Chengyu Explanations: 无能为力

无能为力 describes a situation where the subject is entirely unable to do something. The following post describes the meaning of this 成语 in detail.

无能为力.jpg

Characters 无能为力
Pin Yin wú néng wéi lì
Pleco Definition 1. impotent
2. powerless
3. helpless
HSK Level HSK 6

Explanation

无能为力 describes a situation where the subject is entirely unable to do something. This may be because (1) the subject cannot use his power to do something or (2) the subject’s power is diminished to the extent he cannot do something. The “power” indicated by the character 力 may be either physical strength or more abstract (e.g. abilities rendered inoperable due to changing circumstantial realities).

Grammatically, 无能为力 most frequently operates as an adjective (e.g. 无能为力的感觉,无能为力的人).

It may also be used as a verb. It is often used with the change of state particle 了 to emphasise that the current powerlessness is a new situation (i.e. 无能为力了). 无能为力 usually cannot take an object.


Example Sentences

我总是感到无能为力。
I always feel powerless.

她离开上海以后,我不能说服她回我这里,心里有种无能为力的感觉。
After she left Shanghai, I was unable to persuade her to return here, and I felt a kind of helplessness.

不好意思,真的没有办法,我无能为力了。
I’m sorry, but there’s really nothing that can be done. I’m powerless to help you.


References and Further Reading

1. 成语词典 (新世纪版2011修订), p. 718.
2. 新HSK词汇突破: 6级 (2013), p.383-384.

Chengyu Explanations: 精打细算

精打细算 describes a meticulous plan. The following post describes the meaning of this 成语 in detail.

精打细算.jpg

Characters 精打细算
Pin Yin jīng dǎ xì suàn
Pleco Definition careful calculation and strict budgeting
HSK Level HSK 6

Explanation

This 成语 is made up of two words: 精细 (meaning ‘meticulous’ or ‘careful’) and 打算 (meaning ‘plan’). It usually refers to a plan which is not wasteful with regards to manpower or resources.

精打细算 图片.jpg精打细算 can be used as an adjective to describe a person who plans meticulously (e.g. 一个精打细算的人). In this usage, it particularly refers to someone who is careful with regard to financial matters.

精打细算 may also operate as a verb phrase which does not take a separate object. It may be modified by auxiliary verbs such as 要, 能 and 得.

精打细算 may also act as a countable noun phrase, which can be used in conjunction with the measure word 次 (e.g. 一次精打细算).


Example Sentences

我老婆是个很会精打细算的人,她几乎连一角钱都不乱花。
My wife plans how she spends her money very meticulously. She almost doesn’t waste even a single penny.

大学生需要学会精打细算,要不然父母的负担太重了。
University students must learn how to spend their money carefully, otherwise the burden for their parents will be too heavy.

王经理对明年的部门预算精打细算。
Manager Wang has been planning next year’s departmental budget meticulously.

因为全公司都靠他的预测,财务部长一定要精打细算。
Since the whole company depends on his forecast, the Director of the Financial Department must plan with careful calculation and strict budgeting.

因为我工资低,我本人不得不精打细算。
Since my salary is so low, I have no choice but to budget carefully and limit my spending.

要省钱的话,你最好培养精打细算的习惯。
If you want to save up money, you’d best develop a habit of careful calculation and strict budgeting.


References and Further Reading

1. 汉语成语学习手册 (2010), p. 92.
2. 成语词典 (新世纪版: 2011修订), p. 328.
3. 新HSK词汇突破: 6级 (2013), p.198.

 

Chengyu Explanations: 价廉物美

价廉物美 refers to something that is ‘inexpensive but good quality’. The following post describes the meaning of this 成语 in detail.

价廉物美.jpg

Characters 价廉物美
Pin Yin jià lián wù měi
Pleco Definition 1. good quality and cheap
2. a bargain
HSK Level HSK 6

Explanation

价廉物美 describes a product which is both inexpensive yet good quality. It literally means ‘price cheap goods beautiful’. Whilst it usually refers to physical products, it may also describe services (e.g. hotels, restaurants).

价廉物美 图片.jpgGrammatically, 价廉物美 is often used as an adjective (e.g. 价廉物美的商品). It is often used in conjunction with general nouns describing ‘goods’ or ‘products’ such as 产品,商品,物品 but can also refer to more specific things such as restaurant dishes (e.g. 菜) and drinks (e.g. 酒, 饮料).

It can also act as a predicate after the subject (e.g. 商品价廉物美).

