Chinese Grammar: Difference Between 才(cái) and 就(jiù)

Lots of students may find it difficult to distinguish those two Chinese words: 才(cái) and 就(jiù) when learning Mandarin Chinese. In today's lesson, let's learn the difference between the Chinese characters 才(cái) and 就(jiù) and how to use them correctly.

Before we get started, take a look at the sentences below and see if you can have an idea about the use of these two words.

A: 你快点儿,周杰伦的演唱会7点开始

Nǐ kuài diǎnr, zhōu jié lún de yǎn chàng huì 7 diǎn jiù kāi shǐ le.

Hurry up, Jay Chou concert starts at 7 o’clock.

B: 不急,现在五点,还早呢!

Bù jí, xiàn zài cái wǔ diǎn, hái zǎo ne!

No hurry. It’s only 5 o’clock. It’s still early.


(Half an hour later)

A: 五点半了,我们要迟到了。

Wǔ diǎn bàn le, wǒ men yào chí dào le.

It’s half past five, we’re going to be late.

B: 演唱会七点开始,我们还有时间。

Yǎn chàng huì qī diǎn cái kāi shǐ, wǒ men hái yǒu shí jiān.

The concert doesn’t start until 7 o’clock, so we still have time.

You may still be confused or even more confused about “才” and “就” after reading these two conversations. Don’t worry, we’ll explain them to you one by one below.

1. When 才 and 就 are placed after time words

才 indicates that something in discussion takes place later than the speaker expected, or it lasts longer than he expected. The pattern is “ Subj. + Time Word + 才+ V + (O).

就 indicates that the speaker feels something discussed happens earlier than expected, or it lasts shorter than he expected. There is usually “了” at the end of a sentence. The pattern is “Subj. + Time Words + 就 + V + (O) +了”.

Here are some examples:

演唱会7点开始。 (说话人认为时间晚)

Yǎn chàng huì 7 diǎn cái kāi shǐ. (shuō huà rén rèn wéi shí jiān wǎn)

The concert starts at 7 o’clock.  (The speaker thinks the concert starts late)

演唱会7点开始。(说话人认为时间早)

Yǎn chàng huì 7 diǎn jiù kāi shǐ le. (shuō huà rén rèn wéi shí jiān zǎo)

The concert started at 7 o’clock. (The speaker thinks the concert starts early)


我们八点半上班,他九点到。(晚)

Wǒmen bā diǎn bàn shàng bān, tā jiǔ diǎn cái dào.( wǎn)

We started to work at 8:30, but he arrived at 9:30. (later than expected)

我们八点半上班,他八点到公司。(早)

Wǒmen bā diǎn bàn shàng bān, tā bā diǎn jiù dào le.(zǎo)

We work at 8:30, but he came to the company at 8:00.  (earlier than expected)


他三十岁结婚。(晚)

Tā sān shí suì cái jié hūn. (wǎn)

He didn't get married until he was 30 years old. (emphasizing lateness)

他二十岁结婚。(早)

Tā èr shí suì jiù jié hūn le. (zǎo)

He got married when he was only 20 years old. (emphasizing earliness)


大力用了两个小时写完作业。(长,慢)

Dà Lì yòng le liǎng gè xiǎo shí cái xiě wán zuò yè. (cháng, màn)

It took Dali two hours to finish his homework. (longer than expected)

小生用了15分钟写完作业。(短,快)

Xiǎo Shēng yòng le 15 fēn zhōng jiù xiě wán zuò yè le. (duǎn, kuài)

It only took Xiaosheng 15 minutes to finish his homework. (faster than expected)


这本书他花了三天读完。   (长,慢)

Zhè běn shū tā huā le sān tiān cái dú wán. (cháng, màn)

It took him three days to finish reading this book. (longer than expected)

这本书他花了一天就读完了。(短,快)

Zhè běn shū tā huā le yì tiān jiù dú wán le.(duǎn, kuài)

It only took him just one day to finish reading this book. (faster than expected)

2. 才 and 就  can be used together in sentence of contrast

In this case, “才” indicates that the quantity is small, the degree is low, or the ability is weak, while “就” indicates the quantity is large, the degree is high, or the ability is strong.

