Chinese Pattern 虽然… 但是… (suīrán… dànshì…): A Quick Guide

suiran danshi

虽然 (suīrán)… 但是 (dànshì) is considered one of the core, basic patterns in Chinese grammar. You can use it to express adversative transitions like “Although …, …” and “…, but…”, however, to use it correctly, you need to pay attention to a bunch of distinctions that don’t exist in English.

In this article, we’ll take a look at how the pattern 虽然 (suīrán)… 但是 (dànshì)… is used in practice in Chinese, and then we’ll guide you through some other similar expressions Chinese use to signal conflict, contradiction, concession, and dismissal.

Let’s jump right in!

How to Use 虽然 (suīrán)… 但是 (dànshì)

虽然 (suīrán) and 但是 (dànshì), which can be translated as “though” and “but” respectively, are two very common conjunctions in Chinese. They often couple up in a sentence to express the transition “Although (…), (…)”.

In English, you wouldn’t normally use “but” in such a sentence, a simple “although” would be sufficient. For instance,

Although he has a lot of money, he is not happy.
Although the weather is good, I don’t want to go out.

However, in Chinese, whenever you start a sentence with “although”, you have to follow it up with “but”.

虽然他有很多钱,但是他不快乐。
Suīrán tā yǒu hěn duō qián, dànshì tā bú kuàilè.
Literally, “Although he has a lot of money, but he is not happy.”

虽然天气很好,但是我不想出门。
Suīrán tiānqì hěn hǎo, dànshì wǒ bù xiǎng chūmén.
Literally, “Although the weather is good, but I don’t want to go out.”

The first clause beginning with 虽然 (suīrán) expresses background information, while the second clause beginning with 但是 (dànshì) expresses the fact or conclusion you assert. Without the “but”, the sentence would be incorrect.

  • × 虽然他有很多钱,他不快乐。
    Suīrán tā yǒu hěn duō qián, tā bú kuàilè.
    You have to put a “but” before the second clause!
  • × 虽然天气很好,我不想出门。
    Suīrán tiānqì hěn hǎo, wǒ bù xiǎng chūmén.
    Again, you really have to put a “but” before the second clause!
How to Use 虽然 (suīrán)… 但是 (dànshì)…

In Chinese, the subject can also go before although. It’s a very common practice, particularly when both clauses share the same subject.

虽然有很多钱,但是不快乐。
Tā suīrán yǒu hěn duō qián, dànshì tā bú kuàilè.
Literally, “He although has a lot of money, but not happy.”

天气虽然很好,但是我不想出门。
Tiānqì suīrán hěn hǎo, dànshì wǒ bù xiǎng chūmén.
Literally, “The weather although is good, but I don’t want to go out.”

Take note when both clauses share the same subject and you begin the sentence with it, the subject must be omitted in the second clause. Essentially, it’s a subject-predicate structure, in which the subject can appear only once.

Let’s see more examples!

  • 虽然他很穷,但是他很乐观。
    Suīrán tā hěnqióng, dànshì tā hěn lèguān.
    Although he is poor, (but) he’s optimistic.

    → 他虽然很穷,但是很乐观。
    suīrán hěnqióng, dànshì hěn lèguān.
  • 虽然他很年轻,但是他懂很多。
    Suīrán tā hěn niánqīng, dànshì tā dǒng hěn duō.
    Although he is young, (but) he understands a lot.

    → 他虽然很年轻,但是懂很多。
    suīrán hěn niánqīng, dànshì dǒng hěn duō.
  • 虽然我失败了,但是我不会放弃。
    Suīrán wǒ shībài le, dànshì wǒ bú huì fàngqì.
    Although I failed, (but) I won’t give up.

    → 我虽然失败了,但是不会放弃。
    Wǒ suīrán shībài le, dànshì bú huì fàngqì.
  • 虽然我没看过这本书,但是我知道它讲什么。
    Suīrán wǒ méi kàn guò zhè běn shū , dànshì wǒ zhīdào tā jiǎng shénme.
    Although I haven’t read this book, (but) I know what is tells.

    → 我虽然没看过这本书,但是知道它讲什么。
    Wǒ suīrán méi kàn guò zhè běn shū , dànshì zhīdào tā jiǎng shénme.
  • 虽然我们认识,但是我们不是朋友。
    Suīrán wǒmen rènshi, dànshì wǒmen búshì péngyou.
    Although we know (each other), (but) we are not friends.

    → 我们虽然认识,但是不是朋友。
    Wǒmen suīrán rènshi, dànshì búshì péngyou.
  • 虽然梅西是超级明星,但是他很低调。
    Suīrán Méixī shì chāojí míngxīng, dànshì tā hěn dīdiào.
    Although Messi is a superstar, (but) he’s quite low key.

