What's the difference between 只 and 才? When should I use 只 and when 才?

Can you give me some examples please?


3 Answers 3


只 is equivalent to "only", a small amount. You would use it to say something like "I have only five bucks", "he's only two years old".

才 is used if you have to have a minimum amount. Examples: "you must be this tall (or taller) to ride", "you have to wait three minutes (or longer)".

  • I like the breakdown, but an example in Chinese for 只 and 才 would be nice.
    – Philipp
    Oct 13, 2015 at 5:28
  • "He's only two years old." would be 他才两岁 in Chinese, the example doesn't work.
    – imrek
    Aug 5, 2020 at 15:16

He has 3 apples, but I just 1:


“才” is stronger than “只”,“才”1个 means that you hope you can get more apples. “只有”1个 just says you have one, with no other meaning.


All these explanations come from:


"只" If you use 只(only), that means the amount is little. It's just an objective description.

"才" ...you'll see that used in the sense of "more than expected", 才 follows the amount or time; [b] and if 才 precedes the amount or time, the amount or time has the sense of "less than expected". [a]

1.a 从这里到邮局才三分钟 (才 precedes the amount of time) 1.b 车开了三十分钟才到。(才 follows the amount of time)

2.a 我们去玩儿了两天,才花了一百块 (才 precedes the amount of money ) 2.b 我一共花了三百块才买到这个。(才 follows the amount of money)

  • And I would add for example 2b : we can also consider that 才 precedes the amount of purchased goods (这个) so the meaning is also "less goods than expected"

wordreference, same link again : 《 However, if we look at the word 只, usage is possible in the following manner: 从这里到邮局只需要三分钟 -- need to add in words like 需要, 用.// 我们去玩儿了两天,只花了一百块。》

  • more objective, less feelings . Beware , concerning the other sentences, 只买 只到 would not be correct. It's definitely 才买 才到 .

frequently used : 只有 the amount is little 只是 the level is low

  • I feel like 'budding' can also work for 才. With two meanings of 'talented' (as in budding actress) and 'only just' (as in budding plant). I came to that conclusion because the etymology of the character is a seed sprouting from the ground meaning 'to bud'. Oct 16, 2016 at 5:50

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