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CC-CEDICT: 本来 (běn​lái​) original / originally / at first / it goes without saying / of course

I'm interested in the two adverb meanings of 本来, which my dictionary's definitions are:

  1. (副)从前,先前。
  2. (副)表示理所当然。

In some contexts, we can easily distinguish between these two meanings. However, sometimes it's not so simple.

本来是老师。

I get the impression this is ordinarily interpreted as meaning "he was originally a teacher", but I don't see why it cannot also be interpreted as meaning "he is of course a teacher" via the second adverb meaning above.

Question: Since 本来 means both "originally" and "of course", how can I determine if 他本来是老师 means "he was originally a teacher" or "he is of course a teacher"?

2 Answers 2

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The meaning of "of course" is usually used in a structure of 本来+就. In your example without 就, I don't think 本来 can mean "originally".

A good explanation can be found here.

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  • A: 他原本是做什麼的? B: 他本来(originally)是老师. This answer is a plain statement of fact - He originally was a teacher (it happens in the past, most likely not for now).

  • A: 他看起來像是教書的. B: 他本来就(of course)是老师. This answer is affirming the assumed position of the object in the question, with a slight sense of ridicule - He is a teacher without saying (it implies now, at this moment of speaking).

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  • It seems both interpretations are possible, depending on context. Right?
    – Becky 李蓓
    Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 2:34
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    I think it's uncommon to interpret 本来as "of course" without the 就, like what kyc pointed out
    – De Rien
    Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 6:19
  • Please note the difference between the questions and the answers. In general, yes, it is depending on the context. See updates.
    – r13
    Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 17:37

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