Learn Chinese word radical – Literature

(wén) means literature, language, writing, culture or civil and refined. Literature is called 文学 (wénxué). 文明 (wénmíng) is civilization, and 文化 (wénhuà) covers civilization, culture, education and literacy in general.

文字 (wénzì) refers to writing, scripts or languages. 文法 (wénfǎ) is grammar.

外文 (wàiwén) means foreign languages, such as 法文 (fǎwén French), 德文 (déwén German) and 日文 (rìwén Japanese).

文件 (wénjiàn) are documents. Official documents are called 公文 (gōngwén).

文具 (wénjù) means stationery.

The character (wén) occurs in its original form as the “literature” radical in a number of words.

(wén) are fine lines, such as 指纹 (zhǐwén fingerprints)
and 皱纹 (zhòuwén wrinkles).

(bān) are specks or stripes. A zebra is called a striped horse in Chinese – 斑马 (bānmǎ), and a crosswalk is called 斑马线 (bānmǎ xiàn zebra crossing).

蚊子 (wénzi) is a mosquito.

吝啬 (lìnsè) means stingy or tightfisted. Stingy people are also said to be 小气 (xiǎoqì stingy or petty).

The traditional Chinese character for (biàn change) is (biàn), the lower portion of which is the modified “literature” word radical. This radical is found on the right side in many Chinse words. Last week we came across the words 改变 (gǎibiàn) and 政治 (zhèngzhì), both of which feature this “literature” radial. Following are a few additional examples.

(shōu) is to receive, to collect, to gather, to put away, to restrain or to put an end to, whereas (fàng) is to let go, release, give out or leave alone.

Tā shōuyǎng le liǎng gè háizǐ.
He adopted two children.

Tā bǎ xínglǐ fàngxià.
He put down his luggage.

(gù) is a reason, a cause or an incident. It is the formal word for hence, consequently, former, or to die.

对不起, 我不是故意的.
Duìbùqǐ, wǒ bùshi gùyì de.
Sorry, I didn’t do it on purpose.

Wǒ de qìchē gùzhàng le.
My car broke down.

(zuò) is to do, to make or to be used as.

效果 (xiàoguǒ) is an effect or a result.

Zhèyàng zuò xiàoguǒ bùcuò.
Doing it this way gives pretty good results.

(wēi) means tiny or to a slight degree, as in 微风 (wēifēng gentle breeze).

(ào) means proud or haughty.

Zhègè rén tài jiāoào le.
This person is too arrogant.

Chinese word for change

Qiūtiān li xǔduō shùyè biànchéng huángsè huòzhě hóngsè.
In autumn many leaves turn yellow or red.

Leaves in Autumn  秋天里的树叶 (qiūtiān li de shùyè)

Leaves in Autumn
秋天里的树叶 (qiūtiān li de shùyè)

(biàn) or 变成 (biànchéng) means to change, to become or to transform. This word also serves as a noun. You can use it to refer to a change in the weather, in an object, in a person or in a state of affairs. However, don’t use this word when talking about small change, or changing into different currency or clothing. Those situations call for some other words.

Tā zuìjìn biàn de bǐjiào chénmò.
Lately he has become more reticent.

The word for “easy”, (yì), also means a change or an exchange. In the sense of “change”, this word appears mostly in classical Chinese.

Yes, 变色 (biànsè) means to change in color or to have become discolored. You probably have not guessed that it also means to become angry when it is used in reference to a person. Here we are talking about 脸色 (liǎnsè), a person’s facial expression. Similarly, 变脸 (biànlián) means to suddenly turn hostile.

When the Chinese mention a change in the sky, or 变天 (biàntiān), they are usually talking about a change in the weather for the worse. When there is a change of heart , it is also for the worse – 变心 (biànxīn) means to stop being faithful and to love someone else.

Tā de nǚpéngyou biàn le xīn.
His girl friend does not love him anymore.

As magicians appear to be able to transform things from one form to another, they are said to be able to 变魔術 (biàn móshù perform magic tricks).

变通 (biàntōng) is to be flexible or accommodating.