价廉物美 may also be written as 物美价廉 with an identical meaning and usage.


Example Sentences

中国产品价廉物美。
Chinese goods are cheap but good quality.

那家宾馆价廉物美,我每次去伦敦都住那儿。
That hotel is a bargain. I stay there every time I go to London.

中国的啤酒价廉物美,比如青岛啤酒、哈尔滨啤酒等等。
Chinese beer is inexpensive but good. For example, Qingdao beer, Harbin beer, and so on.

我们今晚出去逛街吧!快过节日了,应该能找到很多价廉物美的东西!
Let’s go out shopping tonight. It’s nearly the festival, we should be able to find lots of bargains!


References and Further Reading

1. 汉语成语学习手册 (2010), p.81-82.
2. 成语词典 (新世纪版: 2011修订), p.298.
3. 卓越汉语:公司实战篇 (2012), p.155.
4. 新HSK词汇突破: 6级 (2013), p.386.

Chengyu Explanations: 莫名其妙

莫名其妙 refers to something which causes ‘bafflement’ or a person who is ‘baffled’ by something. The following post describes the meaning of this 成语 in detail.

莫名其妙.jpg

Characters 莫名其妙
Pin Yin mò míng qí miào
Pleco Definition 1. to be unable to make head or tail of something; to be baffled
2. without rhyme or reason; inexplicable; odd
HSK Level HSK 6

Explanation

莫名其妙 literally means ‘unable to speak out the subtleties within’, from the characters 莫 ‘unable’, 名 ‘to name’ or ‘to speak out’, 其中 ‘within it’ and 奥妙 ‘subtle and profound’.

莫名其妙 may refer to something that is so strange that people cannot comprehend it or articulate the reasons behind it. As such, it can be used to describe a person who feels ‘baffled’ or a thing which causes ‘bafflement’.

莫名其妙 图片.jpgGrammatically, 莫名其妙 is a very versatile 成语. It may operate as an adjective which may be modified by 有一点 to indicate a limited degree or 真是 or 非常 to express a strong degree. It is often used in conjunction with the verb 感到 (e.g. 感到莫名其妙). As an adjective, it may also modify nouns such as 事, 事情 or 问题 (e.g. 莫名其妙的事).

莫名其妙 may also operate as an adverb to modify a verb (e.g. 莫名其妙地哭). Verbs modified by this 成语 often express human emotions or actions, with 莫名其妙 suggesting that the reason for the emotion or action was not apparent or discernible.

莫名其妙 may also be written as 莫明其妙 with an identical meaning, pronunciation and usage, although this latter form is less commonly seen.


Example Sentences

她对我说分手的时候,我感到有一点莫名其妙。
When she talked about breaking up, I was a little baffled.

那个人好奇怪,她一会儿哭,一会儿笑,真是莫名其妙!
That person is really strange. One minute she’s crying, the next minute she’s laughing. I can’t make head or tail of her!

我跟他聊天的时候,他突然莫名其妙地生气起来。
While we were talking, he suddenly got angry for no discernible reason.

我要告诉你一件很莫名其妙的事。
I have to tell you something I can’t get my head around.


References and Further Reading

1. 汉语成语学习手册 (2010), p. 125-126.
2. 成语词典 (新世纪版: 2011修订), p. 420.
3. 新HSK词汇突破: 6级 (2013), p.255.

Characters Indicating People: 师, 生, 员, 家, 者 and 人

Abstract

The Chinese language has a number of characters which, when added to end of various nouns, verbs or adjectives, can form a noun indicating a person. The following article discusses the differences between six of these characters: 师, 生, 员, 家, 者 and 人.

师生员家者人.jpg
Contents

Introduction
Common Measure Words for People: 个, 位, 名
1) The 师 Character
2) The 生 Character
3) The 员 Character
4) The 家 Character
5) The 者 Character
6) The 人 Character
Summary
References and Further Reading


Introduction

The Chinese language has a number of characters which, when added to end of various nouns, verbs or adjectives, can form a noun indicating a person. For example, the character 人 can be placed after the noun 美国 (‘America’) to make the noun 美国人 (‘an American’) while the character 家 can be suffixed to the noun 画 (‘a painting’) to make the word 画家 (‘a painter’).

Some of these common characters indicating people are 师, 生, 员, 家, 者 and 人. This article will discuss the differences between these characters in detail and list some of the most commonly encountered derivations (i.e. words using these characters as suffixes to form new words) with reference to their HSK level.

