Chapter 15: Chinese Adverbs


Chinese Grammar  Updated: Sat, Oct 20, 2012 09:44 AM   By HugChina


Adverbs are words that modify the verb or verb phrase. Chinese adverbs occur at the beginning of the verb phrase, before the verb and any prepositional phrase. This chapter presents adverbs that have logical functions.

Adverbs are words that modify the verb or verb phrase.

1. General properties of adverbs

In Mandarin, adverbs occur at the beginning of the verb phrase, before the verb and any prepositional phrase.

Most adverbs must precede negation, but some adverbs may occur before or after negation.

他一定不去。 She’s definitely not going. (She is not definitely going.). and also: 他不一定去。She’s may not go.(She is not definitely going.)

她也许不去。Perhaps she won’t go. but not: 她不也许去。

她并不喜欢我。She doesn’t like me at all. but not: 她不并喜欢我。

Unlike verbs, adverbs typically cannot be the one word answer to a yes–no question.

Question Respond with this Not this
他们经常在那个饭馆吃饭吗?Do they often eat at that restaurant? 对。Correct. Or

他们经常在那个饭馆吃饭。They often eat there.
你已经吃了吗?Have you already eaten? 对。Correct. Or

我已经吃了。I have already eaten.

Mandarin has a number of structures that are adverbial in function in that they describe an action in some way. These structures are presented in the chapter on verbial modification.

Adjectival verbs, stative verbs, and modal verbs may be modified by intensifiers such as 很hěn ‘very,’ 太 tài ‘too,’ and 真 zhēn ‘really.’ A list of intensifiers is presented in 10.3.

Adverbs add many different kinds of meaning to a sentence. This chapter presents adverbs that have logical functions. Other adverbs are presented throughout this book in chapters that focus on the meanings associated with the specific adverbs.

2. Adverbs with logical function: 也yě, 都 dōu, 还 hái, 就 jiù, 只zhǐ, and 才 cái

2.1 也 yě ‘also, in addition’

也 yě is used to introduce a second verb phrase. It never follows negation.

也 yěcan be used to introduce a second verb phrase that adds additional information about the subject.

小王学中文,他也学日文。 Little Wang studies Chinese. He also studies Japanese.

When the subjects are identical in reference, the second subject may be omitted:

小王学中文,也学日文。 Little Wang studies Chinese and also studies Japanese.

也 can be used to indicate that two different subjects share similar properties or perform the same action.

小王很高,小李也很高。 Little Wang is very tall. Little Li also is very tall.

小王上大学,小李也上大学。 Little Wang attends college. Little Li also attends college.

Since 也 yě introduces additional information it can sometimes be translated by ‘and’ in English. However, it is very different from English ‘and.’ ‘And’ can connect almost any kind of phrase. 也yé can only occur before verbs or verb phrases.

Compare this Mandarin example and its English translation.

我学中文,也学中国历史。 I study Chinese and I also study Chinese history.

Chinese conjunctions that join noun phrases and convey the meaning of the English ‘and’ include 和 hé and跟 gēn.

我学中文和中国历史。 I study Chinese and Chinese history.

2.2 都 dōu ‘all, both’

都 dōu can indicate that a verb phrase is true for the entire subject.

我们都学中文。 We all study Chinese.

小王和小李都学中文。 Little Wang and Little Li both study Chinese.

都 dōu can indicate that a verb is true for multiple objects. Typically, when 都 dōu refers to objects, the objects occur before the verb as the topic of the sentence.

中文,日本,他都学。 Chinese, Japanese, he studies them both.

都 dōu before a verb without an object can be used to express the meaning ‘completely.’

我都懂。 I understand everything.

都 dōu can occur with a question word to indicate that something is universally true.

她什么都会。 She can do everything.

她什么时候都很忙。 She is always busy.

都 dōu can occur before or after negation. The relative position of negation and 都 dōu reflects a difference in meaning.

The sequence 都 dōu + Negation conveys the meaning ‘all not.’

都 dōu before negation may indicate that the negated verb phrase is true for the entire subject.

他们都没有学中文。 They all have not studied Chinese.

都 dōu before negation can also indicate that the negated verb is true for the entire object. Often, when都 refers to the object, the object is topicalized.

