Expressing "ever since" with "zicong"
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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."
自 / 从 / 自从 + Time / Event + 以来
- 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 。Tremendous changes have been taking place in China since the reform and opening up to the outside world.
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, the job market has been growing less and less.
- 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 he broke up with me, he hasn't contacted me.
- 自从 吵 完 架，两 个 人 再 也 没有 说 过 话。Ever since he broke up with me, he hasn't contacted me.
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。Starting from tomorrow, I'm going to study seriously.
- 自从 明天 开始，我 要 认真 看 书。
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.
Sources and further reading