Some English words may be translated using more than one of these characters; for example, 作家 and 作者 both mean ‘writer’. However, considered without reference to their derivations, 师, 生, 员, 家, 者 and 人 each have their own meanings. Understanding the differences between these characters may help a learner of Chinese better remember their derivations, as well as better prepare the learner for when unknown words are encountered in authentic texts.


Common Measure Words for People: 个, 位, 名

In spoken Chinese, 个 is the most common measure word for people. The measure word 位 is more polite and therefore often encountered in more formal situations.

名 is a relatively impartial measure word for nouns indicating people, mostly encountered in written Chinese. The measure word 名 usually indicates a specific, not an approximate, number of people in a given situation.

In most cases, the measure words 个, 位 and 名 may be used with any person-related noun using 师, 生, 员, 家, 者 and 人.

Noun Phrase Examples using 个, 位 and 名 Meaning
一个美国人
两个服务员
三位老师
四位作家
五名共产党员
六名志愿者
an American
two waiters
three teachers
four writers
five Communist Party members
six volunteers

1) The 师 Character

师.jpgThe character 师 (pronounced shī), when applied as a suffix, can indicate either (1) a teacher, tutor or master, or (2) a person skilled or specialised in a certain profession. The word has connotations of “expertise” or “mastery” of something and carries a sense of respect.

Other words containing 师 often relate to military matters.

Students of Chinese usually first encounter 师 in the HSK1 word 老师 (meaning ‘teacher’). Students may next encounter 师 in the HSK4 words 律师 (meaning ‘lawyer’) or 师傅 – a polite term of address which has no culturally-comparable expression in English and is therefore usually awkwardly translated as ‘master worker’.

The next and only instance of 师 included in the HSK lists is the HSK6 noun 师范, meaning ‘teacher training’. (A school which trains teachers is a 师范学校, for example.)

Derivations using 师

The following words use 师 as a suffix to indicate a kind of ‘teacher’ or ‘instructor’:

Derivation using 师 Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
老师
教师
讲师
导师
名师
大师
lǎoshī
jiàoshī
jiǎngshī
dǎoshī
míngshī
dàshī
a teacher
a teacher
a lecturer
a tutor; a teacher
a famous master; a great teacher
a great master
HSK1




The following words use 师 as a suffix to indicate ‘a person skilled in a certain profession’ (other than teaching):

Derivation using 师 Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
律师
工程师
建筑师
厨师
技师
分析师
会计师
lǜshī
gōngchéngshī
jiànzhúshī
chúshī
jìshī
fēnxīshī
kuàijìshī
a lawyer
an engineer
an architect
a chef
a technician
an analyst
a treasurer; a chartered accountant
HSK4
HSK5





2) The 生 Character
生.jpg
The character 生 (pronounced shēng) is usually first encountered by learners of Chinese as the suffix indicating a person in the HSK1 word 学生 (meaning ‘student’). Other HSK1 words with 生 include 医生 (‘doctor’) and 先生 (‘Mr.’).

With the exception of 先生 and 医生, as a suffix indicating a person, 生 usually relates to individuals who are engaged in some kind of study.

In the wider usage of the word, 生 has a wide variety of meanings and grammatical applications, but the term is often related to ‘life’ or ‘birth’. Beginner students of Chinese are likely to next encounter 生 used as a verb in the phrases 生病 (‘to become ill’), 生气 (‘to be angry’) and 生活 (‘to live’).

Derivations using 生

The following words use 生 as a suffix to indicate a kind of ‘student’:

Derivation using 生
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
学生
留学生
大学生
研究生
本科学生
小学生
中学生
高中学生
女生
男生
xuéshēng
liúxuéshēng
dàxuéshēng
yánjiūshēng
běnkēxuéshēng
xiǎoxuéshēng
zhōngxuéshēng
gāozhōngxuéshēng
nǚshēng
nánshēng
a student
a foreign student
a university student
a postgraduate student
an undergraduate student
a primary school student
a middle school student
a high school student
a schoolgirl
a schoolboy
HSK1








The following words use 生 as a suffix to indicate persons other than students:

Derivation using 生
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
先生
医生
实习生
考生
书生
xiānshēng
yīshēng
shíxíshēng
kǎoshēng
shūshēng
Mr.
a doctor
an intern
an examination candidate
a scholar; an intellectual
HSK1
HSK1



3) The 员 Character

员.jpgThe character 员 (pronounced yuán), when applied as a suffix, can indicate either (1) a person engaged in a certain job or field of work or (2) a person who is a member of a certain team or organisation.

