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

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.


Wǒ xiànglái hàipà fēixíng.

I have always been afraid of flying.


Tā xiànglái hěn huì tǎojià huánjià.

He has always been excellent at bargaining.


Nǐ xiànglái shì wǒ de hǎo péngyǒu.

You have always been a great friend to me.


Tā xiànglái dōu méi bāngzhù guò wǒ.

She has never given me any help.


Tā xiànglái bu chuān piányí de yīfú.

He never wears cheap clothes.


Tā xiànglái hěn cōngmíng.

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”:


Tā cónglái dōu bù qù jiànshēnfáng.

He never goes to the gym.

Wǒ cónglái méi chīguò jīzhuǎ.

I’ve never eaten chicken’s feet before.

Wǒ cónglái méi jiànguò nǎinai xiào de zhème lìhài!

I have never seen grandma laugh so much!


  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”。

Register to Book A Free Chinese Class for Your Child

Questions? Comments? Feel free to leave them below.  Tell us what you ALWAYS or NEVER do!

You Might Be Interested