As beginners, almost all Chinese learners are taught the word 有时候 (yǒu shíhou), which means “sometimes”. However, as you delve deeper into the language, you’ll find that this word cannot be used in all cases. In fact, there are many other ways to express “sometimes” in Chinese, and it’s important to learn them to speak the language more fluently.
In this article, we will focus on the word 时而 (shí’ér), an adverb that is normally used in written Chinese. This word indicates that something happens repeatedly and not regularly, and there are mainly two sentence structures used with it. We’ll provide plenty of examples to demonstrate how it works, so you can start using it in your own Chinese conversations. So, let’s dive in!
1) 时而 …… 时而 ……
When you want to show alternating situations or different events happening within a certain period of time, you can use 时而(shí’ér) in this structure, It indicates that something happens repeatedly but not regularly.
(Zuìjìn tā yǒudiǎn qíguài, shí’ér kū, shí’ér fādāi, bù ài shuōhuàle.)
Recently, she has been a bit strange, sometimes crying, sometimes dazed, not talking any more.
(Nàgè rén shí’ér kàn wàimiàn, shí’ér kàn shǒubiǎo, kěnéng zài děng rén.)
The man sometimes looks outside, and sometimes looks at his watch. Maybe he is waiting for someone.
(Shí’ér kāixīn, shí’ér nánguò, shí’ér píngjìng, zhè jiùshì shēnghuó.)
Sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes peaceful, this is life.
(Jīntiān shí’ér chū tàiyáng, shí’ér xià yǔ, zhège bǐsài bùnéng zài hùwài jìnxíngle.)
Sometimes the sun comes out, sometimes it rains, this game can’t be held outdoors.
2) 时而 + verbal phrase / adjective phrase ……
You cannot use the word 时而(shí’ér) repeatedly when it is followed by a verbal phrase or an adjective phrase.
(Zhè duàn shíjiān shí’ér huì xià hěn dà de yǔ.)
During this time period, there will sometimes be heavy rain.
(Shēngbìng yǐhòu, tóngshìmen shí’ér lái wǒjiā kàn wǒ.)
After falling ill, colleagues sometimes come visit me at my home.
(Wǒ shí’ér tīng dào línjū chǎojià de shēngyīn.)
I sometimes heard the sound of neighbors arguing.
(Suīrán tā zài kāihuì, dàn yě shí’ér kàn kàn shǒujī.)
Although he is in a meeting, he also sometimes looks at his phone.
We can also use 不时(bùshí) in this structure to express the same meaning. Keep in mind that 不时(bùshí) can only replace 时而(shí’ér) when it is used singularly. It cannot replace 时而(shí’ér) when it is repeated.
(Tā jīntiān zěnmele? Kāihuì de shíhòu yě bùshí kàn shǒujī.)
What happened to her today? She looked at her phone from time to time during meetings.
(Bùshí de yùndòng duì shēntǐ yǒu hǎochù.)
Exercising from time to time is good for your body.
While 有时候(yǒu shíhou) is the most commonly taught word for “sometimes,” there are other phrases that can be used in different contexts. 时而(shí’ér) is often used in written Chinese to indicate a repeated but irregular occurrence, while 不时(bùshí) can be used interchangeably with 时而(shí’ér) in certain sentence structures. Learning these different ways to say “sometimes” can help you communicate more effectively in daily life. So, don’t hesitate to incorporate them into your Chinese language arsenal!
(For more detailed examples and more grammar point explanations, you can check out our Chinese Grammar Course – HSK.)