Beginner students will probably first encounter the character 员 in the HSK2 word 服务员 (meaning ‘waiter’ or ‘waitress’.) The character is next seen in the HSK4 words 演员 (‘actor’, ‘actress’ or ‘performer’) and 售货员 (‘shop assistant’).

Note that some words with 员 – for example, 人员, 工作人员 and 员工 – can mean ‘(work) staff’ or ‘personnel’ in general. The verb-object phrase 裁员 means ‘to cut staff’ or ‘to reduce staff’.

In the wider usage of the character, 员 may relate to military organisation and action. The verb-object phrase 动员 means ‘mobilize (troops)’, for example.

Derivations using 员

The following words use 员 as a suffix to indicate a ‘person engaged in a certain job or field of work’:

Derivation using 员
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
服务员
演员
售货员
售票员
飞行员
航天员
保安员
船员
海员
店员
教员
话务员
译员
专员
业务员
乘务员
fúwùyuán
yǎnyuán
shòuhuòyuán
shòupiàoyuán
fēixíngyuán
hángtiānyuán
bǎo’ānyuán
chuányuán
hǎiyuán
diànyuán
jiàoyuán
huàwùyuán
yìyuán
zhuānyuán
yèwù yuán
chéngwùyuán
a waiter; a waitress
a performer; an actor; an actress
a shop assistant; a sales clerk
a ticket collector; a booking office clerk
a pilot; an aviator
an astronaut
a security guard
a crew member; a sailor
a sailor; a seaman
a shop assistant; a shop clerk
a teacher
a telephone operator
an interpreter
an assistant director; a commissioner
a salesperson
an attendant (on a train, boat etc.)
HSK2
HSK4
HSK4












The following words use 员 as a suffix to indicate a kind of ‘team member’ or ‘member of an organisation’:

Derivation using 员
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
人员
成员
团员
委员
党员
共产党员
雇员
官员
会员
工会会员
学员
球员
议员
社员
要员
rényuán
chéngyuán
tuányuán
wěiyuán
dǎngyuán
gòngchǎndǎngyuán
gùyuán
guānyuán
huìyuán
gōnghuìhuìyuán
xuéyuán
qiúyuán
yìyuán
shèyuán
yàoyuán
a member; a staff member
a member (of a group or family)
a member (of a group, delegation, etc.)
a committee member
a member of a political party
a Communist Party member
an employee
a government official; a government worker
a member (of an organisation)
a trade union member
a student (of a college, training course, etc.)
a member of a ball team
a member of a legislative assembly
a member (of a club, society, etc.)
a key participant; an important official
HSK5
HSK6

HSK6











4) The 家 Character

家.jpgThe character 家 (pronounced jiā) has a wide range of meanings, but learners of Chinese will probably first encounter this word in the context of ‘family’ or ‘home’.

The character 家, when used as a suffix, can indicate a person’s occupation or profession. The noun 专家 (meaning ‘expert’) suggests that occupational roles using the suffix 家 require specialised skills or knowledge. In addition, other words with 家 as a suffix imply a person whom should be respected: The word 名家 indicates ‘a person of academic or artistic distinction’ whilst 行家 can be translated as ‘expert’ or ‘connoisseur’.

The word 学家, meaning scholar, can also act as a suffix to certain other nouns to indicate a person who is involved in scholarly research or work; for example, 经济学家 (‘an economist’) and 历史学家 (‘a historian’).

Derivations using 家

The following words use 家 as a suffix to indicate a person with a specialised occupation:

Derivation using 家
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
作家
专家
艺术家
画家
书法家
文学家
科学家
化学家
zuòjiā
zhuānjiā
yìshùjiā
huàjiā
shūfǎjiā
wénxuéjiā
kēxuéjiā
huàxuéjiā
a writer; an author
an expert
an artist
an artist
a calligrapher
a writer; a man of letters
a scientist
a chemist
HSK4
HSK5





The following words use 学家 as a suffix to indicate a person involved in scholarly research or work:

Derivation using 家
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
学家
名家
行家
地理学家
经济学家
考古学家
历史学家
社会学家
数学家
语言学家
哲学家
xuéjiā
míngjiā
hángjiā
dìlǐ xué jiā
jīngjìxuéjiā
kǎogǔxuéjiā
lìshǐxuéjiā
shèhuìxuéjiā
shùxuéjiā
yǔyánxuéjiā
zhéxuéjiā
a scholar
a person of academic or artistic distinction
an expert; a connoisseur; an “old hand”
a geographer
an economist
an archaeologist
an historian
a sociologist
a mathematician
a linguist
a philosopher











5) The 者 Character

者.jpgThe character 者 (pronounced zhě), when used as a suffix, can indicate (1) a person engaged in a type of work, (2) a person who adheres to a certain belief or ideology or (3) a person who is inclined to a certain activity or action or (4) a person (or organism or thing) which can be categorised in a group with certain characteristics.

