The often overlooked Chinese character - 就 jiù
“就 jiù” is a super versatile and extremely useful Chinese character which is unfortunately often being overlooked, particularly by beginner students who are approaching Chinese through the connections between pictures and Chinese characters. Students who are learning Chinese characters based on their radicals will also miss it. Let’s do some justice to “就 jiù”.
“就 jiù” is not a pictographic character. It does not connect with any object directly. “就 jiù” has the look of a picto-phonetic character, but it is not. Neither 京 or 尤 is a radical. It is indexed under its “bushou”, “亠”, in a traditional Chinese dictionary.
“就 jiù” is, in fact, an associative character. The left part “京” represents the high ground, while the right part “尤” represents a person who is walking. A person is walking towards the high ground. Therefore the original meaning of “就 jiù” is “to get close to” or “move towards”. Besides the original meaning, “就 jiù” is capable of conveying many other meanings. But the exact meaning is hard to pin down without a contextual base. Let’s take a look at some of the common usages of “就 jiù” here.
The original meaning of “就 jiù”, “to get close to”, is still widely used.
我就着烛光看书。wǒ jiù zhe zhú guāng kàn shū.
I read the book by candlelight.
“就 jiù” expresses what will happen next under certain conditions. It is similar to “then”.
一个人不工作，就不赚钱。yī gè rén bù gōng zuò, jiù bù zhuàn qián.
One does not work, then one does not make money.
“就 jiù” expresses an resolute attitude, or is used to emphasise
我就要去。wǒ jiù yào qù.
I am definitely going.
“就 jiù” expresses an opinion that is early
我昨天就到了。wǒ zuó tiān jiù dào le.
I got here as early as yesterday.
“就 jiù” means “to accommodate oneself to”
我有空，就你的时间。wǒ yǒu kòng, jiù nǐ de shí jiān.
I am free. Make it anytime that suits you.
“就 jiù” means “only”
就有这一本书。jiù yǒu zhè yī běn shū
This is the only book.
Practice makes Perfect
Read the following sentences, and explain the meaning of “就 jiù”.
我就有一块钱。wǒ jiù yǒu yī kuài qián.
我就不信。wǒ jiù bù xìn.
我十六岁就开始工作。wǒ shí liù suì jiù kāi shǐ gōng zuò.
你累了，就休息一下。nǐ lèi le, jiù xiū xí yī xià.
A message from April
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An additional note, I learned the original meaning of “就 jiù” from 趣味汉字 (内蒙古教育出版社, 2002) by 孙玉溱 and 孙危. There are more of “就 jiù” besides the few usages listed here, such as in fixed expressions “一 yī …就 jiù ...” and “只要 zhǐ yào …就 jiù ...”. “就” first appears in Mandarin Express Intro Level B Student’s Book. The character “就” is first taught in Chinese Reading and Writing 3, accompanied by a few examples showing a few different ways of using it. And more meanings are gradually introduced in other books throughout the two series.
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