Expressing "originally" with "benlai"

Chinese-grammar-wiki-benlai.jpg

There are a number of ways to express "originally" in Chinese, and 本来 (běnlái) is one of the ones first learned, partly because its two characters are so simple.

Using 本来是 (běnlái shì) Expresses a Change of Plans

If something happened unexpectedly later, 本来 is preferred rather than 原来 considering there is a change of the original situation. 本来 means "originally." Since the action has already happened, the pattern 是... 的 is suggested here. 是 is optional.

Structure

Subj. + 本来 + 是 +(不)要 / 会 / 应该 + Verb + 的,但是 / 可是 ...

Examples

  • 本来 是 要 去 的,不过 后来 不 太 舒服 ,就 没 去 。běnlái shì yào qù de, bùguò hòulái bù tài shūfú, jiù méi qù.I was originally going, but I didn't go because I didn't feel very well.
  • 本来 是 应该 考 得 更 好 的 ,可是 那天 他 生病 了 。běnlái shì yīnggāi kǎo dé gèng hǎo de, kěshì nèitiān tā shēngbìngle.He would have done better on the test, but he was sick that day.
  • 我们 本来 想 去 找 他 帮忙 的,可是 他 那么 忙 ,就 没 去 。Wǒmen běnlái xiǎng qù zhǎo tā bāngmáng de, kěshì tā nàme máng, jiù méi qù.We were going to ask him for help, but we didn't because he was so busy.
  • 这些 工作 本来 是 要 今天 做完 的 ,不过 明天 做 也 可以 。Zhèxiē gōngzuò běnlái shì yào jīntiān zuò wán de, bùguò míngtiān zuò yě kěyǐ.This work needs to be done by today. But it's OK to leave it to tomorrow.
  • 本来 要 跟 他 结婚 的 ,可是 后来 发现 了 我们 真的 不 合适。běnlái yào gēn tā jiéhūn de, kěshì hòulái fāxiànle wǒmen zhēn de bù héshì.I was originally going to marry him, but then I found that we are just not meant for each other.

Using 本来就 (běnlái jiù) Used for Emphasis of a Viewpoint

If you've got an opinion to express after stating how it "should be" or "should not be," then 本来就 will help you sound more convincing. The end of the sentence usually has an imperative or rhetorical question that leads to an opinion or suggestion, emphasizing the tone.

Structure

Subj. + 本来 + 就...

Examples

  • 本来 就 够 瘦 了 ,还要 减肥 吗?běnlái jiù gòu shòule, hái yào jiǎnféi ma?You are already so thin and you still want to lose weight?
  • 他 讲 得 本来就 不 对 ,为什么 还 要 我 听 他 的?Tā jiǎng dé běnlái jiù bùduì, wèishéme hái yào wǒ tīng tā de?What he says has always been wrong, so why do you still want me to listen to him?
  • 本来 就 很 有钱,当然 买得起 了。běnlái jiù hěn yǒu qián, dāngrán mǎi dé qǐle.She is rich. Of course she can afford it.
  • 本来 就 不 喜欢 你,你 别 再 追 她 了。běnlái jiù bù xǐhuān nǐ, nǐ bié zài zhuī tāle.She never liked you in the first place, so stop pursuing her.
  • 本来 就 很 喜欢 开玩笑,你 别 介意 。běnlái jiù hěn xǐhuān kāiwánxiào, nǐ bié jièyì.He has always liked joking around, so don't take it personally.

本来 (běnlái) with 就 (jiù) to Express "Duh!"

本来 (běnlái) is used when the speaker believes something is common sense. There are certain expectations for the speaker and listener. "Duh" is probably an overly saracastic and informal English equivalent, so another translation could be "it goes without saying." It could also be translated to "supposed to," following it with a certain expectation.

Structure

Subj. + 本来 + 就 + 很 / 不 + Adj.

Subj. + 本来 + 就 + 会 / 要 / 得 / 应该 + Verb

Examples

  • 照顾 孩子 本来 就 是 父母 的 责任。Zhàogù háizi běnlái jiùshì fùmǔ de zérèn.Taking care of children is supposed to be the responsibility of parents.
  • 老师 本来 就 应该 好好 备课。Lǎoshī běnlái jiù yīnggāi hǎohǎo bèikè.Teachers are supposed to prepare their lessons well.
  • 美国 人 本来 就 会 说 流利 的 英文。Literally, "Americans are supposed to speak fluent English."Měiguó rén běnlái jiù huì shuō liúlì de Yīngwén.Well, of course Americans speak fluent English.
  • 搬家 本来 就 很 麻烦。Literally, "Moving is supposed to be troublesome."Bānjiā běnlái jiù hěn máfan.Moving is always a pain.
  • 生活 本来 就 很 不 容易。Literally, "Life was never supposed to be easy."Shēnghuó běnlái jiù hěn bù róngyì.No one ever said life was easy.

See also

Sources and further reading

Books