Suddenly in Chinese

The other day, one of my readers mentioned 忽远忽近 (hū yuǎn hū jìn) in a comment. There are actually loads of four-character phrases you could make by using the same construct. In fact, you can replace (jìn) and (yuǎn) with any two opposite single-character descriptors and form valid phrases, although some maybe more meaningful than others. Following are a few examples to get you started:

忽快忽慢 (hū kuài hū màn) – one moment fast, the next slow
忽前忽后 (hū qián hū hòu) – one moment in front, the next behind
忽高忽低 (hū gāo hū dī) – one moment high, the next low
忽冷忽热 (hū lěng hū rè) – one moment cold, the next warm
忽明忽暗 (hū míng hū àn) – one moment bright, the next dark

他的情绪忽高忽低, 很不稳定.
Tā de qíngxù hū gāo hū dī, hěn bù wěndìng.
His mood swings between high and low – quite unstable.

Tā duì wǒ hū lěng hū rè.
He is cold to me one moment and affectionate the next moment.

There are a few ways of saying “suddenly” or “all of a sudden” in Chinese.

The adverbs 忽然 (hūrán), 突然 (tūrán), 遽然 (jùrán), 猛然 (měngrán) and 陡然 (dǒurán) all mean suddenly, abruptly or unexpectedly. 忽然 (hūrán) and 突然 (tūrán) are more commonly used in everyday speech. (rán) is a classical word that means “in this manner”.

(hū) means to ignore or to neglect, as in 忽视 (hūshì). You could think of 忽然 as describing something happening suddenly while you have your back turned for a moment.

Wǒmén chūfā de shíhòu hūrán biàntiān le.
When we started out, the weather suddenly changed for the worse.

Tā hūrán gǎibiàn le zhǔyì.
He suddenly changed his mind.

(tū) means sticking out or dashing forward, hence unexpectedly or suddenly. 突发事件 (tū fā shìjiàn) is an unexpected incident.

Tā tūrán gǎibiàn le jìhuà.
He suddenly changed his plan.

Wǒ bù zhīdào tā wèishénme tūrán bùlǐ wǒ le.
I don’t know why she suddenly distanced herself from me.

(měng) means violently or vigorously, connoting a sudden change.

Tā měngrán tuī le wǒ yīxià.
He suddenly gave me a push.

(dǒu) means steep or precipitous, again connoting a sudden change.

Chēzi dǒurán tíng xià.
The car suddenly stopped.

(jù) means hastily or being alarmed as when something happens abruptly.

他遽然离开了. (jùrán)
Tā jùrán líkāi le.
He went away hastily.

Colloquially, people also like to use 一下 (yīxià) or 一下子 (yīxiàzi), which means all of a sudden or within a moment.

Méiyǒu xiǎngdào tā yīxiàzi jiù fāpíqi le.
To my surprise, he got angry all of a sudden.

她一下子哭, 一下子笑.
Tā yīxiàzi kū, yīxiàzi xiào.
She alternates between crying and laughing.

Nàxiē jiǎozi yīxiàzi jiù bèi chī guāng le.
Those dumplings were gobbled up in no time at all.


Learn Chinese words for near and far

(jìn) means near or closeby. For example, 靠近 (qīnjìn)
means to be near or close to someone or some place. As a verb, it means to draw near someone or something. What would you say when you want your sweetheart to snuggle up to you? The answer can be found on page 223 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“.

亲近 (qīnjìn) means to be on intimate terms with someone. However, 近亲 (jìnqīn) are close relatives.

不近人情 (bùjìnrénqíng) is a Chinese idiom that describes someone as being unreasonable or insensitive to human feelings.

(jìn) is also used to indicate proximity in time. 近来 (jìnlái) means recently or lately. Do not confuse it with 进来 (jìnlái), which means to come in.

最近 (zuìjìn) can mean recently or in the near future.

近年来 (jìnniánlái) means for the past few years.

近代 (jìndài) means modern times, as opposed to 古代 (gǔdài ancient times).

近东 (jìndōng) is the Near East. (yuǎn) means distant or faraway. Therefore, 远东 (yuǎndōng) is the Far East.