    → 梅西虽然是超级明星,但是很低调。
    Méixī suīrán shì chāojí míngxīng, dànshì hěn dīdiào.
  • 虽然这个国家很小,但是它很发达。
    Suīrán zhège guójiā hěn xiǎo, dànshì tā hěn fādá.
    Although this country is small, (but) it’s highly developed.

    → 这个国家虽然很小,但是很发达。
    Zhège guójiā suīrán hěn xiǎo, dànshì hěn fādá.
expressing although but in Chinese

When different subjects are involved in one sentence, you obviously don’t want to omit any of them, otherwise, the meaning will be unclear. You can either place 虽然 (suīrán) at the beginning of the sentence or after the subject as you like.

  • 虽然茶很好,但是我更喜欢咖啡。
    Suīrán chá hěn hǎo, dànshì wǒ gèng xǐhuan kāfēi.
    Although tea is good, (but) I prefer coffee.

    虽然很好,但是我更喜欢咖啡。
    Chá suīrán hěn hǎo, dànshì wǒ gèng xǐhuan kāfēi.
  • 虽然外面很热,但是里面很凉快。
    Suīrán wàimiàn hěn rè, dànshì lǐmiàn hěn liángkuài.
    Although it’s hot outside, (but) it’s cool inside.

    外面虽然很热,但是里面很凉快。
    Wàimiàn suīrán hěn rè, dànshì lǐmiàn hěn liángkuài.
  • 虽然我没问题,但是我的女朋友不同意。
    Suīrán wǒ méi wèntí, dànshì wǒ de nǚpéngyou bù tóngyì.
    Although I don’t have a problem (with it), (but) my girlfriend disagrees.

    虽然没问题,但是我的女朋友不同意。
    Suīrán wǒ méi wèntí, dànshì wǒ de nǚpéngyou bù tóngyì.
Short Version 虽然 (suīrán) 但 (dàn)

Short Version: 虽然 (suīrán)… 但 (dàn)

In spoken Chinese, the word 但是 (dànshì) is often shortened to 但 (dàn). Hence, you can use 虽然 (suīrán)… 但 (dàn)… instead of 虽然 (suīrán)… 但是 (dànshì)… if you feel like to. It works exactly the same, it just sounds more concise.

  • 虽然有很多钱,不快乐。
    Tā suīrán yǒu hěn duō qián, dàn bú kuàilè.
    He (although) has a lot of money, but (he’s) not happy.
  • 天气虽然很好,我不想出门。
    Tiānqì suīrán hěn hǎo, dàn wǒ bù xiǎng chūmén.
    The weather (although) is good, but I don’t want to go out.

Using 虽然 (suīrán) by Itself

虽然 (suīrán) doesn’t always to have to appear with 但是 (dànshì) at the same time. You can use 虽然 (suīrán) by itself to lead the second clause in a sentence. This is equivalent to saying “(…), although (…)” in English.

  • 他不快乐,虽然他有很多钱。
    Tā bú kuàilè, suīrán tā yǒu hěn duō qián.
    He is not happy, although he has a lot of money.
  • 我不想出门,虽然天气很好。
    Wǒ bù xiǎng chūmén, suīrán tiānqì hěn hǎo.
    I don’t want to go out, although the weather is good.

Using 但是 (dànshì) by Itself

虽然 (suīrán)… 但是 (dànshì)… is a rather formal expression in Chinese, and you’ll mainly want to use it in writing and formal speech situations, or when you want to stress the background information. In daily conversations, people often just use 但是 (dànshì) or its shortened version 但 (dàn) in the sense of “but”.

  • 他有很多钱,但(是)他不快乐。
    Tā yǒu hěn duō qián, dàn(shì) tā bú kuàilè.
    He has a lot of money, but he’s not happy.
  • 天气很好,但(是)我不想出门。
    Tiānqì hěn hǎo, dàn(shì) wǒ bù xiǎng chūmén.
    The weather is good, but I don’t want to go out.

There are also other words for “but” in Chinese that you can use to sound even more causal  such as 可是 (kěshì) and 不过 (búguò). They have slightly different implications, and we’ve written a detailed post for comparison, read here.

Similar Expressions to 虽然 (suīrán)… 但是 (dànshì)

The above is more than enough to be able to express things like “although” and “but” in Chinese. If you’re still in the mood for more, you might be interested in these similar expressions to 虽然 (suīrán)… 但是 (dànshì)…

虽然 (suīrán)可是 (kěshì)…  

虽然 (suīrán)… 可是 (kěshì)… is a less common combination compared with 虽然 (suīrán)… 但是 (dànshì)…, since 虽然 (suīrán) is mainly used in formal settings while 可是 (kěshì) is used as the informal “but”, but you can use this construction in the sense of “Although…, but (unfortunately/regretfully)…”. (the word 可是 kěshì is usually associated with negative sentiments, e.g. disappointment, frustration, regret, pity, etc.)

