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Lesson Transcript


Hi, everybody! Olivia here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Cantonese questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is: How can I correctly express sequences of actions?
In Cantonese, there are multiple terms for "before" and "after." Each has a different nuance, so it's important to be able to distinguish which one to use for different scenarios.
First, let's see how to distinguish between 之後 (zi1 hau6), 然後 (jin4 hau6), and 以後 (ji5 hau6), which are all translated as "after" in English.
Keep in mind that 之後(zi1 hau6) specifies an action that takes place "after" a specific reference point, as in doing action B directly after action A. For that, whoever involved in the conversation needs to have the knowledge of what action A is, whether it is or is not included in the conversation.
Here is a sample sentence:
食飯之後沖涼。 (sik6 faan6 zi1 hau6 cung1 loeng4. ) which means "Take a shower after the meal."
Similarly, 然後(jin4 hau6) emphasizes the sequence of actions, as in action A, and then action B. For example:
食完飯,然後沖涼。 (sik6 jyun4 faan6, jin4 hau6 cung1 loeng4. ) which means "Finish the meal, then take a shower."
On the other hand, 以後 (ji5 hau6) refers to something that will take place for a significant length of time in the future, as in "from now on" in English. For example:
我以後唔會遲到。(ngo5 ji5 hau6 m4 wui5 ci4 dou3.) “I will not be late from now on.”
Next, let’s see 之前 (zi1 cin4) versus 以前 (ji5 cin4), both translated as "before."
We use 之前(zi1 cin4) to specify an action that took place before a specific reference point, or before a certain thing happened. It has a nuance of something that happened only a little while earlier or a moment before. We also use it as "previously." For example:
瞓覺之前要刷牙。 (fan6 gaau3 zi1 cin4 jiu3 cat3 ngaa4. ) which means "One must brush their teeth before sleeping."
As for 以前(ji5 cin4), we use it to talk about actions that took place regularly for a significant length of time in the past. It's similar to "used to" in English. In generally, we use 以前(ji5 cin4) for something that happened a long time ago (eg. at least a few years).
Here is a sample sentence: 我以前打欖球。 (ngo5 ji5 cin4 daa2 laam2 kau4. ) which means "I used to play American football."


How was it? Pretty interesting right?
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them!
"See you next time!", 下次見! (haa6 ci3 gin3!)