Common Abbreviations in Chinese

Chinese Brush Painting – Chicks in Springtime

As if there weren’t already so many words to learn in Chinese, we must also be able to deal with abbreviations that are thrown at us from time to time, especially by news reporters, who must deliver vast amount of information within a very short time.

Many of the Chinese abbreviations, or 简称 (jiǎnchēng), are sort of like acronyms. When a word is made up of two or more other multi-character words, often a new word is formed by combining the initial character of each of the constituent words. For example,

今早 (jīnzǎo) stands for 今天早晨 (jīntiān zǎochén this morning); 明早 (míngzǎo) stands for 明天早晨 (míngtiān zǎochén tomorrow morning).

Hey, aren’t you glad that spring has sprung? 今春 (jīnchūn) stands for 今年春天 (jīnnián chūntiān this spring); 明春 (míng chūn) stands for 明年春天 (míngnián chūntiān next spring).

流感 (liúgǎn) refers to 流行感冒 (liúxíng gǎnmào, influenza); 股市 (gǔshì) refers to 股票市场 (gǔpiào shìchǎng, stock market).

台湾大学 (Táiwān Dàxué National Taiwan University) is abbreviated as 台大 (Táidà).

中学 (zhōngxué) is middle school. 女子中学 (nǚzǐ zhōngxué) is abbreviated as 女中 (nǚ zhōng).
高中 (gāozhōng) is high school. A girls high school is called 女高 (nǚ gāo).

Obsiously, any word that starts wtih 国 has something to do with a country or nation.
国防 (guófáng) is short for 国家防卫 (guójiā fángwèi, national defense).
国小 (guó xiǎo) is short for 国民小学 (guómín xiǎoxué, national elementary school).
内宣 (nèi xuān) is short for 内部宣传 (nèibù xuānchuán, internal propaganda).
外宣 (wài xuān) is short for 外部宣传 (wàibù xuānchuán, external propaganda, or publicity).

The Chinese transliteration of most of the foreign country names are a mouthful. Luckily we mostly refer to these countries by their abbreviated names. For example:

United States of America 美利坚合众国 (Měilìjiān hézhòngguó) is shortened to 美国 (Měiguó).
China 中华人民共和国 (Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó) is 中国 (Zhōngguó).
Great Britain 大不列颠 (Dàbùlièdiān) is 英国 (Yīngguó).
France 法兰西 (Fǎlánxī) is 法国 (Fǎguó).

When talking about two or more countries, each will usually be represented by just one character, as shown below.

台美半导体会议 (Tái Měi bàndǎotǐ huìyì, Taiwan American Semiconductor Conference)
中美贸易 (Zhōng Měi màoyì, Sino-U.S. Trade)

For Hong Kong 香港 (xiānggǎng), the second character is chosen for the abbreviation, as in 台港关系 (Tái gǎng guānxì, Taiwan-Hong Kong relations).

欧盟 (ōuméng) stands for 欧洲联盟 (ōuzhōu liánméng, European Union).

公共 (gōnggòng) means shared by the public, and 公用 (gōngyòng) means for public use. Therefore, a bus is called 公共汽车 (gōnggòngqìchē), or 公车 (gōngchē) for short. Similarly, 公园 (gōngyuán) is short for 公共花园 (gōnggòng huāyuán, a public garden or a park), and 公厕 (gōngcè) is short for 公共厕所 (gōnggòng cèsuǒ, public restroom).

公公 (gōnggōng) is the father-in-law and 婆婆 (pópo) is the mother-in-law, whereas 公婆 (gōngpó) refers to both of them. Similarly, 父母 (fùmǔ) means parents, i.e. 父亲 (fùqīn, father) and 母亲 (mǔqīn, mother).

家用电器 (jiāyòngdiànqì, household appliance) is abbreviated as 家电 (jiādiàn).
驾驶执照 (jiàshǐ zhízhào, driver’s license) is abbreviated as 驾照 (jiàzhào).
空气调节 (kōngqì tiáojié, air conditioning) is abbreviated as 空调 (kòngtiáo).
空中运输 (kōngzhōng yùnshū, air transportation) is abbreviated as 空运 (kōngyùn).
世运会 (Shìyùnhuì) is short for 世界运动会 (Shìjiè yùndònghuì World Games).

Often some other (more significant) characters, rather than the initial characters, in the constituent words are selected to form the abbreviation, as shown in the following examples.

