always bothered me. I couldn't (and maybe still can't) get a hold of its meaning.

By looking at many examples of the usage I came to realization that 就 marks a process of becoming a subject to or beaing subjected to someone, something, some situatuion


  1. 就你 - (I'm) a subject to your wishes. (As you wish!)
  2. 就學 - To be a subject to a learning. (Go to school)
  3. 就伴 - to become a subject of a companion. (Act as a companion).
  4. 就范 - to be subjected to a molding, forming. (To yield, to give in).
  5. 就木 - to be subject of wooden cascket (to die).
  6. 就算 - to be subjected to a calculation (Suppose ...)
  7. 就是 - to be a subject of truth\reality (Indeed ...)
  8. 就诊,就医 - to be subjected to a medical examination (to see a doctor)
  9. 就餐 - to be a subject of food eating process. (to dine, to eat)
  10. 就位 - to be subjected to a place (to take a place)
  11. 就义 - to be subjected to a fair split (义 depiction of a splitting of a goat). (to die as a martyr)
  12. 就擒 - to be a subject of a capturing.
  13. 就近 - to be a subject of proximity. (to use the situation of being in close to somethig to your advantage)
  14. 就歼 - to be a subject of annihilation. (be annihilated)
  15. 就着菜吃飯 - to be a subject to a flavoring. (to flavor, add somethign to food)
  16. 就事论事 - facts(事) are subjects(就) or this discussion(论事) or "Subject is 事 and we discuss (only) 事."
  17. 就可 - a subject to possibility (will be able to)
  18. 就能 - a subject to ability (will be able to)
  19. 就会 - a subject to ability (will)
  20. 就正 -to be subjected to a correction (ask for correction, to take a right path, ask for right guidance, to correct)


  1. Verb+了, 就+Verb. 吃完午飯走. - When eating have taken it's place, to be subjected to leaving.

  2. 若不快去, 就趕不上了 - If we don't hurry then we a subjects to lateness. :)


  1. 就这个问题,我们再来谈谈 can be understood as "Regarding to this problem, let's talk about it again". Here again 就 marks 这个问题 as a slave/subject of the main sentence part 我们再来谈谈.

slave to X constructions:

User "Atmega 328" provides example of 就你 usage。There are 2 totally different meanings to this simple sentence.

  • A)I will do anything to suit your need; (比例: 妹说:哥哥,我要。 哥说:好的,就你。)

  • B)In a negative way, questioning your ability. (比例: 哥说:我是最好学生。妹说:就你?)


Here 就 acts as a passive marker (close to subject marker). Example is provided by user "ltux".

就他一个人知道这事 vs 他一个人知道这事

Proper translation in the light of my model would be something like this:

"He is being the only person to know it." vs simple statement: "he is the only person to know it." Here we can see that a stressing of the fact that 他 is "a subject to being the one".

a measure word:

By the way 就 can serve as a measure word for wrappings of a coil or a thread: 繁纓七就. Can any one explain why? Is this function a new construction or an ancient one?

marking something as a subject of actions:"

在深夜发出的电邮里,奥巴马总统或许会,他阅读的备忘录, 提出措辞尖锐的问题 Obama's night-time emails with questions, subject to what he read before, are sharp and super smart.


Now that's a question! Why the hell "tall building + very" became "to become a subject"?! One guy said: 请教:三窟已就的“窟”是高层建筑?是不是和莫高窟一样的. So I've looked at the 莫高窟. Well, it looks like this:

enter image description here

and this really looks like an ancient way of writing 就:

enter image description here

according to humanum. Why this super tall building means to become a subject? Maybe this meaning comes from being a "subject to God"?

Any info about the subject :) will be appreciated. I would also love to hear natives opinion on my idea.

P.S. 就就 meaning remains a riddle for me. Can any one explain why this thing means what it means?

  • As a native speaker this is exactly how I understand this word. Other native speakers may disagree but I always find the dictionary entries for "extended" meanings superfluous.
    – NS.X.
    Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 7:06
  • Thanks! I needed those words. :) Feels great when you have a good small model which can explain 99% of words and stuff. Can you give some examples of nonstandard usage of 就 in sentence to guide the structure as to bind "parts to the whole", so I can add in to the "constructions" or "sentence structure" topics?
    – coobit
    Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 12:00
  • what do you mean by "the structure as to bind "parts to the whole""?
    – NS.X.
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 6:13
  • 吃完了午飯_就_走, here 就 binds two parts of the phrase in single whole by marking that 走 will become the subject in case of 吃完了. Sometimes I see sentences as "就something......, something" here as far as I know 就 marks the topic of the sentence and we should translate it as "About that thing,......" So 就 can serve as a gramatical element rather than a verb. I would like to have more examples of different grammatical functions of 就.
    – coobit
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 8:31

6 Answers 6


reference: 现代汉语词典,第6版 (Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, 6th Edition).

