Adverbs of Time

Adverbs of Time – Chinese Adverbs

Adverbs of TIME in Mandarin Chinese

There are 6 types of adverbs and this post will focus on adverbs of time.

In our tagging system of The Mandarin Blueprint Method Foundation Course, we refer to adverbs as “How Does What,” because that’s how they function. Adverbs tell you how an individual action takes place. We divide the sentences that contain adverbs into the following categories:

1. Deny 否定 (fǒudìng) – An adverb that denies or negates the action also called a negative adverb

2. How Often 频率 (pínlǜ) – An adverb that shows the frequency of action also called adverb of frequency

3. In What Range 范围 (fànwéi) – An adverb that specifies the range of action or also called scope adverb

4. Time 时间 (shíjiān) – An adverb that adds context to the amount of time that relates to action can also be named adverb of time

5. To What Degree 程度 (chéngdù) – An adverb that specifies the degree of action or adverb of degree

6. Tone of Voice 语气 (yǔqì) – An adverb that influences the tone of voice surrounding the action can also be called adverb of mood or modal adverb

The Chinese word for “adverb” is 副词 fùcí, which translates to “‘auxiliary’ or ‘subsidiary’ word.” Considering that you can’t use adverbs alone and must attach them to action, “subsidiary” is an apt description.

Adverbs of Time

Another way to use adverbs is to identify the timing of an action. Will the action happen ‘immediately?’ Is it ‘still’ yet to happen? ‘Already’ happened? Here’s how you can express adverbs of time:

Sentence 1:

我马上来。- Level 13
Wǒ mǎshàng lái.
I’ll come right away.

‘马上’(mǎshàng) literally means “horse on,” so you can imagine that in Ancient China if a message was ‘almost’ or ‘soon to’ arrive, it was already ‘on the horse.’ Use 马上 (mǎshàng) before an action to indicate that it’s ‘about to’ happen.

Note: People say 马上 (mǎshàng) as a direct response if you ask them something like, “Where are you?” or “Are you almost here?” 

Sentence 2 – Adverbs of Time:

我才来。 – Level 13
Wǒ cái lái.
I only just came.

In this context, adding 才 (cái) to “我来” (wǒ lái) indicates that the speaker wants to emphasize that they’ve only just arrived. Suppose you just arrived at a party, and someone asks you, “How have you been enjoying the festivities?” You might respond, “我才来” (Wǒ cái lái) to indicate that you don’t yet know because you haven’t been there long enough.

Sentence 3:

我刚刚吃了一块面包。- Level 24
Wǒ gānggāng chī le yī kuài miànbāo.
I just ate a piece of bread.

Adding 刚刚 (gānggāng) to 我吃了一块面包 (Wǒ chī le yī kuài miànbāo) clarifies that it happened a short time ago from the perspective of the speaker. You can also omit one of the 刚’s (gāng) in this context, so ‘我刚吃了一块面包’ (Wǒ gāng chīle yīkuài miànbāo) is also correct. 

If you want to specify a time, use a single 刚 (gāng), and add the specific time after the action. You will also often hear people add 才 (cái) before 刚 (gāng).  Here’s an example:

Wǒ (cái) gāng lái chéngdū.
I just came to Chengdu three months ago

Note that 刚 (gāng)or 刚刚 (gānggāng) is relative to the speaker’s perception. Three months might feel like ages to one person and barely any time to another, but regardless, if you see 刚 (gāng) or 刚刚 (gānggāng)  in the sentence, the speaker feels that the action happened recently. 

Sentence 4 – Adverbs of Time:

他说要给我打电话,可是电话还没打过来。- Level 17
Tā shuō yào gěi wǒ dǎ diànhuà, kěshì diànhuà hái méi dǎ guòlai.
He said he would give me a call, but it still has not come in yet.

The first half of the sentence establishes an expectation that a call will come in, so the fact that it hasn’t come in ‘yet’ or ‘still’ is what causes the speaker to say 还 (hái). Another way people tend to use 还 (hái) is when someone is ‘still’ in the process of doing something, in which case you would use ‘还在’ (hái zài).

A: ’她可以和我说话吗? Can she speak with me?’
B: ‘不可以,她还在吃饭。No, she’s still eating.’

Sentence 5:

我们从来没有哭过。- Level 19
Wǒmen cónglái méiyǒu kū guo.
We’ve never cried before.

In this sentence, we can assume the speaker is expressing some level of machismo. Why? Because they emphasize that ‘from the beginning 从来’ (cónglái) they ‘did not cry 没有哭过’ (méiyǒu kū guò), aka ‘never cried.’ You could say “我们没有哭过” (Wǒmen méiyǒu kū guò), but this, in theory, could mean “We never cried within some specified period.” By adding 从来 (cónglái), the speaker makes it super clear that they NEVER cried from the beginning.

Sentence 6:

你可以随时来,取走书。- Level 20
Nǐ kěyǐ suíshí lái, qǔzǒu shū.
You can come at any time to pick up books.

随 (suí) means ‘casual,’ so if you’re ‘casual’ with ‘time 时 (shí),’ that’s similar to saying “any time.” Use 随时 (suíshí) whenever you want to clarify that the action can take place without the need to specify a time.

Sentence 7 – Adverbs of Time:

我一直爱着那个男孩。- Level 22
Wǒ yīzhí àizhe nèige nánhái.
I have always loved that boy.

You’ll hear people say 一直 (yīzhí) any time they want to clarify that something has always been the case. If you leave it out of the above sentence, the speaker may have only loved the boy for a couple of days. Adding in 一直 (yīzhí), in this case, makes the statement far more romantic.

Sentence 8:

这种样子的包已经卖完了。- Level 16
Zhè zhǒng yàngzi de bāo yǐjīng mài wán le.
This type of bag has already sold out.

When you say that something ‘already 已经 (yǐjīng)’ happened, it’s because you want to express some degree of surprise. Imagine that a new phone comes on the market and you walk into the store 10 minutes after it goes on sale. If it’s sold out, it would be strange for the sales clerk to leave out 已经 (yǐjīng), because it sure did sell out quickly. Without the adverb of time 已经 (yǐjīng), “这种样子的包卖完了 (Zhè zhǒng yàngzi de bāo mài wán le)” is a mere statement of fact with zero tone of surprise.