Beginner students will probably first encounter the character 者 in the HSK3 conjunction 或者 (meaning ‘or’). 记者 and 作者, meaning ‘reporter’ and ‘writer’ respectively, are listed in HSK4.

There are an especially large number of person words with the suffix 者. This is mainly because of the pattern 主义者, which refers to someone who adheres to a certain belief or ideology, can be suffixed to a large number of nouns. For example, 完美 (‘perfect’) can be suffixed with 主义 (‘ideology’) and 者 to make the word 完美主义者 (‘a perfectionist’).

Derivations using 者

The following words use 者 as a suffix to indicate a ‘person engaged in a type of work’:

Derivation using 者
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
记者
作者
使者
音乐工作者
jìzhě
zuòzhě
shǐzhě
yīnyuègōngzuòzhě
a reporter; a journalist
a writer; an author
an emissary; an envoy; a messenger
a musician
HSK4
HSK4

The following words use 者 as a suffix to indicate ‘a person who adheres to a certain belief or ideology’:

Derivation using 者
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
素食主义者
马克思主义者
社会主义者
完美主义者
理想主义者
现实主义者
个人主义者
和平主义者
sùshízhǔyìzhě
mǎkèsīzhǔyìzhě
shèhuìzhǔyìzhě
wánměizhǔyìzhě
lǐxiǎngzhǔyìzhě
xiànshízhǔyìzhě
gèrénzhǔyìzhě
hépíngzhǔyìzhě
a vegetarian
a Marxist
a socialist
a perfectionist
an idealist
a realist
an individualist
a pacifist







The following words use 者 as a suffix to indicate ‘a person who is inclined to a certain activity or action’:

Derivation using 者
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
志愿者
患者
爱好者
消费者
生产者
读者
学者
zhìyuànzhě
huànzhě
àihàozhě
xiāofèizhě
shēngchǎnzhě
dúzhě
xuézhě
a volunteer
a patient (at a hospital, etc.)
a hobbiest; an enthusiast
a consumer
a producer (of goods, etc.)
a reader (of a magazine, etc.)
a scholar; a learned person
HSK5
HSK6




The following words use 者 as a suffix to indicate a ‘person which can be categorised in a group with certain characteristics’:

Derivation using 者
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
老者
强者
弱者
lǎozhě
qiángzhě
ruòzhě
an old person
a strong person; a powerhouse
a weak person; a weakling



6) The 人 Character

人.jpgThe character 人 (pronounced rén) usually relates to ‘people’. It can be used as a standalone noun meaning ‘a person’.

Words with 人 applied as a suffix describe a type of person. Often the character 人 is added to an adjective (e.g. 老人 an old person, 男人 a male person, 穷人 a poor person).

As a general rule, 人 may also be added after the name of a country or region to indicate a person from that place. Thus 美国人 means ‘an American’ and 西班牙人 means ‘a Spanish person’. Similarly, 中国人 means ‘a Chinese person’ while 外国人 means ‘a foreigner’ (i.e. someone from outside of China.)

Derivations using 人

The following words use 人 as a suffix to indicate a person’s nationality or place of origin:

Derivation using 人
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
中国人
外国人
英国人
美国人
西班牙人
越南人
日本人
香港人
北京人
zhōngguórén
wàiguórén
yīngguórén
měiguórén
xībānyárén
yuènánrén
rìběnrén
xiānggǎngrén
běijīngrén
a Chinese person
a foreigner (i.e. a non-Chinese person)
an English person
an American
a Spanish person
a Vietnamese person
a Japanese person
a person from Hong Kong
a person from Beijing








The following words use 人 as a suffix to indicate a person’s relationship within a family structure:

Derivation using 人
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
亲人
家人
夫人
丈人
先人
爱人
情人
下人
qīnrén
jiārén
fūrén
zhàngrén
xiānrén
àirén
qíngrén
xiàrén
a member of one’s family; a close relative
a member of one’s family
a lady; a wife (polite)
a wife’s father; a father-in-law
an ancestor
a husband or wife; a lover
a lover
a domestic servant (old fashioned term)


HSK6




The following words use 人 as a suffix to indicate a type of person more generally:

