One use of for in English is to express the number of times something happens. In Chinese this is handled with 第, just the same as with other ordinals.
You can use this to talk about the first, second, third time etc. This is referred to as the nth time.
Basics: for the nth time
Chinese tends to express this as “this is the nth time” or “that was the nth time”. There’s not a direct equivalent of “for the nth time”. So when you form this kind of sentences, you need to begin it with “this is” or “that is” etc.
Time is covered by adverbials. In Chinese word order, adverbials go before the verb. You just insert the number of times something happened after the subject and then continue with the sentence.
To express the number of times something happened, you use an ordinal number. This is formed with the structure:
第 + [number] + 次
He’s drinking beer for the first time.
We spoke face to face for the second time yesterday.
I will go to Paris for the third time.
As you can see, all you have to do is add 第 + number + 次 after the subject, and you’re done.
For the nth time in …
You can also express that something happens for the nth time in a period of time. This could be something like “for the first time in two years” or “for the third time this week”.
To do this, you just have to insert the length of time before the ordinal. So now the phrase you’re going to insert has this structure:
[length of time] + 中 + 第 + [number] + 次
This is inserted right after the subject, as above. It expresses “for the nth time in length of time”.
I saw her for the first time in ten years.
I killed someone for the second time in my life.
Our soldiers will go to war for the third time this decade.
Words other than 中 can be used to express “in”. Some examples:
I’ve lost my phone for the fourth time this month.
America used nuclear weapons for the first time in history.
For the last time
You might also want to express that something happened for the last time, rather than a particular number. The structure for this is very similar. Rather than a ordinal number, just use 最后.
I’ve made that mistake for the last time.
We’ve seen her for the last time now.
They’re leaving the city for the last time.
Adding in more details
You can also add in other adverbials such as time, manner and place. These go in between the subject and verb, just like other adverbials.
I saw a horror film for the first time last night.
I’ve ordered a meal in Chinese for the first time.
I saw her for the first time on Raglan Road.
If you have any questions or suggestions, please share them in the comments below.
Sources and further reading
- A Guide to Proper Usage of Spoken Chinese – Amazon
- Translations of “for” from English to Chinese – Tatoeba
- For – MacMillan dictionary
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