才 / 只 / 就

DernierVirage

Senior Member
English - United Kingdom
I hope that you can help me with a problem that I have concerning the use of 才 in the following sentences:

从这里到邮局才三分钟
我们去玩儿了两天,才花了一百块

In both examples, 才 has been translated as "only".

I am confused because I have always considered 才 to have the underlying sense of "more than expected" (in terms of time, amount etc.), but here it seems to be used in completely the opposite way (I would have instinctively used 就 or 只 in the above sentences).

I would be grateful for any help in understanding this usage, which seems contradictory to me.
 
Last edited:
  • Silverelf

    Member
    Teochew. Mandarin.
    从这里到邮局才三分钟
    我们去玩儿了两天,才华了一百块
    First, just wanted to point out a typo in your sentence.
    我们去玩儿了两天,才了一百块
    Also, I think you already know that the usage of "玩儿" is regional.

    In the examples above, 才 does mean 'only'. This word also carries with it a underlying meaning of a 'better than expected deal', which may have been what led you to think of it as 'more than expected'.
     

    DernierVirage

    Senior Member
    English - United Kingdom
    Thanks for your reply (I have corrected 花 - I should have noticed, but I input too quickly !).

    Your explanation is very interesting, because I would have used 就 because of the meaning of "less than". It is as if there is a conflict of usage here, since "less time/money than expected" means "better than expected", so would you hesitate between 才 and 就 here ?

    Thanks again.
     

    Silverelf

    Member
    Teochew. Mandarin.
    Thanks for your reply (I have corrected 花 - I should have noticed, but I input too quickly !).

    Your explanation is very interesting, because I would have used 就 because of the meaning of "less than". It is as if there is a conflict of usage here, since "less time/money than expected" means "better than expected", so would you hesitate between 才 and 就 here ?

    Thanks again.
    No, if I were to choose between 才 or 就, I would still use 才 because 就 doesn't quite convey the same meaning.
    If I used 就, the sentences would take on the meaning of 'already'. Somewhat like 'already spent' 'already took three mins'


    I was wondering if I should replace 'only' with 'merely' but I decided to leave it as 'only'.

    However, if we look at the word 只, usage is possible in the following manner:
    从这里到邮局只需要三分钟 -- need to add in words like 需要, 用.
    我们去玩儿了两天,只花了一百块
     
    Last edited:

    xiaolijie

    Senior Member
    UK
    English (UK)
    I am confused because I have always considered 才 to have the underlying sense of "more than expected" (in terms of time, amount etc.), but here it seems to be used in completely the opposite way
    This is true, but if you examine both types of sentences carefully, you'll see that used in the sense of "more than expected", 才 follows the amount or time; and if 才 precedes the amount or time, the amount or time has the sense of "less than expected". So now you see the uses of 才 are no longer contradictory.
     

    DernierVirage

    Senior Member
    English - United Kingdom
    No, if I were to choose between 才 or 就, I would still use 才 because 就 doesn't quite convey the same meaning.
    If I used 就, the sentences would take on the meaning of 'already'. Somewhat like 'already spent' 'already took three mins'
    Thanks for your reply. Can I ask you as a follow on from what you say, if you were to say "I only know 500 characters", would you say

    我才认识五百个汉字, not 我就认识五百个汉字?

    This is true, but if you examine both types of sentences carefully, you'll see that used in the sense of "more than expected", 才 follows the amount or time; and if 才 precedes the amount or time, the amount or time has the sense of "less than expected". So now you see the uses of 才 are no longer contradictory.
    I hadn't paid attention to this! Does that mean that in certain situations, 才and 就 are interchangeable if they precede the noun? I guess the answer is no, but I'm having trouble seeing clearly here!

    Hi, DernierVirage. Have you read the paper?
    Please read 4 “就”和“才”用於後指的情況分析 on 5th page. I hope this helps.
    Thanks for this reference, I have downloaded it and now need to read it carefully.
     
    Sometimes 就 can mean “not too much nor too little”. It's not clear whether it's "more than expected" or "less than expected". In many situations, 就 means “just”.
    If you use 只(only), that means the amount is little. It's just an objective description.
    When you use 才, we have a strong feeling that something is less than expected, and you don't like it.


    就:最符合的(有一點主觀判斷)
    只:全部的(對當前情況的總結。通常表示“少”)
    才:少,不好(有強烈的主觀情緒)
     
    Last edited:

    DernierVirage

    Senior Member
    English - United Kingdom
    Sometimes 就 can mean “not too much nor too little”. It's not clear whether it's "more than expected" or "less than expected". In many situations, 就 means “just”.
    If you use 只(only), that means the amount is little. It's just an objective description.
    When you use 才, we have a strong feeling that something is less than expected, and you don't like it.
    ..........
    Thanks for your message above, I have marked in red one comment that I would like to check again.