远方 (yuǎnfāng) are distant places.

Yuǎn lái de héshàng huì niànjīng.
Monks who come from afar know the scriptures better.

You may have heard the chant of Buddhist monks, or 和尚 (héshàng), at a temple. Reciting or chanting the Buddhist scriptures is called 念经 (niànjīng). Some rich Chinese people do not employ local monks to perform ceremonies for them but hire famous ones from afar, thus prompting this satyrical remark from the locals. You are bound to feel the same if, instead of promoting you to the new position, your company enlists an outside expert. Another way to put it is:

Wàiguó de yuèliang bǐjiào yuán.
The moon shines brighter in foreign countries.
(“The grass is greener on the other side.”)

永远 (yǒngyuǎn) means always or forever.

遥远 (yáoyuǎn) means distant or remote. Remember the song we discussed a couple years ago, 在那遥远的地方 (Zài Nà Yáoyuǎn de Dìfang)? If not, here is the link to that lesson on the soil radical.

远虑 (yuǎnlǜ) and 远见 (yuǎnjiàn) both mean foresight. The latter may also refer to a vision.

双筒望远镜 (shuāngtǒngwàngyuǎnjìng) are binoculars.

疏远 (shūyuǎn) is to become estranged.

Hòulái tāmen liǎng rén jiù shūyuǎn le.
Later on the two of them drifted apart.

远近 (yuǎnjìn) means far and near.

Yuǎnjìn de rén dōu yǎngmù tā.
People from far and near all admire him.

We will conclude this lesson by offering two bits of Chinese wisdom.

Yuǎnqīn bùrú jìnlín.
Distant relatives are not as helpful as near neighbors.

不如 (bùrú) means not as good as. 近邻 (jìnlín) is a near neighbor.

Rén wú yuǎnlǜ bì yǒu jìn yōu.
If one does not think ahead, one may soon have problems on hand.

(wú) is the formal word for no, not or nothing.

Rén wú yuǎnlǜ bì yǒu jìn yōu.
If one does not think ahead, one may soon have problems on hand.

(wú) is the formal word for no, not or nothing.

(bì) is the formal for sure, certainly, or must. Colloquially, you would say 必定 (bìdìng) or 一定 (yīdìng).

(yōu), or 忧虑 (yōulǜ), are worries, sorrow or concerns.

In other words, when you see dark clouds overhead, take your umbrella along so you won’t get rained on. 🙂

Different kinds of “fun” in Chinese

Have you ever looked at the menu at a Chinese restaurant and wondered what “Beef Chow Fun” means? In Chinese it is written as 牛肉炒粉 (niúròu chǎo fěn). If you have studied Chapter 20 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“, you will know that 牛肉 (niúròu) is beef. On the other hand, (fěn) can be one of many different things.

First of all, (fěn) means powder or dry finely ground material.

For example, cerus is 白粉 (báifěn), often used in whitewashing, or 粉刷 (fěnshuā). (hóng) is the red color. When you mix red color with white powder, you will get the pink color, or 粉红 (fěnhóng).

Tā bǎ wéiqiáng fěnshuā hǎo le.
He has finished whitewashing the fence.

粉碎 (fěnsuì) means smashed or shattered.

Tā bǎ huāpíng shuāi le ge fěnsuì.
She flung the vase and shattered it.

药粉 (yàofěn) is medicinal powder. It used to be that people took medicinal powder by mixing it with some water (and perhaps some suger). Nowadays, such powders are encased in capsules or made into tablets.

Pollens are called 花粉 (huāfěn) because of their tiny size. 面包 (miànbāo) means bread, and 面包粉 (miànbāo fěn) are dried crushed bread crumbs.

面粉 (miànfěn) is wheat flour, 淀粉 (diànfěn) are starches,
and 发粉 (fāfěn) is baking powder.

粉丝 (fěnsī) are vermicelli made from mung bean starch.

Nǐ xǐhuān hēfěnsī tāng ma?
Do you like bean thread soup?

When talking about foods, what’s referred to as “fun” are the noodles or vermicelli made from ground or pulverized rice. Of course, you know better than to call these products “fun”. Instead, you will correctly pronounce the word as “fěn”.

