Year-end accounting or reckoning

As the year draws to a close, it’s time to check and see if we owe anybody (such as the income tax authority) any money. Equally important, you might want to see if there is any money to be collected from your debtors or customers. In other words, it’s time to do some counting and accounting.

The Chinese word for counting is (suàn). You might want to review the Chinese numerals and the “Counting the Frogs” rhyme in Chapter 5 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes”.

计算 (jìsuàn) means to calculate. Simple calculations can be accomplished using 算术 (suànshù arithmetic). Some people can do it quickly in their head. They are said to be good with 心算 (xīnsuàn mental arithmetic). Others need the help of a 计算机 (jìsuànjī calculator) or a 电脑 (diànnǎo computer).

Do you know how to use an abacus, or 算盘 (suànpan)? In Chinese, wishful thinking is called 如意算盘 (rúyìsuànpan).

Nǐ bié dǎ rúyìsuànpan le.
Forget about your wishful thinking.

会计 (kuàijì) means bookkeeping or accounting, and 预算 (yùsuàn) means budget.

Míngnián de yùsuàn zuò hào le ma?
Is the buget for next year ready?

(suàn) also means “to count as” or “can be considered as”. In fact, it takes on quite a few other meanings when used in various words.

那不算. (Nà bù suàn.) means “That doesn’t count.”

Zhèi jiā fànguǎn kěyǐ suàn shì Xīyǎtú zuìhào de le.
This restaurant can be considered the best in Seattle.

算帐 (suànzhàng) could mean to tally the bills or to settle scores with someone.

Míngtiān wǒ qù zhǎo tā suànzhàng!
I’ll go reckon with him tomorrow!

While 计算 (jìsuàn) means to calculate, 算计 (suànji) usually is construed as plotting against someone.

打算 (dǎsuàn) is to think about doing something.

Nǐ dǎsuàn zěnme bàn?
What are you going to do about it?

For “Never mind.” or “Let it be.”, you could say 算了. (Suàn le.) or 算啦. (Suàn lā.). When uttered in an angry tone, 算了! (Suàn le!) or 算了吧! (Suàn le ba!) means “Forget it!” In a sarcastic tone, it’s equivalent to: “Don’t give me that!”

合算 (hésuàn), 划算 (huásuàn) and 上算 (shàngsuàn) all mean “to one’s gains”.

Zhème zuò bǐjiào huásuàn.
This way it will be more to our profit.

失算 (shīsuàn) means to miscalculate and suffer a loss or be disappointed.

暗算 (ànsuàn) is to secretly plot against someone.

算命 (suànmìng) means fortune-telling.

Nǐ xiāngxìn suànmìng de rén shuō de huà ma?
Do you believe what the fortune-tellers say?

Have a Happy and Prosperous New Year (with plenty of your own money to count)!

Learn Chinese radicals that look so darned similar


圣诞红 (shèngdàn hóng) Poinsettia

One of my complaints about the Simplified Chinese Character system is the over-simplification of the radical for “word” or “speech”. The character (yán) has been reduced to a squiggle that’s easily confused with the radical for “water”, namely . In fact, in freehand writing, many people I know write the “water” radical just like . Therefore, when someone trained on the Traditional Chinese Character system reads something printed in Simplified Chinese Character system, he or she will often need to make educated guesses based on the context of the material. Actually, that’s what you should generally do when reading Chinese text – Try to understand the function of the characters within the context rather than fussing too much over each individual character.

Rivers, (hé), lakes, (hú) and ditches, (gōu), all take on the water radical. 流蕩 (liúdàng) is to rove or roam about. (yóu) means to wander, to tour, or to swim. We can combine these two and make a new term 游蕩 (yóu dàng) for playing and wandering about.

When water freezes and there is less of the liquid portion, you’d lose a drop of water from the radical and get the “ice” radical, .

(bīng) means ice or icy-cold. 冰箱 is a refrigerator

(lěng) means cold or to feel cold.

Nǐ lěng ma?
Do you feel cold?

Wǒde fàntīng lǐ yǒu yī tái lěngqì jī.
In my dining room there is an air conditioner.

(dòng) means to freeze or to feel very cold, and 冷冻 (lěngdòng) means to freeze something. 防冻剂 (fángdòngjì) is an antifreeze. On the other hand, 果冻 (guǒ dòng) is a fruit jelly, not really frozen.

We’ve seen how the “clothes” radical and the “altar” radical differ only by one tiny mark. You will do well to remember that words having to do with divinity, ancestry, or 祖先 (zǔxiān), ceremony, rites, manners or gifts take on the “altar” radical, while things related to clothing or covering take on the “clothes” radical.

Wǒ xiǎng mǎi yī jiàn chènshān.
I’d like to buy a shirt.

We’ve mentioned the “small ear” (9/19/12) before. This is also known as the “soft” ear radical. There is another “small ear” radical that we call the “hard” ear radical because of its stright, rigid outline. This is what it looks like: , and it is not to be confused with .

