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“Almost” The Same – A Comparison of 差点儿, 几乎, and 差不多

When delving into the world of Chinese language and texts, you’ll often come across different expressions that seemingly translate to the same word in English. But here’s the thing: every language has its own unique charm, and some expressions simply can’t be translated one-to-one. Chinese is no exception. In particular, three commonly used words – 差点儿 (chà diǎnr), 几乎 (jīhū), and 差不多 (chà bù duō) – all convey the idea of “almost” or “nearly.” Today, we’re here to unravel the intricacies and differences between these three words, which can sometimes be puzzling. So, let’s dive in and shed some light on these commonly used, yet occasionally confusing, expressions.

1. 差点儿 and 几乎

(1) Close Calls

Big goals and achievements are often difficult to reach. Along the way, we may face failure and lose hope. Luckily, we can still make it and feel grateful for our good fortune. When expressing happiness and thankfulness for narrowly succeeding, we use 差点儿 (chà diǎnr) and 几乎 (jīhū) with a negative form. Both words mean ‘almost,’ and the sentence conveys the idea of ‘almost failing to succeed.’

For example:

差点儿/几乎没考上北京大学。(Tā chà diǎnr/ jī hū méi kǎo shànɡ Běijīnɡ dà xué.)
He almost failed to enter Peking University.

差点儿/几乎没赶上火车。(Wǒ chà diǎnr/ jī hū méi ɡǎn shànɡ huǒchē.)
I almost failed to catch the train.

(2) Missed Opportunities

Sometimes we succeed, but other times we come so close yet unfortunately fail. In these situations, we add 差点儿 (chà diǎnr) and 几乎 (jīhū) to make the sentence negative, expressing the idea that something almost happened but didn’t in the end. Such sentences often convey a sense of regret and disappointment. When describing something we wanted to happen, 差点儿 (chà diǎnr) is used more frequently.

For example:

差点儿买到那个限量款手表。(Wǒ chà diǎnr mǎi dào nà ɡè xiànliànɡ kuǎn shóubiǎo.)
I almost bought that limited edition watch.

我们差点儿/几乎赢了足球比赛。(Wǒmen chà diǎnr yínɡ le zúqiú bǐsài.)
We almost won the football match.

事情差点儿/几乎没办成。(Shìqínɡ chà diǎn r / jīhū méi bàn chénɡ.)
The thing almost failed.

(3) Near Misses

At times, we only narrowly avoid disaster and fortunately come out unscathed. In this case, both the affirmative and negative forms have the same meaning. That means 差点儿 (chà diǎnr), 差点儿没 (chà diǎnr méi), 几乎 (jīhū), and 几乎没 (jīhū méi) all convey the same idea.

For example:

差点儿/几乎(没)丢了钱包。(Wǒ chà diǎnr / jī hū méi diū le qiánbāo.)
I almost lost my wallet.

差点儿/几乎迟到了。(Tā chà diǎnr / jī hū chídào le.)
She was almost late.

In summary, 差点儿 (chà diǎnr) and 几乎 (jīhū) can be used interchangeably to mean ‘almost.’ However, in everyday conversations, 差点儿 (chà diǎnr) is more commonly used.

2. 几乎 and 差不多

We can use 几乎 (jī hū) or 差不多 (chà bù duō) to talk about something that is very close to a certain amount or degree. They both mean ‘almost’ or ‘nearly,’ but there are subtle differences between them. Let’s explore their meanings and usage.

(1) Minor Differences

As adverbs, 几乎 (jī hū) and 差不多 (chà bù duō) indicate a small difference or something quite close. They can be combined with verbs, adjectives, and nouns.

For example:

差不多/几乎睡了两个小时。(Wǒ chàbùduō / jīhū shuì le liǎnɡ ɡè xiǎoshí.)
I’ve slept for almost two hours.

i. Please note that when the quantity is small, the degree is low, or the time is short, use 差不多, not 几乎.

