Now or Never: How to say always and never in Mandarin Chinese

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We have found that some of the most popular posts are those which help you navigate the usage of common Mandarin words and phrases and the differences between words with similar meanings.

Today is an example of this kind of post. We hope it’s helpful!

从来 (cónglái) and 向来 (xiànglái) are two frequency words that express continuity – something that has always previously been (done) or, when used in the negative, something that has never previously been (done).

Their usages are practically the same and both are pretty handy in conversational Mandarin, as you’ll see below:

 A airplane taking off
From Reader’s Digest

向来 (xiànglái)

Use 向来 to mean “always” or in the negative, adding 不 or 没 to mean “never” or “have never” respectively.

Examples:

Wǒ xiànglái hàipà fēixíng.

我向来害怕飞行。
I have always been afraid of flying.

 

Tā xiànglái hěn huì tǎojià huánjià.

他向来很会讨价还价。
He has always been excellent at bargaining.

 

Nǐ xiànglái shì wǒ de hǎo péngyǒu.

你向来是我的好朋友。
You have always been a great friend to me.

 

Tā xiànglái dōu méi bāngzhù guò wǒ.

她向来都没帮助过我。
She has never given me any help.

 

Tā xiànglái bu chuān piányí de yīfú.

他向来不穿便宜的衣服。
He never wears cheap clothes.

 

Tā xiànglái hěn cōngmíng.

她向来很聪明。
She has always been very smart.

从来 (cónglái)

从来 is almost always used in the negative to mean “never” or “have never”, though you might occasionally hear it used to mean “always”:

Examples:

Tā cónglái dōu bù qù jiànshēnfáng.

他从来都不去健身房。
He never goes to the gym.

Wǒ cónglái méi chīguò jīzhuǎ.

我从来没吃过鸡爪。
I’ve never eaten chicken’s feet before.
image

Wǒ cónglái méi jiànguò nǎinai xiào de zhème lìhài!

我从来没见过奶奶笑得这么厉害!
I have never seen grandma laugh so much!

NOTES:

  1. To add emphasis, add 都 directly after 从来 or 向来.
  2. 从来 and 向来 are not used when it comes to talking about the future. Only about what has always previously been up until now.
  3. 从来 cannot be followed by a single verb or adjective, whereas 向来 can. For example, you can say “她向来很漂亮” but you can’t say “她从来漂亮”; you can say “他向来很努力” but you can’t say “他从来很努力”。

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