「來」is taught in book 2 of Beginning Reader in the Basic Chinese 500 course. It is a word that is easy for children to grasp and remember. You probably think you understand this simple character very well – it means “to come”, right?

Think again.

On one hand, it is a simple character and also a monosyllabic word. However, its many meanings go way beyond “to come”. That is the reason why it’s one of the most often used words. Here, let’s take a closer look at this character: first at where it bears the basic meaning of “from, or  to come”, then at where is does NOT bear such meanings.

 When it means “FROM / to COME” 

Here are a few examples

來信 - incoming letter

來人 - bearer; the person who came

問題來了 - here crop up the problems

 When it means more than “FROM / to COME”   

Here are some more examples

亂來 “making a mess of something”

連日來 / 一個月來 … the pattern here is [time + 來]. It means “recent times”, or “the time from recent past up to now”

十公斤來重 “weighs ABOUT 10 kg”

合不來 "do not get along well”

起不來 “cannot get up”

來得及 "will make it in time” vs 來不及 “too late”

說不上來 “cannot recall now”

趕不起來 “cannot complete it in time”

 Further Usage 

來 to mean something that has happened, that is in the past:

他們打起 ( 架) 來了 – They started a fight.

你說甚麼來? What did you say just now?

來 to denote consequential moves:

想來好笑 It is funny to think of it (first – you think, then – you find it funny)

一來… 二來… 三來… Firstly, … Secondly, … Thirdly,…

There are also cases when來 is used as a preposition, such as:

來客 a guest

來客 a visitor

來臨 the arrival (of)

來源 the source

後來 afterwards, later

In the above examples, while the other character alone is enough to express the meaning, in modern Chinese, however, it is usually used together with 來, forming a bi-syllabic word.

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