What a coincidence!

You go to a company picnic and find out that the guy sitting next to you has the same birthday as yours. You board an airplane and are greeted by a stewardess who was your first love. You normally don’t carry much money with you, but this day you cashed $500 from the bank and you are mugged. These are coincidences, events that normally have a low probability of occurring at the same time. The Chinese word for coincidence is 巧合 (qiǎohé), which literally translates to “fortuitous concurrence”.

One of the meanings of the word (qiǎo) is coincidence. It can also be used as an adjective, as in the following exclamation:

Zhēn qiǎo!
What a coincidence! (This is truly coincidental!)

The following adverbs all mean “coincidentally”, “by chance” or “unexpectedly”: 碰巧 (pèngqiǎo), 刚巧 (gāngqiǎo), 正巧 (zhèngqiǎo).

Wǒ zài diàn lǐ pèngqiǎo kàndào tā.
By chance I saw him in the store.

恰巧 (qiàqiǎo fortunately) and 凑巧 (còuqiǎo luckily) refer to a favorable coincidence. 恰好 (qiàhǎo) can mean “as luck would have it” or “just right”. In the former sense, it is interchangeable with 恰巧 (qiàqiǎo).

我去的时候, 他恰巧在办公室里.
Wǒ qù de shíhòu, tā qiàqiǎo zài bàngōngshì lǐ.
When I went there, he happened to be in the office.

If the coincidenc is unfavorable, you would say 不巧 (bùqiǎo unfortunately, regrettably).

很不巧, 今天他不在.
Hěn bùqiǎo, jīntiān tā bùzà.
Regrettably, today he is not here.

(qiǎo) also means ingenious, crafty, skillful, artful and cunning, as you may gather by looking at the components of this character. On the left side is the word root, (gōng to work, worker, craftmanship), indicating that some work is involved. And the several bends and turns in the symbol on the right side definitely point to some craftiness.

Rénlèi yǒu cōngmín de tóunǎo hé língqiǎo de shuāngshǒu.
Human beings have intelligent brains and skillful hands.

Wǒ xīnshǎng zhè shǒujī de qiǎomiào shèjì.
I like this cell phone’s ingenious design.

Tā de wǔ bù qīngqiǎo.
Her dance steps are light and nimble.

There is a well known Chinese puzzle game, called 七巧板 (qīqiǎobǎn tangrams). Please click on this link and read the article posted there on 11/09/2011 to find out more about this ingenious and inexpensive game.

The term 乖巧 (guāiqiǎo) is often used to describe a youngster as being cute, clever and endearing.

Obviously, 花言巧语 (huāyánqiǎoyǔ) means flowery language and cunning words.

Bùyào tīng tā de huāyánqiǎoyǔ.
Don’t listen to his sweet talk.

取巧 (qǔqiǎo) means to employ trickery to serve one’s purpose.

Bùyào tóujīqǔqiǎo.
Don’t be opportunistic.

(nòng) means to do, play with, or fool with something. (chéng) means “to accomplish”, “to complete” or “to result in”. (zhuō clumsy, awkward) is the opposite of (qiǎo).

Bùyào nòngqiǎochéngzhuō.
Don’t outsmart yourself.

Please note that 巧克力 (qiǎokèlì) is just the Chinese transliteration of “chocolates”, and this term has nothing to do with coincidence or skillfulness.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Hugh Grigg
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 10:16:28

    How would you express things like “that was good timing!” ? As in something happens at just the right moment, in accord with what you’re doing (e.g. traffic lights changing to green as you approach). Could “真巧” be used for that to?


    • likeabridge
      Nov 09, 2011 @ 23:42:18

      “真巧!” would work if the good timing was unexpected. In the case of the traffic lights changing in your favor, the good timing could actually have been controlled by you, and therefore, “恰好!” or “正好!” maybe a more suitable expression.


  2. Alex Moen
    Dec 16, 2011 @ 21:20:20

    Ah, 非常好。 我喜欢这个。 I just stumbled across this online- 真巧! (haha) I enjoy coming across posts that go into the subtle nuances of Chinese, but also give useful everyday information.


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