Expressing earliness with "jiu"
Just as 才 (cái) can express lateness, 就 (jiù) can be used to indicate that something happened earlier or sooner than expected. It can also be used in the near future to indicate something will happen very soon.
Used as "Right Away" (in the Future)
When something happens "right away," you're talking about "very soon" in the future.
The pattern is as follows:
Subj. + Time + 就 + Verb
- 我 马上 就 来 。I'll be there in a second.
- 米饭 二十 分钟 就 好 。The rice will be ready in 20 minutes.
- 你们 现在 就 出门 吗 ？Are you leaving the house right now?
- 他们 一会儿 就 到 。They will be here in a few minutes.
- 老板 明天 就 回来 。The boss will be back tomorrow.
Note that it can sometimes be hard to translate the feeling of "soonness" into English, but in every one of these examples, the time given in the sentences feels "soon" to the speaker.
Used as "Early" (in the Past)
In English this use of 就 might be expressed with "as early as," but usually it's not specifically marked.
Subj. + Time Point + 就 + Verb + 了
- 我们 九点 上课 ，他 八点 就 来 了 。We have class at nine, but he came in at eight.
- 飞机 十点 起飞 ，他 六点 就 到 机场 了 。The plane left at ten, but he arrived at the airport at six.
- 我 昨晚 八 点 半 就 睡觉 了 。I went to bed at eight thirty last night.
- 她 十八 岁 就 大学 毕业 了 。She graduated from college when she was only 18 years old.
Not only can 就 emphasize "time point," but can also emphasize "time period," indicating "very fast."
Subj. + Time Period + 就 + Verb + 了
A few examples:
- 你 一 个 晚上 就 看 完 了 ？It only took you just one night to finish reading it?
- 他 十 分钟 就 做完 了 。It only took him ten minutes to finish doing it.
From the example sentences it is clear that 了 naturally occurs with a verb used after 就. This is because verbs following 就 generally have the feeling of being completed.
Colloquial Saying 早就
早就 means "long ago," and is usually used to express a kind of impatience or surprise on the part of the speaker. It comes before the verb.
- 我 早就 知道 了 ！I knew that long ago!
- 她 早就 结婚 了 。She got married a long time ago.
- 他们 早就 分手 了 。They broke up a long time ago.
- 我们 早就 毕业 了 。We graduated a long time ago!
- 我 早就 跟 你 说 过 ，他 不 是 好人 。I told you a long time ago that he's not a good guy.
- Comparing "cai" and "jiu"
- Events in quick succession with "yi... jiu"
- Expressing indifference with "jiu"
- "If…, then…" with "ruguo…, jiu…"
- Expressing lateness with "cai"
Sources and further reading
- Integrated Chinese: Level 1, Part 1 (pp. 181-2) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 3 (新实用汉语课本3) (pp. 102-3) →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