Learning Mandarin: Left and Right is Approximately

In English, we have a variety of ways to say "approximately". There are several in Mandarin as well.

大概 (Dàgài) is pretty common
大致 (Dàzhì)
大约 (Dàyuē) is also pretty common
差不多(Chàbùduō) is literally like "less not more" and is often used for "about" but it's closer to "almost"

But the one I wanted to highlight today is a less obvious one:

左右 (Zuǒyòu) is literally "left right" but is used for "approximately" or "roughly".

It's a great example of how Chinese often uses opposites in a simple way.

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning Mandarin. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.

Learning Mandarin: Demonyms (Naming people based on where they came from) are easy

In English, we often name people based on where they came from. However, the rules for doing that are very complicated.

  • From England, we get English.
  • From Australia, we get Australians.
  • From Poland, we get Polish.
  • From China, we get Chinese.

But some get really, really messy. For example:

From Paris, we have Parisians. (That's not too bad)
From Greece, we get Greeks.
From Newcastle, we get Novocastrians. (Woah)
From Seattle, we get Seattleites.

How is someone learning the language meant to learn that?

In Mandarin, this is generally easy.

The word for person is (Rén) which even looks a bit like a person.

That gets added to the end of the name of the place:

中国人 (Zhōngguó rén) – Chinese
法国人 (Fàguó rén) – French
德国人 (Déguó rén) – German

Note that (Guó) means country. So it's often just country name + country + person. Some are a bit different and don't have the word for country in the name of the country:

墨西哥人 (Mòxīgē rén) – Mexican

Cities are OK too:

伦敦人 (Lúndūn rén) – Londoner
巴黎人 (Bālí rén) – Parisian
墨尔本人 (Mò'ěrběn rén) – Melbournite
上海人 (Shànghǎi rén) – Shanghainese

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning Mandarin. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.

Learning Mandarin: Doubling Verbs

In a previous post, I talked about how adjectives are often doubled in sentences, typically for emphasis. Verbs can also be duplicated, but that is used to soften the verb or mood. It also generally indicates that the action won't take too long, or won't be too hard.

The formal term for this in Mandarin is reduplication of the verb. (Mind you, that doesn't make sense to me as duplication should mean two, and reduplication should then mean four).

For example, the sentence:

请看看。(Qǐng kàn kàn.) means "Please take a look".

As well as (kàn) which means to look, it's often used with these:

(Tīng) -> listen
(Dú) -> read
(Xiǎng) many meanings but in this case probably -> think
(Zǒu) -> go or walk
(Pǎo) -> run
(Tiào) -> jump
(Wén) -> smell

Two word verbs can also be doubled, but unlike adjectives where AB becomes AABB, with verbs AB becomes ABAB.

For example:

讨论讨论 (Tǎolùn tǎolùn) means to discuss

UPDATE: Quick thanks to John fan Zhang for reminding me about another related pattern. I meant to include it in this blog post but for some reason, I forgot.

Instead of just VV for a doubled verb, it's also common to put 一 (Yī) in between the two verbs. So, instead of just VV, it's V yi V. That means that instead of this:

看看 (Kàn kàn)

It's common to hear:

看一看 (Kàn yī kàn)

The same pretty much applies to any of the verb doublings.

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning Mandarin. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.

Learning Mandarin: Doubling adjectives

One thing that fascinates me in Mandarin is the number of times you see a word repeated in a sentence. This can commonly occur with adjectives.

The simplest example would be a single character adjective that is repeated.

她的脸红红的。(Tā de liǎnhóng hóng de.)

This literally means "her face red red" or more likely "she blushed". But the word for red (Hóng) is repeated, in this case for emphasis.

Instead of saying:

你的眼睛真大的。(Nǐ de yǎnjīng zhēn dà de.) which says "your eyes are really big",

you get a similar effect by doubling the word for big:

你的眼睛大大的。(Nǐ de yǎnjīng dàdà de.)

Now where the fun begins is that many adjectives involve two characters, and instead of A becoming AA, the effect is that AB becomes AABB. (Not ABAB)

高高兴兴 (Gāo gāoxìng xìng) where 高兴 (Gāo xìng)  means happy.

漂漂亮亮 (Piào piàoliang liàng) where 漂亮 (Piào liàng) means beautiful.

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning Mandarin. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.

Learning Mandarin: Relative times for Years

I wrote in previous posts how Chinese refer to relative days , relative weeks and relative months in Mandarin. In this last post of this short series, we'll look at how they refer to years.

(Nián) is the word for Year. It's pronounced roughly like "knee-en".