变形 (biànxíng) means being deformed or having changed shape, while 变质 (biànzhì) means to have changed or deteriorated in quality.

变化 (biànhuà) is a change, while 转变 (zhuǎnbiàn) refers to a transformation or a change in a fundamental way. As a verb 转变 (zhuǎnbiàn) means to transform or to convert.

Wǒ kàn bù chū yǒu shénme biànhuà.
I don’t see any difference (changes).

改变 (gǎibiàn) and 变更 (biàngēng) both mean to change, to modify or to alter. 变更 (biàngēng) can also be used as a noun. In that sense, it is synonymous with 变动 (biàndòng a change or alteration).

Wǒ bùhuì gǎibiàn wǒde yìjiàn.
I will not change my opinion.

变故 (biàngù) is an unforeseen event or misfortune.

占卦 (zhānguà) is to divine by using the Chinese system of Eight Diagrams. 变卦 (biànguà) is a change in the divinatory diagram. In everyday speech it refers to someone’s changing his/her mind or going back on his/her word.

变态 (biàntài) is a change in state, or a metamorphosis. It is often used as an adjective to describe something that is abnormal, as in 变态心理 (biàntài xīnlǐ aberrant personality).

不变 (bùbiàn) means constant or unchanging. It sounds the same as 不便 (bùbiàn), which means inconvenient or inappropriate. 不变的真理 (bùbiàn de zhēnlǐ) is an unchanging truth.

善变 (shàn biàn) refers to a person’s likes and dislikes being prone to change.

Nǚrén de xīn shàn biàn.
Women’s hearts are capricious.

Given that 政治 (zhèngzhì) means politics, take a guess at what 政变 (zhèngbiàn) means.

Sing Chinese song – Autumn Cicada

While enjoying a perfect autumn day, one that the Chinese describe as 秋高气爽 (qiūgāoqìshuǎng), with the sky clear and high, and the air cool and refreshing, I think of a song called 秋蝉 (Qiū Chán Autumn Cicada.).

As mentioned in a lesson posted last fall, the word (chán Zen) sounds exactly the same as (chán cicadas). The cicadas are also called 知了 (zhīliǎo). I still remember hearing them sing in unison in the countryside, their loud chorus reverberating with the waves of the summer heat.

The song, 秋蝉 (Qiū Chán Autumn Cicada.), was composed by 李子恒 (Lǐ Zǐhéng) while attending an apparently boring military education lecture in Taiwan. Later he made a few demo tapes for his girlfriend. Without telling him, his girl friend submitted one of the demo tapes to a major music contest in Taiwan. The song won the 1980 award for that competition and paved the way for Mr. Lee’s long and successful song-writing career.

At this link is a nice video of the song with the subtitles in traditional Chinese characters.

Click on this link to hear the song sung by a female performer. At that site the lyrics are provided in simplified Chinese characters.

The song is written in the first person, which is the cicada. The wording tends to be literary rather than conversational. The beautiful imagery of the autumn scenes float along with the soft, lilting melody.

听我 (tīng wǒ) means to listen to me saying or singing something. 看我 (kàn wǒ) means to watch me doing something.

Tīng wǒ jiǎng gè yǒuqù de gùshi.
Hear me recount an interesting story.

Kàn wǒ lái zhěng tā.
Wait and see me give him a hard time.

春水 (chūn shuǐ) is water in the spring. (jiào) is to call. (hán) means cold.

春天暖和, 冬天寒冷.
Chūntiān nuǎnhuo, dōngtián hánlěng.
It’s warm in the spring and cold in the winter.

绿叶 (lǜyè) are green leaves. (cuī) is to urge. (huáng) is yellow.

In the first two lines, the cicada tells you that its calls has cooled the water that was temperate in spring and urged the green leaves to turn yellow.

谁道 (shéi dào) is a literary way of saying 谁说 (shéi shuō), which means “Who is saying?”. (chóu) means to worry or to feel depressed.

烟波 (yānbō) are mist-covered waters and 林野 (lín yě) are woods in open country. (yì) refers to meanings, ideas, intentions or feelings. 幽幽 (yōuyōu) refers to distant, faint light or sound.

