Making Sense of Grammar
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What is the difference between JIU (就) and CAI (才)?

asked Jan 2 in Questions about Chinese Grammar by admin (19,380 points)

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就 (ji`u/ then) and 才 (cái/ then) are both adverbs which are placed in front of verbs. The functional difference between ji`u (就) and cái (才) is that ji`u imparts a sense of earliness, scarcity, and easiness, while cái indicates a sense of lateness, ampleness, and difficulty in sentences. Below are a few examples illustrating the contrast between the two adverbs:

他三點就到了

tā sān diǎn jiù dào le

 He arrived at three o’clock, (which is earlier than expected.)        

他三點才到

tā sān diǎn cái dào

He arrived at three o’clock, (which is later than expected.)

            

兩個就夠了

liǎng gè jiù gòu le

I need two of them. (The quantity is less than what the speaker or the listener expected.)

兩個才夠

liǎng gè cái gòu

I need two of them. (The quantity is more than what the speaker or the listener expected.)

            

你去,我就去

nǐ qù ,wǒ jiù qù

I will go there if you do. (It is easier to convince me than you expected.)

你去,我才去

nǐ qù ,wǒ cái qù

I won’t go there if you don’t. (It is harder to convince me than you expected.)

Furthermore, ji`u (就) is commonly used in sequential narratives, such as the following sentence: 他來了以後,就先坐下,然後就說 (he came, then he sat down, then he said).

On the other hand, cái (才) normally signals a counter-expectation in sentences. For instance, in the sentence 才不是這樣 (That is not what happened.), cái (才) indicates that the speaker is about to raise a counter-argument.

answered Jan 2 by admin (19,380 points)
edited Apr 25 by admin
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