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10 commonly used Chinese Chengyu

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Firstly, what is Chengyu?

首先,什么是成语?

Chengyu 成语 (chéng yǔ) are idioms, usually made up of four characters. An idiom is a group of words that have a meaning not obviously made through the individual words. Most languages have their own idioms.

成语属于习语的一部分,一般由四个汉字构成。习语则是由一组词组成,其意义不能从单个词的意思推测出来。大部分语言都有习语。

For example, in English when it rains heavily we commonly say it's raining 'cats and dogs'.

例如,用英语描述雨下得很大的时候我们通常会用习语 “it's raining cats and dogs”。

Idioms in any language are often interesting and sometimes even amusing. Whilst learning idioms is not essential, Chinese chengyu will certainly improve your fluency and understanding of the Chinese language.

习语一般都是妙趣横生,风趣幽默的。虽然学习汉语并不一定要学成语,但是学习成语肯定能使你的中文更加流利,也能使你对汉语有更进一步的理解。

马马虎虎(mǎ ma hu hu)

马马虎虎 is probably one of most well known Chengyu because the literal translation is horse horse, tiger tiger. This is somewhat amusing, but the most common meaning is something like 'so-so' or 'not bad'.

“马马虎虎”或许是最为人熟知的成语之一,因为该成语的字面英文翻译为horse horse tiger tiger。其字面意思比较有趣,但是其更常见的意思则为 “一般”或“还可以”。

For example,

例句:

你唱歌好听吗? (nǐ chàng gē hǎo tīng ma?) = Are you a good singer?
马马虎虎。 (mǎ ma hū hū) = Just so-so.

七上八下 (qī shàng bā xià)

Similar to the English expression 'all sixes and sevens', the literal translation of the idiom is 'Seven Up, Eight Down'. This Chengyu refers to a person whose mind is a mess and cannot think straight.

“七上八下”的英文字面翻译为'Seven Up, Eight Down',和英文短语'all sixes and sevens'类似。七上八下意指心乱如麻、思路不清。

For example,

例句:

我心里七上八下,不知该怎么办。 (wǒ xīn li qī shàng bā xià, bù zhī gāi zěn me bàn.) = I'm all at sixes and sevens about what to do.

不可思议 (bù kě sī yì)

The meaning behind this Chengyu is that something is inconceivable or truly amazing. The characters literally translate to 不可 = 'cannot' and 思议 which means to 'comprehend'.

“不可思议”的意思是指某件事难以想象或非常令人惊奇。“不可”字面翻译为 cannot, “思议”则意为 “comprehend”。

For example,

例句:

居然是他赢了,真是不可思议。 (jū rán shì tā yíng le, zhēn shì bù kě sī yì) = It is unbelievable that he won the game.

九牛一毛 (jiǔ niú yī máo)

The translation of this idiom is '1 hair from 9 oxen' and means to be a small thing amongst a huge quantity, like 1 hair amongst 9 cows. A similar idiom in English might be a 'drop in the ocean'.

成语“九牛一毛”可以翻译成'1 hair from 9 oxen',比喻极大数量中极小的数量,就像九头牛身上的一根毛一样,微不足道。和英文习语 “a drop in the ocean”有异曲同工之妙。

For example,

例句:

这点损失对他来说,只不过是九牛一毛。 (zhè diǎn sǔn shī duì tā lái shuō, zhǐ bu guò shì jiǔ niú yī máo.) = For him the loss was only a drop in the ocean.

顺其自然 (shùn qí zì rán)

This Chengyu means 'let nature take its course'. The first bigram 顺其 means to 'allow something to be', whilst 自然 means 'natural' or 'naturally'. The idea behind this chengyu is that something should not be forced, but allowed to happen of it's own accord, whether that be love or forging new relationships.

“顺其自然”的意思是让自然按照其自身的规律发展,该词语中的前两个字 “顺其”的意思是“允许发生”,而“自然”则表示“自然的”或“自然地”。这个成语意指无论是面对爱情还是建立新的人际关系,都不要强求,而是让其按照自身规律发展。

For example,

例句:

顺其自然不等于放弃。 (shùn qí zì rán bù děng yú fàng qì.) = Letting go is not the same as giving up.

