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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.

Emphasis with 才

Expressing lateness with "cai"

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.


Subj. + Time + 才 + Verb


  • 我 等 了 两 个 小时 买到 票。 I had waited two hours before I bought the ticket.
  • 老板 十一 点 到 办公室。The boss didn't come to the office until 11 o'clock.
  • 这么 多 工作, 最少 要 花 两 个 月 能 做完。.

Expressing small quantity with "cai"

“才”表示 only,放在时量短语或动量短语的动词前,强调数量少或者动量弱。


才 (+Verb) + Measure Word + Noun


  • 他 才 十 岁,不能 让 他 喝酒!.
  • 我妈 四十 多 岁,可是 她 常常 说 “我已经老了”。.
  • 我们 有 这么 多 人,你 点 了 三 个 菜。 We have so many people and you only ordered three dishes.
  • 我 买 了 这么 多 衣服, 花 了 五百 块 。 .
  • 他们 已经 生孩子了,但是 他们 结婚 半年! .

Emphasis with 就

就 is used to express earliness

就 indicates that something has occurred earlier than expected


Subj. + Time + 就 + Verb + Obj.+了


  • 他 下午 四点 吃 晚饭 了。He ate dinner at four in the afternoon.
  • 她 十九 岁 结婚 了。She got married when she was 19.
  • 我 八点 出门 了,路 上 堵车,我 迟到 了 十 分钟。I left at eight, but there was a traffic jam. I was ten minutes late.
  • 你们 这么 早 下班 了?Why are you guys leaving work so early?
  • 你 妹妹 十五岁 上大学 了?Your younger sister went to college when she was only fifteen?

就 is used to express small quantity

“就”表示 only,放在加时量短语或动量短语的动词前,强调数量少或者动量弱。


Subj. + 就 + (+Verb) + Measure Word + Noun


  • 我们 有 这么 多 人,你 点 了 三 个 菜?.
  • 你们 每天 睡 四 个 小时? Do you only sleep four hours every day?
  • 那时候 中国人 都 生 四 五 个 孩子,他们 家 生 一 个?She got married when she was 19.
  • 你 这么 大 一个 男人, 吃 这么 一 小 碗饭?!.
  • 每 个 人 都 写 了 五页 纸,你 写 了 一 页 纸!.

See also

Sources and further reading