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Using "cai" for small numbers

The character 才 (cái) can be used to emphasize that a number is small, or less than expected.

Used as a Verb

Structure

In this case, 才 means "is only" or "only have."

才 + Number + [Measure Word] + Noun

In English, we often express this by using "only" or "just" to emphasize that the number is small.

Examples

  • 二十 岁 ?cái èrshí suì?You're only twenty?
  • 这 个 班 两 个 学生 。 Zhège bān cái liǎng gè xuéshēng.This class only has two students.
  • 你 的 工资 两 千 ?Nǐ de gōngzī cái liǎng qiān?Your salary is only two thousand RMB?
  • 这 顿 饭 二十 块 ,太 便宜 了 !Zhè dùn fàn cái èrshí kuài. Tài piányi le!This meal only cost twenty kuai. It's too cheap!
  • 一百 斤 ,还 要 减肥 ?One "jin" = 500gcái yī bǎi jīn, hái yào jiǎnféi?You're only 100 jin and you still want to lose some weight?

Used with a Verb

Structure

才 + Verb + Number + Measure Word + Noun

In this pattern, adding a 了 after the verb is optional.

Examples

  • 来 了 两 个 月 。cái lái le liǎng gè yuè.She's been here for only two months.
  • 这 家 店 关门 了 ?可是 它 开业 一 个 星期 。Zhè jiā diàn guānmén le? Kěshì tā cái kāiyè yī gè xīngqī.This shop is out of business? But it's only been one week since it opened.
  • 已经 两天 了 ,你 看完 一 页 ?Yǐjīng liǎngtiān le, nǐ cái kàn wán yī yè?It's been two days and you only finished reading one page?
  • 我们 玩 了 一会儿 ,再 玩 一会儿 吧 ?Wǒmen cái wán le yīhuìr, zài wán yīhuìr ba?We've only played for a short while. Can we play a little bit longer?
  • 他们 结婚 了 ?他们 认识 三 个 月 !Tāmen jiéhūn le? Tāmen cái rènshi sān gè yuè!They got married? They've only knew each other for three months!

See also

Sources and Further Readings

Books