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When You Want to Do Something First 當你要先做某件事情的時候 in Chinese




(dang1) (ni3) (yao4) (xian1) (zuo4) (mou3) (jian4) (shi4 qing2) (de. shi2 hou4)

(just at) (you) (to want) (first) (to do) (some) (measure word) (affair, matter) (when)

When you want to do something first


When you want to do something first

In everyday conversation, there is often the desire to communicate the order of things. What did you do first? What will you do first? In what order will you or did you get things done? If you only need to do one thing before getting to something else in particular use this structure:



xian1 …    zai4

firstbefore hand  then


Here are some examples:




(wo3) (xian1) (qu4) (pao3 bu4), (zai4) (qu4) (shang4 ke4)

(I) (first) (to go) (to run), (then) (to go) (attend lesson/class)

First, I will go run, then I will go to my lesson.




(wo3) (hui4) (xian1) (chi1) (fan4), (zai4) (shui4 jiao4)

(I) (will) (first) (to eat) (meal), (then) (to sleep)

First I will eat, then sleep.


When in conversation, it may not be necessary to specify the subject of the sentence,  if the remark is easily understood in context. For instance, a parent might say to a child who has asked for a certain snack…




(xian1) (xi3) (shou3), (zai4) (chi1) (bing3 gan1)

(first) (to wash) (hand), (then) (to eat) (cookie)

First, wash your hands, then (you may) eat a cookie.


Or you might simply inform someone that:




(xian1) (gei3) (ta1) [(da3) (dian4) (hua4)], (zai4) (du2) (zhe4 ben3) (shu1)

(first) (to give) (her) [(to strike, to do) (electric) (word) = make phone call], (then) (to read) (this + measure word for book) (book)

First, (I’ll) give her a call, then (I) will read this book.




(ni3) (ying1 gai1) (xian1) (qing1 jie2) (chu2 fang2), (zai4) (qu4) (guang4 jie1) (o1)

(you) (should) (first) (to clean) (kitchen), (then) (to go) (window shopping) (conversational sound)

You should clean the kitchen first, then go shopping.




(ta1) (xian1) (zhao3 dao4) (gong1 zuo1), (zai4) (mai3) (che1 zi.)

(she) (first) (find) (work), (then) (to buy) (car)

First, she is going to find work, then buy a car.


But if you have several things to specify in a certain order, you can use this words:

第一  (di4 yi1)  first

第二  (di4 er4)  second

第三  (di4 san1)  third

第四  (di4 si4)  fourth

第五  (di4 wu3)  fifth

第六  (di4 liu4)  sixth

第七  (di4 qi1)  seventh

第八  (di4 ba1)  eighth

第九  (di4 jiu3)  ninth

第十  (di4 shi2)  tenth

第十一  (di4 shi2 yi1) eleventh

and so on…



(I will divide the list below in the translation.)




(ming2 tian1) (wo3) (dei3) (zuo4) (hen3) (duo1) (shi4 qing2)

(tomorrow) (I) (must) (to do) (very) (many) (matters, affairs, business)

Tomorrow, I must do many things.




(di4 yi1) (wo3) (hui4) (qing1 jie2) (chu2 fang2)

(first) (I) (will) (to clean) (kitchen)

First, I will clean the kitchen;




(di4 er4) (wo3) (dei3) (xi3) (yi1 fu2)

(second) (I) (must) (to wash) (clothes)

second, I must wash clothes;




(di4 san1) (zai4) (yuan2 zi.) (li3) (gong1 zuo4)

(third) (at) (garden) (in) (to work)

third, work in the garden;




(di4 si4) (qu4) (mai3) (za2 huo4)

(fourth) (to go) (to buy) (groceries)

fourth, go to buy groceries;




(di4 wu3) (da4 gai4) (hui4) (chi1) (bing1 qi2 lin2) (ou1)

(fifth) (probably) (will) (to eat) (ice cream) (conversational sound)

fifth, probably go eat ice cream!


As I practiced making up these kinds of sentences, I tried talking about my children in age order. I learned that there is a specific way to refer to children in relation to their age order.

老大 ❺ (lao3 da4)  oldest child

老二  (lao3 er4)  second child

老三  (lao san1)  third child

老四  (lao3 si4)  fourth child

老五  (lao3 wu3)  fifth child

老六  (lao3 liu4)  sixth child

etc., until you get to the youngest,

who is 老幺❺  (lao yao1)




(wo3 de.) (lao3 da4) (shi4) (san1 shi2 er4) (sui)

(my) (oldest child) (to be, is) (three tens and two) (years old)

My oldest child is 32 years old.




(wo3) (shi4) (lao3 da4)

(I) (to be, am) (oldest child)

I am an oldest child.




(wo3 men. de.) (lao3 er4) (shi4) (er2 zi.)

(our) (second child) (to be, is) (son)

Our second child is a son.



This is the same (xian1) that you have probably heard as part of the way of saying “Mr.” or an option for saying “husband.”


I first learned to used this (zai4) for it’s other meaning of “again,” as in the common salutation upon parting of 再見 (zai4 jian4) “again to see”.


The mother in me finds it humorous that the character for “to wash” includes the character for “first.”

❹ Here the conversational sound is of some importance to soften the sentence. Without that, it would sound more commanding.

❺ 大 (da4) is a common word that means “big, great, or highly.” 幺 (yao1) is new to me, but means “tiny, insignificant, youngest.” 老大  can also be used to refer to a group leader. And, in case you were wondering, I do have 7 children, so I was not making the list that long arbitrarily!