(huā) are flowers. (luò) is to fall down and (hóng) means red. (fēng) are maple trees. 花落红 (huā luò hóng) and 红了枫 (hóng liǎo fēng) are words put together to paint a picture and to sound good, but are not regularly used phrases. In the second phrase, (hóng) is used as a verb in the sense of coloring the maple leaves red.

Qiūtiān bǎ fēng yè rǎn hóng le.
Autumn has dyed the maple leaves red.

展翅 (zhǎnchì) means to spread the wings. (rèn), in this case, means to give free rein to. (xiáng) or 飞翔 (fēixiáng) means to fly. (shuāng) is a pair. (yǔ) are wings. They belong to the wild geese, or (yàn).

Then the cicada refers to his own flimsy wings as 薄衣 (báo yī), or thin clothing. When pronounced as (bó), this word means ungenerous or meager. Many people in Taiwan only use the latter pronunciation regardless of the intended meaning. This is reflected in both of the videos mentioned above.

(guò) here means to pass or to go through. In 残冬 (cán dōng the last days of winter), the (cán) is interpreted as 残留 (cánliú remaining).

总归是 (zǒngguī shì) means “after all it is”. (xià) means summer. (zǒu) and (qù) both refer to the seasons’ passing or leaving. (nóng) means dense, concentrated or intense.

美景 (měijǐng) is beautiful scenery. When autumn passes, the beautiful scenery will be no more, i.e. 不再 (bùzài be no longer). There is a typographic error in the simplified Chinese lyrics. It should read 秋去冬来 (qiū qù dōng lái Autumn leaves and winter arrives.) instead of 春去冬来 (chūn qù dōng lái Spring leaves and winter arrives.). What the singer sang is correct.

means to be busy, while 急忙 (jímáng) or 匆忙 (cōngmáng), or 匆匆 (cōngmáng) means hastily, or hurriedly.

莫教 (mò jiào) means “don’t let”. (shì) is to pass away or to die. It’s wishful thinking not to let the nice spring days slip away.

And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, here is the cicada himself in the spot light.

Is it difficult to learn Chinese?

With respect to reading and writing Chinese, the answer is yes. Written Chinese is not based on an alphabet. Even though the Chinese characters could be broken down to around 220 radicals, there is not a simple rule to “spell” them in terms of the word radicals.

On the other hand, if you would just like to pick up a few words to make small talks, that should be as easy as learning to speak any other foreign language. You could even try to write down the words by using the Romanized pinyin system.

(kùnnan) and 困难 (kùnnan) mean difficult or difficulties, whereas (yì) and 容易 (róngyì) mean easy, easily or apt to.

Traditionally, the Chinese have adopted the view of 知易行难 (zhī yì xíng nán), viz. it is easy to know about something but often difficult to follow up with action.

On the night of his betrayal, 耶穌 (Yēsū Jesus) said to his disciples, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” This is akin to the Chinese idiom:

The heart is more than willing, but there is not enough strength or ability to do it.

We know how detrimental tobacco and alcohol can be to our heath, but many try and fail to quit. We may know all the words and material that need to go into a book, but it is not so easy to put everything together to make a finished book.

One could just as well argue for the other case – 知难行易 (zhī nán xíng yì). After you have learned a difficult skill or branch of knowledge, then it is easy to put it to use and complete a task. For example, once you know the commonly used chord progressions and understand the logic behind the harmonization of the scale tones and the chords, you are apt to be able to play a song by ear and improvise the harmony.

Similarly, you are more likely to be able to make meaningful statements in a language when you know the underlying grammar and the conventional syntax. The article at this link provides an interesting example.

As a noun, 今天 (jīntiān today), 昨天 (zuótiān yesterday), 明天 (míngtiān tomorrow) and 后天 (hòutiān the day after tomorrow) can be placed at the end of a sentence. For example,

Nà yào děngdào míngtiān.
That will need to wait until tomorrow.

However, when using these words as adverbs, do not place them at the end of a sentence. You could say,

Míngtiān wǒmén yào qù kàn diànyǐng.
Tomorrow we are going to the movies.