This dictionary gives 8 basic meaning items for 就.

  1. approach, get close to
  2. get to, begin to do
  3. passive, -ed by
  4. finish, become
  5. eat something (side dish) together with other thing (main course)
  6. [preposition] a: by, at somebody's convenience, take advantage of. b: about, concerning, with regard to
  7. [adverb] 8 sub items listed, about time or for emphesis
  8. [conjugation] represent assumed concession, even if

Figure. meaning of 就 in 现代汉语词典, 第6版, page 697 excerpt from Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, 6th Edition excerpt from Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, 6th Edition

Besides the meaning items of the character itself, the dictionary also listed 32 words beginning with 就. I didn't list all of them.

Figure. meaning of some words beginning with 就 in 现代汉语词典, 第6版, page 697 excerpt from Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, 6th Edition

Based on my own interpretation, I can't find the very one base-meaning from which all other meanings derive. But it seems that compilers(and the sholars behind them) of Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, 6th Edition think all the modern meanings of 就 come from one common origin, though they didn't tell us what the one common origin is and how the other meanings derive from that origin. About this point, you can refer to @congliu's answer to 足: why is “foot” also “enough”? for detail. I copy a sentence from his answer: "Those whose form or pronunciation are the same but no relation between their meaning, basically will be in given different entries, with superscripts on their upper right corner. For example, '耳1' and '耳2', '安1', '安2' and '安3' ". This is a rule followed by all authoritative Chinese dictionary, including Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, 6th Edition of course. But as we have seen, all the 8 meaning items is listed under only one entry of 就, no superscrpts, no separate entries. So we can infer that the 8 meaning items are related and come from one common origin. Of course, there exist other possibilities. Maybe there are several distint roots of the meanings of 就 but the scholars haven't reached agreement on this topic now. No matter what the fact is, we can always make our own guess and try to find some formula for mnemonics.

In the following contents, whenever I mention the classification of or relation between the meaning items of 就, it's all based on my own interpretation and may be subjective.

Some of its 8 meaning items seem related to each other, some not. I'm inclined to classify item 1,2,4 to one univeral category, meaning approach / get to / become. Most of the 32 words begin with 就 can be classified into this catetory. When 就 is used to make up a word in which 就 is followed by a noun, you can usually reason that the meaning of 就 falls into this category. For example, 就位(take one's place),就业(take up an occupation),就寝(go to sleep),就学(go to school),就范(submit to control, give in),就木(get to wooden cascket, to die),就医(go see the doctor),就餐(go to eat),就义(get to righteousness, to die as martyr).

Item 3 seems unrelated to any other ones. If 就 is used to make up a word in which 就 is followed by a verb, then you can reason that 就 means passive. For example, 就歼(annihilated),就擒(captured).

Item 5 seems unrelated to any other ones. (就着菜吃饭. Eat dinner together with vegetables.)

Item 6 seems unrelated to any other ones. (a: 就近 do something in the neighbourhood/without having to go far for convenience, 就便 at somebody's convenience/while you are at it. b: 就我所知 so far as I know. 就目前的情况看来 in the light of present situation)

Item 8 seems unrelated to any other ones. It says it's same with 就是(3). I'll talk about 就是 in more details later.

Item 7 contains 8 sub items.

Sub item a,b,c,d seems related to each other, all have the meaning about time/sequence.

  • a. in short time, at once, right away. (我就来. I will come right away)
  • b. things begin or end as early as, long since. (风早上就停了. The wind has already subsided in the morning.)
  • c. as soon as, right after, one thing happened immediately after another. (吃完了午饭就走. leave as soon as lunch is finished.)
  • d. something is the natural consequense of some condition. (若不快去, 就赶不上了. If you don't hurry up, you will be late. Be late is the natural consequence of not hurrying up)

Sub item e seems unrelated to the other ones.

  • e. used as comparision, meaning bigger/longer/more and so on. (他三天才来一次,你一天就来三次. He comes once every three days, you come three times in one day.)

Sub item f seems unrelated to the other ones.

