Many moons of my struggle with 就 and 就是 maybe finally over. But still I need help from natives and others.

There is a book out there with a title: "这就是台湾,这才是台湾" Once I saw that phrase I thought that I have a key for cracking the 就 thing.

I, certantly, have an opinion about the proper translation of that sentence but I would rather hear an uncontaminated (by my ideas) reasoning of others. Thanks.

To help the explanation of the title of that book, I provide some more examples for 就 and 才 interplay. Translation of those will be appreciated too.

  1. 你怎么想我就不在乎呢。vs 你怎么想我才不在乎呢。
  2. 两个人就能办好。 vs 两个人才能办好。
  3. 就是他。 vs 才是他。
  4. 就是够了。 vs 才是够了。
  • Users recommend "汉语800虚词用法词典"北京:北京语言大学出版社,2013.4: 124-128页, 就[副] 392-399页, [比较]才[副]就[副] 399-403页 – user6065 Nov 26 '16 at 17:17
  • 我才不在乎 would be something like "you can xxxxx for all I care" or "I don't give a crap" - 我就不在乎 would indicate more of a change as in: (then) (in that case) I won't care (about it) - or - (as for me) I don't care – user3306356 Nov 28 '16 at 0:47
  • user3306356, do you feel that 我才不在乎 is a double negation in a sence? where 才 is a kind of "negative" and 不在乎 is obviously negative. – coobit Nov 29 '16 at 10:42
up vote 3 down vote accepted

A lot of people are trying to explain 就 vs 才 with english equivalent terms, but that makes it very confusing when it can be explained with simple logic statements, and it is crucial to understand the reasoning behind all these cases:

X就Y -> Y if X

X才Y -> Y if and only if X

The difference is that when using 就, X is not the only condition that Y can happen, while with 才 Y happens [if and only if] X happens. Basic example:

下雨的話(X)地就會濕(Y)

The floor will get wet (Y) [if] it rains (X)

下雨的話(X)地才會濕(Y)

The floor will get wet (Y) [if and only] if it rains (X)

Mutated form of 就 vs 才:

你怎么想我(X)就不在乎呢(Y)。

I wouldn't care (Y) [if] however you think of me (X)

你怎么想我(X)才不在乎呢(Y)。

I wouldn't care (Y) [if and only if] however you think of me (X)

But wait a second, how does that make any sense?

You see, "I wouldn't care" is the result of "however you think of me", the action. By using 就 you are simply stating that you wouldn't care how he thinks of you. But in some cases that's not powerful enough, and only in chinese that you can deliver that kind of tone: you want to tell the other person you don't care so much that "however you think of me" is the ONLY thing that you don't care about, and you care about everything else.

两个人(X)就能办好(Y)。

It can be done (Y) [with] two people (X).

两个人(X)才能办好(Y)。

It can be done (Y) [with and only with] two people (X).

(Note that this can imply strictly 2 persons, or 2 or more people)

The following is harder to explain:

就是他。

That is (simply) him

才是他。

That is (the real) him

You would use 就是他 when you see someone doing something that he normally does.

那就是菲尔普斯(Y),又贏獎牌了(X)

That is Michael Phelps (Y), winning yet another medal (X)

([Because] of winning another swimming medal, he has to be Michael Phelps)

But then let's say Michael Phelps had been on a losing streak for the past few of games, and he has finally gotten another medal.

那才是我知道的菲尔普斯!

Oh yeah that is the true Michael Phelps that I know of!

(This signifies that it is the real Michael Phelps [because and ONLY because] he has won again and he is known for winning. It wasn't him when he wasn't winning. You would use this form when you want to confirm that something is finally back in shape or back to where it used to be.)

Finally, quite straight forward:

就是够了

That is enough.

才是够了。

That is just enough.

  • Thanks, that's just what I need. But that "I wouldn't care (Y) [if and only if] however you think of me (X)" and "I don't care so much that it is the only thing I don't care in this world." the construction gives me headache. :) – coobit Nov 29 '16 at 19:42
  • @coobit Yeah grammatically it doesn't make sense just because there is no direct translation in english, but it helps a lot if you treat it as more of an action and reaction – Zukaberg Nov 29 '16 at 19:55
  • How does you "iff=short for "if and only if" make sence in these examples:1)回来再上上网,发几个伊妹儿,搞到十一点才睡觉。 2)昨晚我十一时才睡觉,因此今天起床晚了。 3)她直到11点才上床睡觉。 – coobit Nov 30 '16 at 5:17
  • @coobit Those examples are quite similar so Ill try to answer them all at once, they all have the same "十一點才睡覺" When you say "十一點就睡覺", again you are simply saying that you will sleep if the time is 11, it doesn't exclude the time where time is NOT 11, similar to the 兩個人就辦好 above. when you say 十一點才睡覺, you are sleeping when and only when it is 11, signifying that you indeed didn't sleep until 11, again similar to the 兩個人才能辦好,it can be done with and only with 2 people, however that could mean 2+ people too, so your original sentence could mean you slept later than 11 – Zukaberg Nov 30 '16 at 14:46
  • got it. Yes your ideas about logical markers are similar to my. But "if and only if" according to mathematics, says that 2+ are not acceptable, less than 2 are similary unacceptable. Only 2 and strictly 2 are good. So 才 according to your examples are more closer to my idea of "neccesary condition". – coobit Nov 30 '16 at 17:50