Or you could say,

Wǒmén míngtiān yào qù kàn diànyǐng.
Tomorrow we are going to the movies.

In English, you rarely hear: “We, tomorrow, are going to the movies.” Therefore, when translating Chinese into English, or English into Chinese, you will want to employ the conventional word order rather than doing it verbatim. Please consult Chapter 17 of “Learn Chinese through Songs Rhymes” for the correct placement of adverbs and adverbial phrases in a sentence.

难度 (nándù) means the degree of difficulty. 难倒 (nándiǎo) is to baffle or deter someone.

Zhègè wèntí bǎ wǒ nándiǎo le.
This problem (or issue) has me baffled.

难关 (nánguān) a crisis or a difficult critical juncture. 度过难关 (dùguò nánguān) means to have passed through a difficult juncture.

难过 (nánguò) means to have a hard time or feel bad.

Tā xīnli hěn nánguò.
She felt very bad.

When pronounced in the fourth tone, (nàn) means calamity or disaster. 灾难 (zāinàn) means calamity, catastophe or suffering due to a disaster. Therefore, refugees are referred to as 难民 (nànmín), and a refuge is called 避难所 (bìnánsuǒ).

轻易 (qīngyì) means easily or rashly.

易燃物 (yìránwù) are combustible or inflammable materials.

好不容易 (hǎo bù róngyì) means with great difficulty or effort. Often the (bù) is omitted, and you will just hear 好容易 (hǎoróngyì). One may get confused if one simply takes this phrase at face value.

我好容易来到这儿, 她却不肯见我.
Wǒ hǎoróngyì láidào zhèr, tā què bù kěn jiàn wǒ.
I took all the trouble to come here, but she refused to see me.

(yì) also means exchange or change.

贸易 (màoyì) means trade. Therefore, 自由贸易 (zìyóumàoyì) is free trade, and 国际贸易 (guójìmàoyì) is international trade.

If you have not heard of 易经 (Yìjīng The Book of Changes) before, you can read about it at this link.

What are the things you find most difficult while learning to speak, read and/or write Chinese?

How to say “I don’t know” in Chinese

Zài Táiwān jiǔyuè èr shí bā rì shì jiàoshī jié
In Taiwan September 28th is designated as Teacher’s Day.

The reason is that this day is believed to be the birthday of Confucius, who is highly regarded by the Chinese people as a great educator and philosopher.

One day, after delivering a lesson to one of his students, Confucius asked the student if the latter understood the instruction material. Then Confucius added (in classical Chinese, of course):

知之为知之, 不知为不知, 是知也.
Zhī wèi zhī zhī, bùzhī wèi bùzhī, shì zhī yě.
Know what you understand, and know what you don’t understand. This reflects true knowledge.

(zhī), or 知道 (zhīdào), means to know, to realize or to perceive.

知识 (zhīshí) is knowledge.

知识分子 (zhīshífènzǐ) are intellectuals.

知识产权 (zhīshichǎnquán) is intellectual property rights.

无知 (wúzhī) means ignorant or badly informed (uneducated). This is different from 不知 (bùzhī) or 不知道 (bù zhīdào), which means not to know or not to be aware of something.

Many of us tend to think what little we know is the absolute and whole truth. In fact the sea of knowledge is deep and wide. It behooves us to know that there is a limit to a person’s knowledge and understanding. Then we are more apt to keep an open mind and to try to appreciate other people’s point of view.

通知 (tōngzhī) means to notify. As a noun it means a notice.

获知 (huòzhī) and 得知 (dézhī) is to have received information on something.

Wǒ jiànjiē dézhī tā yǐjīng líkāi Měiguó.
I learned indirectly that he had already left the United States.

不得而知 (bùdéérzhī) means unable to find out about something.

至于他什么时候回来, 就不得而知了.
Zhìyú tā shénme shíhòu huílái, jiù bùdéérzhī le.
As for when he will return, I have no idea.

无所不知 (wúsuǒbùzhī) describes a person who is knowledgeable and seems to know everything.

