Grammar Talk: Comparing the Use of ‘就jiù’ and ‘才cái’ to Express Time
Many people get confused when it comes to certain supporting words. That’s because these supporting words have no actual meanings to be translated to English, yet they have solid functions within a sentence. Today, we’re going to have a deeper look by comparing the two characters ‘就jiù’ and ‘才cái’
Both ‘就jiù’ and ‘才cái’ are frequently used in Chinese language, and one thing they’re in common is being used as adverbs to express time.
It emphasizes ‘soon, early, smooth’
It has similar meaning to ‘immediately’
Structure 1: Subject + time + 就 + verb
With this structure, it’d cause the ‘time’ to sound either soon, early or smooth
我明天就去旅游了！wǒ míngtiān jiù qù lǚyóu le
I’ll go travelling soon by tomorrow!
我下午就要考试了，但是我还没准备好呢！wǒ xiàwǔ jiù yào kǎoshì le, dàn shì wǒ hái méi zhǔnbèi hǎo ne
I’ll have exam soon in the afternoon, but I still haven’t prepared it well.
我爷爷17岁的时候就已经工作了。 wǒ yéye shí qī suì de shíhou jiù yǐjīng gōngzuò le
My grandpa worked since he was only 17.
妹妹8岁的时候已经就开始学跳舞了。mèimei bā suì de shíhou yǐjīng kāishǐ xué tiàowǔ le
Little sister already started to learn dancing when she was only 8.
弟弟今天早上7点就起床了。 dìdi jīntiān zǎoshang qī diǎn jiù qǐchuáng le
Little brother woke up as early as 7 this morning.
我花了5分钟就从我的家来到了银行。wǒ huā le wǔ fēnzhōng jiù cóng wǒ de jiā lái dào le yínháng
I spent only 5 minutes to come from my house to the bank.
你等等我，我很快就会来到你的家。nǐ děng deng wǒ, wǒ hěn kuài jiù huì lái dào nǐ de jiā
Wait for me, I’ll arrive to your house very soon.
你刚到不久，怎么这么快就要走呢？ nǐ gāng dào bù jiǔ, zěnme zhème kuài jiù yào zǒu ne?
You just came for not long, how come you’re leaving so soon?
Structure 2: action 1就action 2
Implies: after finishing with action 1, action 2 immediately starts
我考完试就去玩儿。 wǒ kǎo wán shì jiù qù wánr
I go play soon right after I finish exam.
我跑步后就去休息。 wǒ pǎo bù hòu jiù qù xiūxi
I go rest soon right after I finish running.
我喝了咖啡就开始工作。 wǒ hē le kāfēi jiù kāishǐ gōngzuò
I start working soon after I’ve drunk coffee.
你出去了就不要再回来！nǐ chūqù le jiù bú yào zài huílai
Don't come back again once you’ve gone out!
老师一进教室，我们就对他说‘生日快乐！’ lǎoshī yí jìn jiàoshì, wǒmen jiù duì tā shuō shēngrì kuàilè
Once the teacher enters the classroom, we immediately say to him ‘Happy birthday!’
他一不高兴就不说话。 tā yí bù gāoxìng jiù bù shuōhuà
He doesn’t speak once he’s not happy.
他一进办公室就工作。tā yí jìn bàngōngshì jiù gōngzuò
He works once he enters the office.
等你回家了，我们就去看电影。 děng nǐ huíjiā le, wǒmen jiù qù kàn diànyǐng
We go watch movie once you’re back home.
It emphasises ‘slow, late, difficult’
It has similar meaning to ‘not until’
Structure 1: Subject + time + 才 + verb
With this structure, it’d cause the ‘time’ to sound either slow, late or difficult.
我明天就去旅游，两个星期后才回来。 wǒ míngtiān jiù qù lǚyóu, liǎng ge xīngqī hòu cái huílai
I’ll go travelling soon by tomorrow, and I’ll come back only in 2 weeks
你下个星期才考试，不用太着急。 nǐ xià ge xīngqī cái kǎoshì, búyòng tài zháojí
You’ll not have exam until next week, so no need to be anxious.
我妈妈30岁的时候才找到第一份工作。 wǒ māma sān shí suì de shíhou cái zhǎo dào dì yī fèn gōngzuò
My mum found her first job not until she was 30.
姐姐18岁的时候才开始学游泳。 jiějie shí bā suì de shíhou cái kāishǐ xué yóuyǒng
Big sister only started learning to swim when she was 18.
哥哥昨天晚上11点半才睡觉。 gēge zuótiān wǎnshang shí yī diǎn bàn cái shuìjiào
Older brother didn’t sleep until half past 11 last night..
我花了一个半小时才到了机场。 wǒ huā le yí ge bàn xiǎoshí cái dào le jīchǎng
I spent one and half hour to arrive to the airport.
你为什么这么晚才来到电影院呢？。 nǐ wèishénme zhème wǎn cái lái dào diànyǐngyuàn ne
Why you only came to the cinema that late?
会议已经开始了半个小时，你怎么现在才来？ huìyì yǐjīng kāishǐ le bàn ge xiǎoshí, nǐ zěnme xiànzài cái lái
The meeting has started for half an hour already, how come you only came now?
Structure 2: action 1才action 2
Implies: action 2 only starts as late as after action 1 is finished
你复习完才可以玩电脑游戏。 nǐ fùxí wán cái kěyǐ wán diànnǎo yóuxì
Only after you’ve finished revising can then play computer games.
我下班后才去买菜。wǒ xiàbān hòu cái qù mǎi cài
I buy food only after I’ve got off from work.
我喝了咖啡才开始工作。 wǒ hē le kāfēi cái kāishǐ gōngzuò
I start working only after I’ve drunk coffee.
等你回家了我们才去看电影。 děng nǐ huíjiā le wǒmen cái qù kàn diànyǐng
We go watch movie wait till you’re back home.
On an end note, other than adverbs to express time, both ‘就jiù’ and ‘才cái’ have a couple of other functions as a supporting word within sentences. These will be discussed more in detail later on.