猪肉,牛肉我都不吃。 Pork, beef, I don’t eat either.

都 dōu after negation indicates that negation is not true for the entire subject or that it is not true for the entire object. The sequence negation + 都can often be translated into English as ‘not all.’

我们不都是中国人,她是美国人,他是英国人,只有我是中国人。 We are not all Chinese. She is American, he is English. Only I am Chinese.

美国人不都有钱,有的有钱,有的没有钱。 Americans don’t all have money. Some have money, some don’t have money.

2.3 还 hái ‘in addition, still, also, else’

还 hái marks the continuation of a situation or introduces additional actions performed by the subject. It can never follow negation.

他们还在这儿。 They are still here.

你还学中文吗? Are you still studying Chinese?

我要买书,还要买纸。 I want to buy books. (I) also want to buy paper.

你还要买什么? What else do you want to buy?

还 hái may introduce additional information about a noun phrase. In this function it is similar to 也 ‘also.’

他会说中文,还会说日本。 He can speak Chinese (and) can also speak Japanese.

还没(有) hái méi (yǒu) translates into English as ‘not yet’ or ‘still.’

他还没回来呢。 He hasn’t returned yet. (He still hasn’t returned.)


还有 hái yǒu is a phrase that occurs at the beginning of a sentence or clause and introduces additional information. It can be translated into English as ‘in addition.’

她的男朋友很和气,还有,他很帅! Her boyfriend is very friendly. In addition, he is really cute!

2.4 就 jiù ‘only, uniqueness’

When 就 jiù precedes a verb phrase that is not linked to another verb phrase, it conveys the meaning of uniqueness.

In some sentences, this meaning is best translated by the English word ‘only’:

我就有一块钱。 I only have one dollar.

In some contexts, 就 jiù conveys precise identification of a noun phrase. If the noun phrase is a person or place, there may be no English equivalent for 就jiù.

王:你找谁?Wang: Who are you looking for?

林:我找王美玲。Lin: I am looking for Wang Meiling.

王:我就是。Wang: That’s me.

If the noun phrase is a specifier or a directional expression, 就 jiù may be translated as ‘right’ or ‘precisely.’

Q: 赵经理的办公室在哪儿? Where is Manager Zhao’s office?

A: 她的办公室就在这儿。 Her office is right here.

Q: 图书馆在哪儿? Where is the library?

A: 就在火车站的对面。Right across from the train station.

就 jiù is also used to link two verb phrases and to signal a relationship of sequence between them.

我看了报以后就睡觉。 After I read the newspaper I will go to sleep.

她很聪明,一学就会。 She is really smart. As soon as she studies it she gets it.

就 jiù usually precedes negation, but it may also follow negation.

这件事情不就我一个人知道。 (As for) this matter, it is not just I who knows.

2.5 只 zhǐ ‘only’

只 zhǐ can be used interchangeably with jiù to express the meaning ‘only.’

我只有一块钱。I only have one dollar.

Like 就jiù, 只 zhǐ typically precedes negation, but may also follow it.

这件事情不只是我一个人知道。(As for) this matter, it is not just I who knows.

2.6 才 cái ‘only, only then’

才cái indicates that something is less than expected. In sentences in which there is only a single verb, 才 cái may be translated into English as ‘only.’

他才认识五个字。 He only knows (recognizes) five characters [and that is fewer than one would expect].

那个孩子才一岁,当然还不会说话。 That child is only one year old. Of course s/he can’t speak yet.

我今天才挣了三百元。 Today I only earned 300 yuan (300 dollars).

When 才 cái is used to link two verb phrases as in the following sentences, it may be translated as ‘only then.’

她做完了功课才睡觉。 She finishes doing her homework and only then goes to sleep.

那本书我看了两次才懂。 That book, I read it two times and only then understood (it).

才 cái never follows negation.

2.7 而已 éryǐ ‘and that is all’

In Taiwan, the sentence final expression 而已 éryǐ ‘and that is all’ is commonly used to reinforce the sense of only contributed by 就 jiù, 只 zhǐ, and 才 cái.

我只有五块钱而已。 I only have five dollars (and that is all.)

他就写了一个字而已。 He only wrote one character (and that is all.)

The meaning ‘only if ’ is expressed with the sentence initial phrase 除非chúfēi.

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