If you’re learning Chinese, you might have heard the words “本来” (běn lái) and “原来” (yuán lái) being used in daily conversations to talk about something’s original state or how it should be. Although these two terms are sometimes interchangeable, their usage also varies depending on the context. In this article, we’ll explore the proper ways to use “本来” and “原来” in different situations.
(For more information on the differences between 本来 and 原来, check out these HSK grammar tutorial videos.)
1. As an adjective
You can use 本来 as an adjective to mean “original.”
(Zhè búshì wǒ běnlái de yòngyì.)
This is not my original purpose.
2. As an adverb
a. You can use 本来 as an adverb to mean “originally,” “at first,” or “to begin with.” It can be placed before or after the subject in a sentence.
(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” or “supposed to,” when used in the following structure:
本来 + 就 + verb
(Nǐ běnlái jiù yīnggāi jīntiān zuò wán zhèxiē zuòyè.)
You were supposed to have finished this homework today.
1. As a noun
You can use “原来” as a noun to mean “the beginning” or “the past.” It implies that the situation described in the following clause or sentence is different from what it was before. “原来” can be placed before or after the subject.
Subject + 原来
原来 + Subject
(Tā xiànzài bǐ yuánlái piàoliangle.)
She is prettier now than before.
2. As an adjective
When used as an adjective, 原来 means “original” or “unaltered.” It must be used with “的” after it when modifying a noun, and it cannot be used alone as the predicate.
原来 + 的 + Noun
(àn yuánlái de jìhuà yīnggāi shì liǎngzhōu, dànshì wǒmen kěyǐ tíqián wánchéng.)
According to the original plan, it will take two weeks to complete the work, but we can finish it ahead of schedule.
3. As an adverb
a. When used as an adverb, 原来 indicates a specific time or period in the past and suggests that something or someone has changed since then.
(Tā yuánlái shì jìzhě，xiànzài yǐjīng chéngwéi yìmíng lǎoshī.)
She was journalist , (but) now she is a teacher.
b. 原来 can also indicate the discovery of a formerly unknown situation. It is often used to emphasize what the speaker has accidentally found out or realized. It’s similar to saying “as it turns out…”
(Yuánlái shì nǐ! Wǒ hái yǐwéi shì xiǎolǐ ne.)
So it turned out to be you! I thought it was Xiao Li!
Keep in mind that the discovery is based only on the speaker’s perception, not the situation itself. For instance, it was actually Xiao Li all along, but the speaker only realizes it now.
As a final note, “原本” as an adverb has the same meaning as “本来,” but is more formal and less commonly used in spoken Chinese.
1. Both 原来 and 本来 can function as adjectives to mean “original” or “unaltered.”
( Yǐjīng kàn bù chūlái (zhè jiàn yīfú) yuánlái/běnlái de yánsè le.)
You can’t tell what the original color was.
2. Both 原来 and 本来 can also be used as adverbs to indicate that the current situation is different from the past, and they can be placed before or after the subject.
Subject + 原来/本来
原来/本来 + Subject
(Běnlái /yuánlái wǒ shì xué yīngyǔ de, hòulái xué le fǎyǔ.)
I was originally studying English, and then studied French.
When used as an adverb, 原来 can indicate a formerly unknown situation that has been discovered, while 本来 can indicate that something should have been a certain way.
(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 out to her, but she never looked back. When l stood next to her, 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.
While 本来 (běn lái) and 原来 (yuán lái) can be used interchangeably in some contexts, there are some nuances in their usage that should be noted. 本来 is often used to indicate something that was originally intended or planned, while 原来 emphasizes a situation that was different in the past. Both can also be used as adjectives and adverbs to indicate something that was original or unchanged. However, 原来 can also be used to indicate the discovery of a formerly unknown situation. While these differences may seem subtle, mastering the use of these two words can greatly improve your fluency in Chinese conversation.
Do you know how to use these terms now? Let’s do some practice!
Fill in the blanks with 本来 or 原来:
- 事情总是变化着的，我们需要及时调整____的计划.(Shìqing zǒngshì biànhuà zhe de，wǒmen xūyào jíshí tiáozhěng ____de jìhuà.)
Things always change, we need to adjust our original plan in time.
- 她____学新闻，后来改学金融。(Tā ____xué xīnwén, hòulái gǎi xué jīnróng.)
She originally studied journalism and then switched to finance.
- 我____能够爬上那座山的。(Wǒ ____néng gòu pá shàng nà zuò shān de.)
I could have climbed that mountain.
- _____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.
- ____深圳是个小渔村。(____Shēnzhèn shì gè xiǎo yúcūn)
Shenzhen was a small fishing village in the past.
- 她____说九点到，但是由于堵车九点半才到。(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.