总是 VS 一直: “Always” is not always the same in Chinese

There are two ways to say “always” in Chinese, and these are the words “总是(zǒngshì)” and “一直(yīzhí)”.  Both  “总是(zǒngshì)” and “一直(yīzhí)” share the meaning of “always”, but people sometimes mistakenly use both interchangeably. One should be aware that there also are differences between them:

1. “一直(yīzhí)” emphasises a stable or continuous state. For example:
我一直很喜欢她。(Wǒyīzhíhěnxǐhuantā.) (√)

I’ve always liked her.
我总是很喜欢她。(Wǒzǒngshìhěnxǐhuantā.) (×)

2. “总是(zǒngshì)” emphases a high probability or frequency. For example:
真理总是掌握在少数人手中。(Zhēnlǐzǒngshìzhǎngwòzàishǎoshùrénshǒuzhōng.) (√)

Truth is always in the hands of a few.
真理一直掌握在少数人手中。(Zhēnlǐyīzhízhǎngwòzàishǎoshùrénshǒuzhōng.)(×)

3. You can see the differences in  meaning between these two words in these two pairs of examples:

(1) 最近几天一直下雨。(Zuìjìnjǐtiānyīzhíxiàyǔ.)

The rain never stopped during these couple of days. 
最近几天总是下雨。(Zuìjìnjǐtiānzǒngshìxiàyǔ.)

It has been raining these days, but there were intervals(when it didn’t rain) .

 (2) 他总是对的。(Tāzǒngshìduì de.)

In most cases, he is right.(It doesn’t exclude the cases in which he was wrong). 
他一直是对的。(Tāyīzhíshìduì de.)

He has always been right and never wrong. 

4. “一直(yīzhí)” has two other usages which “总是(zǒngshì)” doesn’t have。

(1) Emphasize the action never changed along a direction.

往前一直走。(Wǎngqiányīzhízǒu.)

Go straight ahead.

(2) Emphasize a connected scope of reference.

从数学、物理、化学一直到外语,他的成绩都不错。(Cóngshùxué, wùlǐ, huàxuéyīzhídàowàiyǔ, tā de chéngjīdōubùcuò.)

From mathematics, physics, chemistry to foreign language, his grades are good.

5. “总是(zǒngshì)” has two other usages which “一直(yīzhí)” doesn’t have.

(1) Emphasize that the final result will be so.

时间长了,他总是会理解的。(Shíjiānchángle, tāzǒngshìhuìlǐjiě de.)

In a long time, he will always understand

(2) Emphasize that no matter what happens, the conclusion is the same.

遇到问题总是得想办法。(Yùdàowèntízǒngshìděixiǎngbànfǎ.)

I always think of the problem.

Now, let’s do some exercises.Fill in the blankets.

(1)________ 向前走就到我家了。(________ Xiàngqiánzǒujiùdàowǒjiāle.)

(2)我_______很喜欢养小猫。(Wǒ_______hěnxǐhuanyǎngxiǎomāo.)

(3)从老师_______到同学,都很关心他。(Cónglǎoshī____dàotóngxué, dōuhěnguānxīntā.)

(4)他_______第一个到办公室。(Tā____dì yī gè dào bàngōngshì.)

(5)你不能_______迟到。(Nǐ bùnéng_______chídào.)

Zhang Yu

After graduating from University majoring in Teaching Chinese As A Second Language in 2011, Zhang Yu worked as a book editor about Chinese traditional culture and juvenile reading for 3 years. In 2015, she became a graduate student of Beijing Foreign Studies University, and continued to study international Chinese education. Now she is a Chinese teacher in Confucius institute in Palacký University, Olomouc in Czech Republic.