Chinese Grammar: Lesson: Suddenly with 忽然 or 突然
Today, Lupishu isn't very happy because the weather suddenly turned bad and he can’t go picnicking with Nincha anymore. I bet you guys also sometimes come across things that have unexpectedly changed. Don’t be upset when that happens, go with the flow, and let’s learn how to express this situation in Chinese together!
In Chinese, there are two words you can use to talk about sudden, unexpected situations that happen in a very short lapse of time: 忽然 (hūrán) and 突然 (tūrán).
Both of these words mean “suddenly”. 忽然 is usually translated as “sudden, all of a sudden“ and 突然 as “sudden, abrupt, unexpected”. So how do you know when to use which? What’s the difference between the two? 突然 和 忽然 有 什么 区别？
The first thing to know is that in some situations, both words can be used interchangeably. Let’s start by looking at in which situation you can either use 忽然 or 突然.
When 忽然 and 突然 are the same
When using 忽然 or 突然 in front of a verb or an adjective, both words can be used as adverbs. They are placed before the main verb or adjective to express the suddenness of a situation, i.e., that something happened in a very short interval.
突然 / 忽然 in front of verbs and adjectives
突然 / 忽然 + Verb/Adjective]
天突然 / 忽然黑 了。
The sky got dark suddenly.
突然 / 忽然下雨 了。
It started raining suddenly.
他突然 / 忽然走 了。
He suddenly left.
忽然 and 突然 to begin a sentence
You can also both use 忽然 and 突然 emphatically, at the beginning of a sentence. Simply put a comma after 忽然 or 突然.
突然 / 忽然，他 走 了。
Suddenly, he left.
3 cases where 忽然 and 突然 aren’t interchangeable
On some occasions, however, 突然 and 忽然 aren’t interchangeable; otherwise, why would I be teaching you about these two words, young dragon? In fact, there are three circumstances in which you can use 突然 but not 忽然.
1. 突然 (的)+nouns
When placed next to a noun, 突然 can modify it as an adjective, whereas 忽然 cannot. You can add a 的 to link 突然 to the noun, but it’s not always needed.
有 一 个突然的 消息 要 告诉 你们。
There's a very sudden piece of information I want to tell you.
A sudden accident.
When following adverbs like 很/太/十分/非常, or when placed before adverbs like 极了/ 得很, 突然 acts as a verb stating something about the subject. It can, therefore, be the only verb in the sentence, as in the examples:
这 场 雪 下 的太 突然了。
This snowfall was very sudden.
他 的 求婚非常 突然。
His wedding proposal was completely unexpected.
他 的 离开很 突然。
His departure is very unexpected.
他 的 出现十分 突然。
He appeared very suddenly.
With 极了/ 得很
天气 变化突然 极了。
The weather changed extremely suddenly.
事情 的 发生突然 得很。
The matter occurred very suddenly.
他 的 出现突然 极了。
He appeared extremely suddenly.
3. Verb + 得 + 突然
Since 突然 is also an adjective (see 1.), it can be used as a complement with 得, the structure marker to indicate a sudden effect.
事情 发生得很 突然。
This matter occurred very suddenly.
他 的 病 来得有点儿突然。
He became sick rather suddenly.
Summary: 忽然 or 突然
In short, the main difference between 忽然 and 突然 is that 突然 is a lot more versatile in how it can be used in a sentence than 忽然. While 忽然, as an adverb, is always placed in front of the verb, 突然 can act as:
- an adverb when next to a verb;
- an adjective when next to a noun or a structure marker like 得;
- a verb when preceded by an adverb like 很 / 太 / 十分 / 非常.
What do you think? Just needs a little practice to memorize the differences between 忽然 and 突然 in Mandarin Chinese, right? Shall we?