I am a bit confused by the appropriate use of 大约 and 差不多. I have learned to use 差不多 in many cases where I am talking about an approximate amount, value, extent, etc. of something, or speaking about how two things are similar. Would someone be able to provide an explanation differentiating these two words / concepts? Also, is one or the other more common in colloquial usage?

up vote 5 down vote accepted

大约 means "approximately", 差不多 means "almost".

大约 is normally used as an adjective or adverb in phrases like:

大约四英尺厚的雪
snow that is approximately 4 inches thick

差不多 can be used in a similar way, but it's more commonly used as an adjective-verb:

这两本书的内容都差不多
these two books' contents are about the same

However, 这两本书的内容都差不多一样 (with 差不多 as an adverb) means the same thing.

The important thing to remember is that 差不多 means almost, but not quite, so two things that are 差不多一样 are not exactly the same. Whereas something like 大约一个小时 could be exactly one hour, although it could also be a bit more or less.

差不多 is also commonly used in a colloquial sense:

差不多了吧
that should do it

In my experience, 大约 is more common in written language. The spoken equivalent is 大概. But that may be a regional thing. 差不多 is very common in colloquial language, mostly in the sense of "about the same" or "good enough" as in the examples above.

The term 差不多 can easily be understood by direct translation. 差(v)= differ , 不多 = not much. Thereby, we can see that it means "not to differ by much" which logically corresponds to almost. In certain context 差不多 and 差点儿 means the same. The same logic applies here also, as 一点儿 means "a little", being the same as "not much".

The word 大约 can best be translated to "approximately". Which then becomes obvious why it is a more formal word than 差不多. As said before its spoken equivalent is 大概 which best is translated to "roughly" and thereby also showing that it is more colloquial.

大约 is mostlty to describe quantity ,value,time,date,which are related to numbers. 差不多 is to tell two or many things are similar.