汽车 (qìchē) are cars. Vehicle license plates are called 汽车牌照 (qìchē páizhào), or 车牌 (chēpái).
厨具 (chújù) stands for 厨房用具 (chúfáng yòngjù, kitchen utensils).
糕饼 (gāobǐng) covers the sweet treats, such as 蛋糕 (dàngāo, cakes) and 饼干 (bǐnggān, cookies).

学校 (xuéxiào) are schools. Here, the second character is the one that designates the educational institution and is used for the following abbreviations:
校园 (xiàoyuán) is the school compound.
校花 (xiàohuā) is the generally acknowledged prettiest girl of a school.
校车 (xiàochē) is a school bus.
校长 (xiàozhǎng) is the principal.

专科学校 (zhuānkē xuéxiào) is a specialized school, such as a technical college. It is abbreviated as 专校 (zhuān xiào).

Finally, the four-character Chinese idioms are the ultimate in abbreviations. As we have seen in my previous blog post about 塞翁失馬 (sāiwēngshīmǎ), there can be a long story behind some of those pithy expressions.

Learn Chinese word radical – Hair


Various Shapes

The simple, pictorial Chinese radical represents hair or tassels. It is pronounced shān or xiān, but you don’t have to worry about the pronunciation, as you are not likely to encounter this symbol as a stand-alone character in ordinary books and documents.

The radical is found in numerous Chinese characters, many of which are out of circulation. Therefore, we will only discuss those that are commonly used in everyday speech.

In Traditional Chinese, the character for hair is (fǎ), which features the hair radical. Unfortunately, this character was replaced by in Simplified Chinese, and one no longer sees the strokes representing the tassels. So, the hair on your hair is 头发 (tóufa). The hair on your body and head is referred to as 毛发 (máofà). 发型 (fàxíng) means hair style or coiffure, 短发 (duǎnfǎ) is a short haircut, and 假发 (jiǎfà fake hair) is a wig.

理发 (lǐfà) is to have or get a hair cut, while 刮胡子 (guā húzi) means to shave one’s beard. The Traditional Chinese word for beards, moustache or whiskers is 鬍鬚 (húxū) or 鬍子 (húzi). Here again, you can see that the radical is absent from the Simplified Chinese word for beards. A moustache that has its ends grown much longer and often flared out is called a 八字胡 (bāzìhú) because it reminds one of the Chinese word for “eight”.

Not all men sport a beard. Rather, they shave their face. The action of shaving one’s face is called 修面 (xiū miàn). Please note that here (miàn) refers to the face rather than noodles. This is one of the ambiguities created by Simplified Chinese, which sometimes oversimplifies.

(xiū) as a verb is to repair, mend, embellish, trim or prune. The word commonly used for repairing is 修理 (xiūlǐ).

必须 (bìxū), or 须要 (xūyào), means to have to, or must. For example,

Wǒde chēzi xūyào xiūlǐ.
My car needs to be repaired.

Note that 需要 (xūyào) is a homonym of 须要 (xūyào); it means to need or to want.

Háizǐ men xūyào fùmǔ de àihù.
Children need the parents’ love and caring.

As the needle leaves of the fir tree resemble strands of hair, fir trees are called 杉树 (shān shù). 文质彬彬 (wénzhìbīnbīn) is a phrase often used to describe a cultivated, gentle person, who is likened to a graceful fir tree.

We encountered the (shān garment) character when we talked about the “clothes” radical on 2/15/12. Do you still remember that a shirt is called 衬衫 (chènshān)?

The character (cǎi) can take on a number of different meanings. For example, 色彩 (sècǎi) means color; 彩色的 (cǎisè de), or 五彩 (wǔcǎi), means multicolored; 彩霞 (cǎixiá) are rosy clouds; 彩虹 (cǎihóng) is a rainbow; 水彩 (shuīcǎi) is watercolour; 精彩 (jīngcǎi) means splendid; 喝彩 (hècǎi) means applause or cheer; 挂彩 (guàcǎi) means to decorate for festive occasions, or to be wounded in action.

As an adjective (zhēn) means rare, precious or valuable. As a noun, it means a treasure. 珍珠 (zhēnzhū) are pearls. The American writer and novelist Pearl S. Buck’s Chinese name is 赛珍珠 (Sài zhēnzhū).

疹子 (zhěnzi) is a rash. 麻疹 (mázhěn) are measles.

诊断 (zhěn duàn) is to examine a patient and make a diagnosis.

(xíng) is a form, a shape, an entity or a situation.

