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Lesson 28 How to express “used to do …” in Chinese?

Posted by Grace Feng on January 22, 2013

Lesson 28 How to express "used to do ..." in Chinese?In English, we often use “used to do …” to describe a habit,  behavior or facts that happened in the past and stopped already. It is not possible to find an equivalent expression by just translating “used to do …” into Chinese verbatim. In this Learn Chinese Online grammar lesson, we’ll find out what are options out there that we can use to express “used to do …” in Chinese.

First of all, let’s go over new vocabulary list and then we’ll start with an example. Please use the estroke tool under the new word table to help you with your writing practice.

Simplified Chinese Traditional Chinese Mandarin Pinyin English Definition
曾经 曾經 ceng2 jing1 previously; ever
以前 以前 yi3 qian2 before; previous; ago;
原来 原來 yuan2 lai2 former; originally; at first
本来 本來 ben3 lai2 original; originally
dian4 shop; store
mai3 to buy
常常 常常 chang2 chang2 often;
公园 公園 gong1 yuan2 park (for public recreation)
wan4 play; have fun
  • You can copy and paste a few characters together into the box. They’ll show in the animation window one by one.
  • Once the stroke animation stops, click in the animation window and hit ENTER to replay it.
  • You can use the sliding bar to control writing speed of the animation.

 

If we want to say, “I used to live here.” That means, “I do not live here anymore. But I lived here in the past.” To turn that sentence into Chinese, you can use a word called “曾经 céngjīng“:

曾经住在这里.

wǒ céngjīng zhù zài zhèlǐ.

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That’s the best translation I can think of. However, the following alternatives are also acceptable:

以前住在这里.

wǒ yǐqián zhù zài zhèlǐ.

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原来住在这里.

wǒ yuánlái zhù zài zhèlǐ.

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本来住在这里.

wǒ běnlái zhù zài zhèlǐ.

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以前 yǐqián means “before; in the past”. “原来 yuánlái” and “本来 běnlái” means “originally”.

Please be aware that “曾经  céngjīng” can be shortened as a single character “曾  céng“. “曾  céng” and “曾经  céngjīng” share the same meaning.

Let’s look at another example:

I used to buy books in this store.

A good translation for this sentence could be:

以前常常在这个店买书.

wǒ yǐqián chángcháng zài zhège diàn mǎi shū.

I used to buy books in this store.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

以前常常 yǐqián chángcháng” describes a habbit that went again and again in the past. Do you see the difference? The first few examples demonstrated a verb that lasts for a long duration. The last example used a verb of instant behavior. “以前常常 yǐqián chángcháng” emphasizes the repeat occurrence of the behavior.

Let’s finish this lesson with two more examples then:

以前常常来这个公园玩.

tā yǐqián chángcháng lái zhège gōngyuán wán.

He used to spend his leisure time in this park.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

曾经学过中文.

tā céngjīng xué guò Zhōngwén.

He used to learn Chinese.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

Now, for practice purpose, could you translate the following two sentences into Chinese please?

1. She used to be a teacher.

2. She used to have lunch at school.

You can leave your answers in the comment area, thanks!

 

Related posts:

Lesson 8 How to use adjectives in Chinese (1)
Reading, Listening and Speaking practice 5
Reading, Listening and Speaking practice 9

 

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11 Responses to “Lesson 28 How to express “used to do …” in Chinese?”

  1. nothing

    kaviche:

    01-22-2013 8:51 pm

    1. She used to be a teacher – 她 曾经 是老师的

    2. She used to have lunch at school- 她在学校里本来吃午饭过

    by the way, how would you say “colourful” in chinese, im trying to say “spanish cuisine realli is one of the world’s most tasty and colourful” but i only got “班牙菜真是在最好与最鲜艳中的世界 ” does that convey the meaning i wanted ?

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      01-23-2013 5:32 am

      Hi kaviche,

      Your first sentence is well done. But “的” should be removed.

      The second sentence is talking about a habbit, an instant behavior – “have lunch”, that frequently happened in the past. Therefore, we should use “以前常常” instead of “本来”:

      她以前常常在学校里吃午饭.

      Remember, “when” should come before “where” in Chinese sentence. You swapped their position in your sentence. :-)

      Please refer to lesson 6 on word order:
      http://justlearnchinese.com/lesson-6-whats-the-right-order-of-words-in-a-chinese-sentence/

      Let me know if you have any questions…

      Grace

      Reply

      • nothing

        Grace Feng:

        01-23-2013 5:35 am

        “Colorful” = 彩色的 or 五颜六色的 or 鲜艳的

        班牙菜真是在最好与最鲜艳中的世界 could be:

        西班牙菜真是世界上最好吃,最鲜艳的菜.

        Reply

  2. nothing

    Beatrice:

    10-30-2013 4:53 pm

    Here you are my translation (I did not check the previous answer)
    她曾经当教授。

    她以前常常在学校吃午饭。

    谢谢

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      10-31-2013 3:45 am

      她曾经当教授。- add 过 then it’s correct: 她曾经当过教授。 (the action has completed)

      她以前常常在学校吃午饭。- perfect!!

      Reply

  3. nothing

    创统:

    06-12-2015 9:09 am

    她曾经当过老师.

    她以前常常在学校里吃午饭.

    Grace, 我最近常常利用你的网站, 真是最好的! 非常感谢你的帮助!

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      06-12-2015 7:58 pm

      Both sentences are very good.

      不用谢, 创统, 很开心看到你的留言。

      Grace

      Reply

  4. nothing

    Batman:

    01-02-2016 3:43 pm

    ( On my smartphone, I choose the free “Puffin Browser” to see the mp3 players. Just a piece of advice for those who also own an Android device )

    Translation of “used to”

    I think I guess the difference between 曾经 and 以前常常 。
    以前常常 means that you did something repeatedly.

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      01-04-2016 3:31 pm

      That’s correct, Batman: “以前常常 means that you did something repeatedly.”

      Thanks for posting the tip for Android users. :-)

      Grace

      Reply

  5. nothing

    开荣:

    01-04-2016 7:04 pm

    I have not checked the previous answers, but would like to know your opinion on my attempts:

    1. 她曾经是过一个老师。
    2. 他以前常常在学校吃中餐。

    谢谢你,你的网站是一分天坛的礼物!

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      01-06-2016 5:26 am

      开荣,你好!

      The first sentence is better to be changed to:

      她曾经做过老师。

      Or,

      她曾经是一个老师。

      The second sentence is perfect! Well done.

      很高兴认识你。

      Grace

      Reply

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