  • f. 就 is put in between two identical component to represent "tolerate" or "don't care about something", X就X吧. (丢了就丢了吧,以后小心点. If it's lost, it's lost. Just be more careful from now on.[means you don't care about the fact that it's lost / though you are unhappy that it's lost, you finally decide to accept the fact and make do without it.] 大点就大点吧,买下算了. Though it's bigger (than the right size), I decide to buy it and make do with it. [You like the skirt's colour, its sytle, and so on. But its size is a little bigger. You hesitate for a while and decide to accept it. You say: "大点就大点吧,买下算了."])

Sub item g seems unrelated to the other ones.

  • g. only, just. (就他一个人知道这事 He is the only person who knows this / Only he himself knows this. 就三个人来开会 Only three people showed up to the meeting.)

Sub item h seems unrelated to the other ones.

  • h. for positive emphesis. (我就不信我学不会. I just refuse to believe that I can't grasp that.[means "I will work harder to grasp that"])

About 就是: 就是 as a word has three meaning items.

  1. [auxiliary] used at the end of a sentence for affirmation. (我一定办到,你放心就是了. I will get it done, just trust me / rest your heart.)
  2. [adverb] used alone to express agreement. (就是,就是,您的话很对. Yes, yes, what you said is right.)
  3. [conjugation] even if. represent assumed concession, usually used together with 也. Example: 为了祖国,我可以献出一切,就是生命也不吝惜. For my country, I can sacrifice anything, even if it's my life, I will not stint on it.)

Figure. meaning of 就是 in 现代汉语词典, 第6版, page 698 excerpt from Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, 6th Edition

Something more about 就是: in the phrase 就是他(Who broke the window? It is him! [pointing to him]), 就是 is not deemed to be a word, and can't be explained by any of the three meaning item of 就是. Instead, here 就,是,他 are three seperate word. 就 falls into meaning item 8 sub item h. That is, 就 means emphesis. We can just say "他!(Who broke the window? Him!)", or "是他(It's him!)", or "就是他(It is him!)". We can also say "就他!". In this case, it's legitimate to use 就他 in place of 就是他.

With regard to 就他(follow his wishes) and 就你(As you wish!), I guess 就 means 迁就(accommodate oneself to, yield to, give in to) here. But 迁就 is a word as a whole and can't be abbreviated to 就. I can't find any example using 就他 as "follow his wishes" or 就你 as "as you wish".

About 迁就: This word means accommodate oneself to, yield to, give in to. 迁 means move, 就 means approach (Item 1). A迁就B literally means "A moves himself to approach B (at B's convenience)", and extends to mean "A accommodate himself to B" / "A yields to B".

About 就 in 繁纓七就: 繁纓七就 comes from Book of Rites(Simplified Chinese: 礼记. Traditional Chinese: 禮記), a collection of Chinese classic texts dating back to Zhou dynasty (1050–771 BC) in China. So obviously this meaning is an ancient one, and no longer used today, or it will be listed in Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, 6th Edition.

About 就就:I didn't find any other exmaple of 就就 meaning "intact,whole" outside of www.zdic.net, and zdic.net doesn't give any reference for this usage. Maybe it's from a certain dialect. I can find an exmaple of 就就 from Lüshi Chunqiu(吕氏春秋), 《吕氏春秋•下贤》:“确乎其节之不庳也,就就乎其不肯自是,鹄乎其羞用智虑也,假乎其轻俗诽誉也。” But here 就就 means "a look of hesitation".

  • Ok, you just give usual treatment of 就. My point is in "universality" of my treatment of 就. One base-meaning is extracted to derive all the rest so NOT-NATIVES can learn. Of course all the above mentioned by you is easily understood by a natives but it's absolutly have no structure for others. I see you've put a work into your post but can you give us "new and unconventional" info about 就.?
    – coobit
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 7:04
  • Thanks for "就你 You are exactly the one I want." line. I didn't think about it.
    – coobit
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 7:07
  • @coobit rewritten. But still can't find any reliable resources about the etymology of 就.
    – ltux
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 11:53
  • Item 3 and 5. As I see it, they are related by "passivity". I mean food is being a passive reciver of some ingriditens. Item 6: 就工作经验而言,他比别人要丰富些. I would translate "If his working expirience is being the subject of the talking, I would say that....." still reading your huge post. :)
    – coobit
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 12:00
  • item F. please explain and translate the sentence again (some problems with english grammar). This usage is a new thing for me. More examples of item F will be appreciated. item G yes it is hard to explain in any other model except mine. 他一个人知道这事. It's a factual statment. So we know that He is the only one who knows, but adding 就 makes the situation explicit. It's like "масло маслянное" in Russian "buttery butter"
    – coobit
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 12:09

Perspective from Japanese

The primary meaning for in Japanese (which as you may know often tends to keep the Classical Chinese meaning for characters) is to "stick to", "arrive at", "become (something)" and is related to a word that is written with 「」(从) meaning "follow" or "obey", .

