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Suppose that I want to express the following (sample) sentence:

There is still 3 hours until the departure of the flight.

If you use a dictionary, the matched entries for "until" would be something like the follows:

到飞机起飞还有三个小时。

However, I feel it is a bit awkward, and also feel that 到 is not the appropriate word here, at least I don't think Chinese people use it much often.

Another example:

X: 下次等到假期准备在那多玩几天

I: Then until you come here I should improve my speaking skills!

With my limited writing skills, I might write it like:

那到你下次来的时,我应该学多。

In these cases, is 到 the appropriate word or how should I express "until ~" better in Chinese?

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  • until 到…时候 e。g。到飞机起飞的时候 – user6065 Mar 17 '18 at 8:59
  • @user6065 Is it OK that simple? Then the next example should be OK as well? (It is 时, not 时候 but I think it is the same) – Blaszard Mar 17 '18 at 9:08
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    It's hard to say which one is appropriate because they're all correct. IMO "离飞机起飞" or "距离飞机起飞", and "在你下次来之前" sound more natural. – user4072 Mar 17 '18 at 9:21
  • find examples for 到。。。时 at iciba:到第三圈时,金基德的车速达到了每小时289英里(by the 3rd lap), 比赛进行到第30分钟时双方都更换了守门员, also 直到…时候(为止) – user6065 Mar 17 '18 at 9:22
  • @songyuanyao The third example sounds quite natural for me. I wonder the use of 到 sounds a bit awkward, even though it might be grammatically correct, so posted a question here. – Blaszard Mar 17 '18 at 9:26
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I think the problem is, you cannot expect to translate Chinese to English (or English to Chinese) literally, word-by-word. The way that a sentence is constructed is way too different in these languages that translate word-by-word would lead to all kinds of awkward situations.

In your first example,

There is still 3 hours until the departure of the flight.

I would consider the following expressions in spoken language:

   飞机              还有  3个小时               起飞。
The flight | (is) | still 3 hours | (from) | departure.

To emphasize 3 hours:

   飞机       还有  3个小时        才         起飞。
the flight | still 3 hours | only until | take off.
 还有  3个小时      飞机           才         起飞。
still 3 hours | the flight | only until | take off.
==> The plane will only take off until 3 hours later.

Note that "until" is left out or changed by reordering those elements in your original sentence.

Or if you want to make it feel like an announcement (more formal), change the word to 距离(also means "until" in some situation) will be more suitable:

 距离             飞机起飞                  还有         3个小时。
Until | the departure of the flight | there is still | 3 hours.

As for the second example, it also requires some reordering and changes to wording:

Then until you come here I should improve my speaking skills!

 那           你下次来之前,        我  应该            多    练习。
Then | before you come next time | I should | (do) | more practice.
==> Then I should practice more before you come next time.

However, it doesn't mean that you have to left out "until" every time. Consider this example:

The company was in chaos until he became the manager.

Including "until" here or not makes the meaning quite different:

直到他成为经理之前,公司一片混乱。
  他成为经理之前,公司一片混乱。

You can infer from the first sentence that he is the key to the change of company. But the latter sentence could simply be a statement of fact, not necessarily credit him for the change.


So, the expression for "until" depends very much on the context IMO.

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  • Perfect! Thanks for the great answer. Then how should I use apart 到 and 直到? I feel that 直到 has stronger "until" nuance, but is this correct? – Blaszard Mar 18 '18 at 16:12
  • @Blaszard I don't have a dictionary at hand to give you the exact definition. But from my understanding: 直到means only until (certain things happened) or only until (a certain time), sometimes used together with 才. 百度百科 gives 直到 the following definition: 一直到(多指时间). And here are some examples I found: 1. 他工作了很久,直到半夜才休息。 2. 他一直往梯子上爬,直到喘不过气来。 In the first example, I think it is ok to change 直到 with 到. But in the second, it would only make sense with 到 if you change it to this: ……爬,(直)到喘不过气来才<停下 or whatever happened next>. I hope this will be helpful to you. – zypA13510 Mar 19 '18 at 1:16
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Well this is an tricky question. In most cases, 到 would be the best. But it would be a bit different in your question "Then until you come here I should improve my speaking skills!" The better translation would be 你下次来之前,我应该多学习。 Studying would be a behavior during this period of time. This could be a bit confusing because 之前 might sounds like "before" if you use a dictionary. In Chinese, if we are talking about time, 到 would be a better choice just like 到飞机起飞还有三个小时. But when we are talking about a behavior or experience during a period of time. 之前 would be more appropriate. Just like "我听到那个消息之前还感觉很快乐"I felt very happy until i heard that message. Another example would be 我听到铃声之前在读书 i was reading until i heard the bell. Basically 到 would describe purely time.

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The 到 in first simple is appropriate to use.

This 到 in here has no difference with "arrive" actually, not "places arrive" but "timing arrive", 距離 is the same. Basically the only difference between 距離 and 到 is that the 到 in here is a verb and 距離 is more like a noun, when we use 距離 , we already know the time mostly, but 到 we can also using for asking, like 到什麼時候 .

距離 in the first simple is focus on "3 hours" and 到 is focus on "the departure of the flight" , this sentence has all information they need , so it's ok to use both.

Next question, Because "improve my speaking skills" should be done before "you come here", we need to add 之前 behind 你下次來 not 時 , And because there's no exactly timing in this sentence, we prefer use 到 more than 距離 .

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When does our plane take off?
我们的飞机什么时候飞起?
There are still 3 hours until the departure of the flight, don't worry.
离飞机起飞还有三个小时,别担心。

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