During your Chinese studies, you must have come across 才 in the written language. It is used quite often, and can be frequently heard in spoken Chinese as well. So, do you find it confusing and want to know more about how it is used? If so, this article will help. Here, I will present the many meanings of this word, as well as detailed examples for each. Let’s have a look!
Meaning #1: Not unless, not until, then and only then, for no other reason
He wasn’t full until he had eaten three bowls.
I didn’t understand what was going on until he explained it to me.
It’s OK only if he says so.
Only by relying on people can we do our work well.
We were sent precisely because there were problems there.
Meaning #2: A moment ago, just
You’ve only just come. Why do you want to leave so soon?
He had just gotten home when Tom came looking for him.
Meaning #3: Only, 才 + number
It’s only 8 o’clock, so there’s still plenty of time.
Only five dollars? That’s really cheap.
The child is only five, and he already knows quite a few characters.
Meaning #4: Actually, really (used to emphasize the words before, finish with "呢")
You think he is stupid? Not him!
I can’t be bothered! I couldn’t care less.
You are the one who’s lying.
I’d be really surprised if he didn’t know.
Meaning #5: Not until, time + 才
He didn’t come until 9 o’clock. That was too late.
The winds didn’t stop until the evening.
It took him two hours to get there.
How come you didn’t say anything until now?
Meaning #6: Something that happened just before
The performance has just started.
Meaning #7: Something that happened or finished recently
He only left New York yesterday.
Meaning #8: Used to indicate a small number, a small amount of time, poor ability, etc.
Before 1949, China’s highest annual output of steel was only a little more than 900,000 tons.*
dāng shí tā cái wǔsùi. 当时他（才）五岁。
He was only five years old then.
Meaning #9: Because of something, to get something (use 只有...才；必须...才；因为...才；由于...)
Must we wait until the crane arrives before we start loading?
Only when you study hard can you get good results.
Meaning #10: Used to emphasize something after (finish with “呢”)
It would be really strange if he didn’t know.
It is not hot in the house, but it’s really hot outside.
dé cái jiān bèi 德（才）兼备: With ability and political integrity.
He is such an able teacher and has political integrity.
duō cái duō yì 多（才）多艺: Versatile
rén cái 人（才 ) : A great man
As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect,” and I am sure that if you put effort into practicing this, you can learn to use it well in Chinese! Good luck! And don’t give up because Chinese is a very interesting language.