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mǎ shàng
adv. immediately, right away
Discussion of 马上/馬上
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马上 can be used on something that has happened (E.g.1) or something that is going to happen at the time of speaking (E.g. 2). It can be used on something that can be decided/controlled (E.g. 3), or something that is beyond one’s control (E.g.4).
E.g. 1 他马上丢下工作跑到车站。 [phr] He put aside his work at once and ran to the station.
E.g. 2 会议马上就要结束了。 [phr] The meeting is going to be over soon.
E.g. 3 我马上就到学校,你再等我几分钟。 [phr] I will arrive at the school very soon. Wait for me for a few more minutes.
E.g. 4 看着太阳马上要下山了,我不由得加快了步伐。 [phr] Noticing that the sun had almost set, I couldn't help quickening my footsteps.
In E.g. 3, 到学校 is an action that can be decided or controlled by the subject. In other words, “I” can decide whether to get to school or not. In E.g. 4, “sunset” is part of the nature. No matter what we do, we cannot prevent the sun from setting.
In this post, we compare two adverbs: 马上 and 立刻. They seem to have the same meaning. They both indicate things will happen soon. But is there any difference?
The answer is yes.

立刻 indicates that something happens very fast right after an action or event (E.g.1), or that something is going to happen right away (E.g.2) at the time of speaking. It emphasises the short time. For example:
E.g. 1 地震发生后,军队立刻前去救灾。 [phr] Right after the earthquake, the army rushed there to rescue the victims.
E.g. 2 只要你同意,我就立刻过去。 [phr] As long as you agree, I'll go there right away.

马上 also indicates a short time, however, this “short” time is a relative concept. It may vary from person to person. It’s a subjective idea. Some people think that is a short time, while some others may think it is not that short. Therefore, when we use 马上, we might be talking about a few days, or several dozens days. For example:
E.g. 3 马上要考试了,她看起来很焦虑。 [phr] The exam is coming soon and she seems very anxious.
E.g. 4 不知不觉四年过去了,我们马上就要毕业了。 [phr] Four years passed without us realizing it, we are going to graduate soon.
In E.g. 4, it’s very like that “we” are going to graduate in two to three months, instead of in a few minutes at the time of speaking. In E.g. 3, we could be talking about a week or a few minutes. It depends on the speaker and the context of the conversation.
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