Expressing "almost" using "chadian"
To say that something bad almost happened (but didn't), you can add the word 差点 (chàdiǎn) before the verb. You will also hear 差点儿 (chàdiǎnr) in northern China. There is no difference in meaning between 差点 and 差点儿.
It might help to understand the literal meaning of the structure. The word 差 (chà) has a lot of meanings. In this case, it means "to lack," or "to be short." So in Chinese, the way to say "almost" is to say, "lacking that little bit." If that "little bit" hadn't been lacking, it would have happened. But it was lacking, so it didn't happen。Technically, it almost happened. Just remember: The fact is always opposite with the verb phrase after "差点(儿)," whether the verb phrase contains "没" or not.
Pattern without 了
Note that the "Verb Phrase" part of the structure is usually something bad or something you don't wish for, and that it didn't happen.
Subj. + 差点(儿) + [Verb Phrase]
- 我 今天 差点儿 迟到 。 I wasn't lateI was almost late.
- 他们 差点 打 起来 。They didn't start a fight.They almost started a fight.
- 我 差点 笑 出来。I didn't laugh.I almost laughed.
- 车 差点 撞到 我 。The car didn't hit me.The car almost hit me.
- 手机 差点 掉进 水 里 。 The cell phone didn't fall into the waterThe cell phone nearly fell into the water.
Pattern with 了
You can put 就 after 差点(儿) when 了 is used 了. In this case, 就 can be omitted. 了 comes right before the object if an object is included in the verb phrase.
Subj. + 差点(儿) + (就) + [Verb Phrase] / Adj. + 了
- 我 差点 忘 了 今天 要 开会 。 I didn't forget.I almost forgot we need to have a meeting today.
- 我们 差点儿 错过 了 最后 一 班 地铁。 We didn't miss it.We almost missed the last metro.
- 菜 差点 就 糊 了。 It wasn't burned. almost .
- 我们 队 差点儿 就 输 了。 the team didn't loseOur team almost lost.
- 这个 东西 差点 就 丢 了 。 I did't lost it.I almost lost the thing.
Using 差点 with 没
This can get confusing, even though it's really the same pattern (and same logic) with a little added complexity. This pattern goes beyond the difficulty level of the needs of the B1 learner, so to learn more about this usage, see expressing "almost" using "chadian mei".