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The many words for usual-ly


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A group of words which I often have trouble with is all the words meaning usual / typical: 通常,平常,经常 and 平时 have basically interchangeable translations in English, yet when I use them in Chinese sentences I'm frequently corrected "You can't use pingchang here, you mean tongchang" (and of course the people correcting me don't know what the rule actually is).


There's also 正常 but that one I am a bit more comfortable with: that it means "normal" and so 不正常 for example would have negative connotation.

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Ah, excellent help, thank you. 


For the "interchangeable" thing, I realized that, that's what I meant in the question. There's nothing more frustrating than being told "You used X, you should have used Y" and then the English translation for X and Y in my dictionary is exactly the same (and example sentences look the same too). Frustrating because until I have some understanding of what the distinction is, I'm doomed to repeat the error.


Although one thing I just noticed: although 通常 and 平常 are translated into the same words in English, only the former can be used as an adverb. So I'll bet at least some of the time my mistake is for example: "他平常一上班就出去买咖啡" :-?

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well, translating Chinese adverbs into English is … frustrating too. 😓


通常 and 平常 are both adv. (and adj.). I've listed a few examples of 平常 in my last reply.

Their denotations are almost the same but their connotations differ.

When people use 平常 in a sentence (eg. 平常他一上班就出去买咖啡), there's a strong indication that something is happening / will happen differently this time (eg. he didn't/won't buy coffee this time). But when 通常 is used, there's no such indication (eg. 通常他一上班就出去买咖啡, and this time he did/will do it without exception).


ps: of course you can use 通常 with a following sentence saying that "he didn't buy coffee today", but that won't give 通常 a connotation that 平常 has. The exception was directly and solely given by the following sentence --- if the following sentence is removed, we can no longer infer from the original sentence with 通常 that there'll be an exception today.

pps: I'm a mainlander so I cannot assure u that these words are used in the same way in Taiwan or in other Mandarin communities in other countries. You may want to consult Taiwanese for more info.

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