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Comparing "benlai" and "yuanlai"

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If something was originally a certain way, or "should be" a certain way, the Chinese words used are often 本来 (běnlái) and 原来 (yuánlái). 本来 (běnlái) is usually an adverb while 原来 (yuánlái) could be either and adjective or an adverb. However, they are used in different ways and different circumstances, so this article will help you distinguish when and where to use them.

Situations only using 本来

本来 as an adverb often requires 就 for emphasis

本来 is used when something is common sense. There are certain expectations for the speaker and listener. Since there is no real English equivalent, it is best translated as "it goes without saying." It can also be translated to "supposed to," following it with a certain expectation.

Structure

Subj. + 本来 + 就 + 很 / 不 + Adj.

Subj. + 本来 + 就 + 会 / 要 / 得 / 应该 + Verb

Examples

  • 生活本来 就 很 不 容易。Life isn't supposed to be very easy.
  • 搬家 本来就 很 麻烦。Moving is supposed to be very troublesome.
  • 照顾 孩子本来 就 是 父母 的 责任。Taking care of children is supposed to be the responsibility of parents.
  • 老师本来就 应该 好好 备课。Teachers are supposed to prepare their lessons well.
  • 美国 人 本来就 会 说 流利 的 英文。Americans are supposed to speak fluent English.

Using 本来是 expresses a change of plans

If something happened unexpectedly later, 本来 is preferred rather than 原来 considering there is a change of the original situation. 本来 means "originally." Since the action has already happened, the pattern 是⋯⋯的 is suggested here. 是 is optional.

Structure

Subj. + 本来 + 是 +(不)要 / 会 / 应该 + Verb + 的,但是 / 可是⋯⋯

Examples

  • 本来 是 要 去 参加 你的 生日 派对 的,可是 周末 突然 要 加班。I was originally going to go to your birthday party, but I had to work some extra time this weekend.
  • 本来是 应该 考 得 更 好 的,可是 那天 他 生病 了。He would have done better on the test, but he was sick that day.
  • 我们本来 不 打算 去 的,后来 因为 他们 打 了 好 几次 电话 就 去 了。We didn't plan to go, but we went in the end because they called us several times.
  • 这些 工作本来 可以 明天 做 的,不过 如果 你 想 今天 做 完 也 可以。This work doesn't need to be done by today. But if you want to finish it sooner, you can.
  • 本来是 要 跟 他 结婚 的,可是 后来 发现 了 我们 真的 不 合适。I was originally going to marry him, but then I found that we are just not meant for each other.

Using 本来就 to stress the tone

If you've got an opinion to express after stating how it "should be" or "should not be," then 本来就 will help you sound more convincing. The end of the sentence usually has an imperative or rhetorical question that leads to an opinion or suggestion, emphasizing the tone.

Structure

Subj. + 本来 + 就 + ⋯⋯

Examples

  • 本来 就 够 瘦 了 ,还要 减肥 吗?You are already thin enough and you still want to lose weight?
  • 他 讲 得本来就 不 对,为什么 还 要 我 听 他 的?What he said was wrong all along, so why do you still want me to listen to what he says?
  • 本来就 不 是 个 好 人,你 怎么 还要 帮他?He was never a good person. Why do you still want to help him?
  • 本来就 不 喜欢你,你 别 再 追 她 了。She never liked you in the first place, so stop going after her.
  • 他说话的方式本来就 很 容易 让人 不 舒服,你 别 介意。The way he tends to speak can easily make people uncomfortable, so don't take it personally.

Situations only using 原来

Using 原来 expresses “It turned out”

原来 is more used to emphasize what you accidentally find out or realize in a situation. 原来 means that the unexpected happened. It's similar to "as it turns out⋯⋯" For this usage, "原来" is normally located at the beginning of the sentence.

The most two useful patterns are as follows:

Structure

原来 + 是 + [Fact / Truth / Reason / Purpose]

怪不得 + [Observation / Situation],原来 + 原来 + 是(因为 / 为了 / 想⋯⋯)

Examples

  • 原来 是 你 啊!我 刚才 真 没 看 出来。It is you! I didn't recognize you until just now.
  • 原来 是 这 样 啊,那 是 我 做错 了。Oh, that's it. I was doing it wrong all along.
  • 怪不得 你 中文 说 得 这么 好,原来你 在 中国 住 了 三十 多 年。No wonder your Chinese is so good. You lived in China for more than 30 years.
  • 原来 他们 住 在 一起,怪不得 他们 常常 一起 上 下班。They are living with each other. No wonder they often come to work and leave work together.
  • 怪不得 总是 对 他 那么 好,原来 你 一直 都 喜欢 他.No wonder you treat him so well. You've had feelings for him the whole time.

Use 原来 as an Adjective to Mean "Previous" or "Former"

Structure

原来的 + Noun

Examples

  • 这是 我 原来 的 家。This is my old house.
  • 原来 的 公司 关门 了。His former company closed down.
  • 你们 原来 的 看法 不 是 这 样 的。This is not how you previously thought about it.
  • 我 现在 的 男朋友 比 原来 的 男朋友 帅 多了。My current boyfriend is a lot cuter than my ex.
  • 原来 的 头发 那么 黑,现在 白 了 很 多。Your hair was so black before, but now it's become a lot whiter.

Sources and further reading

Books