What happens when you double a unit of measure in Chinese?

You may have noticed that there is not a plural form for characters that represent Chinese nouns or pronouns. To indicate multiplicity, you would usually precede a noun with a quantity (number) or an adjective such as “few” or “many”, or follow a pronoun with the character (men).

There is another way to indicate that there is more than one item involved, viz. to repeat the name of the item or its unit of measure. For example:

时时(shíshí) means often or constantly (not just one momemt).

天天(tiāntiān) means each and every day.

年年(niánnián) means each and every year.

人人(rénrén) means everybody.

家家户户(jiājiāhùhù) means each and every household.

Zhù nǐ shìshìrúyì!
I wish that everything will go smoothly for you.

For many other entities, it is the unit that gets repeated to show that you are talking about each one of the entities in the group.

个个(gègè) means each and every one.

Zhèxiē yùndòngyuán gègè dōu qiángjiàn.
Each and every one of these athletes are strong and healthy.

样样(yàngyàng) means each and every kind or type of things.

Zhèxiē lǐwù wǒ yàngyàng dōu xǐhuān.
I like each and every one of these presents.

(jīn) is a unit of weight that’s about 1 1/3 lbs.

Wǒmén bùyào tóng biérén jīnjīnjìjiǎo.
We should not haggle over every ounce with other people.

Qíngrén de yǎnlèi dī dī dōu kěguì.
Each and every drop of a lover’s tears is previous.

Yī piàn piàn de yèzi diào luò xiàlai.
Several leaves are dropping down.

You can compare the next two sentences to see the effect of repeating a unit:

Zhuō shàng bǎi zhe yī pán cài.
There is a dish of food on the table.

Zhuō shàng bǎi zhe yī pán pán de cài.
The table is laid with dishes of food.

Lastly, this saying bears repeating:

Tiáo tiáo dàlù tōng Luómǎ.
All roads lead to Rome.

By the way, if you mean to say “per unit”, then precede the unit with (měi each), such as in 每磅 (měi bàng per pound) and 每人 (měi rén each person or per person).

This is a good time to review other units of measure discussed in Chapters 6 and 7 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“.

Easy Colloquial Chinese Words

Blueberry Blossoms

Blueberry Blossoms

Classical Chinese, or 文言文 (wényán wén), is a written language. Its dry wording and terse format bear little resemblance to ordinary daily speech. It wasn’t until after scholars like Hu Shi actively promoted the written vernacular Chinese, or 白话文 (báihuà wén), in the early 20th Century that modern standard Chinese took root and became widely adopted by the Chinese people. Colloquial speech incorporates the essential padding that smooths out the flow of verbal communication. With computer keyboards, touch screens, speech to text conversion functions and Gigabytes of storage memory at hand, we can choose to be just as verbose in our written communication.

If you simply string together a bunch of Chinese words in a grammatically correct sentence, you should be able to get your idea across all right. However, your speech may still sound foreign or stiff, i.e. 生硬 (shēngyìng rigid, harsh). Today we will look at one way to help you speak a little more like a native Chinese. It involves saying certain words twice.

How would you describe the little bell-shaped flowers of the blueberry plant shown in the above picture? You could say:

蓝莓花小, 可爱.
Lán méi huā xiǎo, kěài.
The blueberry flowers are small; they are cute.

But this sounds more agreeable:
蓝莓花小小的, 很可爱.
Lán méi huā xiǎo xiǎo de, hěn kěài.
The blueberry flowers are rather small; they are cute.

Similarly, you could say:
Tā de gèr gāo.
He is tall.

But this sounds more conversational:
Tā de gèr gāo gāo de.
He is rather tall.

Following are a few more examples of how the repetition of certain words helps to relax one’s tone or to bring about an added effect.

红豆汤甜甜的, 很好吃
Hóngdòu tāng tián tián de, hěn hǎochí.
Red bean soup is kind of sweet and rather tasty.

Tā wàng zhe wān wān de yuèliang.
She looked at the crescent (curved) moon.

Tián li de xiǎomài lǜ yóu yóu.
The wheat plants in the field are glossy green.

Tā jìng jìng de zuò zài nàr.
She sits there quietly.

Tā fèn fèn de zǒu le.
She left in anger.

Tā hěn hěn de dèng le wǒ yī yǎn.
He scowled at me with vehemence.

Nǐ jí jí máng máng yào shàng nǎr?
Where are you going in such a hurry?

Wǒ qù wèn wèn tā.
I’ll go ask him.

Wǒ lái kǎo kǎo nǐ.
Let me give you a quiz.

Notice the use of (lái) in the above sentence. Think of Mighty Mouse’s singing, “Here I come to save a man!”

Wǒ qù chá chá kàn.
Let me go check on that.

Wǒ dào wàimian sàn sàn bù.
I’m going out for a short walk.

While talking to other people in Chinese, you may pick up other words that are used in this manner. The above sentences feature repeated adjectives, adverbs and verbs. To review the correct placement of the various parts of speech in a sentence, please see Chapters 8 through 19 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“.

