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I seem to hear 准备 and 预备 used for “prepare” and not as often to mean “plan".

我们准备搬到美国; emphasizing the need for specific preparations for the move.

Myself, I use 打算 for planning something.

我们打算看新的电影; emphasis on merely being a future plan。

What are the differences in usage between 准备 and 预备? At what point can one not use these to mean ”plan“?

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预备(prepare) equals to 预先准备(prepare in advance). 计划 and 打算 are "plan"(verb or noun), but 打算 is informal and almost used only in the spoken language. 计划 is formal and can be used in either written or spoken language. –  Stan Jul 14 '13 at 16:03
    
@Stan Good point, I'll edit the question to make it clearer I am looking for spoken usage as opposed to written. –  tao Jul 15 '13 at 3:04
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1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

So there's two questions here:

1) Difference between 准备 and 预备:

  • 准 (Zhǔn) = accurate, about to, standard, certainly
  • 预 (Yù) = in advance, beforehand, in the future
  • 备 (Bèi) = prepare (among other unrelated meanings, such as "equipment)

So these root differences tell you that

准备 is more to describe readiness in preparation (accurate, certainty, etc)...

他正在为招待客人作准备 (Tā zhèngzài wèi zhāodài kèrén zuò zhǔnbèi) = He is preparing (planning how to) entertain guests 

预备 is more to describe "to make ready"

我给你预备了一件礼物 (Wǒ yě gěi nǐ yùbèile yī jiàn lǐwù) =  I prepared a small gift for you

Although subtle, differences do exist.


2) When to use 准备/预备 vs 计划/打算

打算: 打 (to hit, to do, to make), 算 (calculate, to figure)...

计划: 计划 (to calculate, to count, to plan), 划 (to mark off, to draw a line)

Both 打算 and 计划 are to make calculations/plans, or mark off something. You cannot use them to say you're prepared to do something, or that you've prepared/made something. They're only to say that you've figured/calculated something in the future.

Ex: You cannot say "我打算了一件礼物给你", but you can say "我打算送你一件礼物"

Conversely:

You cannot say "我预备送你一件礼物" but you can say "我给你预备了一件礼物"

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"我预备送你一件礼物" sounds not wrong to me, and "我准备送你一件礼物" is valid and common. –  NS.X. Jul 14 '13 at 18:17
    
@NS.X. "Not wrong", but sounds strange. –  Stan Jul 15 '13 at 7:15
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