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Essential characters you should know about Chinese signs

Essential words you should know before reading Chinese signs.jpg

Signs are everywhere in public places in China.



If you can't read Chinese at all, then you just do the best you can, getting information verbally.



But if you actually can read a lot of things in Chinese, and the signs still don't make sense, well, that can get extremely frustrating.



You don't have to spend years of your life learning Chinese in order to read signs. Learning just a few, key characters can make all the difference.



1. 勿 (wù) – Do not (do something)

Vernacular equivalent: 不要 (bú yào) or 别 (bié)


This is probably the most commonly seen "sign language character" because there inevitably are a lot of signs telling you what NOT to do.



It's usually preceded by a "please" 请 (qǐng), to keep a pleasant tone.

一般它的前面会加上"qǐng (请 please)",这样可以让它听上去更友善。


The pinyin for the first one is 请勿拍照 (qǐng wù pāi zhào). The literal translation is, "please do not take photos"

第一个"请勿拍照"的拼音是"qǐng wù pāi zhào"。直译过来就是"please do not take photos"。


The second one is 请勿吸烟 (qǐng wù xī yān), which literally means "please do not smoke"

第二个是"请勿吸烟(qǐng wù xī yān)",译过来就是"please do not smoke"。


2. 无 (wú) – Not have

Vernacular equivalent: 没有 (méi yǒu)


You may saw this character on a public bathroom door. If someone was inside, the sign said 有人 (yǒu rén), and if it was empty, it changed to 无人 (wú rén).

你可能会在公共卫生间的门上看到这个字。要是有人正在使用卫生间,这个标志就会是"有人 (yǒu rén)",要是没人使用的话,就会换成"无人 (wú rén)"。


This is totally normal for "sign language," but in normal speech, you'd just say 没有人 (méi yǒu rén) instead of 无人 (wú rén).

对于"标识语"而言这样的说法很正常,不过在正常讲话的情况下,你可以说"没有人",而不用说"无人 (wú rén)"。


3. 处 (chù) – Place

Vernacular equivalent: 地方 (dì fang)


Are you noticing a pattern? One characteristic of literary Chinese is conciseness, or using as few characters as possible to get your point across.



So a lot of vernacular words have two characters, but just one character in the literary equivalent.



售票处 (shòu piào chù).  Literal meaning, "sell tickets place".

"售票处 (shòu piào chù)"直译过来就是"sell tickets place"。


售 (shòu) is another example of a sign language character. In casual conversation, you'd normally say "mài" (卖) to mean "sell".

"售 ( shòu)"也是标识语用字里的一个例子。在正常的随意交流的时候,你可以正常说"卖(mài)"来表达"sell"的意思。


4. 物 (wù) – Stuff / items

Vernacular equivalent: 东西 (dōng xi)


东西 (dōng xi) is too casual of a word to appear in formal written Chinese.

"东西 (dōng xi)"这个词在正式的书面中文显得过于随意。


储物间 (chǔ wù jiān), which literally means "store stuff room".

"储物间 (chǔ wù jiān)",意思是"store stuff room"。


5. 此 (cǐ) – This

Vernacular equivalent: 这个 (zhè ge)


请在此排队 (qǐng zài cǐ pái duì) means "please queue here". 

"请在此排队 (qǐng zài cǐ pái duì)"的意思是"please queue here"。


Here's another example of how 此 (cǐ) can be used:

还有另外一个例子说明"此 (cǐ)"的用法:


此处开门 (cǐ chù kāi mén) means "open door here".

"此处开门 (cǐ chù kāi mén)"意思是"open door here"。


6. 本 (běn) – This / My / Our

Vernacular equivalent: 这个 (zhè ge) or 我的 (wǒ de) or 我们的 (wǒ men de)


You may already know that the original meaning of 本 is "root" or "origin".



But in written Chinese, you often see it used in a way that means "this" or "my" or "our." Here's an example:



本店无发票 (běn diàn wú fā piào). It means, "Our shop has no official receipts".

"本店无发票 (běn diàn wú fā piào)"。意思是"Our shop has no official receipts"


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