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I've been studying for HSK3 and I was very intrigued in the reason why expressing "again" in different moments has to be done with different characters, I mean, I know their differences and when to use which but I want to know if there is a reason for them to be different.

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  • "If there is a reason for them to be different". No, just common practice. You can not translate both into one English word "again" and come back to ask why the Chinese do not use one word.
    – PdotWang
    Dec 4, 2023 at 14:49
  • 比如:昨天我迟到了。今天我又迟到了。明天我不再迟到。That is how the Chinese express the tenses.
    – PdotWang
    Dec 4, 2023 at 17:31

5 Answers 5

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Although not all Chinese varieties use the two words 再 vs 又, the distinction represented is fairly common across all the Chinese languages, with very few even possessing a merged 'again' (閣 koh in Xiamen Min Nan can do both, but 閣再 koh-chài and 又閣 iū-koh are also used, observing this distinction).

This may be related to the fact that 再 zài in Old Chinese was strictly limited to the adverbial meaning 'twice'.

文子三思而後行。子聞之曰,則可矣。

Wén zǐ sān (traditionally pronounced sàn) sī ér hòu xíng. Zǐ wén zhī yuē, zài zé kě yǐ. ​

(Ji) Wen thought three times before acting. When the Master heard this, he said, "Twice would be fine".

The extension of 再 to a present/future-'again' is stated to have happened during the Tang Dynasty. I surmise that this is related to the rise of the classifier system in that period, through 再次 'the second time' becoming 'once again'.

Meanwhile, 又 had had an 'even/again/moreover' semantic domain from the Classical period, retained into the majority of Chinese varieties of the present day (in Min Dong it has mostly been supplanted by 復, which had meant 'to return' in the Classical language and did extend to verbal uses of 'again' in Modern Standard Mandarin, much like Latin 're-' in English).

The adverb 亦, often used as 'also', also had meanings corresponding to Modern English 'again' in Classical Chinese, but now this is preserved very sporadically, mostly among Wu varieties.

Note that 还 is also often considered a "repetitive adverb" in Modern Standard Mandarin, and so you'll often seen these three discussed in the linguistic literature. Compare the evolution of French encore; semantic map models have been developed for these cross-lingustically, where you will see not all varieties of Chinese fall perfectly along the same lines.

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from: allsetlearning.com

Comparing "zai" and "you"

Both 再 (zài) and 又 (yòu) express the repeating of an action and can be roughly translated in English to "again." However, 再 is used to express actions that have not yet occurred (the "future again") and 又 is used for actions that have already occurred (the "past again"). They're not interchangeable. In addition, each word has a few special usages.

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the primary reason for using different characters is to distinguish between actions or events happening in the past (又) and those happening in the present or future (再). This distinction helps convey the temporal aspect of the action and provides clarity in Chinese communication.

又 (Yòu):

Temporal Aspect: "又" is used in the past tense to indicate the repetition of an action or event that occurred before. It emphasizes the continuity or recurrence of an action in the past. Example: 我又看了这部电影。(Wǒ yòu kàn le zhè bù diànyǐng.) - "I watched this movie again." 再 (Zài):

Temporal Aspect: "再" is used in the present or future tense to indicate the repetition of an action or event. It emphasizes the idea of doing something again in the present or future. Example: 我会再试一次。(Wǒ huì zài shì yī cì.) - "I will try again."

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Difference between 又(again/ also) and 再(again/ continue/ then):

1. When 又 means "again", it can be used for something repeated in the past, present, or future.

Example:

他昨天又遲到了 (O)

他(現在)又遲到了 (O)

他明天又要去日本 (O)

2. When 再 means "again", it is used for something repeating in the future.

Example:

他昨天再遲到了 (X)

他(現在)再遲到了 (X)

他明天再要去日本 (O)

3. 又 also contains the meaning of "also"

Example:

他既遲到早退 (He didn't only come in late, he also left early)

4. 再 also contains the meaning of "continue/ then"

Example:

他去了日本去美國 (He first went to Japan, and then went to The United States

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再 - to repeat something (in the future).

又 - of repeating something (now)/(in the past)/(in the future)

  • 不要再提那些事了 - Don't ever mention those things again. (in the future)

  • 你又提那些事了 - You have just mentioned those things again. (present)

  • 你前天又提那些事了 - You mentioned those things again the day before. (past)

  • 不要再喝酒了 - Don't drink again. (in the future)

  • 他又喝酒了 - He drinks again. (present)

  • 他昨天又喝酒了 - He drank again yesterday. (past)

Add after PdotWang's comment:

  • 他明天又要去喝酒。He is going to drink again tomorrow. (future)
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  • 他明天又要去喝酒。He will drink again tomorrow.
    – PdotWang
    Dec 4, 2023 at 21:02

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