I'm Muslim and fasting for Ramadan (斋月 zhāiyuè). I often explain this to people by saying 出太阳时候不能吃饭 (chū tàiyáng shíhòu bùnéng chīfàn) which is an attempt to say "I can't eat when the sun is out". I'm wondering if this is an accurate way of expressing this.

Question: Does 出太阳时候不能吃饭 express "I can't eat when the sun is out" appropriately?

  • it appears to be, search web using 出太阳时候不能吃饭, zhidao.baidu.com/question/371399989.html 指的是从日出到日落不进食、水,不吸烟, – user6065 Jun 8 '17 at 23:44
  • 出太阳时候 = daylight? Can't you just say 白天不能进食, can't eat during daylight? – Mindless Jun 9 '17 at 0:09
  • I don't know. Can I? – Becky 李蓓 Jun 9 '17 at 0:10
  • @Rebecca Yes you can, the reason i'm asking is because i'm not sure if it's true or not. 白天不能进食 is definitely more appropriate. It means you are not allow to eat during daylight, so when the sun's out – Mindless Jun 9 '17 at 0:11
  • 1
    Good to see fellow Australians teaching in China btw, good luck! – Mindless Jun 9 '17 at 0:16
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Question: Does 出太阳时候不能吃饭 express "I can't eat when the sun is out" appropriately?

Not completely, because '出太阳' (sun is out) can refer to 'sun coming out after the storm' That implies you can still eat as long as you don't see the sun (when it rain or the sky is cloudy)

The correct way to explain it is:

太阳仍在天空时不能進食 (can't eat when the sun is still in the sky)

or

太阳下山前不能進食 (can't eat before the sun had gone down)

or

天黑前不能進食 (can't eat before the sky is dark -meaning the sun has completely set)

or

日落前不能進食 (can't eat before sundown)

  • Replaced 吃饭(to have meal) with 進食 (to eat), because 不吃饭(not having meal) doesn't cover having something for a snack.

user6065 wrote:

从日出到日落不进食、 (不喝)水,不吸烟

' Not eat, drink or smoke from sun rise to sun set' is the more detailed explanation of fasting.

Mindless wrote:

出太阳时候 = daylight? Can't you just say 白天不能进食, can't eat during daylight?

白天 refers to 'daylight time' (after the sun has completely risen and the sky is totally bright, or before the sun started to sink below the horizon and the sky is still bright). The term 白天 does not including the twilight time of dawn and dust, therefore it is not suitable for describing the fasting hours

  • I used 白天不能进食 yesterday, which may not be perfectly precise, but seems to have functioned well enough. – Becky 李蓓 Jun 10 '17 at 1:31

@Tang Ho's answer is absolutely correct, except it is formal and written styles of Mandarin, and would sound anything from stilted to incomprehensible when spoken. He also takes things a bit too literally, as sentences he criticizes actually mean what you want, even though I wouldn't say that is a bad thing to do.

While your sentence is not the way I would naturally put it, people would definitely understand what you mean. Yes, technically the sentence strictly means "whenever the Sun is visibly in the sky" and happens to most often refer to when the Sun re-emerges after e.g. rain, but people get what you mean because this literal interpretation is too twisted and unlikely. It is like how technically "the Sun is out" means "it is a clear day with few clouds" but people know you mean "when there is daylight".

So for example,

白天不能进食

Yes it technically means "daytime". But it would be a bit silly to suggest that it does not include dawn and twilight, especially in practical senses. If someone said to me that they can't do something in 白天, for example

我白天不能喝柠檬水

I can't drink lemonade in 白天

and it is 6am when the day has dawned, or 7:20pm when it is still twilight, I would not be surprised at all that they would not like to have lemonade now. I would only be sure I could offer them lemonade and not be refused when it is completely the night.



The colloquial way to put what @Tang Ho has is:


太阳仍在天空时不能進食

→ 太阳还在天上的时候不能吃东西

→ 太阳还在天上的时候不能进食

The 进食 part is fine, and you don't have to change that necessarily. 吃东西 "eat stuff" is just the colloquial way to put it. If you want to mean that you also can't drink stuff, just add (也)不能喝水 or 或(者)喝水 or 和喝水 [^1]. Technically 喝水 means drink water, but it is also a set phrase where 水 generally refers to consumable liquid. If someone tries to get around this by deliberately interpreting this literally, just respond to them by 什么都不能喝 "can't drink anything".