今年 (Jīnnián) means "This year"

Years don't use up and down words like weeks and months. Instead:

去年 (Qùnián) means "Last year" (where Qù means "Go" – or in this case gone)

明年 (Míngnián) means "Next year" (where Míng literally means "Clear or bright")

Other periods are a bit different though. You don't double up the words like they do with weeks:

前年 (Qiánnián) is "The year before last". Qián usually relates to "in front of".

次年 (Cì nián) can be used for "The year after next", although there are alternatives to this.

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning Mandarin. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.

Learning Mandarin: Relative times for Months

I wrote in previous posts how Chinese refer to relative days and relative weeks in Mandarin. In this post, we'll look at how they refer to months.

(Yuè) is the word for Month.

这个月 (Zhège yuè) means "This month"

Similar to weeks, the words for up and down are used to make previous and next months:

上个月 (Shàng gè yuè) means "Last month" (where Shàng means "Up")

下个月 (Xià gè yuè) means "Next month" (where Xià means "Down")

Other periods are a bit different though. While you can double the ups and downs like we could with weeks:

上上个月 (Shàng shàng gè yuè) is "The month before last" or literally "up up month".

下下个月 (Xià xià gè yuè) can be used for "The month after next", even though Google translates it as "Next Month" (I think it's just wrong on that).

More commonly, I seem to hear these variations used:

前一个月 (Qián yīgè yuè) can be used for "The month before last" or "The previous month". Qián means "In front of".

下个月之后 (Xià gè yuè zhīhòu) seems pretty common for "The month after next". The zhīhòu part means pretty much "after that".

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning Mandarin. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.

A new year wish for all my Chinese buddies

I recently read a wish that I liked the sound of. Although it related to the Chinese new year, it seems appropriate for the Western new year as well. I've adapted it slightly:

新的一年,祝你微笑多一点,烦恼少一点,活力多一点,忧愁少一点,朝气满一点,脾气小一点,事情多做点,失败少一点。

(Xīn de yī nián, zhù nǐ wéixiào duō yīdiǎn, fánnǎo shǎo yīdiǎn, huólì duō yīdiǎn, yōuchóu shǎo yīdiǎn, zhāoqì mǎn yīdiǎn, píqì xiǎo yīdiǎn, shìqíng duō zuò diǎn, shībài shǎo yīdiǎn.)

In the new year, I wish you more smiles and less worries, more vitality and less sorrow, more vitality and less bad temper, achieve more and fail less.

 

Learning Mandarin: Relative times for weeks

I wrote in a previous post how relative times work for days. (Similar to how we say tomorrow, yesterday, day before yesterday, day after tomorrow, etc. in English).

Well the options for weeks are a bit different to the ones for days. To start with, it's worth noting that there are two common words for weeks:

星期 (Xīngqí) is literally "star period" but means week. It's pronounced like "shing chee".

(Zhōu) also means week but can mean many other things as well.

I commonly hear (Zhōu) used in 周末 (Zhōumò) which is pronounced somewhat like "Joe Moore" would be in English.

So let's look at the relative references:

这个星期 (Zhège xīngqí) is pronounced like "jer ger shing chee" and means "this week". Similarly you could use 这个周 (Zhège zhōu), and you might even leave out the middle character (ge). I've also seen 本星期 (Běn xīngqí) used for "this week".

Last week is 上个星期 (Shàng gè xīngqí) is pronounced like "shung ger shing chee". Curiously the first character means "up" not "last".

And based on that, it's not surprising that 下个星期 (Xià gè xīngqí) which is pronounced like "shaa ger shing chee" means "next week". The first character means "down" not "next".

Often you'll just see people say 下周 (Xià zhōu) which is shorter and to the point.

Chinese is wonderfully concise at times, and 上上个星期 (Shàng shàng gè xīngqí) is a good example. It's the week before last. You can also just write that as 上上周 (Shàng shàng zhōu).

And no surprise, for the week after next, we can just say 下下个星期 (Xià xià gè xīngqí), or more commonly, the beautifully short 下下周 (Xià xià zhōu).

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning Mandarin. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.

 

Learning Mandarin: Relative times for days

In English, we have a few ways of referring to time, relative to the current time. Mandarin is similar, and has a few patterns.

For days:

(Tiān) is day (although it can relate to the heavens, God, and much more)

Although 每个天 (Měi gè tiān) is literally "every (or each) day", doubling-up the character as 天天 (Tiāntiān) can also be used for every day

今天 (Jīntiān) is today

昨天 (Zuótiān) is yesterday

明天 (Míngtiān) is tomorrow (and roughly translates to "bright day")

前天 (Qiántiān) is the day before yesterday (and roughly translates to "in front day)

后天 (Hòutiān) is day after tomorrow (and roughly translates to "rear (or perhaps behind) day"

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning Mandarin. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.