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How to use “dà” and “xiǎo” in Chinese

Chinese characters, learning Chinese, Chinese grammar

大 (dà) and 小 (xiǎo) are two common Chinese characters that can not only be used in their own, but they also appear in many common words.

"大"和"小"是常见的汉字,它们不仅可以单独使用,而且会出现在常见的词语之中。

 

Below, this article will introduce these two characters, as well as how to use them.

下面,本文将介绍这两个汉字以及其用法。

 

Basic meaning and pronunciation of 大

 

The basic meaning of this character is "big" and it is pronounced "dà". This character is mostly used for physical size, as can be seen in the following sentences:

"大"的基本意思是"big",发音是"dà"。这个字大部分用于形容物理尺寸,也会在以下的句子里出现:

 

他的房子不大。

tā de fángzi bú dà.

His house is not big.

 

地球很大。

dìqiú hěn dà.

The earth is big.

 

Note that simply translating 大 into "big" isn't going to work in all cases. Here are some examples where you can use 大 in Chinese, but where we wouldn't use "big" in English.

注意,仅仅将"大"翻译为"big"并非适用于所有情况。这里有一些例子属于中文里可以用"大"而英文里不能用"big"的情况。

 

你多大?

nǐ duō dà?

How old are you?

(literally: how big are you?)

 

今天太阳很大。

jīntiān tàiyang hěn dà.

It's sunny today.

(literally: the sun is big today)

 

In other words, you need to learn in which cases you can and should use 大 to indicate a high degree. Other weather phenomena are also okay, so the wind is "big" and rain can be "big" too in Chinese.

换句话说,你需要学会什么情况下可以且应该使用"大"去表示"高程度"。其他的天气情况也同样适用,因此中文里可以说"风很大",也可以说"雨很大"。

 

Common words with 大

 

Here are a few common words that contain 大:

以下是一些包含"大"的常见词语:

 

大家 (dàjiā ) – everybody (lit: big + home)

大人 (dàrén) – adult; grown-up (lit: big + person)

大学 (dàxué) – university (lit: big + study, compare 小学)

大陆 (dàlù) – continent; Mainland (China) (lit: big + land)

 

These are good examples of why words are actually not that difficult to learn in Chinese. If you know what the component characters mean, you might not be able to guess the meaning of the words you've never seen before, but it's certainly easier to remember!

这些例子很好地解释了中文词语并非那么难学。要是你知道了其中的组成汉字的意思,你或许没法猜出之前从未见过的词语的意思,但是这的确让你更容易记住词语。

 

Alternative pronunciation: 大 (dài)

 

Many Chinese characters have multiple pronunciations and 大 is one of them. The pronunciation and meaning given above is the most common one, but there is a second reading "dài", mostly seen in the word 大夫 (dàifu, doctor).

许多中文汉字都有多种发音,"大"也是其中一个。上述的发音和含义是最为常见的,不过它有第二种发音"dài",而这大部分出现在"大夫"这个词里。

 

You should learn this word "大夫" for "doctor" rather than learning this particular pronunciation for 大. You can safely assume that all other cases of 大 are pronounced "dà".

与其学习"大"的这个特殊发音,你不如去学会意为"医生"的这个词"大夫"。你可以保险认为其他所有的"大"字的发音都是"dà"。

 

Basic meaning and pronunciation of 小

 

The character is mostly used for physical size, but can also be used for more abstract meanings with the meaning "to a small degree":

这个字大部分用于形容物理尺寸,但是也可以用于"to a small degree"这样较为抽象的意思。

 

这个苹果很小。

zhège píngguǒ hěn xiǎo.

This apple is small.

 

我小时候不喜欢游泳。

wǒ xiǎo shíhou bù xǐhuan yóuyǒng.

I didn't like swimming when I was small.

 

Note that as is the case with 大, you need to learn when it can and when it can't be translated to "small" and "big" respectively. For example, in Chinese, it's perfectly okay to say that the rain is small and that my age is small, whereas in English, we wouldn't do that.

注意,和"大"字一样,你需要学会它们什么情况下可以或者不能被分别翻译为"small"和"big"。例如,中文里完全可以说"雨很小"和"我的年龄很小",而英文里我们不那样说。

 

Here is one example of more abstract use:

下面的例子是个较为抽象的用法:

 

对我的影响很小。

duì wǒ de yǐngxiǎng hěn xiǎo.

It doesn't influence me much. (lit: the influence towards me is small)

 

Common words with 小

 

Here are a few common words that contain 小:

以下是一些包含"小"字的常见词语:

 

小时 (xiǎoshí) – hour (lit: small + time)

大小 (dàxiǎo) – size (lit: big + small)

小学 (xiǎoxué) – primary school (lit: small + study, compare 大学)

小心 (xiǎoxīn) – careful; watch out (lit: small + heart)

 

The difference between 小 and 少

 

A common question from beginners is what the difference between 小 and 少 is. These two characters are very similar, both in visual appearance and in meaning. 小 means "small" (physical size) and is the opposite of 大 (dà) "big". 少 means "few" (in number) and is the opposite of 多 (duō) "many". Thus, if you're counting something, it should be 少, but if you're talking about size, it should be 小 instead.

对于初学者,一个常见的疑问就是"小"和"少"的区别。这两个字在字形和意思上都非常相似。"小"的意思是"small" (物理尺寸),是"大 (big)"的反义词。"少"的意思是"few" (数量),是"多 (many)"的反义词。因此,如果你想计算某物,应该用的是"少",不过要是你想描述尺寸,用到的反而是"小"。

 

Translated from: about education

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2016-06-22

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