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So, a teacher explained to me that 究竟 is a more formal way of saying 到底. However, I'm still curious are there any other usage differences between the two? Is 究竟 only used in examples that are relatively “夸张” Ex。 你究竟为什么要离开我。

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1) "究竟" is more formal than "到底". In everyday spoken Chinese, "究竟" is rarely used. It is used almost only in drama and written Chinese.

2) Well, I would say that the magnitude of "究竟" is equal to that of "到底". They are all equivalent to "on the earth".

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  • Would you ever use 究竟 in writing? For example 那么, 说不清究竟有什么意思? ? – Stephen Sep 11 '14 at 3:58
  • @Stephen: Yes I do, and so do lots of writers. When a professor writes an email to question some student, he would write "你究竟想做些甚麼呢?". But when they talk face to face, this sentence reduces to "你到底想做些甚麼呢?". The latter is more casual and colloquial. – Megadeth Sep 11 '14 at 4:13
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    @Stephen: No problem! :) And just to add something further: "到底" would be a bit more "offensive" than "究竟". So to prevent unnecessary misunderstanding it is safer to use "究竟" when writing. – Megadeth Sep 11 '14 at 4:54
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When used as an intensive, they are synomymous. Both translated as "on earth," "exactly."


究竟, 穷尽. literally means "investigate to the end." It can also be used as a noun which means "outcome," "final truth."

究 谋划;研究;探求. Study, investigate. Originally means "exhaust," "limit." See http://xh.5156edu.com/html3/15922.html

竟,终了,完毕. End, finish. See http://www.zdic.net/z/20/js/7ADF.htm

Source: http://baike.baidu.com/view/812975.htm?fr=aladdin


到底, 直到尽头. Literally means to "the bottom," "to the end."

Source: http://baike.baidu.com/view/893285.htm

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    special meaning of 究竟 "what actually happened",not shared by 到底 iciba: 我们都想知道个究竟.We all want to know what actually happened. Example from today's web news:(妻子磨蹭延误动车 丈夫出租车上将其殴打) 他下楼看见一名女子在哭泣便凑上前去看个究竟 , – user6065 Sep 11 '14 at 13:15
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There's another meaning for 到底, i.e., "to the end", while 究竟 does not have this meaning. E.g.:

We must fight on until the end.
我们必须继续斗争到底

This is described in more detail in the textbook 标准教程HSK4下 on pages 132-133, which says:

Similarity: Both can be used as adverbs in interrogative sentences of sentences with an interrogative word to indicate inquiry and strengthen the interrogative mood. Both can only be put before the subject if the subject is an interrogative pronoun.

无论做什么事情,只有试过才知道究竟/到底能不能成功。
人的一生中,究竟什么是最重要的?

Differences: "到底" can be used as a verb, meaning "till the end", while "究竟" has no such usage.

你耐心点儿!这个电影得看到到底,才能知道那件事情的原因。
我们已经做了这么多努力了,一定要把这个计划坚持到底,现在放弃太可惜了。

It also describes 究竟 as follows:

... It is often used in written Chinese. If the subject of the sentence is an interrogative pronoun, "究竟" can only be put before it.

The Chinese Grammar Wiki further highlights how 究竟 is more formal than 到底:

When someone asks you "what on earth are you doing?," "究竟 (jiūjìng)" is used by the speaker to intensify the question. In this case, 究竟 is similar to 到底. ... Note that 究竟 is more formal than 到底.
Expressing "in the end" with "jiujing"

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