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The often overlooked Chinese character - (jiù)

(jiù) is a super versatile and extremely useful Chinese character which is unfortunately often being overlooked

Students who are approaching Chinese through the connections between Pictures and Chinese characters don’t see this character. Students who are learning Chinese characters based on their radicals will miss it. 

Let’s do some justice to (jiù).

The Chinese character (jiù)

(jiù) is not a pictographic character. It does not connect with any object directly. 

(jiù) looks like a picto-phonetic character, but it is not. Neither or is its radical. In a Chinese dictionary I use often, it is indexed under its “bushou”  ”. But in the dictionary App Pleco, “” is assigned as its radical.

According to 《趣味汉字》 (内蒙古教育出版社, 2002, by 孙玉溱 and 孙危), (jiù) is actually an associative character. The left part “” represents the high ground, while the right part “” represents a person who is walking. This character is trying to tell us that a person is walking towards the high ground.

The original meaning of (jiù)

“A person is walking towards the high ground”. 

This is what the character (jiù) is trying to tell us. But the actual meaning must be interpreted by Chinese etymologists. According to them, the original meaning of (jiù) is “to get close to” or “move towards”. 

The original meaning of  (jiù) is still widely used.

For example:

我就着烛光看书。(wǒ jiù zhe zhú guāng kàn shū.)
I read the book by candlelight.

Other meanings of (jiù)

Currently, (jiù) is capable of conveying many 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 (jiù).

  • (jiù) expresses what will happen next under certain conditions. It is similar to “then”. 

For example:

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. 

  • (jiù) expresses an resolute attitude, or is used to emphasise.

For example:

我就要去。(wǒ jiù yào qù.)
I am definitely going.

  • (jiù) expresses an opinion that is early.

For example:

我昨天就到了。(wǒ zuó tiān jiù dào le.)
I got here as early as yesterday. 

  • (jiù) means “to accommodate oneself to”.

For example:

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.

  • (jiù) means “only”.

For example:

就有这一本书。(jiù yǒu zhè yī běn shū.)
This is the only book.

Besides the usages listed above, (jiù)  also appears in many fixed structures, such as “ (yī) … (jiù) ...” and “只要 (zhǐ yào) … (jiù) ...”, and so on.

Practice makes Perfect

Read the following sentences, and explain the meaning of  (jiù). 

  1. 我就有一块钱。(wǒ jiù yǒu yī kuài qián.)
  2. 我就不信。(wǒ jiù bù xìn.)
  3. 我十六岁就开始工作。(wǒ shí liù suì jiù kāi shǐ gōng zuò.)
  4. 你累了,就休息一下。(nǐ lèi le, jiù xiū xí yī xià.)
  1. Only
  2. To express a resolute attitude 
  3. To express an opinion that sixteen years old is early
  4. Similar to “then”