The Red Cliff in Chinese

Some of you may have watched the movie titled “Red Cliff”. This film depicts a famous battle that took place in ancient China at 赤壁 (Chìbì Red Cliff). 赤壁之战 (Chìbì zhī zhàn Battle at the Red Cliff) has been much talked about among the Chinese through the ages because it demonstrates the possibility of victory of the ill-equipped few over the poweful many. Whether Zhuge Liang actually came up with the idea of using staw-stuffed decoys to “borrow” the enemies’ arrows, and whether he was actually able to summon the winds to fan the fire in the direction of the enemies, luck and ingenuity in strategy likely played a role in bringing about the success of his campaign.

(chì) is the formal word for the red color, and (bì) is a wall, or something that looks like a wall, such as a cliff.

Tā qǐng rén bǎ qiángbì xiūlǐ hǎo le.
He had the wall fixed by someone.

(zhàn) means war, warfare, battle or to fight. Warfare or a war are also referred to as 战争 (zhànzhēng). 战士 (zhàshì) is a soldier or a warrior. 作战 (zuòzhàn) is to do battle.

Zhàshì men zài qiánxiàn yǒnggǎn de zuòzhàn.
The soldiers fight bravely at the front line.

The location of the battle can be referred to as 战场 (zhànchǎng battlefield), 战地 (zhàndì battleground), or 战区 (zhànqū war zone).

战略 (zhànlüè) is a strategy.

战败 (zhànbài) is to be defeated, and 战胜 (zhànshèng) is to triumph or to overcome. 战利品 (zhànlìpǐn) are the spoils of war.

战斗 (zhàndòu) also means to do battle. However, 战抖 (zhàndǒu) means to tremble or to shiver. You might associate shuddering with the fear of wars. So, 冷战 (lěngzhàn) has two meanings. It may refer to a cold war, or a bout of shivering.

挑战 (tiǎozhàn) means a challenge or to challenge.

Wǒ yuànyì jiēshòu zhègè xīn de tiǎozhàn.
I’m willing to accept this new challenge.

(xú) means slowly or gently. (Notice the double-person word radical on the left side?) This character also serves as a common Chinse surname.

Zuótiān wǒ qù jiàn le Xú xiānsheng.
Yesterday I went to see Mr. Xu.

In the 11th Century, 苏轼 (Sū Shì), a statesman of the Song Dynasty who was famous for his outstanding essays, poetry, paintings and calligraphy, came to visit the Red Cliff along with a friend. He documented this excursion in a composition titled 赤壁赋 (Chìbì Fù Poetic Essay on Chibi). As the small boat carrying him and the other tourists floated by the Red Cliff, 苏轼 (Sū Shì) took in the scenery. The calm ambiance was captured in this line:

清风徐来, 水波不兴.
Qīngfēng xú lái, shuǐ bō bùxīng.
A cool and refreshing breeze gently wafts over, rousing no waves.

(bō) are waves. 水波 (shuǐ bō) are water waves, while 电波 (diànbō) are electric waves.

不兴 (bùxīng) as used here is the negation of (xīng), which means to rise, to start, or to be popular.

The author, who was also known as 苏东坡 (Sū Dōng pō), then went on to comment on the battle at the Red Cliff and the vicissitude of life. When his friend sighed and felt sorry about the transient nature of life, the author comforted him with the observation that people are actually part of nature and when we enjoy and appreciate nature, at those moments nature truly belongs to us. The friend brightened up.

One of the advantages of studying classical Chinese is being able to appreciate great literature like 赤壁赋 (Chìbì Fù) in its original form. For those of you who believe they will need another lifetime in order to embark on such an endeavor, do not despair. Much of the wellk-nown Chinese literary pieces have been translated into modern Chinese. It’s just a matter of Googling for them.

Learn Chinese word radical – Double-person

If you cut (xíng to walk) vertically through the middle, the left side is (chì), representing a step forward with the left foot; and the right side is (chù), representing a step forward with the right foot.

Does the character for street, (jiē), make more sense to you now?

We’ve talked about the “person” word radical (rén). It is also known as the single-person radical, or 单人旁 (dānrénpáng). The (chì) radical, is also referred to as the double-person radical, 双人旁 (shuāngrénpáng), as it looks like a single-person radical stacked on top of another one. (páng side or other) refers to a lateral radical of a Chinese character.

Understandably, the (chì) is often found in words associated with walking or pathways.

(tú) means walking on foot, as in 徒步旅行 (túbùlǚxíng hiking). This word also has quite a few other meanings. It can represent a fellow, as in 徒弟 (túdì apprentice or disciple) and 歹徒 (dǎitú scoundrel, bad guy). It can mean a prison sentence, or 徒刑 (túxíng). In formal Chinese, it is also used as an adverb that means “merely” or “only” in a negative sense. For example, 徒劳无功 (túláowúgōng) means making an effort in vain.

(lǜ) means restraint or law and order. 法律 (fǎlǜ) is a law or a statute. 规律 (guīlǜ) can mean regulations or regularity.

Wǒmén bìxū zūnshǒu fǎlǜ.
We must abide by the law.

