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Sequencing with "xian" and "zai"

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The word 再 (zài) actually has a lot of uses, beyond just "again." 先⋯⋯,再⋯⋯ (xiān..., zài...) is a pattern used for sequencing events, much like "First..., then..." in English. This pattern can also include 然后 (ránhòu) meaning "and after that."

Basic Usage

In the pattern below, 再 has a meaning of "then" or "and then."

Structure

先 ⋯⋯ ,再 ⋯⋯

Examples

  • 洗 手 吃。Xiān xǐ shǒu zài chī.Wash your hands first, and then eat.
  • 我 喜欢 洗澡 , 睡觉。Wǒ xǐhuan xiān xǐzǎo, zài shuìjiào.I prefer to take a bath before I go to bed.
  • 请 你 买 票 进。Qǐng nǐ xiān mǎi piào zài jìn.Please buy a ticket before you enter.
  • 你 要 做 作业 , 看 电视。Nǐ yào xiān zuò zuòyè, zài kàn diànshì.First you need to do your homework, and then you can watch TV.
  • 我 想 找 工作 , 搬家 。Wǒ xiǎng xiān zhǎo gōngzuò, zài bānjiā.I want to find a job first, and then move to a new place.

Colloquial Usage with 再说

You may have learned that 再说 can mean "in addition." Well, this usage of 再 is a more literal combination of 再说, fitting into the 先⋯⋯再⋯⋯ pattern.

So in this usage, 再说 doesn't really mean "in addition." Rather, it most literally means "and then we'll talk." In other words, "let's just do this now," and then after we see the result, we can talk some more about next steps. There's kind of a "let's see how this goes first" feeling to the expression.

Structure

Note that in the pattern below, the sentence normally ends with 再说.

先 + [Verb Phrase] + 再说

Examples

  • 吃饭 再说Xiān chīfàn zàishuō.Let's eat first, then we'll talk.
  • 休息 一下 再说Xiān xiūxi yīxià zàishuō.Let's rest a little first, then talk.
  • 看 完再说xiān kàn wán zàishuō.Finish reading first, and then we can talk.
  • 问 一下 老板 再说xiān wèn yīxià lǎobǎn zàishuō.I'm going to ask the boss first.
  • 你们 讨论 一下 再说Nǐmen xiān tǎolùn yīxià zàishuō.You guys discuss a little first, then we'll talk.

"and then..." with 接着

When describing a series of actions, steps, or consecutive events, your Chinese will sound more natural if you can diversify your conjunctions. 然后 (ránhòu) is most commonly used, a conjunction which means "and then." Alternatively, you can use 接着 (jīezhe), as a conjunction that means "next," or "afterwards."

A longer example to help you understand how they can all work together:

  • 今 早 我 起床 以后 准备 早饭 , 叫 孩子们 起床 ,接着 我们 一起 吃早饭 ,然后 我 送 他们 去 学校 。Jīn zǎo wǒ qǐchuáng yǐhòu xiān zhǔnbèi zǎofàn, zài jiào háizi men qǐchuáng, jiēzhe wǒmen yīqǐ chī zǎofàn, ránhòu wǒ sòng tāmen qù xuéxiào.After I got up this morning, I first prepared breakfast, and then I woke up the kids. Afterwards, we ate breakfast together. After that, I took them to school.

Sources and further reading

Books