Comparing "cai" and "jiu"
Both 才 (cái) and 就 (jiù) are adverbs that have to do with expressing time, and they are both placed in front of the verb. However, they both have a different tone and feel, and they express different lengths of time.
才 expresses that the speaker thinks that the time that passed since the action takes place was a long time. Sometimes it expresses anxiety, impatience, anger etc.
才 + Verb
- 我 等 了 两 个 小时 才 买 到 票。 I had waited two hours before I bought the ticket.
- 他 迟到 了 半 个 小时 才 来。He came a half an hour late.
- 他 吃了 三 碗 饭才 吃饱。He had had three bowls of rice before he was full.
就 expresses that the speaker thinks that the time since the action happened is short, and it has a surprise, unexpectedness, or even sometimes regret.
就 + Verb
- 你们 这么 早 就 下班 了？Why are you guys leaving work so early?
- 我的妹妹 十五岁就 上大学 了My younger sister went to college when she was only fifteen.
- 他 五岁 就 和父母 去美国 了。He went to America with his parents when he was only five.
就 is used to express earliness
Subject + Time + 就 + Verb + Object
- 他 下午 四点 就 吃 晚饭。He ate dinner at four in the afternoon.
- A: 你 怎么 才 来？Why didn't you arrive until now?
- B: 我 八点 就 出门 了，路 上 堵车 我 也 没 办法。I left at eight, but there was a traffic jam. I couldn't help it.
- Expressing lateness with "cai"
- Expressing earliness with "jiu"
- "cai" used for small numbers
- "Just" with "jiu"
- Emphasis with "jiu"
- Expressing "as one likes" with "jiu"
- Expressing indifference with "jiu"
- Limiting scope with "jiu"