(jǐ) means oneself or one’s own. This radical is found in many other words, such as (jì to remember, to mark or to record) and (jì to be envious or jealous, to dread or to regard as a taboo). Look really close at this one: (yǐ already, to end), which is a totally different word. There are also words containing the (sì) radical, which features a fully closed rectangle, such as (bāo to wrap, to surround, to take care of the whole deal), and (sì to offer sacrifice for worshiping).

(shí) is the radical representing (shí food, to eat). Don’t confuse it with the “metal” radical (jīn).

In the word, 饭馆 (fànguǎn restaurant), both characters take on the “food” radical.

(líng) is a bell, and 门铃 (mén líng) is a doorbell.

We’ve learned quite a few words using the radical for “word” or “speech”. (8/10/11) Here is another one. (dàn) means birthday or to be fantastic or absurd. 诞生 (dànshēng) means to be born or to take form. 耶稣 (Yēsū) is the Chinese word for Jesus Christ. Therefore, some people refer to Christmas as 耶诞节 (Yēdàn Jié), or the day Jesus Christ was born.

More often than not, Christmas is called 圣诞节 (Shèngdàn Jié). (shèng) means holy or sacred. As a noun it refers to a sage, a holy being or an emperor. The jolly dear old Santa Claus is called 圣诞老人 (shèngdànlǎorén).

By the way, you can download a free printable radical reference list provided by Chris at

Now let’s get into the holiday spirit and sing the following lines to the tune of “Jingle Bells”.

叮叮当, 叮叮当.
Dīng dīng dāng, dīng dīng dāng.
Ding-ding-dong, ding-ding-dong.

Líng er xiǎng dīng dāng.
Bells are ringing out.

Kuàikuàihuóhuó di chéng xuěqiāo,
Happily riding a snow sleigh,

Sìchù qù yóudàng.
Roaming all about.

(Repeat the above lines once to complete the refrain.)

Shèngdàn kuàilè﹗

Merry Christmas!

Learn Chinese characters that look so darned similar (2)


What a coincidence! 真巧! (Zhēn qiǎo!) In today’s date, all three numbers are the same in the mm/dd/yy date format. In Chinese, 12/12/12 reads, for the last century: 一九一二年十二月十二日 (yī jiǔ yī èr nián shíèryuè shíèr rì). For the 21st century, it reads: 二零一二年十二月十二日 (èr líng yī èr nián shíèryuè shíèr rì). Although the temperatures have dropped quite a bit, officially we are still in autumn.

All right, let’s look at (ér son, youngster) and (jǐ several, how many). You can see that their difference could easily be glossed over. You already know that a son is called 儿子 (érzi), while a daughter is called 女儿 (nǚér). You would refer to your child as 我的儿子 (wǒde érzi) or 我的女儿 (wǒde nǚér). To be polite in writing, some people refer to their son as 小犬 (xiǎo quǎn my puppy).

When referring to someone else’s son or daughter, you can generally use 儿子 (érzi) or 女儿 (nǚér) . If you want to be extra polite, then you would use 贵公子 (guì gōngzǐ your valuable, noble son) or 贵千金 (guì qiānjīn your valuable, noble daughter) instead.

Yet another way to refer to someone else’s son or daughter is to make use of the word (lìng). This character looks similar to (jīn), as in 今天 (jīntiān today) and 今年 (jīnnián this year). (lìng) has several different meanings. For example, 命令 (mìnglìng) is an order or a command. (lìng) also means excellent. Therefore, 令郎 (lìng láng) means your excellent son, and 令嫒 (lìng ài) means your excellent daughter.

The pseudonym I put on the above painting contains (ling excellent) as well as (jiā), which means “of fine quality”, or “to praise”. Hey, if one is to adopt a pseudonym, one might as well pick the best characters possible. By the way, this little painting was inspired by a video demonstration I watched at I went there to purchase the silicone paper I want to try for dry-mounting paintings done on rice paper. (I’ve messed up a couple paintings before while using the traditional wet-mounting method.) If you are interested in Chinese brush painting, check out Mr. Henry Li’s numerous video demonstrations on youtube. Mrs Li, Victoria, teaches Chinese Calligraphy.

The only difference between (dà big) and (tài greatest, excessively) is one tiny mark. It make sense that when one adds to something that is already large, it would become excessively large. If you haven’t heard the story involving these two characters and the ancient Chinese calligrapher, 王献之 (Wáng Xiànzhī), please click on this link.

(quǎn) is the formal word for a dog. If you are not careful and let the last stroke curve up, then you will get a totally different character, namely (yóu), which is a Chinese surname and has several different meanings. 尤其 (yóuqí) is an adverb that means “particularly” or “especially”. 尤物 (yóuwù) is a sensational object, usually referring to a gorgeous woman.

他不喜欢吃鱼, 尤其是带鱼.
Tā bù xǐhuān chī yú, yóuqí shì dàiyú.
He does not like to eat fish, especially hairtail.

(tián) means farmland. It is also a Chinese surname. If you let the middle vertical stroke stick out, then it becomes (yóu), which has several different meanings. In 理由 (lǐyóu), it means cause or reason. In 由此可见 (yóucǐkějiàn You can see from this that …), it means “from”.

