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Expressing "originally" with "benlai"

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There are a number of ways to express "originally" in Chinese, and 本来 (běnlái) is one of the ones first learned, partly because its two characters are so simple.

Using 本来是 (běnlái shì) 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 的,不过 后来 不 太 舒服 ,就 没 去 。I was originally going, but I didn't go because I didn't feel very well.
  • 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 想 去 找 他 帮忙 的,可是 他 那么 忙 ,就 没 去 。We were going to ask him for help, but we didn't because he was so busy.
  • 这些 工作 本来 是 要 今天 做完 的 ,不过 明天 做 也 可以 。This work needs to be done by today. But it's OK to leave it to tomorrow.
  • 本来 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 (běnlái jiù) Used for Emphasis of a Viewpoint

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 so thin 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 says has always been wrong, so why do you still want me to listen to him?
  • 本来 就 很 有钱,当然 买得起 了。She is rich. Of course she can afford it.
  • 本来 就 不 喜欢 你,你 别 再 追 她 了。She never liked you in the first place, so stop pursuing her.
  • 本来 就 很 喜欢 开玩笑,你 别 介意 。He has always liked joking around, so don't take it personally.

本来 (běnlái) with 就 (jiù) to Express "Duh!"

本来 (běnlái) is used when the speaker believes something is common sense. There are certain expectations for the speaker and listener. "Duh" is probably an overly saracastic and informal English equivalent, so another translation could be "it goes without saying." It could 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

  • 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。Literally, "Americans are supposed to speak fluent English."Well, of course Americans speak fluent English.
  • 搬家 本来 就 很 麻烦。Literally, "Moving is supposed to be troublesome."Moving is always a pain.
  • 生活 本来 就 很 不 容易。Literally, "Life was never supposed to be easy."No one ever said life was easy.

See also