Expressing "only after" with "cai"

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These patterns using 才 are loosely related, and revolve around a meaning of "only when," "only after," "only then," or "not until." They suggest a condition without stating the condition as explicitly as in the pattern 只有……才…….

才 as "Only When" or "Only After"


⋯⋯ ,才 ⋯⋯


In these examples, you'll notice that the first half of the sentence involves some kind of "difficulty," usually involving spending a lot of time, money, or effort. The second half tells what was finally achieved after spending all that time, money, or effort. The English translation which tends to work most reliably for these sentences is "only after," but multiple translations are possible.

  • 我 花 了 八 千 块 买 到 了 旅游 的 东西。Wǒ huā le bā qiān kuài cái mǎi dào le lǚyóu de dōngxi.Only after spending 8000 RMB was I able to buy all the things for the trip.
  • 小明 花 了 很 多 心思 设计 出 了 这 张 海报。Xiǎo Míng huā le hěn duō xīnsi cái shèjì chū le zhè zhāng hǎibào.Only after putting a lot of thought into it was Xiao Ming able to design this poster.
  • 他 用 了 很 多 年 原谅 了 他的 妈妈。 Tā yòng le hěn duō nián cái yuánliàng le tā de māma.Only after many years was he able to forgive his mom.
  • 那 本 书 我 看 了 两 遍 看 懂。Nà běn shū wǒ kàn le liǎng biàn cái kàn dǒng.I had to read that book twice to understand it.
  • 我 去 了 三 次 北京 见 到 了 那个 客户。Wǒ qù le sān cì Běijīng cái jiàn dào le nàge kèhù.Only after making three trips to Beijing was I finally able to meet that client.
  • 他 找 了 好几 个 月 找到 合适 的 房子 。Tā zhǎo le hǎojǐ gè yuè cái zhǎodào héshì de fángzi.Only after searching for quite a few months was he able to find a suitable apartment.

Note that for each of these examples, events have already occurred. The fuller 只有……才…… pattern is more appropriate for the future or for hypothetical situations.

才 as "Not Until"

This use of is quite similar to the 才 used to express lateness. The two sort of blend together.



⋯⋯ ,才 ⋯⋯


Note that rather than following a set pattern, the English translation sentences below make use of a number of different translations. "Not until," "didn't... until," "only then," and "only after" may all be appropriate, depending on the context of the original Chinese.

  • 她 做 完 了 功课 睡觉。Tā zuò wán le gōngkè cái shuìjiào.Not until she finished her homework did she go to sleep.
  • 他 锁 上 了 门 想起来 没有 带 钥匙。Tā suǒ shàng le mén cái xiǎng qǐlái méiyǒu dài yàoshi.He didn't realize he had forgotten to bring his key until after he had locked the door.
  • 我 把 牛奶 喝 完 了, 发现 牛奶 过期 了。Wǒ bǎ niúnǎi hē wán le, cái fāxiàn niúnǎi guòqī le.I finished off the milk, and only then did I discover that it was expired.
  • 等 妈妈 打 来 了 电话,宝宝 不 哭 了。Děng māma dǎ lái le diànhuà, bǎobao cái bù kū le.Only after her mom called did the baby stop crying.

Sources and further reading