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Chinese Grammar: Comparing 就 and 才 when expressing time

Yocha is always getting after Nincha for sleeping in late, disappearing all the time, and doing silly things. A little word Yocha ends up using a lot with Nincha? cái. Lupishu, on the other hand, is impressed with Baimei and Yocha’s ability to get up and do things early. He likes that they are usually dependable and even prone to doing things earlier than expected, unlike Nincha. jiù is, therefore, a word he uses a lot to talk about Baimei and Yocha. What are jiù and cái you ask? Two little adverbs that are often used in Chinese. They have many different meanings, but one of their most common uses has to do with time. The two adverbs are used to express that events have occurred earlier, faster or later, slower than the speaker expected. This is the use we’re going to see here.

and its opposite

Both and can be used after a word or phrase expressing time. is placed before a verb to show the speaker thinks the action took place earlier, sooner, faster, or lasted for a briefer time than expected. Also placed before a verb, is the complete opposite. suggest actions that were accomplished later, more slowly, or took longer than expected by the speaker. Let’s see how each one works.


When combined with time words, has two linked meanings. You can use it to express a feeling of earliness or feelings of briefness.

Earliness with

can be used to express feelings of earliness: it shows the speaker feels the action is happening sooner than expected. In such situations, can be translated into “as early as” or “as quickly as,” but it’s often not specifically indicated when translated.

To know: When is used in this way, the sentence usually ends with the particle to mark the completed action. is also usually preceded by a time word, such as a specific time or age.

For example, your friend usually has dinner at 5 pm, which you find really early to have dinner. You can use and say:

朋友 每天 晚饭
My friend eats dinner (as early as) at 5 pm every day.


Subject + Time + + Verb


During the summer, the sun rises as early as 5 a.m.

昨天 早上 起床
I got up at 5.30 a.m yesterday.

Actions that were faster or lasted for a shorter time than expected with

is the word you use when you want to express the feeling that you think that the action that took place happened too briefly or the time since the action started or happened is too short. is often preceded by time periods in such sentences.

shows your surprise, the unexpectedness of the situation, or even regret. For example, your friends came to visit you but they only stayed for a few hours. You feel sad, and you want them to stay longer. You can use to express that in situations like these.


你们 怎么
You just arrived! Why are you leaving so soon?




昨晚 睡觉
I went to sleep very early last night.

你们 这么 回家
Why are you back already?


When talking about time, is the word you use to either express a feeling of lateness, or a feeling of an action taking longer than expected.

Expressing lateness

is useful to express that you think an action took place later than expected. It can usually be translated as “not until” or “as late as” in English. Here, is often used with a time number of some sort, such as a specific time or a specific age.

Yocha, for instance, would use to show Nincha he feels he got up really late. He’d say:

现在 已经 十二 , 怎么起床
It’s 12 p.m already; how are you only getting up now?


Subject + Time ++ Verb + Object


电影 开始 十分迟到
The movie started at 7. He arrived at 7:10 and was late.

结婚 时候四十
It wasn’t until he was forty that he got married.

To know: Sentences using in this way should not end with as they do not convey a sense of completion.

Expressing actions that took longer than expected with

is also a word you can use when you want to show that you think the action lasted longer or took place more slowly than expected. In such sentences, will often be placed after time periods.

For example, your friend is late, and you had to wait an hour for them. In this situation, you’ll want to use to show you found they took a good long while to show up. Here’s what you could say to them:

I waited for an hour for you before you (finally) arrived.


+ Verb


爸爸 怎么 这么 下班
Why did Dad get off work that late?

It wasn’t until I thought about it a long time that I understood.

Watch your tone: In sentences like this, tends to denote anxiety, impatience, anger, and so on.

On an end note, a little something to ponder: Feeling that an action is early or late, takes longer or less than expected is highly subjective, and there’s no uniform standard. You’ll have to learn and remember to keep an open mind when these two adverbs are concerned.

So there you have it! The difference between and when talking about time. Are you ready to practice?

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