From that perspective I think your theory holds up well.

I would say that these meanings could be reduced to two basic underlying concepts which are related:

  • following ⇒ 从(従)
  • arriving at a destination ⇒ 近・到・着・完成・完全・完了(只有 & 仅仅 by extension)

To use some of your examples:

  1. 就你 - follow your wishes. (As you wish!)
  2. 就學 - arrive at (a place of) education. (Go to school)
  3. 就伴 - follow (the way of a) companion. (Act as a companion).
  4. 就范 - follow a mold (To yield, to give in).
  5. 就木 - arrive at a wooden casket (or a tree 【scary-version】) (to die).

Usage of phrases like「就他」

The basic meaning of these kinds of phrases in context could be:

  • 「就是他」「就是他的」
  • 「仅仅他」「只有他」

These meanings can be viewed as being derived from the concept of "arriving" in the sense of "completion" or "completeness", as in "only him" or "only his" and "just him" or "just his".

  • The problem with 就 as "following\arriving" can be seen in "就他". As 就他has many meanings: 1)follow his wishes; 2)He is exactly the one I want.(as ltux told us). 3)This is him! (who did it! Hold him!). The "subject" meaning covers all three translations here it's just the "who is the subject what changes" and 就 can serve as a mark of a topic. something like "ABOUT(就) this matter, You are wrong." Here 就 as a mark of a "subject" (better " subject of a topic" in that aspect) shines best.
    – coobit
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 7:13
  • Do you mean 就他 as a shortened form of 「就是他」and/or「就他的」?
    – sazarando
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 7:22
  • Or do you mean it with the sense of「仅仅他」「只有他」?
    – sazarando
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 7:32
  • Can I mean everything abouve suggested by you? That's my point 就他 can mean alot of things (I'm not native, and not very skilled at chinese, so I CAN be mistaken. Tell me you opinion).
    – coobit
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 7:35
  • @coobit I made some changes to my answer based on your comments. What do you think?
    – sazarando
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 8:05

You ask: "Why the hell 'tall building + very' became 'to become a subject'?! "

First of all, 尤 did not mean "very," it meant "stand out."

就 the character is a pictorial rebus of a tall building that stands out, a great edifice, if you will.

《说文解字注》 writes: "廣韵曰。就、成也。迎也。卽也。" 成 means "accomplish/achieve," you can still see it in 成就. 迎 means "face toward" and 即 means "get next to." Of these meanings, the last two can easily transit to "be subject to," but the first one doesn't fit.

For that, 成:

  • 成,就也。——《说文》: 成 is 就, okay, circular, but consistent.
  • 成德之终也。——《国语·周语》: 成 is the end result of virtue.
  • 成者功就不可易也。——《太元元错》: That which is 成'd, its construction and 就 cannot be changed.

But If we look at the below example, all meanings are actually possible:

  • 就有道而正焉: achieve/face toward/get next to the existing Way and set upright by it.

So what does that mean? I think it means 就 started out as a construction term, meaning to finish the construction. It then came to mean to "reach for" or "reach" any objective, and it is in this sense that you are subject to it:

  • 就學 = reach for the endeavor of studying
  • 就餐 = reach for the endeavor of eating
  • 就位 = reach for a spot
  • 就你 = reach for you
  • 就着菜吃飯 = consume rice with entrees reached
  • 就事论事 = reaching for the subject and discuss it
  • 吃完了午飯就走 = after lunch it reaches the point of leaving
  • 就他一个人知道这事 = it reaches the fact that he solely knows this
  • 繁纓七就 = seven "reaches" of equestrian bands and tassels (similar usage to 箫韶九成 = nine "completions" of sacred flute music)

and some others:

  • 成就 = complete and reach
  • 功成名就 = the endeavor is completed and the fame is reached

I think this gives a more general explanation than "be subject to," even though that is where most modern uses have gravitated toward.


From a letter of John Renfroe, CEO and Co-founder, Outlier Inc.

I haven't looked into this character very much, but on a quick search (meaning I read the entry in 說文新證), here's what I've got.

The ancient form in your post on stack exchange is 亯 over 京. That's how it was written from the Shang dynasty through the Warring States period. In Qin, it was written 京+尤 or 京+又 (examples of both exist). The reason they wrote it differently is unclear.

