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Quick question: I heard my teacher recently use the term 但愿 - which apparently means to "Wish that they had/something happened". The example give was " 他们但愿我也是从湘西来的” Is this normally used in conversation? Could I, for example, say "我但愿上哈佛的商学院?” or does this only refer to things that have happened in the past?

Thanks!

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    Both of your sentences sound very weird to me. We don't put any subject before 但愿, and besides, the omitted subject should be "I". So "我但愿上哈佛的商学院" should be "但愿 我 能 上哈佛的商学院", and you can't use 但愿 in "他们但愿我也是从湘西来的". "他们希望我也是从湘西来的" will sound perfect. – Stan Sep 22 '14 at 17:07
  • I agree with @Stan here. "他们但愿我也是从湘西来的" is a really weird usage; "希望" is definitely better and common usage. – LulalaBoss Sep 22 '14 at 17:58
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但愿 functions very much like hopefully in English; it has no subject, the subject is assumed to be the speaker or none in particular. Therefore:

但愿我能上哈佛商学院

means

Hopefully I can attend Harvard Business School

It is in common use. Although it sounds somewhat formal, it is perfectly fine in spoken and written language.

  • 但愿 sounds a little bit formal. If it is speaking, I would use 希望. – Pete C. Sep 26 '14 at 2:25
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While both terms express the idea of "hoping", 但愿 is more for "wishing".

但愿我能上哈佛商学院 I wish I could attend Harvard Business School, (but it's a long shot.)

希望我能上哈佛商学院 I hope I can attend Harvard Business School. (We do not know the speaker's odds of gaining admission from this sentence alone.)

An example I can think of is 但願人長久,千里共嬋娟, loosely translated as “I wish we will live long so we can admire the autumn moon at the same time though we may be miles apart from each other." In this example, how long a person will live is out of the poet's control. He can only wish that it happens.

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yes people still say "但愿”as i hope . And "希望”which we use more often in Chinese Speaking means the same.

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If the context contains (long-term) wish, uncertainty, unbelieving, suspicion, we usually use "但愿". if you use "希望", it would be still fine in most cases. And "但愿" is indeed more formal than "希望"

for e.g.

  1. he: 我做的一切都是为了你.

    she:但愿吧.(unbelieving, suspicion)

  2. 但愿有情人终成眷属 (wish, formal)

A even more formal one is "惟愿" which literally means exactly the same as "但愿", but just more formal. You can only find it in poetic words and 文言 nowadays.

  • Nice explanation – qingbo Sep 29 '14 at 7:47
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但愿 但 means only. 愿 means hopefully. So 'if only' is the most accurate translation of 但愿

  • "If only" is mainly used while talking about regrets, as in "If only he lived to this day(如果他能活到今天就好了)". 但愿 isn't. – Wang Dingwei Dec 2 '14 at 11:57
  • @WangDingwei if only can be used to talk about just a wish for the future and 但愿 can also be used for expressing regrets. – Shikai Jin Dec 3 '14 at 15:02
  • Examples, please? – Wang Dingwei Dec 4 '14 at 3:15

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