Derivation using 人
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
工人
男人
女人
老人
年轻人
成人
大人
客人
主人
好人
坏人
穷人
富人
病人
行人
旁人
过路人
黑人
白人
陌生人
敌人
当事人
诗人
读书人
军人
创始人
代理人
投保人
主持人
收款人
gōngrén
nánrén
nǚrén
lǎorén
niánqīngrén
chéngrén
dàrén
kèrén
zhǔrén
hǎorén
huàirén
qióngrén
fùrén
bìngrén
xíngrén
pángrén
guòlù rén
hēirén
báirén
mòshēngrén
dírén
dāngshìrén
shīrén
dúshūrén
jūnrén
chuàngshǐrén
dàilǐrén
tóubǎorén
zhǔchírén
shōukuǎnrén
a worker
a man
a woman
an old person
a young person
an adult
an adult
a guest; a customer; a visitor
a host
a good person
a bad person
a poor person
a rich person
a sick person
a pedestrian
a bystander
a passer-by
a black person
a white person
a stranger
an enemy
a person involved in a certain affair
a poet
a reader
a soldier; a serviceman
a founder; an originator
an agent; a proxy
an insured person; an insurance policy holder
a host (of a television show, etc.)
a payee; a person who receives payment
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Summary

Despite exceptions, words associated with 师, 生, 员, 家, 者 and 人 may be classified into groups usually relating to the original or standalone meaning of each character. Therefore, when considering words using these characters as suffixes indicating people, it may be useful for learners of Chinese to remember that (exceptions notwithstanding):

1) 师 usually refers to teachers or “masters”.
2) 生 usually refers to students.
3) 员 usually refers to occupations or members of teams or organisations.
4) 家 usually refers to persons with specialist or scholarly occupations.
5) 者 and 人 have a wide range of uses.

Learners should also be careful, however, not to associate all instances of 师, 生, 员, 家, 者 and 人 at the end of words or phrases with people-related terms. For example, 出师 means ‘to complete one’s apprenticeship’ or ‘dispatch troops to battle’, 发生 means ‘to happen’, 裁员 means ‘to cut staff’, 国家 means ‘country’, 或者 means ‘or’ and 丢人 means ‘to lose face’.

Nonetheless, by paying attention to the original or standalone meanings of 师, 生, 员, 家, 者 and 人, students of Chinese may more efficiently learn and understand nouns indicating people.

References and Further Reading

1. New Practical Chinese Reader (2013) Books 1-6.
2. 常用汉字组词搭配词典 (2011), p.352 (师), p.350 (生), p.473 (员), p.491 (者), p.331-332 (人).
3. 卓越汉语:公司实战篇 (2012).
4. Business Chinese: An Advanced Reader 商货汉语高级读本 (2004).
5. Chinese Measure Words Without Tears 汉语量词学习手册 (2010), p.129 (位), p.103 (名).
6. 现代汉语规范词典: 第3版 (2014), p.1183 (师), p.1172 (生), p.1619 (员), p.1669 (者), p.1102 (人).

Chengyu Explanations: 一路平安

一路平安 can be translated as ‘have a pleasant journey’ or ‘bon voyage’. The following post describes the meaning of this 成语 in detail.

一路平安.png

Characters 一路平安
Pin Yin yī lù píng ān
Pleco Definition 1. have a pleasant journey; have a good trip
2. bon voyage
HSK Level

Explanation

一路平安 has a meaning and usage comparable to the English expressions ‘Have a pleasant journey’ and ‘Godspeed’. It is generally used to express good wishes to someone who is departing from the speaker’s position, especially if this person is going on a longer-than-usual journey.

一路平安.jpgGrammatically, 一路平安 is most commonly used as a standalone phrase.

一路平安 may also be used with the verb 祝 (e.g. 祝她一路平安,祝大家一路平安). The verbs 祝愿 and 希望 may also be used in a similar manner.


Example Sentences

一路平安!
Have a pleasant journey!

火车出发的时候,他祝我们一路平安。
As the train was setting off, he wished us a pleasant trip.

无论你去哪里,我希望你一路平安。
No matter where you go, I hope you have a safe journey.


References and Further Reading

1. 成语词典 (新世纪版2011修订), p. 813.
2. New Practical Chinese Reader (2003) Textbook 2, p. 208.

Chengyu Explanations: 马马虎虎

马马虎虎 usually describes a careless person or actions that are performed carelessly. The following post describes the meaning of this 成语 in detail.

