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Expressing lateness with "cai"

One of the ways to express lateness in Chinese is with 才 (cái).

Structure

To express that something happened later than expected, you can use 才.

Subj. + Time + 才 + Verb

In English this might be expressed with "as late as" or "not until." This form is often used with a time number of some sort, like a specific time, age etc.

Examples

  • 我 昨天 晚上 十一 点 到 家 。Wǒ zuótiān wǎnshang shíyī diǎn cái dào jiā.I didn't arrive at home until eleven o'clock last night.
  • 他 二十 五 岁 上 大学 。Tā èrshí-wǔ suì cái shàng dàxué.He didn't go to college until he was 25.
  • 她 四十 岁 结婚 。Tā sìshí suì cái jiéhūn.She didn't get married until she was forty.
  • 我 女儿 昨天 十二 点 睡觉 ,作业 太 多 了 。Wǒ nǚ'ér zuótiān shí'èr diǎn cái shuìjiào, zuòyè tài duō le.My daughter didn't go to bed until 12 o'clock yesterday. Too much homework.
  • 你 九点 上班 ,八 点 半 起床 ?Nǐ jiǔ diǎn shàngbān, bā diǎn bàn cái qǐchuáng?You get up at 8:30 when you need to show up at work at nine?
  • 飞机 刚刚 起飞 ,晚点 了 两 个 小时 。Fēijī gānggāng cái qǐfēi, wǎndiǎn le liǎng gè xiǎoshí.The flight just took off. It was delayed for two hours.
  • 电影 七点 半 开始 ,可是 因为 堵车 ,我们 八点 到 。Diànyǐng qī diǎn bàn kāishǐ, kěshì yīnwèi dǔchē, wǒmen bā diǎn cái dào.The movie began at 7:30, but we didn't arrive until eight because of traffic.

You can use 才 alone with the verb to indicate the lateness when the context is clear:

  • 你 怎么 吃 晚饭 ?已经 十点 了 。Nǐ zěnme cái chī wǎnfàn? Yǐjīng shí diǎn le.How come you are eating dinner now? It's 10 pm.
  • 你 怎么 来 ?我们 等 了 半 个 多 小时 。 Nǐ zěnme cái lái? Wǒmen děng le bàn gè duō xiǎoshí.How come you came here so late? We've waited for more than half an hour.

Note that verbs following 才 cannot take 了, as the action does not have the sense of being completed. So it is wrong to say:

  • 我 昨天 晚上 十一 点 到 家 Wǒ zuótiān wǎnshang shíyī diǎn cái dào jiā le.

See also

Sources and further reading

Books

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