形状 (xíngzhuàng) is the shape or appearance of an item. 方形 (fāngxíng) is a square; 圆形 (yuánxíng) is a round shape; 半月形 (bànyuèxíng) is a crescent. 变形 (biànxíng) means to become deformed.

隐形 (yǐnxíng) means invisible. Therefore, 隐形眼镜 (yǐnxíngyǎnjìng) are contact lenses (i.e. invisible eyeglasses).

形容 (xíngróng) means to describe. Therefore, 形容词 (xíngróngcí) are adjectives. This is a good time to review how to use the many adjectives listed in Chapters 8, 9 and 10 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes”.

情形 (qíngxíng) circumstances; situation; condition; state of affairs.

参加 (cānjiā) means to join, take part in or attend. 参考 (cānkǎo) means to refer to or to consult. So, 参考书 (cānkǎoshū) are reference books.

, when pronounced as (shēn), refers to ginseng. Asian ginseng is called 人参 (rénshēn) because its root resembles the (rén) character. 西洋参 (xīyángshēn) refers to American ginseng, which differs from the Asian ginseng with respect to herbal properties.

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.

What is Qi? (1)

Qi is the vital energy that circulates in our body. It is the life force, the stamina, that propels our actions. It is the impetus that powers our thoughts and feelings. It is the aura around us that affects how we appear to other people. It also stands for the gases found in the atmosphere as well as the scents and vibes of our surroundings. (qì) is all-pervasive and therefore deserves our special attention.

Physical Qi

As a tangible physical substance, (qì) refers to gases, smells, odours and breaths.

氧气 (yǎngqì) is oxygen, and 氮气 (dànqì) is nitrogen.
体操 (tǐcāo) are physical exercises. Therefore, 有氧体操 (yǒu yǎn tǐcāo) are aerobic exercises.

毒气 (dúqì) means a poisonous gas.
蒸气 (zhēngqì) is steam.
气缸 (qìgāng) is an air cylinder.
气动 (qìdòng) means air-powered.

Do not confuse (qì gas) with (qì), which has the water radical on the left side and refers to a fluid, such as 汽水 (qìshuǐ soda drink) and 汽油 (qìyóu gasoline). Cars, being gasoline-powered, are called 汽车 (qìchē).

So, which character would you fill this blank with? ____球 (qìqiú) balloon.

Our sensation of the gases is called 气味 (qìwèi), which are smells, odors or flavors.
香气 (xiāngqì) means good smell, aroma, or fragrance. 臭气 (chòuqì) is a bad smell or a stench.

When you come across an adjective, such as (xiāng fragrant), you will naturally wonder what the opposite word is. In the book, “Learn chinese through Songs and Rhymes”, many commonly used adjectives are presented alongside their antonyms.

Ambient Qi

(qì) also refers to the air, the atmosphere, the weather and the environment.

空气 (kōngqì) is the air we breathe.
大气 (dàqì) is the atmosphere.
天气 (tiānqì) means the weather.
冷气 (lěngqì) means cold air, or air conditioning. Cold air is construed as unfavorable.
冷气机 (lěngqì jī) is an air conditioner.

Tā dào chōu yī kǒu lěngqì.
He gasped.

景气 (jǐngqì) refers to the economic environment. There are no gases or steams involved here. 景气好 (jǐngqì hǎo) describes prosperity and boom. 景气不好 (jǐngqì bù hǎo) describes poor economy.

Physiological Qi

元气 (yuánqì) means vitality or stamina. The Chinese believe that vital energy circulates in the human body along paths called meridians. Think of the acupuncture points as waypoints on a route, at which one could attempt to influence the flow of vital energy via stimulation. Where there is a deficiency, we seek to augment the energy; where there is an excess, we seek to release it; where there is a blockage, we seek to remove it.

气色 (qìsè) refers to one’s facial appearance, which is believed to reflect one’s health or emotional status.

Nǐ jīntiān qìsè hěn hǎo.
You look great (in the sense of being healthy and vigorous) today.

Niánqīngrén xiěqìfānggāng.
Young people are full of fresh vigor.

力气 (lìqi) is one’s physical strength.

Tā de lìqi hěn dà.
He has great muscular strength.

气功 (qìgōng) is a system of exercises that emphasizes deep breathing techniques.

气管 (qìguǎn) is the windpipe. 气喘 (qìchuǎn) is asthma, but 喘气 (chuǎnqì) means to pant, as when one runs out of air.

嗳气 (ǎiqì) or 打嗝 (dǎgé) means to belch.

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