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Does anyone know if 从来 translates to "always"? And if it is, is it used in the same way? For example if I want to say: "I always buy oranges", would that be “我从来买橘子”?

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从来 in modern Chinese is more like "never". It is always used with other negative word like 不 or 没有. In ancient Chinese it does means "always" but nowadays nobody use this original meaning.

So it is not common to say " I always buy oranges " as "我从来买橘子" in Chinese. You can say " 我 经常/一直 买橘子"

But when you try to say " I've never bought orange" in Chinese. You can say: "我从来没买过橘子"

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    从来 can be used with positive sentences, it is just (much) rarer – user238264 Dec 12 '13 at 20:09
  • @user238264 yes that's why I said "in modern Chinese". In LU XUN's novel "狂人日记" he asked:"从来如此 便对吗?". But this is not modern Chinese. So I think for the non-native speaker, it is much easier to just get the meaning which is common used. – Archeosudoerus Dec 12 '13 at 20:12
  • And it can be used that way in modern Chinese, the dictionary I cited in my post gives several examples, one of which is from a newspaper, and another from 毛泽东 – user238264 Dec 12 '13 at 20:14
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    Using 从来 in positive sentence sounds natural to me and I just asked a few friends who feel the same way. E.g. “我从来都是先吃饭再喝汤。”“他每天一起床就喝咖啡,从来都是这样。” – NS.X. Dec 12 '13 at 22:40
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    +1 to @NS.X 's comment. 从来 is indeed more frequently associated with 不. However, 从来都, as a positive expression, is very native to me. – Mingjing Zhang Dec 12 '13 at 23:45
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Without 都, 从来 does not mean always. 从来 actually means from (从) past till present (来). It is obvious where the always come from by looking at the example given by NS.X:

他每天一起床就喝咖啡,从来都是这样。

Everyday, he drinks coffee when he wakes up. From past till present, it has always been like this.

每天      他  喝    咖啡   就      一起床     从           来           都     是   这样

See grammar usage here.

If you want to say "I always buy oranges", you can try using 向来都 instead. For example:

我向来都是买橘子的。

向来 means all along. 都 makes it always.

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According to 现代汉语虚词词典, 从来 always means always (given that always + a negative + ... = never + ...) and it can be used in the following ways:

  1. 从来+没【有】/不+动词短语
  2. 从来+没/不+形容词短语+【过】
  3. 从来 as a 副词 in a positive sentence
  4. occasionally it can function as a 定语.

In my experience it is much more commonly used with negative sentences. So, if you want to use always in a positive sentence, such as "I always buy oranges," it may sound more natural to use some other way to express always.

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it is more like the word 'ever' in (old) English, whose meaning changes as the word going with it changes, like forever(for ever) and not...ever (or never in its abbr. form) .

In this case, 从来都=forever/always, 从来不=not...ever.

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