February 2, 2011

"最近" is not always "recently"

I've seen too many Chinese use the word "recently" to translate "最近" incorrectly. Dict.org explains "recently" as "in the recent past" or "not long since". It clearly indicates the past tense, as in "I bought a car recently", "我最近买了一辆车". But "我最近准备买一辆车" should be "I'm going to/I'm planning to buy a car soon", not "...recently". This mistake is made presumably because the English textbooks in Chinese equate "最近" with "recently" without pointing out the tense it should be used in. Interestingly, the Chinese having immigrated to English-speaking countries seem to subconsciously avoid using the word "最近" in future tense even in Chinese conversations; they tend to use the word "很快" [literally "very quickly" but more appropriately "soon"], as in "我很快要买一辆车", which reflects the influence of language on thought.


J. Hang Li at August 1, 2011 at 7:42 PM said...

Can't you translate that to "I recently planned to buy a car?" or even better, "I recently planned on buying a car?"

Yong Huang at August 1, 2011 at 8:04 PM said...

An excellent point. Thank you. It reminds me that "我最近准备买一辆车" actually has two meanings: (1) I recently planned or was planning or was preparing to buy a car; (2) I'm going to buy a car in the near future. In casual conversation, I think (2) is more likely, where "准备" is nothing more than a weak indicator of future action, and is what I blogged about. Your comment, as in the case of (1), emphasizes that "准备" is a full-fledged verb, modified by the adverb "最近". I imagine the speaker would more likely add “在” to the sentence, e.g. "我最近在准备/考虑/计划买一辆车", or quite differently “我最近为买车做了些准备”.

In either case, "recently" can only be used in the past tense; "I'll buy a car recently" is incorrect.

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