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Comparing 4 Chinese Words that Mean “the Future”

A real question many Chinese learners will encounter early is how to express future events. In Chinese, we have a series of time words to address that: “将来”(jiānglái), “未来”(wèilái), “以后”(yǐhòu) and “后来”(hòulái). These words are used frequently both in elementary, intermediate, and advanced level Chinese.

Even good Chinese learners may make mistakes understanding these words when they first encounter them. Let’s take a look at the following sentences:

A: 做好今天的事,才能走向将来。(Zuò hǎo jīntiān de shì, cái nénɡ zǒuxiànɡ jiānɡlái.)

Do well today, so you can have a future.

B: 你半个小时以后再来吧。(Nǐ bàn ɡè xiǎoshí yǐhòu zài lái bɑ.)

You can come again after half-an-hour.

C: 后来她搬走了(Hòulái tā bān zǒu le.)

  Later, she moved.

D: 他儿子现在在上重点中学,成绩很好,未来是要上重点大学的。

(Tā érzi xiànzài zài shànɡ zhònɡdiǎn zhōnɡxué, chénɡjìhěn hǎo,  wèilái shìyào shànɡ zhònɡdiǎn dàxué de.)

His son is currently in a key high school, doing a good job, (maybe) shall go to a key university in the future.

How do these sentences look to you? To figure it out, below is a simple summary about these four words:

Future and Past
将来(jiānglái) 未来(wèilái) 以后(yǐhòu) 后来(hòulái)
Part of speech Noun Noun Noun Noun
Basic meaning To express a time yet to come; foreseeable;

more concrete.

To express a time yet to come; unpredictable; more abstract. To express a time after a certain point or time period; set in past and future.

 

To express the next part of a procedure or set of steps; set in past.
Related English In the future In the future Since then Later on
Usages 1.     Often used orally

2.     Can be used with “不久” (bùjiǔ) etc.

1. Often used in written form

2.  Can be used with “遥远”(yáoyuǎn), “美好”(měihǎo), “走向”(zǒuxiàng) etc.

3.  Use especially in weather broadcasts.

1. Can be used orally and in written form

2. “Time point” or a period of time+以后 or 以后+other elements

1. Can be used orally and in written form

2. Often collocated with “开始”(kāishǐ), “原先”(yuánxiān), “起初”(qǐchū) etc.

Can be used by itself or not Yes Yes No No
Example 我们现在要好好学习,好好学做人,才能在不久的将来成为一个有用的人。

(Wǒmen xiànzài yào hǎohao xuéxí,  hǎohao xué zuòrén, cái nénɡ zài bùjiǔ de jiānɡlái chénɡwéi yí ɡè yǒuyònɡ de rén.)

We should study hard and learn to conduct ourselves well now, so that we can be a useful person in the future.

1.     只有努力奋斗,才能走向美好的未来。

(Zhǐyǒu nǔlì fèn dòu , cáinénɡ zǒuxiànɡ měihǎo de wèilái.)

Only by working hard can we step into a good future.

2.     天气预报说,未来二十四小时内会有暴雨,所以你还是带着伞吧。

(Tiānqì yùbào shuō  wèilái èrshí sì xiǎoshí nèi huì yǒu bàoyǔ, suǒyǐ nǐ háishì dàizhe sǎn bɑ.)

The weather forecast says there will be heavy rain in the next twenty-four hours, so you should bring an umbrella.

你一个月以后再过来看看吧。

(Nǐ yí ɡè yuè yǐhòu zài ɡuòlái kànkɑn bɑ.)

You can come again after one month.

我刚开始的时候有点儿害怕,后来不怕了。

(Wǒ gānɡ kāishǐ de shí hou yǒu diǎn’r hàipà,  hòulái bú pà le.)

I was a little afraid at the beginning, but later I’m not.

 

 

We hope the summary explains the use of these four words. You can review the four examples mentioned at the beginning of the article to help you understand the four words better. With these four words, you should now be able to express the “future” better in Chinese.

 

References:

  1. 朱敏,“X类时间词研究,扬州大学硕士论文,2016年,5月。
  2. 彭小川、李守纪、王红,对外汉语教学语法释疑201例,商务印书馆,2014年。

Cecilia He

Cecilia majored in teaching Chinese as a foreign language. She has vast experience in educating her students on how to listen to and speak Chinese, and is trained to teach HSK courses. She has mastered the method and practice of teaching the structure, historical development, and relationships of languages as an academic subject, and has also done extensive research on Intercultural Communication and Sinology.

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