How to use the Chinese character 才

During your Chinese studies, you must have come across 才 in the written language. It is used quite often, and can be frequently heard in spoken Chinese as well. So, do you find it confusing and want to know more about how it is used? If so, this article will help. Here, I will present the many meanings of this word, as well as detailed examples for each. Let’s have a look!



Meaning #1: Not unless, not until, then and only then, for no other reason

  • tā chī lè sān wǎn miàn cái bǎo . 他吃了三碗面(才)饱。

He wasn’t full until he had eaten three bowls.

  • jīng tā jiě shi zhī hòu, wǒ cái míng bái zěn me huí shì. 经他解释之后,我(才)明白怎么回事。

I didn’t understand what was going on until he explained it to me.
  • tā shuō xíng cái xíng. 他说行(才)行。

It’s OK only if he says so.
  • zhǐ yǒu kào qún zhòng, cái néng bǎ gōng zuò zuò hǎo. 只有靠群众,(才)能把工作做好。

Only by relying on people can we do our work well.
  • zhèng yīn wéi wǒ mén yǒu kùn nán, cái pài wǒ mén qù. 正因为我们有困难,(才)派我们去。

We were sent precisely because there were problems there.


Meaning #2: A moment ago, just

  • nǐ zěn me cái lái jiù yào zǒu. 你怎么(才)来就要走?

You’ve only just come. Why do you want to leave so soon?
  • tā cái húi dào jiālǐ tāng mǔ jiù lái zhǎo tā le. 他(才)回到家里汤姆就来找他 了。

He had just gotten home when Tom came looking for him.


Meaning #3: Only, 才 + number

  • xiàn zài cái bā diǎn, hái zǎo zhe ne. 现在(才)八点, 还早着呢。

It’s only 8 o’clock, so there’s still plenty of time.
  • cái wǔ kuài qián ma? zhēn pián yi. (才)五块钱吗?真便宜。

Only five dollars? That’s really cheap.
  • zhè háizi cái wǔsùi yǐjīng rèn dé bùshǎo zì le. 这孩子(才)五岁已经认得不少字了。

The child is only five, and he already knows quite a few characters.


Meaning #4: Actually, really (used to emphasize the words before, finish with "呢")

  • zhè cái hǎo ne. 这(才)好呢!

Now this is really good!
  • nǐ yǐwéi tā shǎ ma tā cái bù shǎ ne. 你以为他傻吗? 他(才)不傻呢!

You think he is stupid? Not him!
  • wǒ cái lǎn dé guǎn ne! 我(才)懒得管呢!

I can’t be bothered! I couldn’t care less.
  • nǐ cái shì sā huǎng. 你(才)是撒谎!

You are the one who’s lying.
  • tā yào shì bù zhī dào cái guài ne. 他要是不知道(才)怪呢!

I’d be really surprised if he didn’t know.


Meaning #5: Not until, time + 才




  • tā jiǔdiǎn cái lái tài wǎn le. 他九点(才)来,太晚了。

He didn’t come until 9 o’clock. That was too late.
  • dà fēng dào wǎn shàng cái zhǐzhù le. 大风到晚上(才)止住了。

The winds didn’t stop until the evening.
  • tā zǒule liǎng gè zhōng tóu cái zǒu dào. 他走了两个钟头(才)走到。

It took him two hours to get there.
  • nǐ wèi shén me zhè hur cái shuō ne? 你为什么这会儿(才)说呢?

How come you didn’t say anything until now?


Meaning #6: Something that happened just before




  • jiémù cái kāishǐ. 节目(才)开始。

The performance has just started.
  • zěn me cái lái jiù yào zǒu? 怎么(才)来就要走?

Why leave so soon?


Meaning #7: Something that happened or finished recently




  • tā zuó tiān cái lí kāi niǔ yuē. 他昨天(才)离开纽约。

He only left New York yesterday.


Meaning #8: Used to indicate a small number, a small amount of time, poor ability, etc.

  • yī jiǔ sì jiǔ nián yǐ qián zhōng guó gāng tiě nián chǎn liàng zuì gāo cái jiǔ shí duō wàn dūn. 1949年以前中国钢铁年产量最高(才)90多万吨。

  • Before 1949, China’s highest annual output of steel was only a little more than 900,000 tons.*
  • dāng shí tā cái wǔsùi. 当时他(才)五岁。

He was only five years old then.


Meaning #9: Because of something, to get something (use 只有...才;必须...才;因为...才;由于...)

  • fēi děng qǐzhòng jī lái cái néng zhuāng ma? 非等起重机来(才)能装吗?

Must we wait until the crane arrives before we start loading?
  • zhǐ yǒu kěn nǔ lì cái néng dé dào hǎo chéng jì. 只有肯努力(才)能得到好成绩。

Only when you study hard can you get good results.


Meaning #10: Used to emphasize something after (finish with “呢”)

  • màizi zhǎng dé cái hǎo ne. 麦子长的(才)好呢!

  • The wheat is coming along fine.*
  • tā yào shì bù zhī dào cái guài ne. 他要是不知道(才)怪呢!

It would be really strange if he didn’t know.
  • wū zi lǐ bú rè wài miàn cái rè ne. 屋子里不 热外面(才)热呢!

It is not hot in the house, but it’s really hot outside.


Additional Meanings:



dé cái jiān bèi 德(才)兼备: With ability and political integrity.



Example:
  • tā zhēn shì gē dé cái jiān bèi de hǎo lǎo shī. 他真是个德(才)兼备的好老师。

He is such an able teacher and has political integrity.


duō cái duō yì 多(才)多艺: Versatile



Example:



  • zhè gè nǔ hái duō cái duō yì. 这个女孩多(才)多艺。

This girl is versatile.


rén cái 人(才 ) : A great man



Example:



  • tā shì gè réncái. 他是个人(才)。

He is a great man.


yǒucái 有(才 ) : Great



Example:



  • nǐ zhēn yǒu cái. 你真有(才)!

You are great!


As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect,” and I am sure that if you put effort into practicing this, you can learn to use it well in Chinese! Good luck! And don’t give up because Chinese is a very interesting language.
December 6, 2016
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Flag
Mandarin
globe
China
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1.693
Speaks:
Mandarin
Native
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Hello! I offer instantly tutoring! I'm a professional teacher online with three years of teaching experience .I taught in Thailand over a year.Sometimes I offer instantly tutoring. I teach beginners HSK in Harbin Engineering University at part time.I can also give you oral Chinese lessons if you are middle-level or advanced.I am good at teaching business Chinese as my second major is economy .I recorded videos for Confucius Institute Online to introduce Chinese culture and received an IPA intermediate certificate at 2014.I have got high level of mandarin certificate and I live in Harbin where people speak the most standard mandarin. Harbin is the hometown of many comperes in CCTV. ****It matters a lot what region your teacher comes from, each region has it's own strong characteristics. Finding a teacher with a standard accent is very important, because imitation is the first step in learning. If your Chinese teacher's accent is very standard, then you can successfully start the righ...
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