  • 虽然我很想买新手机,可是钱不够。
    Suīrán wǒ hěn xiǎng mǎi xīn shǒujī, kěshì qián bú gòu.
    Literally, “Although I would very much like to buy a new cell phone, but (unfortunately) money is not enough.”
  • 虽然我喜欢她,可是她不喜欢我。
    Suīrán wǒ xǐhuan tā, kěshì tā bù xǐhuan wǒ.
    (Although) I like her, but (unfortunately) she doesn’t like me.

Just as 但是 (dànshì) can be shortened to 但(dàn), 可是 (kěshì) is often shortened to 可 (kě) in spoken Chinese.

  • 这场比赛我们虽然很努力,最后还是输了。
    Zhè chǎng bǐsài wǒmen suīrán hěn nǔlì,  zuìhòu háishì shū le.
    We (although) fought very hard in the game, but (unfortunately) in the end, still lost.

虽然 (suīrán) 却 (què)

The adverb 却 (què) works as the “surprised” but in Chinese. You can begin the second clause of a sentence with 却 (què) to express that the fact or conclusion that you assert is contrary to what may be normally expected.

  • 虽然是香港人,不会说粤语。
    suīrán shì Xiānggǎng rén, què bú huì shuō yuèyǔ.
    He (although) is from Hong Kong, but (surprisingly) cannot speak Cantonese.
  • 虽然看到了我,没理我。
    suīrán kàn dào le wǒ, què méi lǐ wǒ
    She (although) saw me, but (unexpectedly) ignored me.
  • 虽然他答应我会来,没出现。
    Suīrán tā dāyìng wǒ huì lái, què méi chūxiàn.
    (Although) he promised me he would come, but (unexpectedly) didn’t show up.

虽然 (suīrán) 还是 (háishì)

The word 还是 (háishì), meaning “still” can be paired with 虽然 (suīrán) to express “Although…, (but) still…”.

  • 虽然五十多了,还是没结婚。
    suīrán wǔ shí duō le, háishì méi jiéhūn.
    He (although) is over fifty years old, (but) is still not married.
  • 虽然外面在下雨,他还是出去跑步了。
    Suīrán wàimiàn zài xiàyǔ, tā háishì chūqù pǎobù le.
    (Although) it’s raining outside, (but) he still went outside for jogging.

You can combine 但是 (dànshì) and 还是 (háishì) in the same clause to be emphatic.

  • 我虽然很忙,但是还是坚持每天学习中文。
    suīrán hěn máng, dànshì háishì jiānchí měitiān xuéxí zhōngwén.
    I (although) am very busy, but still keep on learning Chinese every day.
  • 虽然我们赢了,但是教练还是不满意我们的表现。
    Suīrán wǒmen yíng le, dànshì jiàoliàn háishì bù mǎnyì wǒmen de biǎoxiàn.
    (Although) we won, but the coach is still not content with our performance.

尽管 (jǐnguǎn)… 但是 (dànshì)

尽管 (jǐnguǎn) can be deemed as the stronger version of 虽然 (suīrán). The combination 尽管 (jǐnguǎn)… 但是 (dànshì)… works like “Even though (…), (…)” in English.

  • 尽管你没这么说,但是我知道你这么想。
    Jǐnguǎn nǐ méi zhème shuō, dànshì wǒ zhīdào nǐ zhème xiǎng.
    Even though you didn’t say so, (but) I know you think so.
  • 尽管病毒很危险,但是很多人照常出门。
    Jǐnguǎn bìngdú hěn wēixiǎn, dànshì hěn duō rén zhàocháng chūmén.
    Even though the virus is very dangerous, (but) many people go out as usual.
Similar Expressions to 虽然 (suīrán)… 但是 (dànshì)…

We’ve also written a detailed post on the use of 尽管 (jǐnguǎn)… 但是 (dànshì)…, read here.

Grammar Summary: suidan…danshi…

虽然 (suīrán)… 但是 (dànshì)…, which can be shortened to 虽然 (suīrán)… 但 (dàn)… is a fixed pattern in Chinese used to express adversative transition equivalent to “Although (…),(…)” in English. Whenever you start a sentence with “虽然 (suīrán)”, you have to follow it up with “但是 (dànshì)” or words alike, such as 可是 (kěshì), 却 (què), 还是 (háishì), etc. 虽然 (suīrán) can be placed either at the beginning of the sentence or after the subject, but when both clauses share the same subject, the subject must be omitted in the second clause. In some contexts, 虽然 (suīrán) and 但是 (dànshì) can be used separately.

Remember, grammar is the glue that holds the pieces of language together, so don’t forget to check other grammar articles on ImproveMandarin.Com’s Grammar Channel! 谢谢 (xièxie) for reading this post!