Expressing "small quantity" with "jiu"
就 (jiù) is often translated simply as "just" or "only," but there are some nuances to how it is used.
Used as "Only"
就 can also be used to express one person or thing, similar to how we say in English "just one person" or "just one left." It is often paired with 一个 or similar in order to emphasize the small quantity.
Used Before the Subject
就 + Subj. + Predicate
The predicate part of the pattern can be a verb or an adjective.
- 这 件 事 就 我 知道 。I'm the only person that knows about this.
- 我们 都 忘 了 ，就 他 还 记得 。We all forgot. Only he still remembers it.
- 大家 都 下班 了 ，就 老板 还 没 走 。Everyone finished work and left. Only the boss hasn't left.
- 其他 的 菜 都 很 好吃，就 这 两 个 菜 有点 咸 。The other dishes are great. Just these two dishes are a little salty.
- 你 觉得 别人 都 是 傻子 吗？就 你 聪明 ？Do you think everyone else is an idiot? That only you are smart?
In this case, the 就 comes before the verb, and what's being emphasized as "small quantity" comes after the verb, either as an object or some other kind of small quantity.
Used Before the Predicate
Subj. + 就 + [Verb Phrase]
In this structure, the verb phrase is going to include some kind of measure word.
- 我 就 去 过 一 次 。I've only been there once.
- 我 早饭 就 吃 了 一 片 面包。I only had a piece of bread for breakfast.
- 你 就 点 了 两 个 菜 ？You ordered only two dishes?
- 他 的 事 ，我们 就 知道 一点点 。We only know a little about his business.
- 她 在 我们 公司 就 工作 了 两个 月。She has worked at our company for only two months.
Used as "Only Have"
In this case, 就 means "only have," similar in meaning to 只有. (In these cases, however, 就有 would not be correct. Just use 就.)
Subj. + 就 + Number + [Measure Word] + Noun
- 这里 就 一 个 厕所 ？Does this place only have one bathroom?
- 你们 家 就 一 个 孩子 吗 ？Does your family only have one child?
- 我 就 一 个 哥哥 。I only have one brother.
- 他 在 上海 就 一 个 朋友 。He only has one friend in Shanghai.
- 我们 公司 就 三 个 员工 。There are only three employees in our company.
- Comparing "cai" and "jiu"
- Events in quick succession with "yi... jiu"
- Expressing earliness with "jiu"
- Expressing indifference with "jiu"
- Limiting scope with "jiu"
- "If…, then…" with "ruguo…, jiu…"
Sources and further reading
- 现代汉语虚词例释 (pp. 315) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 1, Part 2 (3rd ed) (pp. 175-6) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 4 (新实用汉语课本4) (pp. 120) →buy
- A Practical Chinese Grammar For Foreigners (外国人实用汉语语法) (pp. 570) →buy