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Cantonese Short Lesson 7: ✍ Conjunctions! ✍

Welcome to the seventh lesson of Cantonese. Today, we are going to learn about another core part of an apple: conjunctions!

Unlike other lessons, I don't have a lot to say about them, so let's get into it!!

Basic Cantonese Conjunctions

and = (tong2)

but = 但是 / 但係 (daan6 si6 / daan6 hai6)

or = 或(者, used in speaking) (waak6 (ze2))

if = 如果 (jyu4 gwo2)

so = 所以 (so2 ji5)

although = 雖然 (seoi1 jin4)

however = 然而 (jin4 ji4)

while = (ji4)

when = (dong1)

before = 之前 (zi1 cin4)

after = 之後 (zi1 hau6)

Thank you for reading this. Questions are welcome!

February 2, 2017



和, 但是 (and to some degree 如果) are Mandarin words; the native Cantonese words are 同 (埋) tong4 maai4, 但係 daan6 hai6 and (the hybrid) 若果 joek6 gwo2.


I agree that 和 should be changed.

但係 is always used in informal Cantonese. 但是, or just 但 are used in both languages. 如果 is used in Cantonese as well.



What do you mean by "informal"? Cantonese is mainly a spoken language (and 係 is the only copula); If you want to teach the written language (which is based on Mandarin), I think you should change the title.


I appreciate that Cantonese is mainly a spoken language, and I have seen numerous newspapers use 但係 as 'but'.

I did not say that 但係 is not used in formal Cantonese; I just said it is always used in terms of informality.

I have added this as an alternative. Please let me know if there are any others.


Like KOTOBVKI, I don't buy this view that 係 is informal.

If you read Classical Chinese text, 係 and 是 are used interchangeably; flip through 《閱微草堂筆記》 and you can find plenty of examples.

Example 1: 夜夢人語曰:「此騾前世盜汝錢,汝捕之急,逃而免。汝囑捕役繫其婦,羈留一夜。今為騾者,盜錢報;載汝婦入破寺者,婦報也。汝何必反結來世冤耶?」

Example 2:「妾本吳門,家僑楚澤。偶業緣之相湊,宛轉通詞;詎好夢之未成,倉皇就死。律以聖賢之禮,君子應譏;諒其兒女之情,才人或憫。聊抒哀怨,莫問姓名。」

Cantonese bible published by Christian missionaries prior to the May-Fourth Movement also didn't refrain from using 係 and a bible is as formal a document as it can get. (See here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/congregationallibrary/8454446220)

Finally, closer to our own time period, the historian Ray Huang (1918-2000), also had a fondness of using 係 occasionally in his writings and he wasn't even a Cantonese speaker!

Example 1: 「德國哲學家赫德所提倡的民族精神,並非窮兵黷武,而有創造性及藝術性的成就,見於詩歌及文藝」 《新時代的歷史觀》 p. 60

Example 2: 「高拱在生前就以權術聞名於朝官之間。這一《病榻遺言》是否出自他的手筆還大可研究。即使確他的手筆或系他的口述,其中情節的真實性也難於判斷。」《萬曆十五年》 p.44

(Huang seemed to prefer 確係 and 純係 over 確是 and 純是, exactly the way Cantonese speakers would.)

Treating 係 as informal is a mistaken view promoted by a lot of poorly-trained Chinese teachers in Hong Kong who often defaulted to the simplistic reasoning that "Mandarin=Formal" (I know this from personal experience... urgh!) I would argue that this view is a pretty recent phenomenon (less than a century old) and I would further argue it has more to do with the political pressure to standardize (spoken/written) Chinese, stemming from the May-fourth movement, rather than an organic change in the language itself.

If the goal here is to teach Cantonese then we should respect the language as it is used day-to-day -- use 係!


Thanks for sharing your experience, Elle; but your second example is wrong, the character in the original text is 系, means "lineage". http://ctext.org/library.pl?if=gbfile=36038page=38


Yeah, you're right


Thank you for taking your time to write this. It is much appreciated.

Like I have replied to KOTOBVKI's post, 係 is used in both contexts, and I have added it onto the lesson.

And no, I strongly don't think that 'Mandarin=Formal' :)


what about shanghainese?


Nope, sorry. If you're interested, you can take a look at http://wu-chinese.com/zanhei/intro.html!

[deactivated user]

    Thanks for making these lessons. Although I'm not currently learning Cantonese, I am learning Mandarin and can recognise a lot of vocab. Keep up the good work!

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