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I've always (no pun intended) wondered what the difference is between the two words. I thought they both meant always, but I've never quite grasped in what context they should be used.

Could anyone shed any light on this?

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

They are synonyms.

总是 places an emphasis on frequency.

他上课总是迟到 = He kept being late for class all the time.

一直 places an emphasis on consistency.

他一直是个好孩子 = He has been a good kid through the years.

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Great, thanks for this. So the 2nd form could perhaps be remembered as being used in more long-term expressions? – jaffa Jan 3 '12 at 23:47
@jaffa I think both are being used in equally long-term expressions. – Terry Li Jan 3 '12 at 23:55
@jaffa: I think the point is that 总是 means "frequently" in the sense of many frequent discrete events, whereas 一直 means "continually" in the sense of something happening continuously over a span of time. As Terry says, they are synonyms, but they transmit different feelings. – Jesse Madnick Jan 4 '12 at 5:55

总是 means "every time."

一直 means "continuously."

The first is "discrete." The second is "continuous." But they both mean "always."

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