十岁会说五门语言了。

cái shí suì jiù huì shuō wǔ mén yǔ yán le.

He was able to speak five languages when he was only 10 years old.

你买了十本书花200块,我买了一本书花了200块。

Nǐ mǎi le shí běn shū cái huā 200 kuài, wǒ mǎi le yìběn shū jiù huā le 200 kuài.

You bought ten books for only 200 yuan, and I bought only one book for 200 yuan.

电影开始你不想看了?

Diànyǐng cái kāishǐ nǐ jiù bù xiǎng kàn le?

The movie just started and you don't want to watch it anymore?

3. 就 can be used as 'only' to express small quantity

就 can be used to mean "only," in the sense of a small quantity. For example,

我就吃了半碗饭。

Wǒ jiù chī le bàn wǎn fàn.

I ate only half a bowel of rice.

今天5度。

Jīn tiān jiù 5 dù.

The temperature today is only 5 degrees.

这件事情他知道。

Zhè jiàn shì qing jiù tā zhī dào.

Only did he know it.

4. 才 and 就 can be used to express the Time

In this case, 才 can indicate that something just happened, while 就 can indicate that something will happen soon. The pattern is:

Subj. + 才 + Verb Phrase

Subj. + 就 + Verb Phrase + (了)

Examples:

我们吃过饭。

Wǒ men cái chī guo fàn.

We had a meal just now.

我们一会儿吃饭。

Wǒ men yíhuìr jiù chī fàn.

We’re going to eat in a few minutes.

到家,刚放下书包。

cái dào jiā, gāng fàng xià shū bāo.

I just got home and put down my school backpack.

到家了,再等一会儿。

jiù dào jiā le, zài děng yí huìr.

I’m coming home, wait a moment.

5. Common collocations of  才 and 就

Finally, let’s take a look at some commonly used collocations with “cái” or “jiù”.

(1) 只有… 才…  zhǐ yǒu … cái … only if …

只有多说,你的中文能提高。

Zhǐ yǒu duō shuō, nǐ de zhōng wén cái néng tí gāo.

Only by speaking more can you improve your Chinese.

只有努力才能做好工作。

Zhǐyǒu nǔlì cái néng zuò hǎo gōngzuò.

Only by working hard can we do a good job.

(2) 如果… 就… rú guǒ … jiù …   if… then…

如果有困难就给我打电话。

Rúguǒ yǒu kùnnan jiù gěi wǒ dǎ diànhuà.

Call me if you have any difficulties.

如果你们已经不相爱了,就分手吧。

Rúguǒ nǐmen yǐjīng bù xiāngài le, jiù fēnshǒu ba.

If you no longer love each other, just break up.

(3) 只要......就...... zhǐ yào ...jiù ... as long as…

只要你努力学习,就会有进步。

Zhǐyào nǐ nǔ lì xué xí, jiù huì yǒu jìn bù.

As long as you study hard, you will make progress.

只要下雨,她心情就会不好。

Zhǐyào xià yǔ, tā xīn qíng jiù huì bú hǎo.

Whenever it rains, she will be in a bad mood.

(4) 一… 就… yī … jiù …   as soon as

妈妈一到家就去做饭了。

Māma dào jiā jiù qù zuò fàn le.

Mom went to cook as soon as she got home.

老师一来大家就不说话了。

Lǎoshī lái dàjiā jiù bù shuōhuà le.        

As soon as the teacher came, everyone stopped talking.

Conclusion, Quiz, Mp3 & Pdf

These are the usages of “jiù” and “cái” in Chinese grammar. We have provided a large number of sample sentences, hoping that this can help you learn how to use these two words better. If you still don’t understand them, you can tell us in the comments, and we will help you solve the puzzle or improve this article. BTW, you can download the MP3 and pdf files of this lesson, and don't forget to take the quiz below:

Quiz

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