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What's the difference between 于是 and 所以? How and when are they interchangeable?

  • please consult dictionaries and grammar books,e。g。 "实用现代汉语语法" 第八章 连词 第一节 连词列举 has a table listing properties of frequently used conjunctions, 于是:搭配的词语(collocation): (none) 联合关系(coordinative relation):承接 (successive)。。。所以:搭配的词语(collocation):因为。。。所以,偏正关系 (modifier-head):因果 + – user6065 May 21 '15 at 14:58
  • "实用汉语进义虚词词典"contains entries for both 于是 and 所以, however they are not listed together (-> never 相同),instead the following pairs and triples are discussed which may shed some additional light on meaning and usage of 于是/所以(each entry discusses when 相同 or 不同)["于是"与"所以"不是列在一起的,反而该工具书是列举的以下的进义虚词组,因而很可能进一步阐明两个连词的意义和用法] 319 然而/于是,424因此/于是,350 所以/故 351 所以/因此/因而 – user6065 May 22 '15 at 7:04
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there's a blog post with examples about just this question here:

http://speakupchinese.tumblr.com/post/115029397455/suoyi-vs-yushi

To quote, it says:

所以 introduces the outcome, just as in English where we use ‘therefore’, ‘as a result’ or ‘so’.

... Moving on to 于是. This is used to place emphasis on the chronology of two connected happenings: A –> B, in continuation. Often it’s used in recounting past events or a story, and translates best to ‘thereupon’, ‘as a result’, ‘consequently’.

  • 1
    +1 this answer's explanation is easier to understand than FortCpp's answer. – Ming May 22 '15 at 0:50
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It could be helpful to look at them in ancient Chinese.

于=from,是=这=here (the point). So 于是=from here (or conclude from the point).

所以 is not so straight forward. 以=according to/depend on/use something for some purpose/etc. 所 indicate something is passive.
For example AAA所以BBB = BBB depends on AAA/BBB becomes what it is now is due to AAA.

So clearly, 于是 is used to derive. 所以 is used to retrieve the reason.

But in modern Chinese the difference is not so significant. Please read S.Rhee's comment for the details.

  • I think you have reversed the order of AAA and BBB in your explanation. Shouldn't it be BBB depends on AAA, as in because AAA, so BBB? – Thomas Hsieh May 21 '15 at 20:06
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    @ThomasHsieh yes, you are correct. I just switch them. Thanks for the correction – FortCpp May 22 '15 at 2:23

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