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As a beginner I'd like to learn the most useful word to express the equivalent to English “moment” meaning “a very brief period of time.”

I've found at least three Chinese words and would like to know the difference between them and which I should choose as the most common or important to add to a beginner's small vocabulary.

  • shùnjiān 瞬間
  • shíkè 時刻
  • shíhòu 時候
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3 Answers 3

Of these, only 瞬間 is really equivalent to moment in the sense of a brief period of time.

  • 瞬間 means "a very short period of time, an instant".
  • 時刻 can either mean "the time (of the day)", e.g. 5pm, or "constantly" (typically as 時時刻刻).
  • 時候 can mean "time" in the sense of e.g. it's time to go. Alternatively, it can refer to an unspecified period of time, e.g. 小時候 -> when I was little.

There's a great deal of words that mean "moment" in the sense you're looking for. Here are some of the more common ones: 轉眼 霎時 剎時 剎那 瞬息 片刻 頃刻 一時之間

It is acceptable/common to append -之間 to these (e.g. 轉眼之間/霎時之間) to express the sense of something "happening within a very short period". Additionally, the character 一 (one) can be prefixed to some (一轉眼/一剎那/一瞬間).

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Meaning:

時刻: moment;

瞬間: an extremely short instant;

時候: moment;

To describe "moment", both 時刻 and 時候 are okay.

Reminder:

時刻 emphasises "that exact moment", while 時候 can be used to describe a longer period of time.

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There are many mature Chinese expressions that translates to "moment" as this word have many meanings in English.i.e.马上,一会儿,一下,就. And unlucky for you they are all common.

As a native speaker, I would recommend you to use the expression "a segment of time"(一段时间) to express the concept precisely at first. because when you say "a segment"(一段), it cannot be misunderstood.

Here's some detailed explanations.

瞬 have "eye"(目) on the left. think of it as a blink. the right side is its pronunciation, have nothing to do with meaning. 間 means a gap, a duration, a space. so think of this word as your "in a blink of the eye"'s substitute.

刻 means to engrave (the right side is a blade, left is its sound). imagine you have a line that is time. you use a knife and point in the middle. that is a 时刻. it's not a period, but a point.

時候 is hard to explain as its a blurry concept, I'll just wait until someone modify my answer. but I would translate this word to "opportunity" or "when" rather than moment, i.e.

你什么时候来? When will you come?

你有空的时候来一下。 Come when you are free.

收获的时候到了。 The time for harvest has come.

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