  • (asw in C-E dcty) "实用汉语近义虚词词典"has the 3 pairs 差不多/差点,差不多/几乎 and 大约/约. 差不多(副;形)/差点(副;动)[相同]意义相近,都表示相差不多,可以作状语,也可以作谓语。但用法不同,不能互换。[不同]1。"差不多"作状语,句中多有数量词语,表示在数量、时间、距离、范围、程度等方面相差不多,很接近。1阿里来中国差不多一年了。(差点✗)2这座楼有多高?差不多有二十米吧。(差点✗)3最近实在太忙,我差不多一个月都没休息了。(差点✗)4这件事我们班差不多人人都知道。(差点✗)5他的汉语说得很好,差不多和中国人一样。(差点✗)6我们班的同学差不多都来了。(差点✗)2。"差不多"还可以修饰形容词或形容词短语:"差点"不能:1小王和小李差不多高。(差点✗)2这两条裙子差不多长。(差点✗)3他比以前差不多胖了一圈。(差点✗)4兄弟俩差不多一样高。(差点✗)5这两条裙子差不多一样长。(差点✗)3。"差点"作状语,修饰动词或动词短语,表示情况接近实现或勉强实现:"差点(没)+不希望的情况"表示说话的人不希望的情况接近实现但最后没有实现;"差点没+希望的情况"表示说话人希望情况勉强实现;"差点就+希望的情况"表示希望的情况接近实现但最后没有实现:●差点(没)+不希望的事=没有实现(差不多✗)●差点没+希望的事=勉强实现(差不多✗) – user6065 Feb 5 '16 at 11:09
  • ●差点就+希望的事=没有实现(差不多✗)1今天下楼梯时,我差点摔倒。(差不多✗)2今天下楼梯时,我差点没摔倒。(差不多✗)3今天起床晚了,上课差点迟到。(差不多‌​✗)4今天起床晚了,上课差点没迟到。(差不多✗)5路上堵车,杰夫差点没赶上飞机。(差不多✗)6玛丽和杰克差点就赶上飞机了,可惜晚了几分钟。(差不多✗)7这次考试李‌​健差点没及格,真危险!(差不多✗)8次考试罗明差点就及格了,真可惜!(差不多✗)4。"差点、差不多"都可以作谓语,但意思有差别,不能互换:"差点(差一点)"表示差‌​距不大,但不相同;"差不多"表示很接近,基本相同,还可以表示程度一般,不太好也不太差:1比起罗西,杰克的口语还差点。(差距不大,差不多✗)2想和我竞争?你的能力还‌​差一点。(差距不大,差不多✗)3这次考试,他们俩的成绩差不多。(基本相同,差点✗)4晚饭别吃得太多,差不多就行了。(程度一般,差点✗)5这件衣服质量还差不多,可样‌​式不够时尚,我不太想买。(程度一般,差点✗) 差不多(副;形)/几乎(副)[相同]都是副词,作状语,表示在数量、范围、时间、距离、程度等方面很接近。"差不多"多用于口语,"几乎"多用于书面语,有时可以互换:‌​1车站广场人很多,差不多有上千人。(几乎✓)2我们班差不多人人都有苹果手机。(几乎✓)3他的汉语说得很好,几乎和中国人一样。(差不多✓) – user6065 Feb 5 '16 at 13:53
  • 4事情的经过我几乎都看到了。(差不多✓)[不同]1。"差不多"可以用在数量短语前,表示接近这个数量:"几乎"很少这么用,只有在强调这个数量大的时候才用:1安娜学汉语差不多一个月了。(几乎✗)2这条鱼差不多一斤重。(几乎✗)3这座楼有多高?我看差不多有二十米高吧。(几乎✗)4这座楼很高,几乎有八十米高了。(强调数量大,差不多✓)5就这个简单的问题,他想了几乎一天才想明白。(强调数量大,差不多✓)6最近太忙,我几乎一个月都没休息了。(强调数量大,差不多✓)2。"差不多"可以直接修饰单音节形容词;"几乎"不修饰单音节形容词,只修饰形容词短语:1他们俩跑得差不多快。(几乎✗)2这两个西瓜差不多大。(几乎✗)3他比以前几乎瘦了二十斤。(差不多✓)4他们俩跑得几乎一样快。(差不多✓)5这两个西瓜几乎一样大。(差不多✓)3。"差不多"还可以作谓语,表示很接近、基本相同,还可以表示程度一般,不太好也不太差;"几乎"不能作谓语:1玛丽和安娜的汉语水平差不多。(基本相同,几乎✗)2我和他的年龄差不多。(基本相同,几乎✗)3晚饭别吃得太多,差不多就行了。(程度一般,几乎✗)4这件衣服的款式差不多,可颜色不太好。(程度一般,几乎✗)大约(副)?约(副)[相同]都是副词,表示对数量或时间不精确的估计。"大约"书面语、口语都用,"约"多用于书面语。修饰数量词语或修饰"有、占、为、于、等于"等词语时,常可以互换 – user6065 Feb 5 '16 at 13:56
  • :1从韩国到这里坐飞机大约3个半小时。(约✓)2毕业大约两年后,他就创办了自己的公司。(约✓)3每个班大约15多学生。(约✓)4小刘身高大约1米8。(约✓)5这个箱子约20斤重。(大约✓)6这次,约有一半的货物被损坏了。(大约✓)7中国山区的面积约占国土面积的2/3。(大约✓)8这次质量检查,食品的合格率约为95%。(大约✓)[不同]1。表示对数量的估计时,"约"常用于单音节形容词"高、长、重"之后:"大约"较少这样用:1这条河长约4000公里。(大约✓)2窗户高约2米。(大约✓)3这台电脑约3。5公斤。(大约✓)4这座大厦高约80米。(大约✓)2。"大约"还可以表示对情况的推测,修饰动词,相同于"大概、可能";"约"没有这个用法:1他现在大约已经到上海了。(约✗)2看样子林芳大约已经知道真实情况了。(约✗)3听他的口音,大约是湖南人。(约✗)4他今天大约不会来了。(约✗) – user6065 Feb 5 '16 at 14:21
  • regarding 2nd answer: some vengeful users never miss a chance to mark down correct answers, this is why some other users instead only write comments, then at least they cannot lose any points.有一心想复仇的用户永远不会错过机会给正确答案扣分,这就是为什么有另外一些用户限制自己仅仅写评论,而不写什么答案,这样做就至少其得分不会减少。 – user6065 Feb 5 '16 at 16:10

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