    I have reread two of the earlier posts (see below) and I have marked in red the comments that I am finding difficult to understand, when I read them together with your remark. Can you (or the others) help me to pull them all together ?

    I'm wondering if maybe my confusion is because I am not sure if 才 is mainly related to the difference between reality and expectations in terms of "quantity" or "quality" ...

    Thanks in advance.


    In the examples above, 才 does mean 'only'. This word also carries with it a underlying meaning of a 'better than expected deal', which may have been what led you to think of it as 'more than expected'.
    This is true, but if you examine both types of sentences carefully, you'll see that used in the sense of "more than expected", 才 follows the amount or time; and if 才 precedes the amount or time, the amount or time has the sense of "less than expected". So now you see the uses of 才 are no longer contradictory.
     
    Last edited:

    xiaolijie

    Senior Member
    UK
    English (UK)
    This is true, but if you examine both types of sentences carefully, you'll see that used in the sense of "more than expected", 才 follows the amount or time; and if 才 precedes the amount or time, the amount or time has the sense of "less than expected". So now you see the uses of 才 are no longer contradictory.
    @DernierVirage:
    For what I said above, I can only offer some examples for illustration. These are based on your examples in post #1 to make it easier for you to see the contrast:

    1.a 从这里到邮局才三分钟 (才 precedes the amount )
    1.b 车开了三十分钟才到。(才 follows the amount)

    2.a 我们去玩儿了两天,才花了一百块 (才 precedes the amount )
    2.b 我一共花了三百块才买到这个。(才 follows the amount)

    Hope this helps.
     
    Last edited:

    DernierVirage

    Senior Member
    English - United Kingdom
    @DernierVirage:
    For what I said above, I can only offer some examples for illustration. These are based on your examples in post #1 to make it easier for you to see the contrast:

    1.a 从这里到邮局才三分钟 (才 precedes the amount )
    1.b 车开了三十分钟才到。(才 follows the amount)

    2.a 我们去玩儿了两天,才花了一百块 (才 precedes the amount )
    2.b 我一共花了三百块才买到这个。(才 follows the amount)

    Hope this helps.
    Thanks for your reply. I need to go through your examples and also the other posts here very carefully, because I am beginning to get confused between between 就 and 才 (the way it is used in 1a and 2a above). I had always previously had a clear distinction between the two in my mind, but I see that it is not as clear-cut as I thought.
     

    Jerry Chan

    Senior Member
    Cantonese, Hokkien
    @DernierVirage:
    For what I said above, I can only offer some examples for illustration. These are based on your examples in post #1 to make it easier for you to see the contrast:

    1.a 从这里到邮局才三分钟 (才 precedes the amount )
    1.b 车开了三十分钟才到。(才 follows the amount)

    2.a 我们去玩儿了两天,才花了一百块 (才 precedes the amount )
    2.b 我一共花了三百块才买到这个。(才 follows the amount)

    Hope this helps.
    Good illustrations.
     

    BODYholic

    Senior Member
    Chinese Cantonese
    从这里到邮局才三分钟
    我们去玩儿了两天,才花了一百块

    In both examples, 才 has been translated as "only".

    (I would have instinctively used 就 or 只 in the above sentences).
    才 and 只~ have very close meaning, although both words are used quite differently. I would have expected you to be confused by these 2 words instead of 就(!) and 才.

    as an adverb has more than 10 different meanings. In contemporary Chinese, 就 is rarely (or almost not) used to mean 'only' because 才/只 are more straight forward. In the event, if you do come across 就 (adverb) to mean 'only', it is merely to make an emphasis on the word 'only'.
    A: 从这里到邮局需要三分钟.
    B: 真的只需三分钟吗?
    A: 就三分钟. (= 只需三分钟)

    C: 谁都不知道,就我知道。 (= 谁都不知道,只有我知道。)

    My points are
    1. When 就(adverb) takes the meaning of 'only', it is relatively easy to replace 就 with 才/只 because both words (i.e 才/只) have a broader sense of 'only'. But the reverse is not always correct. If you come across a sentence consists of the word 才 or 只, you can't simply perform a 1-to-1 replacement with '就'. It won't always work. Remember, 就(adverb) has more than 10 meanings!!!

    2. The trick to learning the word 就(adverb) to mean 'only' is to observe and remember the sentence pattern, because its usage is obscure and limited.
    A:房里有谁?
    B:就爸爸一个人。

    A:你逛了半天,到底买了些什么?
    B:没什么,就一条牛仔裤。
     

    samanthalee

    Senior Member
    Mandarin, English - [Singapore]
    @DernierVirage:
    I'm not sure if I'll confuse you... :p
    Using xiaolijie's very excellent examples and using your understanding that 才 have the underlying sense of "more than expected", here's how I'll see it:
    1.a 从这里到邮局才三分钟 (才 precedes the amount )
    Underlying meaning: Covering more distance than expected using this amount of time.
    1.b 车开了三十分钟才到。(才 follows the amount)
    Underlying meaning: Using more time than expected to cover this distance.

