Grammar notes: 即便

My textbook translates 即便 (ji2 bian4) as ‘even though’.  However, my Chinese teacher tells me that it–or its more common counterparts, 即使(ji2 shi3), 就算(jiu4 suan4), and 哪怕(na3 pa4) can only be used in hypothetical (假设 jia4she4) situations.  Perhaps ‘even though’ is a bad translation and ‘even if’ would be better.

Surprisingly, looking back on the six example sentences in the book, none of them require a counterfactual reading.  I mentally translated all of them with “even though” and they seemed reasonable, e.g., “Even though the movie is good, I still won’t go to the theater to see it.”  Apparently I should have been translating “Even if the movie were good, I still wouldn’t go to the theater to see it.”   I didn’t realize she really meant the hypothetical business until we saw a sentence in context:

它们虽然叫大片儿, 但是很没意思. (ta1 men sui1 ran2 jiao4 da4 pianr1, dan4 shi4 hen3 mei2 yi4 si)

word-for-word: They although call big budget movie, but very not have meaning.

means: Although they’re called big budget movies, they’re really not interesting.

She told me that since we knew the movies we were talking about were big budget movies, I couldn’t use 即便(ji2 bian4) here; I had to use 虽然(sui1 ran2) ‘although’.

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3 Responses to “Grammar notes: 即便”


  1. 1 Syz May 7, 2010 at 10:18 am

    I wish I understood counterfactuals well enough to add something, because my guess is it’s not as simple as your teacher makes it out to be. But I really don’t know. There’s a long conversation on Beijing Sounds that you might find interesting. The article referenced there prompted me to poke into counterfactuals some more and I drafted a followup piece, but it never quite got to the point that I could publish it

    Now totally off topic…

    As a fan of phonetics, Hemingway and homely puns, I have to say the title of your blog just rocks! I’m also excited about the content of course, so I’ll put you in my rss reader and hound you if your posting rate tapers off :D

  2. 2 Katie Tang May 7, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    Yes, things do have a way of never being quite so simple as they’re made out to be. And she did characterize 如果 as being “hypothetical” as well, but I didn’t ask any follow up questions to test that one.

    I’m afraid my posting rate might taper off, since I was trying to get things up and running. But I’ll try to keep it at a reasonable level. :)

  3. 3 Katie Tang May 14, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    So I’m afraid you’re right. I had another example recently with 即便 — 即便电影票不贵,她也不打算去电影院。I asked my teacher if this meant the tickets were expensive or were not expensive. She gave me a look like “I really thought you were smarter than this” and patiently told me that the 不 indicated that the tickets were not expensive. It could be that I just wasn’t asking the question very well, but I suspect I’ve been proven wrong.


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