马马虎虎.png

Characters 马马虎虎
Pin Yin mǎ mǎ hū hū
Pleco Definition 1. careless; casual
2. not very good; passable; just so so
HSK Level

Original Story

The meaning of this 成语 dates back to the Song Dynasty (960-1272 AD). According to one version of the story, an artist was painting a tiger when his friend came and asked him to paint a horse. Instead of starting a new picture, the artist simply drew the body of a horse onto the tiger’s head he had already painted. When people asked what his picture depicted, he replied, “马马虎虎” (literally, ‘horse horse tiger tiger’).

马虎图.jpgAfterwards, the artist’s eldest son came and asked him what the painting depicted. The father told him it was a tiger. His younger son came along and asked him the same question. The father told him it was a horse.

Later, the elder son encountered a horse. Thinking it was a tiger, he shot the horse, incurring costs for the father who had to pay the horse’s owner for damages. The younger son then encountered a tiger. Mistaking it for a horse, the younger son was eaten when he tried to ride it.

In grief, the father later wrote a poem:

马虎图,
马虎图,
似马又似虎,
长子依图射死马,
次子依图喂了虎。
草堂焚毁马虎图,
奉劝诸君莫学吾。

Horse-tiger picture,
Horse-tiger picture,
Resembling both a horse and a tiger,
My eldest son shot dead a horse because of this picture,
My second-eldest son was eaten by a tiger because of this picture.
I burned the horse-tiger picture in my cottage,
I implore you, ladies and gentlemen: Don’t do what I did!


Explanation

There are multiple variations of this legendary tale, but the modern meaning of 马马虎虎 describes careless people or actions which are performed carelessly.

Grammatically, 马马虎虎 can be used as an adverb, describing the careless or negligent manner of an action (e.g. 马马虎虎地做饭,马马虎虎地学习).

马马虎虎 can also be used as an adverbial compliment using 得 (e.g. 唱得马马虎虎, 写得马马虎虎). It may also be used as part of an adjectival phrase. (e.g. 马马虎虎的).

Some non-native learners of Chinese use 马马虎虎 to describe their mood (e.g. “How are you? I’m just so so”) but this usage is seldom used, if at all, by most native Chinese speakers. 马马虎虎 is usually used by native speakers to describe careless or negligent actions or people, not one’s mood.


Example Sentences

有的老师很马马虎虎地备课,结果学生什么都不学会。
Some teachers prepare classes very carelessly. As a result, students don’t learn anything.

马马虎虎的人肯定不会成功。
Careless people certainly won’t be successful.

她老公总是马马虎虎地做饭,上次差点着火了!
Her husband always cooks carelessly. He nearly started a fire last time!


References and Further Reading

1. 成语词典 (新世纪版2011修订), p. 393.
2. New Practical Chinese Reader (2003) Textbook 2, p. 97.
3. http://www.baby611.com/jiaoan/kj/flash/cygs/2013/114300.html

Chengyu Explanations: 丢三落四

丢三落四 usually describes a person who is forgetful or ’empty-headed’. The following post describes the meaning of this 成语 in detail.

丢三落四.png

Characters 丢三落四
Pin Yin diū sān là sì
Pleco Definition 1. forgetful
2. empty-headed
HSK Level HSK 6

Explanation

丢三落四 refers to someone who is ‘forgetful’ or ‘empty-headed’. Literally, it means someone who “drops threes and leaves out fours”. In other words, it describes someone who is liable to frequently forget things due to either (1) carelessness, (2) having a bad memory or (3) being unable to manage two or more things at the same time. This 成语, therefore, has a derogatory meaning.

Grammatically, 丢三落四 may be a verb which directly follows the subject. As a verb, it cannot take an object. It may also operate as an adjective (e.g. 丢三落四的人) and may be modified by certain adverbs (e.g. 总是, 非常).

丢三落四 is sometimes written as 丢三拉四. The character 落 (usually pronounced luò or lào in other contexts) is pronounced là, while the character 拉 (usually pronounced with the first tone lā) is also pronounced with the fourth tone as là. The meaning and pronunciation is identical for both 丢三落四 and 丢三拉四, although the former is more commonly used.


Example Sentences

她那个人非常丢三落四。
She is an extremely forgetful person.

面试的时候,经理发现应聘者丢三落四,所以没有聘用她。
During the job interview, the manager realised the applicant was scatterbrained, so he didn’t hire her.

她说她不想嫁给一个总是丢三落四的男人。
She said she doesn’t want to marry a man who is always forgetful.

