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Good-bad partially-directed compound word in Chinese

chinese opposite morphemes, chinese compound word

There are lot of cool things in Chinese vocabulary, from forwards-backwards words to the physical shape of characters that can indicate meaning. Another interesting type of vocabulary in Chinese is – Good-bad partially-directed compound word, a particular branch of the compound word, which is formed by two opposite morphemes in meaning.

中文词汇中有很多有趣的东西,从回文词到利用象形文字来表达意思,汉语中还有一类有意思的词汇 – 偏义复词。这是比较特殊的一类复合词,由两个意义相反的语素构成。


Note that these are not simply 反义词 (antonyms). They are pairs of antonyms that are used together as one phrase. In specific contexts, the meaning of the phrase is determined by one word, while the other one serves as a contrast only.



These phrases work by putting two opposite concepts side by side to express some sort of encompassing concept. Often each part of the phrase literally indicates one end of a spectrum, and the whole phrase refers to the spectrum as a whole. I'm compiling TEN of these words here (in no particular order). Suggestions and supplements are welcome.



存亡 (cún wáng) – survival or death

胜败 (shèng bài) – victory or failure

进退 (jìn tuì) – advance or retreat

异同 (yì tóng) – difference or sameness

好歹 (hǎo dǎi) – good or bad

远近 (yuǎn jìn) – far or near

动静 (dòng jìng) – dynamic or static

深浅 (shēn qiǎn) – deep or shallow

出入 (chū rù) – out or in

利害 (lì hài) – advantages or disadvantages




1. 安慰别人比赛或竞争失败时常说的话:"胜败乃兵家常事,何必太在意。"这里的"胜败"等于"失败","胜"无实际意义。

When you comfort someone when he failed in a race or contest, you can say "胜败乃兵家常事,何必太在意。" (shèng bài nǎi bīng jiā cháng shì, hé bì tài zài yì). "胜败" literally means "victory or failure", but it only refers to "failure" (败, bài) in the context, while "victory" (胜, shèng) makes no sense here.


2. 他常在背地里褒贬别人。(tā cháng zài bèi dì lǐ bāo biǎn bié rén.)

He often backbites others.


Theoretically, people use the two morphemes, emotionally and cognitively, to describe something to be good or bad, beautiful or ugly. But in the real life, they are emotionally attached to good things while the words are always conveying the "evil" or "ugly" sides. From this point, it seems that the meanings of words are contradictory to human's emotion and cognition. However, the two do have an inevitable connection because of word fetishism.



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