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Three words for ‘almost’ in Chinese – Using “差点儿”,“几乎”and“差不多”

When you study Chinese or read Chinese texts, you are bound to find some different expressions that have the same translation or meaning. In fact, every language is special, and many expressions cannot be perfectly translated into other languages, as is the case with Chinese. In fact, there are three frequently used words, 差点儿(chà diǎnr), 几乎(jīhū), and 差不多(chà bù duō), which all mean ‘almost’ or ‘nearly’. Here, we are going to show you the uses and differences between these three words, which are quite common and, in some cases, confusing.

1. 差点儿(chà diǎnr) and 几乎(jīhū)

(1) Things that are hard to achieve but finally come true

Usually, high-reaching goals and other accomplishments are hard to achieve. In the process, you may experience failure or lose hope. But fortunately, we can finally make it, and likely feel lucky. In this case, we use 差点儿(chà diǎnr) and几乎(jīhū) plus a negative form to express our happiness and thankfulness for such luck. 差点儿and几乎share the same meaning, ‘almost’, and the whole sentence means ‘almost failing to succeed’.

e.g.

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) Something we hoped for that almost happened but failed in the end

Sometimes we succeed, but sometimes we reach the ninety-ninth step, and unfortunately fail in the end. In this case, adding 差点儿(chà diǎnr) and几乎(jīhū) makes the sentence negative, meaning that something almost happened, but didn’t in the end. Theses sentences often express pity and regret. When describing something that we wanted to happen, 差点儿is used more often.

e.g.

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) Something unexpected that almost happened but did not happen in the end.

Sometimes something we want to avoid almost happens, but fortunately it doesn’t happen in the end. In this case, the affirmative and negative forms have the same meaning. That is to say, 差点儿(chà diǎnr), 差点儿没(chà diǎnr méi),几乎 (jī hū) and几乎没(jī hū méi) all mean the same thing.

e.g.

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.

When used to mean ‘almost’, 差点儿and 几乎can replace each other. But in daily conversations, 差点儿is used more.

2. 几乎(jī hū) and 差不多(chà bù duō)

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 a certain degree, In this case, they would translate to ‘almost’ or ‘nearly’. There is a very subtle difference between these two words, but don’t worry, we’ve already helped you sort out the general meaning and usage, let’s look at them one by one.

(1) When the difference is quite small or close

  • First of all, as adverbs, 几乎(jī hū) and 差不多(chà bù duō) indicate a little difference or something quite close, and they can be combined with verbs, adjectives, and nouns.

e.g.

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.

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

e.g

飞机差不多要起飞了。(Fēijī chà bù duō yào qǐfēi le.)

The plane is about to take off.

  • Addition, when indicating a quantity, 几乎expresses subjective feelings, while 差不多is more objective.

e.g.

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 in this party.

-> Here’s 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 it says that his age is a little bit old from a subjective perspective.

  • When combined with adjectives or adjective phrases, 差不多is more flexible than 几乎. That is, 几乎has more restrictions. For example, 差不多can be placed directly in front of an adjective, but几乎 Here are two sentences with the same meaning. You can compare their differences.

e.g.

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.)

  • 差不多can be a complete independent sentence by itself.

e.g.

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.)

Almost.

To summarize, as adverbs, 几乎and 差不多can be combined 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) Unique expressions with 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.

e.g.

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 done. Wash your hands and get ready to eat.

  • 差不多also means ‘generally’, ‘mostly’ or ‘the majority’. This is the special usage of差不多,simply add “的” to modify nouns.

e.g.

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.

Now, after reading this article, do you know how to say “almost” in various situations? Here are some exercises to test your knowledge! Give it a try!

Lynn Cheng

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 3 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.

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