(zǎo) means early morming or “Good morning.”, but (hàn) is a dry spell.

(kuài) means quickly or happy, but if you add an extra stroke to it, you will get (yàng), which means discontented.

(míng), as you know, means fame or a name. As a verb in formal Chinese, it means to describe. Extend one of the strokes to get (gè), which means each or various, as in 各地 (gèdì in various places).

(mǔ) means mother or female. Some people do their own simplification and write one longer stroke instead of the two small strokes. This results in a different character, (wú), which is one of the formal words for “no” or “not”.

I’m sure you have encountered other Chinese characters that are easily confused with one another. Following are a few more to pay attention to:

(jīn) is a unit of weight, a little over one pound, while (chì) means to scold or repel.

Tā shòudào wúlǐ de chìzé.
She was reprimanded unjustifiably.

(zú) means the feet, sufficient or satisfied.
(shì) is the “be” verb.

(yǔ) means rain, while (liǎng) means two.

(lá) is to come, while (jiā) means to place between two things or persons. (jiā) as a noun can be a tweezer or a folder. As an adjective, (jiá) means double-layered, with something in between, like a filled Oreo cookie. When you go home to visit, your parents may tell you at lunch or dinner:

Duō jiā xiē cài chī.
Get (pick up with your chopsticks) more food from the dishes.

Learn Chinese characters that look so darned similar (1)

We’ve often come across English words that differ only by one letter but are worlds apart in meaning – “Pray” and “prey”, “real” and “reel”, “sweet” and “sweat”, just to mention a few. And in tiny font, “rn” may be indistinguishable from the letter “m”, particularly if you are myopic. You will encounter a similar problem with Chinese characters. A detail-oriented person will be able to quickly spot the minor difference between two very similar characters. However, the untrained new pair of eyes may easily mistake one for the other. We’ already encountered a few, such as (rén person) and (rù enter), (tiān sky, heaven) and (fū husband, man), and (wáng) and (yù). Let’s look at a number of other examples.

(gōng) means labor, worker or craftsmanship. Work is called 工作 (gōngzuò).

We know that (tǔ) means soil, land, indigenousness or provincialism. We’ve discussed its use as a word radical.

Reverse the length of the two horizontal strokes (tǔ), and one gets (shì), which represents a guard, a polite title with which to refer to a person, or a piece in Chinese chess that operates like a bishop in western chess. 士兵 (shìbīng) is a solder (a private). 人士 (rénshì) is a personage or a public figure.

Zhè jiàn shì yǐnqǐ le shèhuì rénshì de tóngqíng.
This incident has aroused sympathy from the people in the society.

(qiān) means a thousand, or “a great number of” something. Make the top-most stroke a straight horizontal stroke, and one gets (gān dry, to be concerned with) or (gàn a trunk or the main part of something; to do).

Zhè bù gān wǒde shì.
This matter does not concern me.

Add a slanted stroke on the left side of (gān) to form (wǔ noon). And if you let the vertical stroke stick out, you’d get (niú an ox or a cow).

Tilt the top-most stroke of (tiān) a little, and it becomes (yāo), which means to die young. This character is most often used in the terms 夭折 (yāozhé to die young) and 逃之夭夭 (táozhīyāoyāo to flee).

Nàge xiǎotōu yǐjīng táozhīyāoyāo le.
That thief has already run away.

Put a curve in the last stroke of (tiān) and it becomes (wú nothing, without). Note the difference between (wú) and (yuán), which means “first”, “principal” or “fundamental”. It is the name of a Chinese dynasty. It is also a unit of currency.

So, you see that, in writing Chinese characters, the relative lengths of two stroke often make a difference. It matters whether a stroke protrudes beyond another stroke or not. It also matters whether two strokes originate from the same point or not.

(dāo) is a knife. It is also a unit of one hundred sheets of paper. (rèn) is the edge of a knife or a sword. It also means to kill with a sword.

(lì) means strength, power, or making a great effort. Add two drops of sweat to it to get (bàn), which means to do, to tackle or handle a matter, or to punish by law.

Zhè jiàn shì bàn de hěn hǎo.
This matter was handled very well.

(qī) is the number 7. (bǐ) is an ancient type of spoon, while 匕首 (bǐshǒu) is a dagger.

(jiǔ) is the number 9. On the other hand, (wán) is a pellet or a ball, such as 肉丸子 (ròuwánzi meatball).

As an adverb, (yòu) means once again.

Tā yòu kū le.
She is weeping again.

As a conjunctive, (yòu) is used in duplicate and means “both … and …”, such as in 又快又好 (yòukuàiyòuhǎo done well and speedily) and 又高又大 (yòugāoyòudà tall and big).

Add a tine to (yòu) to obtain (chā), which is a fork. 刀叉 (dāochā) means knife and fork, while 交叉 (jiāochā) is to intersect.

More to come later. In the mean time, try to make a sentence for each new term you have learned today.

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