If something was originally a certain way, or “should be” a certain way, two words, “本来” (běn lái) and “原来” (yuán lái), are often used in daily Chinese conversation. Sometimes they are interchangeable, but they are also used in different ways depending on the context. Today we will talk about how to use them correctly!
Let’s take a first look at their respective meanings:
1. 本来can be used as an adjective. For example:
(Zhè búshì wǒ běnlái de yòngyì.)
This is not my original purpose.
a. 本来can also be used as an adverb indicating “originally, at first, to begin with”. It can be placed before or after subject. For example:
(Tā běnlái bù xǐhuan zhègè gōngzuò, hòulái mànmàn jiù xíguàn le.)
At first he didn’t like this job, but later he got used to it.
b. It can also mean “naturally, it goes without saying” or “supposed to” and often used in the structure: 本来+就+verb. For example:
(Nǐ běnlái jiù yīnggāi jīntiān zuò wán zhèxiē zuòyè.)
You were supposed to have finished this homework today.
1. 原来can be used as a noun to mean “the beginning, the past”. It indicates that the situation described in the clause or sentence following is different from that in the past. 原来can be placed before or after the subject. For example:
(Yuánlái Běijīng méiyǒu zhème duō lóufáng.)
In the past, there were not so many buildings.
2. 原来 can be used as an adjective to mean “original, unaltered”. It cannot be used alone as the predicate. When it modifies a noun, “的” should be used after it. For example:
(àn yuánlái de jìhuà yīnggāi shì liǎngzhōu, dànshì wǒmen kěyǐ tíqián wánchéng.)
According to the original plan, it will take two weeks to finish the work, but we can finish it ahead of schedule.
a. 原来 can also be used as an adverb to indicate “a certain period in the past”, meaning something /somebody has changed now. For example:
(Tā yuánlái shì jìzhě，xiànzài yǐjīng chéngwéi yìmíng lǎoshī.)
She was journalist , (but) now she is a teacher.
b. The adverb原来 can also indicate the discovery of formerly unknown situation, more used to emphasize what the speaker accidentally find out or realize. It’s similar to “as it turns out…” For example:
(Yuánlái shì nǐ! Wǒ hái yǐwéi shì xiǎolǐ ne.)
It turns out that it’s you! I thought it was Xiao Li!
Note that the discovery is only in the speaker’s perception, not in the situation itself. In this example, it was Xiao Li all along, but only now does the speaker realize.
There’s another word “原本” which has the same meaning with “本来(originally)”, while more formal than本来, it’s less commonly used in spoken Chinese.
1. Both can be used as adjectives, indicating “original, unaltered”. For example:
已经看不出来(这件衣服)原来/本来的颜色了.( Yǐjīng kàn bù chūlái (zhè jiàn yīfú) yuánlái/běnlái de yánsè le.)
(One/you) can’t tell what the original color was.
2. Both can be used as adverbs, indicating “the situation in the past is different from that at present”, both can be placed before or after the subject. For example:
本来/原来我是学英语的，后来学了法语. (Běnlái /yuánlái wǒ shì xué yīngyǔ de, hòulái xué le fǎyǔ.)
I was originally studying English, and then studied French.
When原来 is used as an adverb, it can indicate “a formerly unknown situation has been found out”; When本来 is used as an adverb, it can indicate “it should have been like this” For examples:
(Wǒ zài hòumian jiào tā, kě tā yìzhí méi huítóu. Děng dào le tā shēnbian, cái fāxiàn yuánlái wǒ rèn cuò rén le.)
I kept calling her, but she never looked back. When l stood by her side, it turned out I’d mistaken someone else for her!
( Zhè běn shū běnlái yīnggāi zuótiān huán gěi nǐ, zhēn bùhǎo yìsī.)
This book was supposed to have been returned to you yesterday, so sorry.
Do you know how to use them now? Let’s do some practice!
Fill in the sentences with本来 or原来:
(Shìqing zǒngshì biànhuà zhe de，wǒmen xūyào jíshí tiáozhěng ____de jìhuà.)
Things always change, we need to adjust our original plan in time.
(Tā ____xué xīnwén, hòulái gǎi xué jīnróng.)
She originally studied journalism and then switched to finance.
(Wǒ ____néng gòu pá shàng nà zuò shān de.)
I could have climbed that mountain.
4. _____是你! 我几乎没认出来。
(____shì nǐ ! Wǒ jīhū méi rèn chūlái.)
It is you! I almost didn’t recognize you until just now.
(____Shēnzhèn shì gè xiǎo yúcūn)
Shenzhen was a small fishing village in the past.
(Tā ____shuō jiǔ diǎn dào, dànshì yóuyú dǔchē jiǔ diǎn bàn cái dào.)
She said she would arrive at 9 o’clock, but (due to the heavy traffic) she didn’t turn up until half past.