The phrase 仍在天空时 is really a bit stilted in colloquial Mandarin, especially if you explain it in a casual setting, or sandwich this in a colloquial speech.

You do not actually need 还 "still", but you also make complete sense including it.


For any sentence with 前 that he has, those are fine, even though not entirely colloquial, like 进食. The way to be more colloquial is to replace it with 之前 or 以前.


从日出到日落不進食、 (不喝)水,不吸烟

→ 从日出到日落不吃东西、 不喝水、不吸烟

or 从日出到日落不能吃东西、 喝水、吸烟

Again, 进食 is fine. It's not listed just for brevity.

However, there can't really be parentheses there in colloquial Mandarin, because you risk not being able to be understood. 进食 is a set phrase in Mandarin, and there is no set phrase as *进水 meaning "to have water". 进 itself does not mean consume [^2], which makes guessing the meaning a lot harder. People might be able to piece together what you mean still, especially if they know you are not a native speaker and hence would devote more attention to actively figuring out what you say, but you absolutely cannot just expect that to happen.


[^1] Could you just say 吃 and 喝 like English can say "eat" and "drink" without objects? Yes, and you won't get misunderstood. Some people might interpret that as you are slightly suffering in some way, but that is all.

[^2] "进" means "consume" only in a few set combinations related to eating, like

进食 "eat";

油盐不进 "lit. not taking in oil or salt; meaning being stubborn and (in addition) refusing to listen or consider it / things";

滴水不进 "lit. not taking in (even) a drop of water; meaning not consuming / to consume / able to consume anything";

滴水未进: 未 means "have not" or "did not" instead of 不 "not".

粒米不进: 粒米 "lit. a grain of rice" instead of 滴水 "lit. a drop of water". This may or may not suggest "not drinking anything".



A rule of thumb deciding on what speech level or register to use: the more highly educated the other party, and the more familiar the other party is with written, formal styles of Mandarin, the more likely it is you will be understood saying something in the written or formal register. And it's not that a lot of people can't understand, for example, 仍在天空时, it is just that they will need time parsing them because that is not the expected syntax or words in colloquial Mandarin, and at least I think both of you would appreciate a conversation with less hurdles.

But if someone looks like they may not be familiar with the written styles of Mandarin, e.g. if they have not received a lot of education, then try to stay clear of written or formal styles and try to speak as much in spoken / colloquial styles as possible. So, for example, do so when speaking to an illiterate person. This is not discrimination, but really just to facilitate understanding, because otherwise you literally do not get understood, and probably neither of you wants that. After all, you can't make the unreasonable assumption that everyone knows written styles of Mandarin well, which is usually not the way people speak.

  • I could include the colloquial Mandarin in my answer, however, in this case, the OP is reciting a written rule of fasting. It is totally fine to say: 我们穆斯林教规规定: " 在斋月内从日出到日落不能進食" – Tang Ho Jun 9 '17 at 8:42
  • Another instance that we may use written language colloquially, for example, It is o.k. to say: '这路标说: "不准停车等候" ' instead of ' "在这里不能把车停下来" – Tang Ho Jun 9 '17 at 8:56
  • Correct. If you are just repeating or citing stuff it is a lot more acceptable. But still, a lot of people paraphrase written language in some ways. 禁止停车 is totally fine colloquially (in a lot of contexts 进食 also, though not all). But even this, I would always rephrase to an illiterate relative of mine as something like 不让停车 (or 不准 / 不能 / 不许). And even if it's just peers talking with me, it is completely normal if they say something like "这个路牌说这里不准停车" – Rethliopuks Jun 9 '17 at 9:25

Although your expression is understandable, there is a minor flaw that can be fixed to make the sentence smoother.
You should add a "的(de)" between 出太阳 and 时候 to indicate the time you are referring to is when the sun is out.
Please note that although 出太阳 technically means "the sun comes out" as in the sun comes out (behind clouds etc.), your entire expression has the implication of "whenever the sun is out" rather than "the moment the sun comes out", and that also implies "during the day" In other words, your expression does say "cannot eat when the sun is out" and it has the implication of saying "cannot eat during the day"

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