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Does 十年中 mean "in ten years"? I found it in this sentence from tatoeba.org:

他十年中第一次回家。

He returned home for the first time in ten years.

It seems like I could use the same pattern to say, "I haven't had a drink in five years." 我五年中没有喝酒。 Does that work?

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Don, your second Chinese example sounds slightly unnatural. I think it has something to do with your English example. In the second example, the "in" indicates a specific duration coupled with a continuous activity; whereas in the first example, the "in" simply indicates a simple temporal scope with a non-continuous activity. The difference is extremely subtle, but when you translate it into Chinese, you cannot use the same structure. I'd say something like: 我五年没喝过酒, essentially removing 中 and adding the perfect tense marker. –  deutschZuid Jul 26 '12 at 22:42
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If you want a more 'natural' example, you could say: 我五年没沾过一滴酒. (literally: I haven't touched a single drop of alchohol in five years.) –  deutschZuid Jul 26 '12 at 22:46
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3 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Yes. 中 can be used to express that something happened of didn't happen within a certain scope or range or just within something (《现代汉语词典》: 范围内;内部). The range doesn't need to be a time range, but it can be. Furthermore, it can also refer to the future. So you can say:

  • 他预言战争将在下几年中爆发: He predicted that war would break out in the next few years. 年中
  • 在最近若干年中: In recent years
  • 在过去一百二十年中,人口已膨胀了十倍: In the past 120 years the population has increased tenfold.
  • 过去几年中,许多工人对美术发生了兴趣: Many workers have taken to the arts in the past few years.
  • 随后的四十年中,债务人受州法律的保护: For the next 40 years debtors were subject to state laws.

As already mentioned it can also refer to other things than a time range. Some examples: 家中, 水中, 山中, 心中, 队伍中

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中 literally means middle. Taken with respect to time or space, it means "within."

So 他十年中第一次回家 means, he returned home once within a [particular] ten year period.

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is a redundant word when used in such context. Instead, you could write:

他十年第一次回家

and

我五年没有喝酒

The reason why is not used to express a period in time is because has another meaning - middle.

Example,

他在年中考试考不及格。

He failed his mid-year exam.

It is clear to Chinese native speakers when the context is given that the number of years refer to a period in time instead of a specific point in time. So there is no real need to add behind 十年 to express a duration.

However, if you really insist, you can use instead to express duration.

Example,

他这十年来都没有回家。

He has never been home during the past ten years.

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Welcome to the site. Did you mean "should write" or "could write"? –  Don Kirkby Jul 30 '12 at 4:52
    
I mean shouldn't be there. Of course it could be written in many ways. Let me correct that. –  Question Overflow Jul 30 '12 at 5:08
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