All the Chinese characters “对”, “副” and “双” indicate the same meaning of “two; a pair”, but there are still some differences among them. So how do we know when to use “对 (duì)”, when to use “副” and when to use “双 (shuāng)?”
1. “对” (duì) is used for persons, animals and things with opposite sexes or sides. It can be read as “duìr” sometimes. It emphasizes the relative and complementary relationship between two things. It can be used with things and people.
一对翅膀 (yí duì chìbǎng): a pair of wings
一对鸳鸯 (yí duì yuānyang): a pair of Mandarin ducks
一对夫妻 (yí duì fūqī): a couple
“对” can also be used for two persons or things of the same type.
一对电池 (yí duì diàn chí): a pair of batteries
一对姐妹 (yí duì jiě mèi): two sisters
2. “副” (fù) is used for the complete set of things, maybe two or more.
一副对联 (yí fù duì lián): an antithetical couplet
一副碗筷 (yí fù wǎn kuài): a set of tableware
一副扑克 (yí fù pū kè): a deck of playing cards
“副” is also used with facial expressions, like “a pitiable look”, “a smile”.
3. “双” (shuāng) is usually used with objects which naturally come in pairs, like limbs and organs that are symmetric, or things that are used or worn in pairs. Usually the two things referred by “双” are very similar or even the same thing and they exist in pairs. If one part is missing, this whole object would be incomplete, cannot work well, or even become useless.
一双眼睛 (yì shuāng yǎnjing): a pair of eyes
一双手 (yì shuāng shǒu): a pair of hands
一双皮鞋 (yì shuāng píxié): a pair of leather shoes
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