Chinese Language Blog

Advanced Time Telling Posted by on Nov 30, 2012 in Uncategorized, Vocabulary

Yesterday, I introduced a lot of vocabulary words and grammatical structures for how to tell the time. I focused mainly on the different parts of the day, asking for/giving the time, and talking about daily activities. At the end of the post, I gave you 10 examples to practice. Here are the answers:

  1. 现在几点?

  2. 现在五点

  3. 现在八点一刻

  4. 现在十一点半

  5. 现在差十分三点

  6. 现在早上七点

  7. 你什么时候吃早餐?

  8. 我上午九点上课

  9. 你什么时候下班?

  10. 我晚上六点半吃晚饭

In this post, I’ll introduce some more advanced vocabulary and structures for talking about time.

From… To

When we talk about work, class, or other obligations, we often have to use the phrase, “from… to…” (从… 到 – cóng… dào). Here are a few examples of how to use this phrase in Chinese related to time:

  • I work from Thursday to Monday.


    wǒ cóng zhōu sì dào zhōu yī gōng zuò

  • I have class from 8 to 11:30.


    wǒ cóng bā diǎn dào shí yī diǎn bàn shàng kè

  • I have a rest from 5 to 6.


    wǒ cóng wǔ diǎn dào liù diǎn xiū xi

  • I have a holiday from the 20th to the 26th.


    wǒ cóng èr shí hào dào èr shí liù hào fàng jià


Use these two characters to talk about the time.

In English, you might hear someone say something like, “My dad gets up so early in the morning, but I like to sleep in.” So, how can we express these ideas of doing something early or late in Chinese? Well, there are two important characters that you can use: 才 (cái) and 就 (jiù). Let’s take a look at how to use these characters when talking about the time:

就 – jiù

This character is used to express that something happened early or quickly. It can also mean that everything goes as one expects. Here are a few examples to help you understand how to use it:

  • My dad gets up early at 5 o’clock.


    wǒ bà ba wǔ diǎn jiù qǐ chuáng le

  • It only takes 20 minutes to arrive by subway.


    zuò dì tiě Èr shí fēn zhōng jiù dào le

  • I came to Beijing back in 2008.


    wǒ èr líng líng bā nián jiù lái běi jīng le

As you can see, each example here expresses that something happened early or quickly. You may also have noticed that 就 is always followed eventually by 了. That’s an important part of this grammar, and you’ll see why in a minute…

才 – cái

Not surprisingly, this character is used with basically the opposite meaning of 就 – it means that something happens late or slowly. It can also mean that things have not gone your way (i.e. the bus broke down, so you were late for work). Here are some examples to contrast with the others:

  • I get up late at 11 o’clock.


    wǒ shí yī diǎn cái qǐ chuáng

  • It takes an hour to arrive by bus.


    zuò gōng jiāo chē yī gè xiǎo shí cái dào

  • He just got to Beijing last month.


    tā shàng gè yuè cái lái běi jīng

As you can see, when contrasted with the previous examples, all of these actions seem slow and/or late. You probably also noticed that none of these sentences use the particle 了. That’s just the way the grammar goes with this one.

Look at the follow examples, and decide whether you should use 才 or 就 to fill in the blank:

  1. 我妈妈九点____睡觉. 我十二____点睡觉.

    wǒ mā mā jiǔ diǎn ____ shuì jiào. wǒ shí èr diǎn ____ shuì jiào

    My mom goes to bed at nine o’clock. I go to bed at 12 o’clock.

  2. 她四十岁___结婚了. 她二十岁___结婚了.

    tā sì shí suì _____ jié hūn le. tā èr shí suì ____ jié hūn le

    She got married at 40. She got married at 20.

  3. 我五点___下班. 我的女朋友九___点下班.

    wǒ wǔ diǎn ____ xià bān. wǒ de nǚ péng yǒu jiǔ diǎn ___ xià bān

    I get off work at 5 o’clock. My girlfriend gets off work at 9 o’clock.


Of course, there are other ways to use both of these characters. As you’ve probably realized by now, Chinese characters are quite versatile – they can be used in a variety of ways. For now, just try to familiarize yourself with this particular grammar function of these characters. If you’d like to learn a bit more about how to use them, check out this awesome video from YouTube Chinese teacher Lao Wang:

That’s a lot to handle for one lesson. To make sure you understand how to use these words and grammatical structures, here are some examples for you to try yourself, in Chinese:

  1. Say “I work from Monday to Friday”
  2. Say “I have a holiday from the 11th to the 17th”
  3. Say “I have a rest from 12 to 1 in the afternoon”
  4. Say “My friend wakes up early at 6 o’clock” and “I get up late at 10 o’clock”
  5. Say “It only takes 10 minutes to arrive by taxi” and “It takes 45 minutes to walk”


Keep an eye on the blog next month for the answers and more posts to help you out with your grammar and vocabulary. In the meantime, be sure to keep up with us on Facebook, where you can learn a new word everyday, check out pictures, practice your Chinese, or ask questions.

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


  1. 莊嘉嘉:


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