Expressing lateness with "cai"
One of the ways to express lateness in Chinese is with 才 (cái).
To express that something happened later than expected, you can use 才.
Subj. + Time + 才 + Verb
In English this might be expressed with "as late as" or "not until." This form is often used with a time number of some sort, like a specific time, age etc.
- 我 昨天 晚上 十一 点 才 到 家 。I didn't arrive at home until eleven o'clock last night.
- 他 二十 五 岁 才 上 大学 。He didn't go to college until he was 25.
- 她 四十 岁 才 结婚 。She didn't get married until she was forty.
- 我 女儿 昨天 十二 点 才 睡觉 ，作业 太 多 了 。My daughter didn't go to bed until 12 o'clock yesterday. Too much homework.
- 你 九点 上班 ，八 点 半 才 起床 ？You get up at 8:30 when you need to show up at work at nine?
- 飞机 刚刚 才 起飞 ，晚点 了 两 个 小时 。The flight just took off. It was delayed for two hours.
- 电影 七点 半 开始 ，可是 因为 堵车 ，我们 八点 才 到 。The movie began at 7:30, but we didn't arrive until eight because of traffic.
You can use 才 alone with the verb to indicate the lateness when the context is clear:
- 你 怎么 才 吃 晚饭 ？已经 十点 了 。How come you are eating dinner now? It's 10 pm.
- 你 怎么 才 来 ？我们 等 了 半 个 多 小时 。 How come you came here so late? We've waited for more than half an hour.
Note that verbs following 才 cannot take 了, as the action does not have the sense of being completed. So it is wrong to say:
- 我 昨天 晚上 十一 点 才 到 家 了 。
Sources and further reading
- Basic Patterns of Chinese Grammar (pp. 117-8) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 1, Part 1 (3rd ed) (pp. 139) →buy
- 40 Lessons for Basic Chinese Course (基础汉语40课上册） (pp. 239) →buy
- East Asia Student: 就 and 才 in Mandarin: as early as, not until