On the other hand, 一知半解 (yīzhībànjiě) is to have half-baked knowledge about something.

知其一, 不知其二 (zhīqíyī, bùzhīqíèr) means to know only one aspect of a matter and not the whole story.

略知一二 (lüèzhīyīèr) means knowing a bit or two about something.

You can probably guess what 一问三不知 (yīwènsānbùzhī) means. If one says “I don’t know” to every question asked, then he or she probably knows nothing about the subject matter.

一无所知 (yīwúsuǒzhī) is to be utterly ignorant about someone or something.

对于这位知名人士, 我一无所知.
Duìyú zhèi wèi zhīmíngrénshì, wǒ yīwúsuǒzhī.
I know nothing about this celebrity.

Following are a few commonly used four-character Chinese idioms involving 不知 (bù zhī).

不知所云 (bùzhīsuǒyún) translates to “Don’t know what he/she is talking about.” In everyday speech, you would say:

Bù zhīdào tā zài shuō shénme.

不知好歹 (bùzhīhǎodǎi) means not knowing what is good for one. You know that (hǎo) means good. (dǎi) means bad or evil. A scoundrel or ruffian can be referred to as 歹徒 (dǎitú scoundrel) or 坏人 (huàirén bad person).

不知所措 (bùzhīsuǒcuò) is to be at one’s wit’s end and not knowing what to do.

她不停地哭, 弄得我不知所措
Tā bùtíng de kū, nòng de wǒ bùzhīsuǒcuò.
She cried incessantly, causing me to be at a loss as to what to do.

All right. How many Chinese words do you have under your belt now? Do you know all of the characters grouped into phrases at this link?

Directly and indirectly in Chinese

Diameter 直径 (zhíjìng)

Diameter 直径 (zhíjìng)

The opposite of (wān curved or bent) is (zhí), which means straight, directly, straightforward, upright or just.

直接 (zhíjiē) means direct, directly or immediately.

Nǐ kěyǐ zhíjiē hé tā liánluò.
You can contact him directly.

直达 (zhídá) means nonstop. Therefore, 直达车 (zhídá chē) is a bus that will go directly to the destination without making stops on the way.

We have previously (4/9/14) learned that 半径 (bànjìng) is the radius of a circular shape. The diameter is called 直径 (zhíjìng).

直流电 (zhíliúdiàn) is direct current. Alternating current is called 交流电 (jiāoliúdiàn).

直肠 (zhícháng) is the straight section of the large intestine, or rectum. On the other hand, 直肠子 (zhíchángzi) refers to a person who is straightforward and outspoken, or 直爽 (zhíshuǎng).

Tā gèxìng zhíshuǎng.
He is straightforward in personality.

You could also describe such a person by using a four-character Chinese idiom:

Tā xīnzhíkǒukuài.
He is frank and outspoken.

直截了当 (zhíjiéliǎodàng) means straightforward, blunt or pointblank.

Tā zhíjiéliǎodàng shuō tā bù ài tā.
He said pointblank that he did not love her.

As “he” and “she” sound exactly the same in Chinese, it will not be possible to tell whether a man is dumping a woman or a woman is dumping a man if you are not familiar with the situation and just heard someone utter the above sentence.

一直 (yīzhí) means continuously, always or all along.

Tā yīzhí bùtíng de kū.
She kept crying non-stop.

直到 (zhídào) means up until.

我永远爱你, 直到海枯石烂.
Wǒ yǒngyuǎn ài nǐ, zhídào hǎikūshílàn
I will love you forever, until the seas run dry and the rocks are totally eroded.

直觉 (zhíjué) is one’s intuition or gut feeling.

Wǒ de zhíjué shì tā méiyǒu chéngyì.
My gut feeling is that he is not sincere.

正直 (zhèngzhí) means honest, upright and fair.

理直气壮 (lǐzhíqìzhuàng) means acting bold and assured because one has justice on one’s side.

间接 (jiànjiē) means indirect or indirectly.

间隔 (jiàngé) is the interval between two events or the space separating two objects.

房间 (fángjiān) are rooms that are separated from each other by walls.

间断 (jiànduàn) means interrupted or disconnected.