For example:

飞机差不多要起飞了。(Fēijī chà bù duō yào qǐfēi le.)
The plane is about to take off.

ii. In addition, when indicating a quantity, 几乎 expresses subjective feelings, while 差不多 is more objective.

For example:

这次聚会差不多有三十个人。(Zhè cì jùhuì chà bù duō yǒu sān shí ɡè rén.) There were almost thirty people at the party.
-> This is an objective estimation.

他上大学的时候几乎30岁了。(Tā shànɡ dàxué de shíhou jīhū 30 suì le.) He was almost 30 when he was in college.
-> Here his age is a little bit old from a subjective perspective.

iii. When combined with adjectives or adjective phrases, 差不多 is more flexible than 几乎. 几乎 has more restrictions.

For example:

The two books are about the same thickness.
✔ 这两本书差不多厚。(Zhè liǎnɡ běn shū chà bù duō hòu.)
✘ 这两本书几乎厚。(Zhè liǎnɡ běn shū jī hū hòu.)
✔ 这两本书几乎一样厚。(Zhè liǎnɡ běn shū jī hū yíyànɡ hòu.)

iv. 差不多 can be a complete sentence by itself.

For example:

A: 你的作业写完了吗?(Nǐ de zuòyè xiě wán le mɑ?)
Have you finished your homework?

B: 差不多了。(Chà bù duō le.)

To summarize, 几乎(jī hū) and 差不多(chà bù duō) can be used as adverbs with nouns as well as adjectives and verbs that contain quantifiers. But when the degree is low, the time is short or the number is small, we only use 差不多.

(2) 差不多 as an adjective

差不多(chà bù duō) can also be used as an adjective to indicate that the difference between two things is very small, but 几乎(jī hū) cannot.

For example:

今年的收入和去年差不多。(Jīnnián de shōurù hé qùnián chà bù duō.)
This year’s income is about the same as last year.

饭做得差不多了,可以洗手准备吃饭了。(Fàn zuò dé chà bù duō le, kě yǐ xǐshǒu zhǔnbèi chīfàn le.)
The meal is almost ready. Wash your hands and get ready to eat.

差不多(chà bù duō) also means ‘generally,’ ‘mostly,’ or ‘the majority.’ Simply add 的(de) to modify nouns.

For example:

差不多的广东菜他都会做。(Chàbùduō de ɡuǎnɡdōnɡ cài tā dōu huì zuò.)
He can cook most Cantonese dishes.

差不多的人都知道明天放假。(Chàbùduō de rén dōu zhīdào mínɡtiān fànɡjià.)
Most people know that there will be a holiday tomorrow.


In conclusion, mastering the various translations of “almost” in Chinese is a valuable skill for any language learner. By understanding the distinctions between 差点儿(chà diǎnr), 几乎(jī hū), and 差不多(chà bù duō), you can effectively convey different nuances of “almost” in different contexts.

So, whether you’re expressing relief for narrowly avoiding a failure, expressing regret for a missed opportunity, or describing a close approximation, these three words will serve you well. Remember, 差点儿(chà diǎnr) and 几乎(jī hū) share similar meanings when expressing, while 差不多(chà bù duō) adds a touch of flexibility and can even be used as an adjective to describe similarities.

Now armed with this knowledge, go forth and keep practicing and refining your usage. Soon you’ll find yourself effortlessly incorporating these expressions into your everyday conversations.

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Lynn Cheng

Lynn got a Master degree majoring in Teaching Chinese as A Second Language. She taught Chinese in the Philippines for 2 years. Now she works at TouchChinese as a Chinese teacher. Her passion for education and language teaching impress all her students. She is eager to share the beauty of the Chinese language and culture to more learners.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. I didn’t find the last one straight forward when you check the examples. You would think it’s 几乎 because 差不多 requires 的 in the examples. In the exercise 几乎 seemed the right answer to me as there is no 的 following the gap. I found the provided answer (几乎 or 差不多)confusing.

    1. Only if 差不多 act as an adjective and modify the noun, 的 is added. In the last sentence, it’s an adverb that indicates something with little difference or quite close: both 几乎 and 差不多 work.

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