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Comparing "cai" and "jiu"

Both 才 (cái) and 就 (jiù) are adverbs that have to do with expressing time, and they are both placed in front of the verb. However, they both have a different tone and feel, and they express different lengths of time.

才 expresses that the speaker thinks that the time that passed since the action takes place was a long time. Sometimes it expresses anxiety, impatience, anger etc.


才 + Verb


  • 我 等 了 两 个 小时 买 到 票。 I had waited two hours before I bought the ticket.
  • 他 迟到 了 半 个 小时 来。He came a half an hour late.
  • 他 吃了 三 碗 饭 吃饱。He had had three bowls of rice before he was full.

就 expresses that the speaker thinks that the time since the action happened is short, and it has a surprise, unexpectedness, or even sometimes regret.


就 + Verb


  • 你们 这么 早 下班 了?Why are you guys leaving work so early?
  • 我的妹妹 十五岁 上大学 了My younger sister went to college when she was only fifteen.
  • 他 五岁 和父母 去美国 了。He went to America with his parents when he was only five.

就 is used to express earliness

就 indicates that something has occurred earlier than expected


Subject + Time + 就 + Verb + Object


  • 他 下午 四点 吃 晚饭。He ate dinner at four in the afternoon.

Example dialog

  • A: 你 怎么 来?Why didn't you arrive until now?
  • B: 我 八点 出门 了,路 上 堵车 我 也 没 办法。I left at eight, but there was a traffic jam. I couldn't help it.

See also

Sources and further reading