This is our considered opinion. Hope it helps.

Once you have ended your striggle to understand 就 and 才, you certantly need to begin your striggle to spell English correctly!

这就是台湾,这才是台湾。 This and only this is Taiwan.

你怎么想我就不在乎呢。(not said this way)
你怎么想我就不在乎了。 I can't keep worrying about how you feel.

你怎么想我才不在乎呢。 I don't care what you think.

两个人就能办好。 You just need 2 people to finish this work.

两个人才能办好。 You have to have at least 2 people to finish this work.

就是他。 That's him.

才是他。(这才是他。) That is how he is.

就是够了。 (maybe try: 我受够了。 I've had enough! (angry)) It's enough.

(再给我XX)才是够了。(give me more,) then it will be enough.

这才是够了。 It's not enough./ Only this is enough.

  • striggle…………………? – user3306356 Nov 28 '16 at 0:41
  • OP may have meant to write 'struggle', who knows? – Gangosa Nov 28 '16 at 4:28
  • Yes, wasn't sure if it was meant to be satirical or not. – user3306356 Nov 28 '16 at 4:30
  • @Gangosa, What do you think about those interpretations: 1)"你怎么想我才不在乎呢" - "I just reached the bare minimum for not caring about what you think." 2)"你怎么想我就不在乎了" - "I have long ago reached the level needed not to care about what you think." – coobit Nov 28 '16 at 7:46
  • Hey, I'm no expert, just a learner, but my woman is pretty good! 你怎么想 here equates to something like 'whatever you think' 我才不在乎 I would put as 'I don't care' I don't see any mention of a bare minimum. Over interpretation I think. 我就不在乎了 literally 'I (in) that (case) not care'. I paraphrase that as 'I don't care about (that). That's how we got to the answers I gave. In 2) you can interpret that so, but I don't know where you got 'long ago' from, unless you provide more context. Everything changes with context. – Gangosa Nov 28 '16 at 10:07

COMMON FUNCTION OF 就 and 才

Both are used to denote the word in which the speaker do not want the listener to make mistakes or misunderstandings.

Ex: 这就是台湾 and 这才是台湾 both focuses on the word 这

DIFFERENCE

Simply say, the difference is the mistake itself. Here are 3 situations:

  1. What kind of mistakes the speaker expect the listener will make
  2. What kind of mistakes the speaker don't want the listener to make
  3. What kind of mistakes that the listener already made, and the speaker wants to correct the listener

So, what kind of mistakes is the difference.

  1. The listener will think MORE THAN the expected or correct one.
  2. Response with opposition the NEGATIVE thought by someone else.

Ex: 这就是台湾。 -> Here is Taiwan.

Taiwan is not far away, it is right here. However, using 就, it could meaning the following 3 things:

i. The listener may think Taiwan is still far away.
ii. The listener thinks Taiwan is still far away.
iii. The speaker wants the listener to know Taiwan is NOT far away, but right here.

Ex: 如果明天台风还没有走,我就不上班。 -> If the typhoon did not go away by tomorrow, I will not go to work.

Chinese has a common sentence structure: 如果...就...
You may wonder what the use of 就 here is. It usually denotes the following meaning:

I will not go to work as long as the typhoon is not gone. (Don't think that I need more conditions to not go to work, this condition suffices)

Ex:
A: 我看你还是在乎的了。(Negative mood)
B: 我就不在乎给你看!(Despite the use of 不, opposite to negative mood is positive)
A thought that B will care(negative), but actually B will not, and so B responds with the use of 就.

  1. The listener will think LESS THAN the expected or correct one, or the listener will just think WRONG if the mistake cannot be quantitized or qualitized.
  2. Response with opposition the POSITIVE thought by someone else.

Ex: 这才是台湾。

It could meaning the following 3 things:

i. The listener may think Taiwan is somewhere else, not here.
ii. The listener thinks Taiwan is somewhere else, not here.
iii. The speaker wants the listener to know Taiwan is NOT somewhere else, but here.

