IWTYAL 150: Expressing time in Chinese

Tadeusz asks: “Do Chinese concepts of time differ from English?”

In this episode:

In this episode, I’m joined by Chris Parker. We discuss…

  • How to express time in Chinese
  • Potential confusion with English
  • Similarities in Cantonese and Japanese

Language Examples:

Before and after, not really front and behind

5 years ago – 5年以前 = 5 years before (not really front)
5 years time – 5年以后 = 5 years after (not really behind) (trad chars = 五年以後)

前 = before or in front
后 = after + behind

上个星期 last week (upper week) (上個星期 trad chars)
这个星期 this week (這個星期 trad chars)
下个星期 next week (lower week) (下個星期 trad chars)
(for weeks and months)

For series of books or films etc:
上 the one on the top – part 1
(中) the one in the middle – part 2
下 the one on the bottom – part 3

or 上 first part 下 second part

上下 approximately (upper + lower)
左右 approximately (left + right)

前年 – the year before last (before year)
去年 – last year (gone/left year)
今年 – this year
明年 – next year
后年 – the year after next (year after) trad=後面

Resources Mentioned in This Episode:

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  • Israel Lai

    I must say I’ve never thought about this directions before! I’m not sure if I actually see them as up and down though.
    A remark: we say 上集 and 下集, but not 中集, when referring directly to episodes in a series. However, when naming them (such as in a catalogue), you’d do xxx(上)/(中)/(下)

    • I guess it’s the classic difference between a student and a native speaker of a language. I often meet non-native English speakers who know grammatical rules in far more depth than I do.

  • Tadeusz Mollin

    Thanks for answering my question Olly and Chris! I’m honoured and enlightened. The main take away for me, though, is that I think and analyse too much, and actually speak too little…

    • You’re welcome… it an interesting question to answer! I like the takeaway you mentioned!