Chinese Words for Original and Originally: 本来(běnlái) vs. 原来(yuánlái)

By Sujanti Djuanda – LingoLearn Chinese Teacher

1. The adjective 本来(běnlái=original)or 原来(yuánlái=original) is used to express when the original thing has changed, or it’s still the same as before.

Example 1

Her original color of hair is red or blond? (it’s changed now)

她的(tāde=her)头发(tóufà=hair)本来(běnlái=original)(or 原来(yuánlái=original)的(de)颜色(yánsè=color)是(shì=is)红色(hóngsè=red)还是(háishi=or)金色(jīnsè=blond)?

Example 2

Long times no see, you still look the same as before.

好久(hǎojiǔ=long time)不见(bùjiàn=no see),你(nǐ=you)还是(háishì=still)本来(běnlái=original)(or 原来(yuánlái=original))的(de)样子(yàngzi= appearance)。

2. The adverbs 原来(yuánlái) and 本来(běnlái) are interchangeable when they mean “original”, “at first” or “originally”. They are used to express when the original thing has now changed or is still the same as before.


Originally, I lived in Hongkou district, now I have moved to the Cangyuan district. (now changed)

我(wǒ=I)本来(běnlái=originally)(or 原来(yuánlái=originally))住(zhù=to live)在(zài=at)虹口(Hóngkǒu)区(qū=area),现在(xiàn​zài=now)搬到(bān​dào=to move) 沧源(Cāngyuán)区(qū=area)了(le)。

3. The adverb 本来(běnlái=of course) is used to express something that is related with lack/no surprise factor. 原来(yuánlái) cannot mean ‘of course’

Example 1

Of course, females who like machines are a few. (no surprise factor)

女性(nǚxìng=female)喜欢(xǐ​huan=like)机器(jīqì=machine)的(de)本来(běnlái=of course)就(jiù=then)少(shǎo=a few)。

4. The adverb 原来(yuánlái) can means “all along, “as a matter of fact, “as it turns out” but 本来(běnlái) cannot. 原来(yuánlái)  is used to express when someone didn’t know about something but through discovering then s/he is aware of it (related with surprise factor). 

Example 1a:

I thought (to think mistakenly) hot and spicy soup is not so spicy as it turns out, it’s extremely spicy.

我(wǒ=I)以为(yǐ​wéi=to think mistakenly)麻辣烫(málàtàng= hot and spicy soup)不(bù=not)这么(zhè​me=so)辣(là=spicy),原来(yuánlái=as it turns out)非常(fēi​cháng=extremely)辣(là=spicy)。

Compare with Example 1b:

Of course, hot and spicy soup is very spicy, isn’t it?

麻辣烫(má​là​tang= hot and spicy soup)本来(běnlái=of course)就(jiù=just)很(hěn)辣(là=spicy)嘛(ma)。

Compare with Example 1c:

The original taste of hot and spicy soup is spicy taste.

麻辣烫(má​là​tang= hot and spicy soup)本来(běnlái=original)(or 原来(yuánlái=original))的(de)味道(wèi​dao=taste)是(shì=is)辣味(là wèi=pungent taste)。

Compare with Example 1d:

Originally, I don’t like to eat spicy food. (still the same as before)

我(wǒ=I)本来(běnlái=originally)(or 原来(yuánlái=originally))不(bù=not)喜欢(xǐ​huan=like)吃(chī=to eat)辣(là=spicy)的(de)。

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