The Shang version depicted a tall building. The character meant "to reach high," from which "to reach/arrive," "to accomplish," etc. were derived.

I'd guess (keep in mind this whole paragraph is a guess, not based on research—I haven't looked into it enough yet) that in 就學 or 就職, the meaning is "to undertake" as an extension of arriving (at school or work). Not sure about the grammatical uses but "at once" isn't too much of a stretch from "to arrive" (consider 馬上 "immediately", but literally "on a horse" as a metaphor for "happening/arriving quickly"), and "already/as early as" isn't much of a stretch from "at once". I'd have to look into it a lot more to be sure of how the meanings are related, but it looks like you and other posters have made a good start.

I've attached the relevant entry from 季旭昇《說文新證》 to this email. It isn't very high-res, unfortunately, but it should be legible. Note this is an old edition—I don't have the most recent edition with me right now—so his position on this character may have changed since then. At any rate, it's a good starting point for this kind of research and may interest you.

Also note that I'm not claiming he's right—I'd have to do a much more exhaustive search to verify. That said, 季旭昇 does excellent work and is generally very reliable, so it's a good source.

Hope this helps!

enter image description here

  • This prove @sazarando 's answer, 成就, 继承 is extended to arrive , follow
    – sfy
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 2:17
  • 1
    "In Qin, it was written 京+尤 or 京+又 (examples of both exist). The reason they wrote it differently is unclear." The graph 又 or 尤 probably shouldn't even be interpreted literally in 就, it's just a hand or many hands making a building. In any case, the two are near homophones.
    – Nimrod
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 2:24

I think after 3 years I've cracked it. My original post is wrong. 就 is not "subject". It's more simple than this:

  • 就 as a verb used to mean "to take"
  • 就 as a conjunction now means "AND", thus extending original meaning "to take". Since you are "with an object" when you "take it", that is, it can be said that you are in a situation of "you AND it". Mind you there are many "and" in chinese (跟, 及, 也, 和, 并, 与, 而, 同 ect.) each has it's own connotation and perhaps evolved from a verb.

Arguments for this point of view:

1) I have found some rare etymology article about 就:

- The relevant oracle bone form of this character combines 又 hand + a vertical, slightly bent line, suggesting a skin eruption → wounded, contracted hand → differ; conspicuous (← conspicuously different shape of a wounded hand). Also, criticize (← be critical of what is perceived as figuratively bent) and outstanding (← conspicuous). Natural(ly), stand to reason, and especially/particularly are borrowed meanings.


  1. 疣 - 尤 (skin eruption) + 疒 illness (for emphasis/clarification) → wart
  2. 抛 - The right-hand element# combines a variant form of 尤 (contracted hand) + 力 power/energy → contract the hand about an object preliminary to hurling it. 抛 adds 手 hand/action indicator → throw/hurlthrow away; discard.

- As per 尤 (contracted hand) + 京 metropolis → contract the arm in summoning people to a metropolis → settle; take uptake/get a job; take instruction; embark (upon) (← take up) → appoint; provide service forarrange. Also, seat (a guest) (← settle).


  1. 鷲 - As per 就 (contract) + 鳥 bird → predatory bird contracting its talons around its prey → eagle
  2. 僦 - As per 就 (appoint) + 人 person (→ human agency) → hire; pay wagesrent.
  3. 蹴 - As per 就 (contract) + 足 leg/foot → contract the leg muscles (compare 蹙) in kicking/trampling → kick; tread on; trample.

Credit due: "Etymological Dictionary of Han/Chinese Characters" By Lawrence J. Howell and Research Collaborator Hikaru Morimoto

2) Now the second argument:

  1. construct:

    ...了, 就...



    Translated literally:

    Eating finish is a fact(了), and(就) go.

    Translated with more styling:

    Eating done, and off you go!

  2. construct:




    Once she's angry, and face turns red.


"三窟已就" means "all three holes have been completed".

It comes from the etymology of "狡兔三窟", originated from 戰國策.

A rabbit has three/several (according to the origin, it is indeed three) holes to live in, so if one is destroyed/occupied, it can still live in others. This is a metaphor when an adviser advises his master not to be overdependent on his current source of power (or to get satisfied with the current stability without preparation in case something wrong happened) (his current source of power is the position of a powerful official)f, that he should have three reliable sources of power (eventually, the two other ones are the support from citizens/former debtors and the position of a general in another country).

"三窟已就" is when the adviser reports that "all three rabbit holes have been constructed" (and now you can be relieved).

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