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Comparing "genben" and "daodi"

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The main differences between 根本 (gēnběn) and 到底 (dàodǐ) is that 根本 is used to emphasize negation and 到底 is used in a question to ask the result of something. 根本 can be used to emphasize a negative statement, 到底 cannot be used this way. 根本 is often used to emphasize sentences with 不 or 没(有). Using 根本 this way is a response to something stated beforehand. Using 到底 this way would be incorrect.

Use of 根本

根本 is used to emphasize negation.

Examples

  • 根本 不 知道 如何 有效 地 管理。I just don't know how to manage effectively.
  • 你 为什么 说 昨天 在 街上 看到 我 了?我 根本 没有 出去!Why did say you saw me on the street yesterday? I didn't even go out!
  • 他 只 是 一 个 小 孩子,根本 没 见 过 这么 吓人 的 事情。He's just a small kid. He hasn't ever seen such scary stuff.

Use of 到底

到底 is usually used with question words, 根本 is not。到底 implies some kind of inquiry, and actually it can be thought of as "on earth," as in "what on earth are you doing?" It always includes some kind of question word, such as 谁, 什么, 哪里, and so on, or it can even be used with yes-no questions.

Examples

  • 今天 新 同事 又 迟到 了,他 到底 想 不 想 在 这里 做 了?The new co-worker came late again today. Does he want to work here or not?
  • 你 的 包 这么 重!你 到底 带了 多少 东西?Your bag is so heavy! How much stuff are you even carrying?
  • 会议 已经 开 了 两个小时 了,我们 到底 什么时候 结束?The meeting has already been going on for two hours. When on earth are we going to finish?

Examples of right and wrong sentences

  • 到底 不知道 为什么 我 女朋友 很 生气。 "到底" is normally used for questions.
  • 根本 不知道 为什么 我 女朋友 很 生气。"根本" emphasizes the negation.
  • 到底 没有 听 我 的 话。"到底" is normally used for questions.
  • 根本 没有 听 我 的 话。"根本" emphasizes the negation.
  • 老板 还 没有 透露 我们 根本 能 发 多少 奖金."根本" should be used with negations
  • 老板 还 没有 透露 我们 到底 能 发 多少 奖金."到底" is used to emphasize the speaker's impatience.
  • 那么,你们 根本 为什么 不 喝酒 呢?"根本" should be used to emphasize the negation, not the question.
  • 那么,你们 到底 为什么 不 喝酒 呢?"到底" emphasizes the question.

Sources and further reading

Books