Sequencing with "xian" and "zai"
The word 再 (zài) actually has a lot of uses, beyond just "again," and in this pattern it means something like "and then." 先⋯⋯，再⋯⋯ (xiān..., zài...) is a pattern used for sequencing events, much like "first..., then..." in English. This pattern can also include 然后 (ránhòu), meaning "and after that."
In the pattern below, 先 means "first" and 再 has a meaning of "then" or "and then."
先 ⋯⋯ ，再 ⋯⋯
- 先 洗 手 再 吃。Wash your hands first, and then eat.
- 我 喜欢 先 洗澡 ，再 睡觉 。I prefer to take a bath first and then go to bed.
- 请 你 先 买 票 再 进去。Please buy a ticket first and then enter.
- 你 要 先 做 作业 ，再 看 电视。You need to do your homework first, and then watch TV.
- 我 想 先 找 工作 ，再 搬家 。I want to find a job first, and then move.
Colloquial Usage with 再说
You may have learned that 再说 can mean "in addition." Well, the usage of 再 here is a more literal combination of 再说, fitting into the 先⋯⋯再⋯⋯ pattern.
So in this usage, 再说 doesn't really mean "in addition." Rather, it most literally means, "and then we'll talk." In other words, "let's just do this now," and then after we see the result, we can talk some more about next steps. There's a "let's see how this goes first" feeling to the expression.
Note that in the pattern below, the sentence normally ends with 再说.
先 + [Verb Phrase] + 再说
The 再说 part in the following sentences can be a little tricky to translate into English.
- 先 吃饭 再 说 。Let's eat first, then we'll talk.
- 先 休息 一下 再说 。Let's rest a little first, then we'll see.
- 你 先 看 完 再说 。Finish reading first, and then we'll see.
- 我 先 问 一下 老板 再说 。I'm going to ask the boss first before doing anything else.
- 你们 先 讨论 一下 再说 。You guys discuss a little first, then we'll figure out what to do next.
"and then..." with 接着
When describing a series of actions, steps, or consecutive events, your Chinese will sound more natural if you can diversify your conjunctions. 然后 (ránhòu) is most commonly used, a conjunction which means "and then." Alternatively, you can use 接着 (jīezhe), as a conjunction that means "next," or "afterwards."
A longer example to help you understand how they can all work together:
- 今天 早上 我 起床 以后 先 准备 早饭 ，再 叫 孩子们 起床 ，接着 我们 一起 吃早饭 ，然后 我 送 他们 去 学校 。After I got up this morning, I first prepared breakfast, and then I woke up the kids. Next, we ate breakfast together. After that, I took them to school.
Sources and further reading
- HSK Standard Course 3 (pp. 119) →buy
- HSK Standard Course 4下 (pp. 105) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 1, Part 1 (3rd ed) (pp. 258-9) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 2, Part 2 (pp. 19-20) →buy
- 卓越汉语－公司实战篇 (pp. 172) [ →buy]