    2.a 我们去玩儿了两天,才花了一百块 (才 precedes the amount )
    Underlying meaning: Getting more stuff than expected with this amount of money (ie. more bang for the buck)
    2.b 我一共花了三百块才买到这个。(才 follows the amount)
    Underlying meaning: Spending more money than expected to get this stuff (ie. "more buck for the bang", so to speak)

    Edited: YangMuye had mentioned that 才 convey a stronger feeling than 只(only). So I'll like to add that we can replace 才 with 只 in all except 1b of these examples, thereby softening the feeling without changing the meaning. We can't use 只 in 1b because we can't place 只 together with reaching the goal/destination. Reason being: if we "only" reach the destination, then the underlying meaning is we expected to go beyond, and that will imply that the destination is not the destination, and that's either illogical or very philosophical. :p
     
    Last edited:

    DernierVirage

    Senior Member
    English - United Kingdom
    @DernierVirage:
    For what I said above, I can only offer some examples for illustration. These are based on your examples in post #1 to make it easier for you to see the contrast:

    1.a 从这里到邮局才三分钟 (才 precedes the amount )
    1.b 车开了三十分钟才到。(才 follows the amount)

    2.a 我们去玩儿了两天,才花了一百块 (才 precedes the amount )
    2.b 我一共花了三百块才买到这个。(才 follows the amount)

    Hope this helps.
    I have spent some time on your examples and, along with the later posts here, it is becoming clear - thanks! In particular, I am now much less confused about the use of 就, which was preventing me from getting to grips with the use of 才 in 1a and 2a;


    才 and 只~ have very close meaning, although both words are used quite differently. I would have expected you to be confused by these 2 words instead of 就(!) and 才.

    as an adverb has more than 10 different meanings. In contemporary Chinese, 就 is rarely (or almost not) used to mean 'only' because 才/只 are more straight forward. In the event, if you do come across 就 (adverb) to mean 'only', it is merely to make an emphasis on the word 'only'.
    A: 从这里到邮局需要三分钟.
    B: 真的只需三分钟吗?
    A: 就三分钟. (= 只需三分钟)

    C: 谁都不知道,就我知道。 (= 谁都不知道,只有我知道。)

    My points are
    1. When 就(adverb) takes the meaning of 'only', it is relatively easy to replace 就 with 才/只 because both words (i.e 才/只) have a broader sense of 'only'. But the reverse is not always correct. If you come across a sentence consists of the word 才 or 只, you can't simply perform a 1-to-1 replacement with '就'. It won't always work. Remember, 就(adverb) has more than 10 meanings!!!

    2. The trick to learning the word 就(adverb) to mean 'only' is to observe and remember the sentence pattern, because its usage is obscure and limited.
    A:房里有谁?
    B:就爸爸一个人。

    A:你逛了半天,到底买了些什么?
    B:没什么,就一条牛仔裤。
    Thanks for your helpful explanation. You are right, my initial confusion was between 才 and 只, but since I also was trying to use 就 (because of my belief that it is always the opposite of 才), things quickly became very confused!

    @DernierVirage:
    I'm not sure if I'll confuse you... :p
    Using xiaolijie's very excellent examples and using your understanding that 才 have the underlying sense of "more than expected", here's how I'll see it:
    1.a 从这里到邮局才三分钟 (才 precedes the amount )
    Underlying meaning: Covering more distance than expected using this amount of time.
    1.b 车开了三十分钟才到。(才 follows the amount)
    Underlying meaning: Using more time than expected to cover this distance.

    2.a 我们去玩儿了两天,才花了一百块 (才 precedes the amount )
    Underlying meaning: Getting more stuff than expected with this amount of money (ie. more bang for the buck)
    2.b 我一共花了三百块才买到这个。(才 follows the amount)
    Underlying meaning: Spending more money than expected to get this stuff (ie. "more buck for the bang", so to speak)

    Edited: YangMuye had mentioned that 才 convey a stronger feeling than 只(only). So I'll like to add that we can replace 才 with 只 in all except 1b of these examples, thereby softening the feeling without changing the meaning. We can't use 只 in 1b because we can't place 只 together with reaching the goal/destination. Reason being: if we "only" reach the destination, then the underlying meaning is we expected to go beyond, and that will imply that the destination is not the destination, and that's either illogical or very philosophical. :p
    No, you didn't confuse me, but you did give me some hard thinking to do ! Your examples and explanations fit very well with the other help I've received here. I think that my problem was that I have previously always applied too rigid a definition of 才, which is much wider in its usage that I previously thought.

    I now have a file where I keep a hard copy of threads like this, as the best way to learn all these nuances is by constant practice and revision of examples.

    Thanks to everyone for your help and advice so far.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top