Learn Chinese word radical – Literature

(wén) means literature, language, writing, culture or civil and refined. Literature is called 文学 (wénxué). 文明 (wénmíng) is civilization, and 文化 (wénhuà) covers civilization, culture, education and literacy in general.

文字 (wénzì) refers to writing, scripts or languages. 文法 (wénfǎ) is grammar.

外文 (wàiwén) means foreign languages, such as 法文 (fǎwén French), 德文 (déwén German) and 日文 (rìwén Japanese).

文件 (wénjiàn) are documents. Official documents are called 公文 (gōngwén).

文具 (wénjù) means stationery.

The character (wén) occurs in its original form as the “literature” radical in a number of words.

(wén) are fine lines, such as 指纹 (zhǐwén fingerprints)
and 皱纹 (zhòuwén wrinkles).

(bān) are specks or stripes. A zebra is called a striped horse in Chinese – 斑马 (bānmǎ), and a crosswalk is called 斑马线 (bānmǎ xiàn zebra crossing).

蚊子 (wénzi) is a mosquito.

吝啬 (lìnsè) means stingy or tightfisted. Stingy people are also said to be 小气 (xiǎoqì stingy or petty).

The traditional Chinese character for (biàn change) is (biàn), the lower portion of which is the modified “literature” word radical. This radical is found on the right side in many Chinse words. Last week we came across the words 改变 (gǎibiàn) and 政治 (zhèngzhì), both of which feature this “literature” radial. Following are a few additional examples.

(shōu) is to receive, to collect, to gather, to put away, to restrain or to put an end to, whereas (fàng) is to let go, release, give out or leave alone.

Tā shōuyǎng le liǎng gè háizǐ.
He adopted two children.

Tā bǎ xínglǐ fàngxià.
He put down his luggage.

(gù) is a reason, a cause or an incident. It is the formal word for hence, consequently, former, or to die.

对不起, 我不是故意的.
Duìbùqǐ, wǒ bùshi gùyì de.
Sorry, I didn’t do it on purpose.

Wǒ de qìchē gùzhàng le.
My car broke down.

(zuò) is to do, to make or to be used as.

效果 (xiàoguǒ) is an effect or a result.

Zhèyàng zuò xiàoguǒ bùcuò.
Doing it this way gives pretty good results.

(wēi) means tiny or to a slight degree, as in 微风 (wēifēng gentle breeze).

(ào) means proud or haughty.

Zhègè rén tài jiāoào le.
This person is too arrogant.

He happy?

“A woman wife is my sharp.”

I see you scratching your head. You know every word in this sentence, but this line simply doesn’t make sense – until you unscramble it to read: “My wife is a sharp woman.” This goes to show that, to make a meaningful statement, it’s quite important to put the words in the proper order. Shooting out the words any which way just won’t cut it.

Over the ages, each population sharing the same language has arrived at a concensus about what “sounds right”. When you are learning a new language, it is natural to want to apply the language rules with which you are familiar. This is why pidgin English was prevalent among the coolies who came over from China in the 19th century and early 20th century to earn a living. To make the statement: “He is happy.”, someone might say:

Tā kuàilè.

Therefore, to put it in English, he would say, “He happy.” This sounds perfectly all right to the Chinese ear.

In a similar way, if you simply superimpose English grammar onto Chinese words, your statements may become jumbled and difficult to understand. I think this is a good time to caution you against trying to translate your English statements into Chinese verbatim. Instead, please focus on the meaning you wish to get across and put the relevant Chinese words and phrases into the proper Chinese sentence patterns.

Fortunately, human minds work more or less alike, and you will be pleasantly surprised that many sentence patterns are similar in English and Chinese. Last week we learned two simple sentence patterns. To make them more concise, we will employ the names of the parts of speech, such as nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, etc. You know that the name of anyone or anything you can see or feel or think about or talk about is considered a noun. We will let the term “Noun” also represent noun phrases such as “my beautiful wife”. A word or phrase that describes a noun is an adjective. A word or phrase that modifies an adjective or a verb is an adverb. I will rewrite the first two sentence patterns as follows:

I. Noun + Adjective

Tā de yǎnjing dà.
Her eyes are large.

Please note that the “be” verb is omitted in this Chinese sentence pattern, which is commonly used when one wishes to express one’s feeling or opinion about someone or something.

If her eyes are large and bright, you would say:

Tā de yǎnjing dà yòu liàng.
Her eyes are large and also bright.

(yòu) means “also” or “again”. It may be used singly or in a pair, such as in: 又大又亮 (yòu dà yòu liàng large and bright as well).

Listen to the song “Lift Your Veil” by clicking on the link below, and see if you can pick out the sentences that follow the above sentence pattern. This song is fully annotated in “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” to illustrate the use of adjectives.

Lift Your Veil (video)


You may insert an adverb to qualify the description. For example, (hěn) means “very”, and (tài) means “exceedingly”.

Fēngniǎo hěn kěài.
Hummingbirds are very lovely (cute).

Wǒ de nǚyǒu hěn piàoliàng.
My girlfriend is very pretty.

Tā tài xiǎoqì le!
He is too stingy!

II. Noun + (shì) + Noun

Tā shì xiàozhǎng.
He is the school principal.

Wǒ xiānsheng shì yī wèi lǎoshī.
My husband is a teacher.

Wǒ tàitai shì gè línglì de nǚrén.
My wife is a quick-witted woman.

This sentence pattern works the same in English as in Chinese. The noun phrases may contain optional adjectives. To show respect to teachers, we use 一位 (yī wèi) instead of 一个 (yī gè)

How would you describe yourself? Also find some nice words to describe your family and your friends. As for the people you don’t like, there are plenty of appropriate words in your dictionary for them as well.

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