我和他通信多年, 没有间断.
Wǒ hé tā tōngxìn duōnián, méiyǒu jiànduàn.
I corresponded with him for years without interruption.

中间 (zhōngjiān) means in the middle or being between two things or persons. Therefore, a middleman is called 中间人 (zhōngjiānrén), and a spy is called 间谍 (jiàndié).

“Directly” and “directly” are adverbs. You might want to review Chapter 17 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” for the correct placement of an adverb in a sentence.

Sing Chinese Song – Crescent Moon Shines over the Land

There is a Sung Dynasty folk song that starts with these lines:

Yuè er wān wān zhào jiǔzhōu,
The slim crescent moon shines all over the land,

几家欢乐, 几家愁.
Jǐ jiā huānlè, jǐ jiā chóu.
Some families happy and others sad.

九州 (jiǔzhōu) refers to the nine regions of ancient China. This term is still used in songs and poems to refer to China. Please note that 九州 (jiǔzhōu) is also the Chinese word for Kyushu, one of the four main islands of Japan.

Although the moon graces all the people equally, a few families enjoy prosperity while the majority endure hardship.

This old song was later transformed into a theme song for a movie. I am not familiar with the movie, but from the lyrics of the song and a short movie clip on Youtube, I gathered that it’s about a girl from a fisherman’s family who left her village for the city and later became a famous singer. The glamorous new life also brought her unexpected trouble.

Click on this link to hear 月儿弯弯照九州 sung in a female voice.

At this link is the same song sung in a male voice. At this site there is an English translation of this song. The lyrics are provided in Traditional Chinese characters.

Let’s look at some of the terms used in the first three stanzas of the lyrics, which depict the plight of a fisherman’s life.

(wān) means curved or bent. The crescent moon has a curved shape. (zhào) has a few different meanings. Here it means to shine or to illuminate.

渔船 (yúchuán) is a fishing boat, and 渔家 (yú jiā) is a fisherman’s family.

到处 (dàochù) means everywhere. 停留 (tíngliú) means to stop and stay.

风光 (fēngguāng) is a scenery. 青山绿水 (qīngshān lǜ shuǐ) is a commonly used term that describes green hills and clear green water, i.e. a nice scenery.

Among common folks, the male in a couple may be addressed by the female as 哥哥 (gēgē), and (mèi) is the female counterpart.

吹笛 (chuī dí) is to play a flute, and 梳头 (shū tóu) is to comb one’s hair. Both are leisurely activities.

工作 (gōngzuò) means a work (noun), a job, or to work (verb).

几时 (jǐshí) is another way of saying 什么时候? (shénme shíhòu), which means “When?”. (xiū) means to stop or to rest. In regular parlance, 几时休 (xiū) would be expressed as:

Shénme shíhòu cái huì tíngzhǐ?
When will it stop?

白天 (báitiān) is daytime, and (yè) is night or evening. 摇船 (yáochuán) is to row the boat and, 补网 (bǔ wǎng) is to mend the fishing net.

青春 (qīngchūn) means one’s youth, youthfulness or being youthful.

水里 (shuǐ li) means in the water.

(diū) means to throw, to throw away or to lose something.

风浪 (fēnglàng) are stormy waves. 翻天 (fāntiān) means overturning the sky. It describes the worrisome turbulence of the storm.

使人 (shǐ rén) translates to “causes a person to” or “to enable a person to”. So, 使人愁 (shǐ rén chóu) means “makes one worry”.

Nèi jiàn shì shǐ wǒ gǎndào bùān.
That incident made me feel uneasy.

要吃 (yào chī) means needing to eat; 要穿 (yào chuān) means needing to have clothing to wear. (gù) is to care about or to take into consideration. (xiǎn) are dangers. 哪顾得险 (nǎ gù de xiǎn) means not having the luxury to care about the dangers (of fishing in stormy weather).

可怜 (kělián) means pitiable, pitiful or poor. 流泪 (liú lèi) is to weep. (shuāng) is a pair, or two of something. 泪双流 (lèi shuāng liú) indicates there are two people weeping together.

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