Using Chinese idioms in writing

Rufous Hummingbird hovering around     Blueberry Blossoms

Here is an account of my recent encounter with a Rufous hummingbird. I have highlighted the popular four-character Chinese idioms featured in this article. It will also be good for you to look at how some of the adverbs and conjunctives are used in the sentences. are discussed in Chapters 17, 18 and 25 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes”.

又是大地回春, 万象更新的时节.
Yòu shì dàdì huíchūn wànxiàng gēngxīn de shíjié.
It’s that season again when the earth springs back to life anew.

Yuán li de lánméi guànmù kāi mǎn le xiǎoqiǎolínglóng de bái huār.
The blueberry bushes in the garden are full of little white blossoms.

Mìfēng chuānsuō qíjiān cǎijí huāmì jí huāfěn.
The bees go from one floweret to another to collect nectar and pollens.

ǒu’ěr yě yǒu fēngniǎo guānggù,
Occasionally a hummingbird visits,

dànshì wǎngwǎng yīzhǎyǎn jiù bùjiànle.
but it usually disappears in a blink of the eyes.

Wǒ yīzhí xīwàng nénggòu lù dào fēngniǎo de yǐngpiàn,
I’ve always wished to be able to capture a video the hummingbird,

dànshì méiyǒu xiánkòng lái shǒuzhūdàitù
but I don’t have the time to sit there and wait for the bird to appear.

Nǎtiān wǒ zhèngzài wèi xīn zhòng de shūcài pāizhào,
That day, while taking pictures of the newly planted vegetables,

hūrán tīngdào fēngniǎo zhèn chì de wēngwēng shēng.
I suddenly heard the hum of rapid flapping of wings.

Wǒ gǎnmáng qiēhuàn dào lùyǐng móshì,
I quickly switched to the video mode,

jìngrán lù dào le xiǎo fēngniǎo xīyǔn huāmì de jǐngxiàng,
and actually captured a scene of the little hummer sucking nectar.

lìng xǐchūwàngwài.
I was pleasantly surprised. (This gave me unexpected joy.)

Xiǎngbì nǐmen yě huì tì wǒ gāoxìng nénggòu rúyuànyǐcháng.
I think you will also be happy for me for having had my wish fulfilled.

大地 (dàdì) is the earth or Mother Earth.
回春 (huíchūn) means returning to spring or bringing back to life.
万象 (wànxiàng) refers to all phenomena on earth.
更新 (gēngxīn) is to renew.
花蜜 (huāmì) is nectar.
花粉 (huāfěn) means pollen.
蓝莓 (lán méi) are blueberries.
小巧玲珑 (xiǎoqiǎolínglóng) means tiny and exquisite.
灌木 (guànmù) is a shrub or a bush.
蜜蜂 (mìfēng) are honeybees or bees in general.
穿梭 (chuānsuō) is to shuttle back and forth.
其间 (qíjiān), as used here, means “among them”.
偶尔 (ǒu’ěr) means occasionally.
蜂鸟 (fēngniǎo) are hummingbirds.
光顾 (guānggù) is to patronize.
往往 (wǎngwǎng) means often or frequently.
一眨眼 (yīzhǎyǎn) means in an eyewink.
不见了 (bùjiànle) is to disappear or to be missing.
一直 (yīzhí) as an adverb means all along or all the way.
希望 (xīwàng) is to hope or to expect.
(lù) is to record or to write down.
影片 (yǐngpiàn) is a movie or video clip.
闲空 (xiánkòng ) is spare time or leisure.
守株待兔 (shǒuzhūdàitù) describes a person standing by a tree stump to wait for hares to come and dash themselves against it. It means to wait for windfalls.
那天 (nǎtiān) means that day or a certain day.
蔬菜 (shūcài) are vegetables.
拍照 (pāizhào) is to take a picture.
忽然 (hūrán) means suddenly.
切换 (qiēhuàn) is to switch to a different mode.
录影 (lù yǐng) is to record a video.
模式 (móshì) is a mode or method.
竟然 (jìngrán) is an adverb that means unexpectedly.
吸允 (xī yǔn) is to suck up.
景象 (jǐngxiàng) is a scene or a sight.
喜出望外 (xǐchūwàngwài) is a common expression that means to be overjoyed or pleasantly surprised.
想必 (xiǎngbì) means “I think, most likely…”
如愿以偿 (rúyuànyǐcháng) is a common expression for having one’s wish fulfilled.