(jìng) is a small path, a track or a way. 途径 (tújìng) is a way or a channel. When used figuratively, it refers to the means for doing something. 半径 (bànjìng) is the radius of a circular shape. What is the diameter called in Chinese?

径自 (jìngzì) means to take the liberty to do something, without permission or without consulting anyone.

Tā jìngzì zǒu jìn shìzhǎng bàngōngshì.
He walked into the mayor’s office uninvited.

徘徊 (páihuái) is to saunter back and forth. 彷徨 (pánghuáng) to waver and not know what to do.

他心里苦闷, 在街上徘徊了许久.
Tā xīnli kǔmèn, zài jiē shàng páihuái le xǔjiǔ.
He felt dejected, and moseyed up and down the street for a good while.

(zhēng) is to go on an expedition or going to a battle. In the Simplified Chinese system, this word also means to levy taxes, i.e. 征税 (zhēngshuì), to draft men for military service, i.e., 征兵 (zhēng bīng), or to solicit job applicants. In addition, it also refers to an evidence or a sign.

Are you looking for a job? If so, pay attention when you hear something like this:

Nèijiā bǎihuò gōngsī zhèngzài zhēngqiú diànyuán.
That department store is looking for salesclerks.

Bái gē xiàngzhēng hépíng.
Doves symbolize peace.

(yì) means labour or service. 服役 (fúyì) is to be on active military service.

(dài) also has multiple meanings. 等待 (děngdài) means to wait for someone or something. 对待 (duìdài) means to treat or deal with a person or to approach a matter. 接待 (jiēdài) is to receive or admit a guest.

(hěn) is an adverb that means very or quite.

Wǒ hěn bù gāoxìng nǐ zhèyàng duìdài tā.
I’m very unhappy with the way you treat her.

(dé) means to get, to obtain, or to gain. So, 得分 (défēn)
means to score in a ball game or in popularity.

(yǎn) means to spread out or smear over.
The Chinese idiom 敷衍了事 (fūyanliǎoshì) means doing something perfunctorily.

Qiānwàn bùyào fūyanliǎoshì.
Absolutely don’t just muddle through this task.

FYI, you would have had a few more commonly used Chinese words to study this week had they not lost their double-person radical in the Simplified Chinese System.

Sing Chinese Song of Tai-Hu Boat

Now that you know how to say (xíng), let’s sing a well-known Chinese song in which this word is prominently featured.

太湖船 (Tàihú Chuán Boat on Lake Tai) is a song about a large lake located near Shanghai, China. Some information about the lake is provided by Wikipedia.

The following link will take you to a video featuring this song.

When singing or listening to the short and sweet verses of this song, picture yourself sitting leisurely in a small boat gliding along on Lake Tai. When singing or listening to the short and sweet verses of this song, picture yourself sitting leisurely in a small boat gliding along on Lake Tai. I searched through Henry Li’s Chinese painting videos on YouTube and came upon one at this link that is related to a boat. About 12 minutes and 8 seconds into the demonstration, the fishing boat is finally introduced. In my opinion, it is this tiny speck that breathes life onto the landscape painting.

Shān qīng shuǐ míng yōu jìng jìng.
In the tranquility by the green mountains and the clear water,

Hú xīn piāo lái fēng yīzhèn ya.
a breeze wafts over from the center of the lake.

行呀行呀, 进呀进.
Xíng ya xíng ya, jìn ya jìn.
Going, going; moving on.

Huánghūn shíhòu rén xíng shǎo.
In the twilight few people are around.

Bàn kòng yuè yǐng shuǐmiàn yáo ya.
The image of the half-risen moon shimmers on the surface of the water.

行呀行呀, 进呀进.
Xíng ya xíng ya, jìn ya jìn.
Going, going; moving on.

(shān) is a mountain of a hill. (qīng) can mean green or blue. It represents young crops and young people.

(shuǐ) is water or bodies of water. (míng) features both a sun and a moon. It represents brightness and clarity.

(jìng) means quiet, still or calm. 安靜 (ānjìng) means quiet and peaceful. 幽靜 (yōujìng) means quiet and secluded. 平静 (píngjìng) means calm and quiet. These words can also serve as nouns.

On the second line, some people sing 湖上 (hú shàng on the lake) instead of 湖心 (hú xīn center of the lake).

We’ve encountered 飘来 (piāo lái wafting towards you) in the Laura Lee song we sang a couple weeks ago.

Normally you would say 一阵风 (yīzhèn fēng) for a waft of wind or a gust of wind. Sometimes the order is reversed to create a special effect.

黄昏 (huánghūn) is dusk or twilight.

In the third tone, (shǎo) means few or little.

半空 (bàn kòng) means half way in the sky, or mid-air.

(yǐng) is a shadow or a reflection. 月影 (yuè yǐng) is the image of the moon.

Now here is a Chinese saying that involves a boat moving not so smoothly but against the currents:

学如逆水行舟, 不进则退.
Xué rú nìshnì shuǐ xíngzhōu, bùjìnzétuì.
Studying is like rowing a boat upstream – If you don’t forge ahead, you will drop back.

Indeed, learning Chinese could feel like a Sisyphean task. You will need to keep up the effort so as not to regress.

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