自由自在 (zì yóu zì zài)

Meaning 'to be free and easy', this idiom translates as 自由 meaning freedom or liberty and 自在 which is to be 'unrestrained'.

“自由自在”的意思是指安闲随意,自由可以翻译为freedom,自在可翻译为unrestrained。

For example,

例句:

我最大的愿望就是可以自由自在地生活。 (wǒ zuì dà de yuàn wàng jiù shì kě yǐ zì yóu zì zài de shēng huó.) = My greatest wish is to live as free as a bird.

破财免灾 (pò cái miǎn zāi)

This meaning of this idiom is 'a financial loss could prevent further disaster'. Basically, this idiom suggests that we should take solace when we lose something of value, as something worse could have happened. 破财 means to 'lose property', 免灾 is to 'escape disaster'.

“破财免灾”比喻 “财产损失可以阻止灾难发生”, 这个成语暗指遇到财物损失时,我们应该感到安慰,因为这可能阻止了更坏的事情发生。破财的意思是指“丢失财产”,免灾的意思是指 “躲过灾难”。

For example,

例句:

手机丢了没关系,就当是破财免灾吧。(shǒu jī diū le méi guān xi, jiù dāng shì pò cái miǎn zāi ba.) It's OK to lose your mobile phone, just regard this as buying peace.

飞蛾扑火 (fēi é pū huǒ) – 自取灭亡 (zì qǔ miè wáng)

This idiom is what is known as a 歇后语 (xiē hòu yǔ), in which the second half of the saying holds the actual allegorical meaning. Sometimes the second meaning can be completely left out.

“飞蛾扑火, 自取灭亡”是一句歇后语,其后半部分才是本意。有时,后半部分可以完全省略。

In this case, the first part of the idiom, 飞蛾扑火 means 'a moth flies into the flame' which refers to 'fatal attraction'. However, the second half 自取灭亡, actually holds the real meaning, which is to 'court disaster, or to 'dig your own grave'.

歇后语 “飞蛾扑火,自取灭亡”的前半部分“飞蛾扑火”的意思是指飞蛾飞扑入火焰当中,指“致命的诱惑”,而其后半部分 “自取灭亡”才是本意, 意指惹祸上身或自掘坟墓。

For example,

例句:

他们这样做无异于飞蛾扑火。(tā men zhè yàng zuò wú yì yú fēi é pū huǒ.) =
What they did was no different to being suicidal.

狗拿耗子 (gǒu ná hào zi)–多管闲事 (duō guǎn xián shì)

This is another example of 歇后语. The first half translates as 'a dog who catches mice.' whilst the second half, 多管闲事 means to be meddlesome or interfere with others' business.

“狗拿耗子,多管闲事”也是一句歇后语。该歇后语的第一部分意为狗捉老鼠, 而第二部分“多管闲事”意指过度干涉他人的事情。

For example,

例句:

我关心她,她却觉得我是狗拿耗子。(wǒ guān xīn tā, tā què jué de wǒ shì gǒu ná hào zi.)
I was concerned about her, but she thought I was interfering in her business.

亡羊补牢 (wáng yáng bǔ láo)

亡羊补牢 literally means to 'repair the pen to ward off wolves after the sheep is dead', but it's allegorical meaning is to act belatedly or like the English phrase, 'better late than never'.

“亡羊补牢”字面意思为羊死了之后,才修补羊圈,抵御狼的入侵, 比喻采取措施比较迟,但也不算很晚。和英文短语“better late than never”意思一致。

For example,

例句:

为什么不给他打个电话道歉?亡羊补牢,为时未晚。(wèi shén me bù gěi tā dǎ gè diàn huà dào qiàn? wáng yáng bǔ láo, wéi shí wèi wǎn.) = Why don't you call him up and apologize? Better later than never.

2016-06-22

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