时间 (shíjiān) Time

Today, we’re going to talk about 时间 (shíjiān) time. General time, to be specific! It’s confusing sometimes, because it doesn’t match up in your head with how, logically, it probably should. Ahh, but the Chinese language has evolved that way, so that’s how it is. Let’s take a look at the confusion:

去年 (qùnián) is last year but 上个月 (shàng gè yuè) is last month, 上个星期(上周)(shàng gè xīngqī [shàngzhōu]) is last week but 昨天 (zuótiān) is yesterday

明年 (míngnián) is next year but 下个月 (xià gè yuè) is next month, 下个星期(下周)(xià gè xīngqī [xiàzhōu]) is next month and 明天 (míngtiān) is tomorrow

These are just filled with inconsistencies! What about:

前年 (qiánnián) is the year before last, and while 前天 (qiántiān) is the day before yesterday, there is no equivalent for months and weeks.

后年 (hòunián) is the year after next year, and while 后天 (hòutiān) is the day after tomorrow, there is no equivalent for months and weeks.

It seems to make sense for a while, but wait a minute—if 前 (qián) is in the past, behind you, then why is 前面 (qiánmian) in front of you?

Similarly, if 后 (hòu) is for the future, it’s in front of you, then why is 后面 (hòumian) behind you? It just, unfortunately, is. At least tying them in with 以前 (yǐqián, meaning before or previously) and 以后 (yǐhòu, meaning after or in the future) works!

Like any language, the Chinese language evolves and if enough people agree that something means something, then it must!

And—like how English doesn’t have toyear, tomonth or toweek, but has tomorrow—languages aren’t built logically. They’re built over years and years of people agreeing something means what they claim it means.

To help you along, just think that in time: 前 (qián,) 去 (qù,) 上 (shàng) and 昨 (zuó) are in the past. Conversely, 明 (míng,) 下 (xià,) and 后 (hòu) are in the future.

Spatially, 前 (qián) is in front, 后 (hòu) is behind, 上 (shàng) is up and 下 (xià) is down! Talk about confusing orz Just try to be patient, and hopefully by 明天 (míngtiān) you’ll have it all sorted in your mind 🙂

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