚才. 刚才 is perfect for situations where there was a discontinuity between that moment and the present.

刚才 现在 已经
He just came back a moment ago, but he’s already left.

刚才 开会
I was just at a meeting. (and it’s now finished).

To know: Since 刚才 refers to actions in the recent past that happened and finished - that is to say, completed actions - sentences with 刚才 often include .

So there you have it, the main differences between and 刚才. A bit much to take at the same time? Don’t worry; it’ll become clear in time. All you need is some practice, keeping these differences in mind. So, shall we go build sentences in Chinese and show and 刚才 who is head of the gang?

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