Expressing "ever since" with "zicong"
自从 means "ever since" in English, and is used to express the starting point of an action in the past. It can be followed by phrases using the markers 起 and 以后.
When you need to use 以来 in a more formal or written context, you can add 自, 从, or 自从 (or other similar words) before the time or event to make it into a "sandwich pattern."
Basic Usage of "zicong"
自从 is used to mark a starting point in time. The same meaning can be expressed with just 从, but 自从 is more formal.
自从 + [Starting Point] ， ……
- 自从 来 到 湖南，我 越来越 能 吃 辣 了。Ever since arriving in Hunan I've been more and more able to eat spicy food.
- 自从 金融 危机 爆发，就业 市场 越来越 不 景气 了 。Ever since the economic crisis hit the job market has gotten worse and worse.
- 自从 吵 完 架，两 个 人 再 也 没有 说 过 话。Since their fight the two of them haven't spoken at all.
In the above examples, 从 can be used interchangeably with 自从. The main difference is that 从 can also be used to state starting points in the future, a little like "from" in English. 自从 cannot be used in this way.
- 从 明天 开始，我 要 认真 看 书。从 can be used for future times.
- 自从 明天 开始，我 要 认真 看 书。自从 cannot.Starting from tomorrow, I'm going to study seriously.
Note that 从 can be used to denote starting points in place and time, whereas 自从 can only be used to express starting points in time.
- 从 我 家 到 机场 的 距离 是 一 百 公里 。从 can be used for physical distances.
- 自从 我 家 到 机场 的 距离 是 一 百 公里 。自从 cannot.From my home to the airport, the distance is 100 kilometers.
Alternatives to "zicong" and Adding "yilai"
从 / 自从 / 自 + Time / Event + (以)后 / 以来
These words all mean "from," with 从 the least formal, 自从 noticeably more formal, and 自 the most formal. At the end of the structure, 以后 is the least formal, followed by 后, with 以来 the most formal.
- 自从 他 跟 我 分手 后 ，他 就 没有 联系 过 我。Ever since he broke up with me he hasn't contacted me.
- 自从 用 手机 付款 后 ，我 很 少 带 现金 出门 。Ever since I've started using my phone to pay for stuff I rarely take cash when I go out.
- 从 他 爸爸 去世 以来 ，他 一直 没 回 过 家 。He hasn't returned home since his father passed away.
- 从 毕业 以来，她 一直 在 教 汉语 。She has been teaching Chinese since she graduated.
- 自 改革 开放 以来 ，中国 社会 发生 了 巨大 的 变化 。Tremendous changes have been taking place in China since the reform and opening up to the outside world.
- 自从 妹妹 出生 以来 ，妈妈 就 更 忙 了 。Ever since my little sister was born, mom has been busier than ever.
Sources and further reading