Do you get confused with these Chinese words?

Updated: Jun 1, 2019

大家好!我是 Everyday Easy Chinese 的林老师.

Today, we will be going through 5 pairs of Chinese words which may be confusing and how you can navigate around this.

1. Do you want to sleep, or do you want dumplings?

These two words have completely different meanings but can sound the same if you don't get the tones right! Sleep is pronounced as "Shuì jiào" (睡觉)whereas steamed or boiled dumplings are pronounced as "Shuǐ jiǎo" (水饺). Obviously, in some situations people may be able to distinguish what you are trying to say but if you were to say the following out of the blue......

我要睡觉 ( Wǒ yào shuìjiào ) I want to sleep.

我要水饺 ( Wǒ yào shuǐjiǎo ) I want dumplings. may be quite confusing for the listener if you confuse your tones.

What should you do if you still get confused?

Adding in a verb here can actually help. For example, if you wanted to eat dumplings, you can add the word "to eat" (吃)in front of the word dumplings to form the sentence:

我要吃水饺。 (Wǒ yào chī shuǐjiǎo)

This way the listener will have an easier time understanding what you are actually after!

2. Are you looking for a duvet or a cup?

Duvet is pronounced as 被子 (Bèi zi) and this sounds similar to the word "cup" which is pronounced as 杯子 (Bēi zi). As you can see, this may cause a few misunderstandings if you are at a furniture shop such as Ikea and the store attendant takes you to the bedding section when you really just want a cup for you kitchen!

What should you do if you still get confused?

Measure words can be handy here. For example the measure word for long items such as duvets is 条 (Tiáo). If you add this in front of the noun duvet, the store attendant will know exactly what you are looking for.

一条被子 (A duvet)

For the word 'cup', you will use the measure word ‘个’ which is a common measure word for miscellaneous items.

一个杯子 (A cup)

3. Are you a man or a Chinese character?

The word "man" is pronounced as Hànzi (汉子) which does indeed sound quite similar to the word 汉字 ( Hànzì), which means "Chinese character". When you express your love for learning Chinese to your Chinese teacher, it is therefore worth distinguishing clearly between the tones so that you end up saying:

我喜欢汉字. (Wǒ xǐhuān hànzì) "I like Chinese characters"......

......instead of "我喜欢汉子", which means "I like men".

What should you do if you still get confused?

If you still get confused between the two words, you can always add in a verb in front of the noun to distinguish between the two words.

For example, you can say "我喜欢写汉字." This means "I like to write Chinese characters".

4. Do you want to board a boat or have fun in bed?

Both these phrases start with 上 which means "to board". However, the following words are very different!

上船 ( Shàng chuán ) means to board a boat

上床(Shàngchuáng) means to board a bed (or to sleep with someone)

What should you do if you still get confused?

If you get confused here, you can change the verb. For example, 坐船 instead of 上船. These are interchangeable and have the same meaning!

5. Teacher or Mouse

"Teacher" is pronounced as 老师 (Lǎoshī) whereas the word "mouse"(老鼠) is pronounced as Lǎo shǔ. Make sure that you distinguish between these two words clearly or you may actually be inadvertently mocking your teacher by calling them “林老鼠” instead of ”林老师“!

What should you do if you still get confused?

If you listen carefully, you might have heard that although the first character of both words is 老 (Pronounced using the third tone: Lǎo). The tone of the word actually changes in the word mouse (老鼠)to the second tone láo because it is paired with another third tone character (鼠) shǔ.

This is the basic rule for changing two third tone characters that sit together. In Chinese, there is actually no separate word for "rat" or "mouse", so don't think that your teacher will accept you calling them a rodent nicely!

So that’s it from our lesson on 5 pairs of confused Chinese words. 你喜欢水饺吗?

See you next time!

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