Ex: 两个人才能办好。

It could meaning the following 3 things:

i. The listener may think that less than two guys are already enough to do something.
ii. The listener thinks that less than two guys are already enough to do something.
iii. The speaker wants the listener to know that less than two guys are not enough to do something.

Ex: 你怎么想我才不在乎呢。
The listener thought the speaker will care(positive), but actually the speaker will not.

I think there are actually more usage, but I am not going to list here, since we are focusing on the comparison only.

  • Monumental work by you. Thanks. But "The listener wants the listener to know" I don't quiet understand this part. I mean "2 listeners"? Maybe one is the speaker and the other is a listener? And the phrase 这就是台湾 .这才是台湾 is not about the distance but about the description of what Taiwan really is and what it is not. Althout the "distance" explanation you'd better leave (it's a good example) – coobit Nov 26 '16 at 21:12
  • @coobit Yeah, I mistyped the speaker as listener. Corrected. However I don't think you fully understand what I tried to mention. I NEVER mentioned the word "distance", but only more and less than, which is doing NOTHING with distance. – 超酷爆帅型男 Nov 27 '16 at 7:33
  • You mention you actually mean "This is how Taiwan is" by using 这就是台湾. Still, you did not break my model. You are indeed using the word 就 because you don't want the listener to think MORE THAN what it suppose to be. In your case, it will be: Don't think that being like A is not enough to identify Taiwan, but instead being like A is already Taiwan. – 超酷爆帅型男 Nov 27 '16 at 7:35
  • 超酷超帅型头型男, Thanks for the answer. Yes, I've misunderstood the "distance" thing. – coobit Nov 27 '16 at 14:05
  • "The speaker wants the listener to know Taiwan is NOT far away." Sooo, basicly, "the speaker", by using "这就是台湾", corrects possible mistakes of the listener. i.e.: "This is already Taiwan! (sufficient conditions are met, no need to look futher)." – coobit Nov 27 '16 at 14:06

My earlier answer depended on dictionaries' definitions too much. I mean I use the language, I should know what the function of 就 in different context. In practical sense, at the root, 就 as an adverb has three basic meanings, and they can extend to more meanings with different components, for example, 就座, 就業, 就地, 就緒 and 就捕 are all unique terms that have 就 as a component, that doesn't mean 就 has the meaning of " take the seat, get a job, on the spot, already complete and be captured.

1.then; right away

2.only; just

3.near; close to

Without clear context, the following phrase can be interpreted differently:

有錢就買車- when I have money, then I would buy a car (就= 1.then; immediately)

有錢就買車- whenever I have money, I only use it to buy car (就= 2. only; just)

有錢就買車 have money and soon will buy a car. (就=3. Near; close to; soon)

To avoid confusion, we have to make the context more clear, .

等我有錢就去買車- when I have money, then I would buy a car (就= 1.then; immediately)

我一有錢就只知道買車- whenever I have money, I only use it to buy car (就= 2. only; just)

我有錢,就快買車了- I have money and soon will buy a car. (就=3. Near; close to; soon)

as for 才, it too carries the meanings of "only; just"

the context of 这就是台湾, 这才是台湾 gave room for different interpretations. 这 could mean "这里(here)" or "这样(this way/like this)"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

According to some dictionaries. 就 has 7 meanings as an adverb, 6 as a verb, 3 as a preposition, and 2 as a conjunction.

You can check it out at: http://www.cantonese.sheik.co.uk/dictionary/characters/808/

In 这是台湾,就 is an adverb (就 [3] [adv] exactly; precisely; definitely )

  • 是台湾 = This precisely, is Taiwan.

才 as an adverb is simpler, it means "only", only then or "just"

  • 是台湾 = Only this, is Taiwan.

As for your example sentences:

1a. 你怎么想我不在乎呢。 As for how you think, I definitely don't care. (就 [3] [adv] exactly; precisely; definitely )

1b. 你怎么想我不在乎呢。As for how you think, I just don't care.

2a. 两个人能办好。Just two people can finish it. (就 [4] [adv] only; merely; just)

2b. 两个人能办好。 Only (having) two people can finish it

3a. 是他。 It definitely is him.

3b. 是他。 Only then, is him.

4a. 是够了。 Forthwith is enough (就 [1] [adv] at once; forthwith; right away )

4b. 是够了。Only then is enough

Respond to comments:

才 = "only then" in 2b. it is an adverb for 能 - (才能= only then, can)

In 1b, 才 = " just". It is an adjective for 我- (我 = if it is just me / concerning just me, I don't care).