A glimpse of classical Chinese (1)

The Chinese language is widely recognized as one of the most difficult languages to learn. But how difficult is it? And why is it so difficult? Let’s try to answer the second question first, and we will limit the discussion to Mandarin and not worry about the local dialects used in the various provinces of China.

The inherent difficulty for an English-speaking learner arises from the fact that Mandarin and English do not share the same root and therefore sound and look totally different. On top of that, the current Mandarin language in circulation has retained many expressions and word usage of the classical Chinese used thousands of years ago. (Imaging reading The Canterbury Tales in Middle English.) It has also incorporated innumerable idioms that have evolved over the same time period from the collective wisdom of the largest group of people on earth. In addition, modern parlance includes new phrases coined by newscasters, advertisers, Internet users, etc., that, when taken out of context, even a Chinese may sometimes have trouble understanding.

Therefore, I would list the levels of difficulty of learning Mandarin in the following order:

Learning everyday conversational Mandarin, children’s songs, folksongs
Reading children’s books and the lyrics of folksongs and pop songs
Watching modern-day sitcoms
Typing Chinese characters
Writing Chinese characters
Watching historical movies
Reading Magazines and novels
Reading newspapers and listening to news
Reading/writing official documents containing classical cliches and technical jargons
Studying classical literature

Up to this point, we have focused our attention on spoken and written vernacular Chinese. However, we have inevitably encountered a few words that are borrowed from classical Chinese. It is time to point those out to you.

It is customary in classical writing to include the following words merely for the purpose of form or function:


The combination, 之乎者也 (zhīhūzhěyě), has become an expression that refers to pedantic terms. Nevertheless, the individual words are still employed in modern Mandarin in various ways.

As a particle after a descriptive word, (zhī) has been replaced by the modern word (de). For example, for “beautiful flowers”, you would say 美丽的花 (měilì de huā), and not 美丽之花 (měilì zhī huā). On placards and in magazine article titles, you will still see things like 巴黎之夜 (bālí zhī yè Nighttime in Paris).

之前 (zhīqián) means prior to a certain point in time.

之前, 他沒去過.
Zhīqián, tā méi qù guò.
He had not been there previously.

In classical Chinese, (zhī) is also used as a pronoun in the objective case. A number of canned phrases containing this word are used in modern Chinese, such as:

Bù kěyǐ děngxiánshìzhī.
One should not treat this as unimportant.

As an interrogative particle in classical Chinese, (hu) has been replaced by

(hu) has retained its use as a preposition, such as in 几乎 (jīhū close to being, nearly; practically) and 合乎 (héhū conform to or comply with).

When referring to a person, the classical word (zhě) is the equivalent of 的人 (de rén a person who …). For example, 爱好者 (àihàozhě) is a lover of art, reading, etc, or a sports fan, 读者 (dúzhě) are readers, and 新闻记者 (xīnwènjìzhě) are journalists.

(zhě) is also a particle that appears in the important word, 或者 (huòzhě or, perhaps).

Whereas in classical Chinese, (yě) is just an appendage, such as a “yeah” added to the end of a sentence, in modern parlance, it is an adverb that means “also” or “as well”.

Zhèyàng yěhǎo.
It’s fine this way, too. (It’s just as well.)

也许 (yěxǔ) and 或许 (huòxǔ) both mean “perhaps” or “maybe”.

Yěxǔ tā wàngdiào le.
Perhaps she has forgotten.

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