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 BlueHeronArts.com. 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.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anthony Bogadek
    Dec 14, 2012 @ 13:59:28

    Hi dear Ms Lin,
    Ah, so many things to learn from your lessons, but it takes time to assimilate everything. I’ve got two small points to ask about.
    1. At one point you have: ling4 lang2 means “your excellent daughter”. My dictionary states it should be “ling4 ai” (for a girl; ling4 lang2 applies to the male child)
    2. At the end of the lesson you have the sentence: “Duo1 jia2 xie1 cai4 chi1. The online MDBG Chinese-English dictionary states that jia as a vb (mainland China pronunciation) should be first tone jia1; but MDBJ also adds that the same verb is second tone using the Taiwan pronunciation): jia2 as in your text sentence. So I am not sure which version your website is adopting: Mainland China or Taiwan.


    • likeabridge
      Dec 14, 2012 @ 15:15:27

      Hi Anthony,

      Thanks for your comments. I’ve made the corrections in this post.

      For the learner’s benefit, I’ve adopted the Simplified Chinese Character System in my instruction material, and I try to adhere to the Mainland China version of pronunciation. (I myself learned Mandarin in Taiwan.) In fact, people from Mainland China and Taiwan understand one another’s Mandarin perfectly well. It’s ironical that, having made a major simplification of the Chinese characters, one still needs to fuss about the distinction between 夾(jiá) and 夾(jiā) when there is little difference in the meanings. Besides 夾(jiā) has many homonyms to get one confused, notably 加 (jiā add), while 夾(jiá) stands alone as a unique sound. Therefore, I think, in this case, it’s more logical to just use 夾(jiá), but who am I to propose such a change? Maybe a hundred years from now, people will come around and adopt the more logical approach. For now, we will need to follow the prevailing convention.


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