老师对一些丢三落四的学生很生气的说:“如果你再忘了带课本上课,我就会通知你的父母!”
The teacher turned to the careless students and said angrily, “If you forget to bring your textbooks to class again, I’ll have to inform your parents!”


References and Further Reading

1. 成语词典 (新世纪版2011修订), p. 168.
2. Integrated Chinese Book 2, Lesson 10.
3. 新HSK词汇突破: 6级 (2013), p.89-90.

Chengyu Explanations: 讨价还价

讨价还价 mostly relates to the negotiation over price between a buyer and seller, but it also has other similar uses. The following post describes the meaning of this 成语 in detail.

讨价还价

Characters 讨价还价
Pin Yin tǎo jià huán jià
Pleco Definition to haggle over a price
HSK Level HSK 5

Explanation

The original meaning of 讨价还价 relates to the negotiation of a price between a buyer and seller. Notice that 讨价 means ‘ask for a price’ and 还价 means ‘make a counter-offer’. The word 价 is associated with the word 价格, meaning ‘price’.

讨价还价Based on this original meaning, two subsequent uses can be understood. 讨价还价 can describe a negotiation (perhaps unrelated to price) in which both parties repeatedly argue over details. In addition, 讨价还价 may describe the discussion of conditions or circumstances when a task is delegated (e.g. a manager gives a worker a task to complete.)

Grammatically, 讨价还价 usually operates as a verb. It cannot take an object, since the object discussed is the 价格 implied in the phrase itself. 讨价还价 can be modified by various aspect particles (e.g. 了, 过) and auxiliary verbs (e.g. 能, 会) just like any regular verb.


Example Sentences

我姐姐很精明,每次买东西的时候,跟商店的老板讨价还价很长时间。
My sister is very astute. Every time she buys something, she negotiates for ages with the shopkeeper.

我妈妈更厉害,她能把价格从500块讨价还价到75块。
My mum is incredible. She’s able to haggle a price down from 500 yuan to 75 yuan.

不好意思,价格是不能改变的,不能讨价还价。
I’m sorry, the price can’t be changed, it’s non-negotiable.

哈哈!你们外国人真会讨价还价!
Haha! You foreigners really know how to haggle!

你在中国讨价还价过吗?只有讨价还价才能得到很低的价格。
Have you ever haggled a price in China? You can only get low price if you negotiate.

别跟我讨价还价,你不想干就不干,不过你不干就不发工资。
There’s no discussion to be had over this. If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. But you won’t get paid unless it’s done.


References and Further Reading

1. 成语词典 (新世纪版2011修订), p. 643.

Chengyu Explanations: 人山人海

人山人海 describes a place where there are huge crowds of people. This following article explains this 成语.

人山人海

Characters 人山人海
Pin Yin rén shān rén hǎi
Pleco Definition huge crowds of people; a sea of people
HSK Level

Explanation

人山人海 can indicate a large number of people who have converged in a place. This 成语 might be translated as ‘a multitude of people’, ‘a throng of people’ or ‘a sea of people’. If a place is small but crowded (e.g. a room, a bus), 人山人海 cannot be used; the crowd of people in the place must be big and crowded enough to resemble the notion “there are people as far as the eye can see.”

人山人海

Grammatically, 人山人海 can act independently as a sentence phrase. In this way, the subject and verb is contained within the phrase itself.

人山人海 is often used with the 是。。。的 pattern. As such, the crowd of people is the detail emphasized in the sentence (i.e. 是人山人海的).

人山人海 often directly follows a place noun (e.g. 广场上, 体育场内) where the crowd of people is located. 人山人海 may also directly follow a time phrase (e.g. 今天, 放假的时候).

A person may be described as being “inside” the crowd of people, using the pattern 在。。。中 (e.g. 在人山人海中).

人山人海 can act like an adjectival phrase to describe places in general (e.g. 人山人海的地方).


Example Sentences

今天人山人海,我们明天去吧。
There’ll be huge crowds of people today, let’s go tomorrow instead.

天安门广场上人山人海。
There were huge crowds of people in Tiananmen Square.

哇!没想到这里会有这么多人,真是人山人海的!
Wow! I never expected there to be so many people here! It really is a vast sea of people!

我在人山人海中遇到她,一下子爱上她了。
I came across her in a vast crowd of people, and in an instant I had fallen in love with her.

我不喜欢人山人海的地方。
I don’t like places that have huge crowds.


References and Further Reading

1. 汉语成语学习手册 (2010), p. 155.
2. 成语词典 (新世纪版2011修订), p. 520.