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忽然 vs 突然: an analysis of the word “suddenly” in Chinese

When you want to express “all of a sudden” or “suddenly”, there are two words that come to mind: 突然 and 忽然. Both of these words can be used before verbs as an adverbial modifier. For example,

今天突然/忽然冷起来了。(Jīntiān tūrán/hūrán lěng qǐláile.)
It`s suddenly cold today.

下午突然/忽然下起了大雨。(Xiàwǔ tūrán/hūrán xià qǐle dàyǔ.)
Suddenly, it rained heavily in the afternoon.

But are these two words the same? Can they replace each other without any conditions? Of course not! They share the same meaning but play different roles in a sentence.


忽然 is an adverb which can only be an adverbial modifier in a sentence. Plus, there should not be any adverb of degree before it. For example,

我忽然非常想家。(Wǒ hūrán fēicháng xiǎng jiā.) √
非常忽然想家。(Wǒ fēicháng hūrán xiǎng jiā.) ×
I suddenly miss home very much.

今天起床太早,我忽然有点儿困了。(Jīntiān qǐchuáng tài zǎo, wǒ hūrán yǒudiǎnr kùnle.) √
今天起床太早,我有点儿忽然困了。(Jīntiān qǐchuáng tài zǎo, wǒ yǒudiǎnr hūrán kùnle.) ×
I got up too early today, I suddenly got sleepy.


Other than 忽然,突然 is an adjective which can be a predicate, an attributive, a complement, as well as adverbial modifier. Moreover, the adverb of degree can modify the word. For example,

这个事情突然。(Zhège shìqíng hěn tūrán.) This thing is very sudden.

这个消息非常突然。(Zhège xiāoxī fēicháng tūrán.) This news is very sudden.

-> as predicate

这个突然的消息让人很意外。(Zhège tūrán de xiāoxī ràng rén hěn yìwài.)
This sudden news is very surprising.

突然的到来让我们有点尴尬。(Nǐ tūrán de dàolái ràng wǒmen yǒudiǎn gāngà.)
Your sudden arrival makes us a bit embarrassed.

->As attributive

这场雨下得突然。(Zhè chǎng yǔ xià dé hěn tūrán.)This rain is very sudden.

他去世得突然了。(Tā qùshì dé tài tūránle.) He died too suddenly.

-As complement

突然非常想家。(Wǒ tūrán fēicháng xiǎng jiā.)I suddenly miss home very much.

突然就跑进来了。(Tā tūrán jiù pǎo jìnláile.) He suddenly ran in.

->Adverbial modifier

You can check a more detailed explanation in the grammar video course here.

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Qin Chen focuses on teaching Chinese and language acquisition. She is willing to introduce more about Chinese learning ways and skills. Now, she is working as Mandarin teacher at All Mandarin.

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