I think one means it hasn’t happened yet and the other means it’s already happened, but I don’t really understand what that means when trying to translate into English or when trying to think of it in some kind of context.

3 Answers 3


Without context, you can only break down the phrase into word types and follow the grammar rule to interpret it literally

吃(verb: eat) + 上(verb particle: successfully/ able to)+ 饭(noun: meals)

吃上饭 = successfully/ able to eat meal = able to acquire and eat food

To check this structure is universal or not, replace the noun and see if it is still grammatical

吃上龙虾 = successfully/ able to eat lobster = able to acquireand and eat lobster


吃(verb: eat) + 下(verb particle: down) + 饭(noun: meal/ food)

吃下饭 = eat down a meal = ingest food

To check this structure is universal or not, replace the noun and see if it is still grammatical

吃下毒药 = eat down poison = ingest poison

Longer sentences can illustrate the functions of the phrases better

1a. 他窮得快吃不上饭了 = He is so poor that he'll soon unable to acquire and eat food (= can't afford food)

1b. 有工作才吃得上饭 = You can acquire and eat food only when you have a job

2a. 他虛弱得吃不下饭了 = He is so weak that he can't eat down food (= can't ingest food)

2b. 他的病好了許多,已經吃得下饭了 = His body has recovered a lot, already able to ingest food

Studying the example, 吃上饭, and 吃下饭 mostly work with potential particles 得 or 不 (able/ unable) --> [吃(得)上饭], [吃(不)上饭]; [吃(得)下饭], [吃(不)下饭]


忙了一天我终于吃上饭了 -> i finally managed to eat after a busy day

this emphasises being able to.

我心情不好,下饭 -> i'm not in the mood to eat

emphasises "down"

the minimum requirement of eating is to swallow down the food, but i am not even able to do that because of bad mood.

我去学校的食堂吃下饭 or 我去学校的食堂下饭 -> i'm gonna grab some food from the uni's cafe

in this example, does not really mean "down" it's more of saying this is not going to take long.

take a computer analogy, think of this like a piece of code only costs very few cpu cycles

think of 一下 like a piece of code only costs explicitly 1 cpu cycle



We can have dinner before the film starts.

吃上饭: have something to eat, however meagre, as opposed to nothing at all

他们已经四五天没吃上一顿像样的饭了。 They haven't had a decent meal in four or five days.

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