So, 米粉 (mǐfěn) are vermicelli made from ground rice. Like 粉丝 (fěnsī), they come in dried form and look wiry. Unlike 粉丝 (fěnsī), they are not translucent but look whitish. Before using either product, you will need to soak the vermicelli in warm water to soften them. 米粉 (mǐfěn) should only be soaked briefly as it tends to become mushy when wet.

粉条 (fěntiáo), or rice noodles, are made from a mixture of rice powder and a starch, such as corn starch, bean starch or sweet potato starch. When cooked, these look similar to noodles made from wheat flour but have a lighter texture.

粉条 (fěntiáo) and 米粉 (mǐfěn) are usually stir-fried or served
in soups. You can get them from Asian grocery stores in dried form. Some stores also carry fresh 粉条 (fěntiáo), which taste a lot better than reconstituted ones. By the way, the noodles in the Vietnamese noodle soups (called “pho”) are rice noodles. Some restaurants use rice vermicelli instead.

If you would like to make your own fresh 粉条 (fěntiáo), watch this video on YouTube.

粉条 (fěntiáo) is also knonw as 沙河粉 (Shā Hé fěn)
or 河粉 (hé fěn) because it originated in 沙河 (Shā Hé), a town in Guang Zhou, China.

Jīntiān wǎnshàng wǎnshàng wǒmén yào zuò niúròu chǎo fěn.
We are making stir-fried rice noodle with beef for dinner tonight.


Sing Chinese Song – A Breeze in May

White Tree Peony

White Tree Peony 白牡丹 bái mǔdan

It hasn’t been that windy, and it has rained somewhat. Still this proved a bit too much for the delicate tree peony in my yard to bear. The depressed branches and fallen petals remind me of a couple well-known songs. One is a Taiwanese song called 雨夜花 (Yǔ Yè Huā Flower on a Rainy Night). The other is 五月的风 (Wǔyuè de Fēng A Breeze in May) composed by 黎锦光 (Lí Jǐnguāng). At this link is a rendition of the latter.

Wǔyuè de fēng chuī zài huā shàng.
A breeze in May wafts over the flowers.

Duǒ duǒ de huār tǔlù fēnfāng.
Each flower cheerfully gives off its fragrance.

Jiǎrú ya huār què yǒu zhī,
If the flower is actually aware

Dǒngde rénhǎi de cāng sāng,
And knows the hardship and vicissitudes of life,

Tā gāi dīxià tóu lái kū duàn le gān cháng.
It should lower its head and cry its eyes out.
(This line is different from the one sung in the above-mentioned video.)

(chuī) is to blow or to play a wind instrument. Colloquially it also means to blow one’s own horn, or to break up or fall through.

(duǒ) is a unit of measure for flowers. See how it is doubled here to indicate each and every flower.

吐露 (tǔlù) means to reveal the true state of affairs or one’s inner thoughts or feelings. Here it means the flowers are discharging their fragrance.

芬芳 (fēnfāng) is the sweet fragrance of flowers. These characters are often found in girls’ names.

假如 (jiǎrú) means “if” or “suppose”. (què) means actually, definite or accurate.

有知 (yǒu zhī) means to have knowledge about something. 懂得 (dǒngde) means to understand or to know how to do something.

人海 (rénhǎi) refers to a crowd or the multitude. 沧桑 (cāng sāng) refers to the hardship and vicissitudes of life.

(gāi) is short for 应该 (yīnggāi), which means “ought to” or “should”.

Here, 低下(dīxià) means to lower or to bend down. As an adjective this word also means to be lowly.

(kū) is to cry. ( duàn) is to break, snap off, to give up, or to be decisive. 肝肠(gān cháng) are the liver and the intestines. It refers to the insides of a person. That would be a gut-wrenching cry.

All the stanzas of the verses employ the same structure. It will be a good exercise for you to figure out the lyrics for the rest of the song. It seems like this tune could go on and on forever. You might want to sing it about six whole keys lower so as not to strain your voice box. I hope this song does not leave you in a melancholy mood. Rather, think of the warmth of a mother’s love and care and have a Happy Mother’s Day!

Mǔqīnjié kuàilè!


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