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常常(cháng cháng) VS往往(wǎng wǎng): The Many Ways of Using the word “Often” in Chinese

Discovering the nuances of language is a fascinating journey, especially when it comes to understanding how different cultures express similar ideas. Take, for instance, the concept of “often” in English and its equivalents in Mandarin Chinese. While the adverbs 常常 (cháng cháng) and 往往 (wǎng wǎng) both translate to “often,” their usage can reveal distinct meanings in different situations. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between these two adverbs and discover how their usage can enhance our understanding of Mandarin Chinese.

(Plus, if you’re interested in improving your grammar skills, be sure to check out our HSK tutorial videos!)

1、The adverb 常常(cháng cháng) means that an action happens many times, regardless of whether it is done regularly or not. On the other hand, 往往(wǎng wǎng) implies that an action happens frequently under specific or regularly timed circumstances. With 往往(wǎng wǎng), the situation, condition, or result related to the action being discussed needs to be specified, while 常常(cháng cháng) has no such limitations.

For example:

He often works overtime.
常常加班。(Tā cháng cháng jiā bān.)

He tends to work overtime at the end of the year.
往往年底加班。(Tā wǎng wǎng nián dǐ jiā bān.)

2、You can use 常常(cháng cháng) to express hopes or desires, indicating actions that have not yet taken place but may happen repeatedly. On the other hand, 往往(wǎng wǎng) describes the current situation, indicating actions that are already happening regularly or have happened regularly in the past.

For example:

Let’s go watch movies often.
我们常常去看电影吧。
(Wǒmen cháng cháng qù kàn diànyǐng ba.)

They often watch movies on weekends.
周末他们往往去看电影。
(Zhōumò tāmen wǎng wǎng qù kàn diànyǐng.)

3、You can use 常常(cháng cháng) to describe events that have happened, are happening or will happen frequently. On the other hand, 往往(wǎng wǎng) is mostly used for describing past events, although it can be used for present events. It cannot be used for events that are set in the future.

For example:

Past tense:

When I was young, Mom often used to tell me stories.
我小时候,妈妈常常给我讲故事。
(Wǒ xiǎo shíhòu, māma cháng cháng gěi wǒ jiǎng gùshì.)

Present tense:

The manager often gets to the company half an hour early.
经理常常提前半个小时到公司。
(Jīnglǐ cháng cháng tíqián bàn gè xiǎo shí dào gōngsī.)

Future tense:

I will come to visit you often.
我会常常来看您的。
(Wǒ huì cháng cháng lái kàn nín de.)

4、You can use 不常(bù cháng) to negate 常常(cháng cháng), meaning “not often”. However, there is no negative form for 往往(wǎng wǎng), and it is instead negated by adding 不/没 (bù/méi) to the sentence.

For example:

We live close, but don’t often keep in touch.
我们住的很近,但是不常联系。
(Wǒ men zhù de hěn jìn,dànshì bù cháng liánxì.)

On rainy days, it’s not often easy to get a taxi.
下雨天,往往不容易打车。
(Xià yǔ tiān, wǎng wǎng bù róngyì dǎ chē.)

You can use 常常(cháng cháng) in questions, but 往往(wǎng wǎng) cannot be used in the same way.

Do you watch TV often?
常常看电视吗?
(Nǐ cháng cháng kàn diànshì ma?)

5、 You can use the shortened version 常(cháng) for 常常(cháng cháng), but you cannot do the same for 往往(wǎng wǎng) by using just 往(wǎng). Also, 常常(cháng cháng) indicates a frequently occurring action that may be commonplace or regular, whereas 往往(wǎng wǎng) points to a less common phenomenon, often surprising or unexpected.

For example:

It is often windy here. 
这里常(常)刮风。
(Zhè lǐ cháng (cháng) guā fēng.)

When it snows, it is often not cold.
下雪时往往不冷。
(Xià xuě shí wǎng wǎng bù lěng.)

In summary, while both 常常(cháng cháng) and 往往(wǎng wǎng) can be translated as “often” in English, their usage and implications in Mandarin Chinese differ significantly. Understanding the nuances between the two adverbs can greatly improve your ability to communicate effectively in Mandarin Chinese. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced learner, mastering the proper usage of these adverbs will help you become a more fluent and confident speaker. So next time you’re communicating in Mandarin Chinese, remember to choose your adverb wisely to convey the precise meaning you intend.

Now let’s practice! Fill in the blanks with“常常(cháng cháng)” or “往往(wǎng wǎng)” :

  • 不要____晚睡,对身体不好。(Don’t stay up late often, it’s bad for your health.)
  • 公立博物馆____不收费。(The public museum is usually free. )
  • 春节时,火车票____不好买。(It’s usually not easy to buy train tickets during the Spring Festival.)
  • 他____迟到。(He often arrives late.)
  • 成功的人_____都有积极的心态。(Usually, successful people have a positive attitude.)
  • 他____做饭。(He doesn’t cook often.)

Key:

  • 常常
  • 往往
  • 往往
  • 常常
  • 往往
  • 常常

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Rita Zhang

Rita is a professional Mandarin teacher, has been teaching more than 8 years. She enjoys digging more about Chinese grammar and culture work and helping more learners. Now she is working at the one-on-one online Chinese school TouchChinese.

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