You can tell 才 is the adjective "just" for the noun when it is followed by a negative statement denoted by 不 or 没

我不认识你= I don't know you
我(才)不认识你= (as far as I am concerned) I don't know you / I (just) don't know you

我没有那么多钱= I don't have that much money
我(才)没有那么多钱=  (as far as I am concerned) 
I don't have that much money / I (just) don't have that much money
  • 1
    Well, I have seen many dictionaries. I'm looking for a more uniform explanation of 就 and 才, more lingustical. IMHO 就 - is a sufficient contition marker(already, far too viable condition) and 才-is a necessary condition marker (minimum viable contion). – coobit Nov 25 '16 at 9:11
  • 1
    就 in different sentences has different meanings, there's no single definition that can represent 就 alone. Even 才 can mean "only" or "just" (see 1b and 2b) – Tang Ho Nov 25 '16 at 9:35
  • Tang Ho, I may sound rude or unrespectful, but it is not so at all. Please, can you AVOID using Just and Only in your examples. Make the translation more long and exposing inner logic. For example: Instead of "As for how you think, I just don't care." I would translate it as "As for how you think, I BARELY care (that is almost don't give a dime)." with more structure to the sentence in the brackets after the main transaltion. Thanks. Please don't be offended. Just and only they are Too vauge, they mean to much.. – coobit Nov 25 '16 at 9:35
  • "there's no single definition" I thnk I have one now. :) I'm just trying to see if it's right by looking at your translations. I will answer my own POST and will give out my take on "the single definition" when more people respond. – coobit Nov 25 '16 at 9:38
  • The more detailed translation of 我不在乎 would be (as far as just I concern. I don't care) – Tang Ho Nov 25 '16 at 9:43

Now I will try to answer my own question. Judging by the opinions gathered here, I think the nature of 才 and 就 can be explained easily by this definition:

  1. 就 - already. It is a marker of a sufficient minimum.
  2. 才 - barely. It is a marker of a necessary minimum.

For example:

  • 她三岁就会说话. She already learned to speak when she became three. (3 years was sufficient for her)
  • 她三岁才会说话. She learned to speak only when she became three. (3 years was a necessary threshold for her)
  • Only|barely(才) three is enough to finish this task. (3 is a minimum number)
  • Three man is already(就) enough to finish this task. (3 is a sufficient number)
  • 你怎么现在就回家 It's 6, you are supposed to be home at 9.
  • 你怎么现在才回家 It's 11:30 you were supposed to be home at 9.
  • 我们九点上课,可是他八点就来了。We start class at 9am, but he came as early as 8 o’clock.
  • 我们九点上课,可是他九点一刻才来。We start class at nine o’clock, but he didn’t come until quarter past.

So when we say something like this:

要是他不来,我们走吧。

usually such sentences (要是...就) translate 就 as "then":

If they don't come, then we will leave.

But now I think 就 is more "already" than "then" (or rather 就 has a an original connotation of "already" (i.e. sufficient conditions for something to be true are met).

P.S. can someone explain what "去才去" means?

  • 如果方便去才去.
  • 外国上学是不是想去才去? 是不是很自由的想去就去不想去就不去?

Thank NS.X. for answer:

去才去(is a shortened 想去,才去) = Only then go, when you want to. (Once you know the fact that you want to go, then you can go.)

去就去(is a shortened 想去,就去) = If you want to go, then already go. (You've already been standing here for an hour unable to move! It is taking to long for you to do this. Go already!).

  • If only the Chinese language were simple, people like me would have no trouble learning it! Sadly, it is not and I do! – Gangosa Nov 26 '16 at 22:55
  • @coobit I have doubts on the second example you've given. Can you try to translate "He has already(就) fallen asleep" in Chinese, with the use of 就? – 超酷爆帅型男 Nov 27 '16 at 7:46
  • @coobit Your other explanations are good, showing that you've understood well the difference. It is ONLY the second dot which I have to point out. – 超酷爆帅型男 Nov 27 '16 at 7:48
  • 超酷超帅型头型男, I have changed the first 2 examples from sleeping to "language learning". Hope they will be ok. – coobit Nov 27 '16 at 13:56
  • You changed the sentence which start to make sense. However there are some minor issues on the sentence 你怎么就/才回家. You overlooked the very first point I've mentioned. 就/才 is used to denote the word which you don't want the listener to make mistake. In your sentence, you are focusing on time, however you did not include even the word to indicate time. If you know what I am talking about, you should be able to realize that the correct one is: 你怎么现在就/才回家 – 超酷爆帅型男 Nov 28 '16 at 2:50

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