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Four uses of “才” in Chinese

Four uses of 才 in Chinese.jpg

The character 才(cái) is one of those very common parts of Chinese grammar that many students find difficult because it is so common and versatile. This article will separate the grammatical uses of 才 into four different types.

"才(cái)"字是中文里较为常见的语法成分之一,由于这个字非常通用而且用途广泛,许多学生觉得掌握有困难。本文将把"才"字的语法用法分成四个不同的类型。

 

才 meaning "only"

"才"表示"只、仅仅"

 

才 can mean "only", i.e. it implies that something is small or few in quantity. When used in this way, it very often appears with a measure word and a number. In this way it can express that "there are only x things".

"才"可以表示"仅仅"的意思,如它可以暗示某物很小或者数量很少。这样的用法经常会与量词或者数词搭配出现。这样可以表达"仅仅有…物"的意思。

 

Have a look at an example:

看下这个例子:

 

A: 你怎么有那么多?

Nǐ zěnme yǒu nàme duō?

How come you've got so many?

 

B: 我才有两个!

Wǒ cái yǒu liǎng gè!

I've only got two!

 

We don’t know what these two people are talking about, but A seems to believe that B has a lot of it. B uses 才 to indicate that he/she doesn’t actually have a lot – he/she only have two.

我们不知道这两个人在讨论什么,但是A似乎认为B拥有很多某物。B用"才"以表达他/她实际上并没有拥有很多,他/她只有两个。

 

Some more examples:

还有更多的例子:

 

他才来过一次。

Tā cái láiguò yīcì.

He's only been here once before.

 

现在才五点,太早了。

Xiànzài cái wǔ diǎn, tài zǎole.

It's only five o'clock – it's too early.

 

我们一共才有500块钱,完全不够。

Wǒmen yīgòng cái yǒu 500 kuài qián, wánquán bùgòu.

Altogether we've only got 500 bucks – it's not enough at all.

 

Notice how in all of these examples there is a sense of a sequence. Maybe in the future there will be more, but at the moment we’ve only reached a particular amount.

留意下这里的所有例子都包含着一种"后续"的意味。可能将来会有更多,不过目前我们拥有的只是一部分。

 

才 meaning "not until"

"才"表示"直到…"

 

The next meaning of 才 is "not until". This is also very common. When used in this way, 才 is always followed by a verb or verb phrase. Another thing to note is that when 才 means "not until", it usually means that the event is expected.

下一个"才"的意思是"直到…"。这个用法也很常见。这样的用法经常跟随一个动词或者动词短语。另一个需要注意的是,当"才"表示"直到…"的意思的时候,通常意味着所发生的事情是意料之中的。

 

Some examples:

一些例子:

 

我们十点上课,可是她十一点才来。

Wǒmen shí diǎn shàngkè, kěshì tā shíyī diǎn cái lái.

We start class at 10, but she didn't arrive until 11.

 

他明天才走。

Tā míngtiān cái zǒu.

He's not leaving until tomorrow.

 

你怎么现在才来?

Nǐ zěnme xiànzài cái lái?

How come you've only just got here?

 

你做完作业才可以出去。

Nǐ zuò wán zuòyè cái kěyǐ chūqù.

You can't go out until you've finished your homework.

 

Always remember that when using 才 to talk about timings, you don’t use 了. The two characters 才 and 了 don’t generally play well together; it’s one or the other.

时刻牢记用"才"说时间安排的时候,不要再用到"了"这个字。"才"和"了"通常不放在一起搭配使用,要么用这个要么用另一个。

 

Another little tip that you might find useful is that when 才 is used with times, you could think of it as being the opposite of ‘already’. ‘Already’ can suggest that something happened earlier than expected, whereas 才 can suggest that it happened later than expected.

另一个或许对你有所帮助的要点是,当"才"与时间搭配使用的时候,你可以把它想成是"已经(already)"的相反意思。"已经"意味着事情在预想时间之前发生了,而"才"表示事情发生在预想时间之后。

 

As well as talking about actual times, 才 can be used a little more idiomatically to talk about whether things qualify or meet certain standards. Some examples should make this idea clearer:

和谈论实际时间的用法一样,"才"可以用于惯用语句去谈论事情的限制性或达到某种标准。以下例子可以清楚解释这个用法:

 

到北方才能吃到真正的饺子!

Dào běifāng cáinéng chī dào zhēnzhèng de jiǎozi!

You can only get real dumplings in the north!

 

这才算一个充分的理由。

Zhè cái suàn yīgè chōngfèn de lǐyóu.

That's a good reason.

 

这样做才对。

Zhèyàng zuò cái duì.

That's the way to do it. ["It's not right until you do it this way."]

 

才 meaning "just now"

"才"表示"刚刚"

 

When used to mean "just now", or "a moment ago", 才 nearly always implies that the event should have happened earlier.

当用于表示"刚刚"或者"不久之前"的意思的时候,"才"几乎有着"事情本该早点发生"的意味。

 

Some examples:

一些例子:

 

我才下班。

Wǒ cái xiàbān.

I just got off work.

 

我才接到他的电话。

Wǒ cái jiēdàole tā de diànhuà.

I just got his call.

 

我才看到你的email.

Wǒ cái kàn dàole nǐ de email.

I just saw your email.

 

These all mean "just now" or "a moment ago", but there’s clearly a sense of "only just now" as well. It feels as if the events were expected to happen sooner, but didn’t.

所以例子都有"刚刚"或"不久之前"的意思,但是也带有"就刚刚"的意味。这给人一种"事情本应该早点发生,但是没有"的意思。

 

才 for emphasis

"才"用于强调

 

Finally, 才 can be used to add strong emphasis to a sentence. 才 really is just adding heavy emphasis in these sentences:

最后,"才"可以用于在句子中加以强调。"才"在以下的例句里着实起到了强调的作用:

 

我才不会呢!

Wǒ cái bù huì ne!

I'd never do that!

 

我才不吃这么恶心的东西呢!

Wǒ cái bù chī zhème ěxīn de dōngxi ne!

There's no way I'm eating something so disgusting!

 

你才笨呢!

Nǐ cái bèn ne!

Are you stupid or what?!

2016-06-22

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