One of the things that contribute to the difficulty of learning the Chinese language is the abunance of homophones, i.e. different characters or different words that sound exactly the same. If you look up a Chinese character in a dictionary by its pinyin, you will often find many more than what you asked for. When you have become proficient in the language, you will be able to determine the correct character used based on the context, or based on the polysyllable word in which the character occurs. However, the beginning learner is likely to be confused. For example, 愚人 (yúrén) is a fool, while 渔人 (yúrén) is a fisherman. In fact, to avoid confusion, we usually say 傻子 (shǎzi a fool) instead of 愚人 (yúrén).
On the other hand, it’s not that bad if you look at it this way: You only need to learn one sound to cover a number of different Chinese words. In fact, many of these sounds are plain everyday English words. Therefore, you are uttering a few Chinese words everyday without knowing it. Just look at the following examples, and you will see.
Aye 爱 (ài love) 碍 (ài hinder, block)
Wǒ ài nǐ.
I love you.
Bùyào zǔài wǒ.
Don’t be in my way.
Bay 贝 (bèi seashells) 背 (bèi the back of something)
Tā shōují bèiké.
She collects seashells.
Tā zhàn zài wǒ de bèihòu.
She is standing behnd me.
Bee 毕 (bì finish, complete) 壁 (bì wall)
Tā míngnián bìyè.
He will graduate next year.
Qiángbì shàng yǒu zhǐ chóng.
There is an insect on the wall.
Boo 不 (bù no, not) 步 (bù a step)
Tā bù gāoxìng.
He is not pleased.
Yī bù yī bù mànmàn zǒu.
Walk slowly, step by step.
Dee 弟 (dì younger brother) 地 (dì fields, ground)
Wǒ dì di hái tài xiǎo.
My brother is still too young.
Tā zuò zài dì shàng.
He sits on the ground.
Die 带 (dài a belt, to bring) 代 (dài to substitue, an era)
Nǐ dài wǒ qù, hǎo ma?
Take me along, okay?
Nǐ dài wǒ qù, hǎo ma?
Go in my place, okay?
Dough 豆 (dòu beans) 逗 (dòu to tease)
Dòufu shì yòng huángdòu zuò de.
Bean curds are made from soybeans.
Wǒ shì dòu zhe nǐ wánr de.
I’m just teasing you.
Done 蛋 (dàn eggs) 淡 (dàn bland, diluted) 但 (dàn but, however)
Nǐ ài chī dànhuáng hái shì dànbái?
Do you prefer to eat yolks or egg whites?
Zhè tāng hěn dàn.
This soup is rather light in taste.
Wǒ zuò wánbì le, dànshì tā bù mǎnyì.
I have completed the job, but he is not pleased.
That’s right, this is a compund sentence.
Anwer to last week’s question about a compound-complex sentence:
他会来, 但是, 如果他来的时候, 我不在,
Tā huì lái, dànshì, rúguǒ tā lái de shíhòu, wǒ bùzài,
He will come, but if when he comes, I’m not here,
nàme, wǒmen háishì bùnéng jiànmiàn.
then we still won’t be able to meet.