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Fun with Chinese Homonyms

There are two categories of Chinese homonyms, one is that the words share the same characters and pronunciations but have different meanings, such as 生气(shēng qì) not only means being angry with somebody but also means vigor or vitality in Chinese; the other is that they share the same pronunciations but have different characters and meanings, such as 代价(dài jià) means price or expense and 待嫁(dài jià)which has the same pronunciation means that a girl is waiting to be married.

Because of Chinese homonyms, we often have some jokes that make people laugh.

1. 猩猩 VS 星星 Xīngxing

     Lǎoshī: Zhè yì tí hěn zhòngyào, zàiqián miàn huà xīngxing.


     Teacher: This topic is very important. Mark this section with a star.

     Xiǎo Zhì: Lǎoshī, kě bù kěyǐ dǎ gōu , “xīngxing” hǎo nán huà …


     Xiao Zhi: Can I just use a checkmark? A monkey is too hard to draw…

In Mandarin, “star” (星星) and “gorilla” (猩猩) have the same sound and tone and they are homonyms. The student was very naughty and naïve to ask this question and that also represents the humors of daily life in Chinese homonyms.

Since there are a significant numbers of homonyms in Chinese, we need to learn more to avoid these awkward situations just like the joke. There are also some useful word-homonyms in Chinese that can help you with general Chinese study.

2. 悲剧 VS 杯具 Bēijù

“悲剧”and “杯具”have the same pronunciation “bēijù” but “悲剧” means tragedy and “杯具” means cups. One of my foreign friends once had a funny story about “bēijù”. It was his Chinese girlfriend’s birthday and he knew that she broke many cups a few days ago so he thought she might need a new set of cups. On her Birthday, he took out those cups he bought as a birthday gift and said in Chinese

     Zhè shì wǒ song nǐ de bēi jù, xī wàng nǐ xǐ huān.


     I want to send these cups as a gift for you and I hope you will like them.

Well, the problem is that “bēijù” also sounds “tragedy” in Chinese so giving cups to her can be understood as giving a tragedy. So when the girl heard this, the girl thought he wanted to end up this relationship and she was really sad without saying any words to him for a long time. He was so confused and did not figure out what was the problem until he told me his unpleasant experience and I told him “你‘杯具’了” (Nǐ ‘bēi jù’le)( You were a tragedy).

3. 香蕉 VS 相交 Xiāng jiāo

       A: Nǐ zhī dào hóu zi wèi shén me bù xǐ huān píng xiàn ma?

       A: 你知道猴子为什么不喜欢平行线吗?   

       Do you know why monkeys do not like parallel lines?

       B: Bù zhī dào

       B: 不知道。

       I do not know.

       A: Hā ha, yīn wèi hóu zi ài chī xiāng jiāo ya.   


      Haha, Because Monkeys love bananas.

In Chinese, 香蕉 (“banana”) and 相交 (“to cross over; to intersect; to make friends”) are both called “xiāngjiāo” in pronunciation.

4. 班花 VS 搬花 Bān huā

Another interesting thing I would like share with you is “bān huā” which can be understood as “班花” (Class Beauty) and “搬花” (move flowers). A teacher came into the class hurriedly and said “

          Lái liǎng gè rén, wǒ yào bān huā.


         Please find two persons for me to move flowers.

After hearing this, the boys in the class were so excited and they carefully select two beautiful girls to the teacher. Then the teacher said

     Zǒu, hé wǒ qù jiào wù chù bān huā.


     Come to the dean’s office and move flowers with me.

The boys thought beautiful girls when the teacher said “bān huā”but they misunderstood just because of the homonyms.

There are also other useful and practical Chinese homonyms for you to read, such as

1)yóuyú: 由于 (“because of; due to”) and 鱿鱼 (“squid”)

2) jìyì: 记忆 (“remember”) and 技艺 (“skill; art”)

3)jiāodài: 交代 or 交待 (“to hand over; to explain; to make clear; et al”) and 胶带 (“tape”)

4)yuányīn: 原因 (“cause; origin; reason”) and 元音 (“vowel”)

5)wángguó: 王国 (“kingdom”) and 亡国 (“country/kingdom heading for destruction or that has vanished”)

6)quánlì: 权利 (“power; right; privilege”) and 权力 (“power; authority”)

7)yìyì: 意义 (“sense; meaning; significance”) and 异议 (“objection; dissent”), plus 意译 (“meaning-based translation”)

8)shǒushì: 手势 (“gesture; signal”) and 首饰 (“jewellery”)

9)gōngshì: 公式 (“formula”) and 攻势 (“military offensive”)

10)xíngli(lǐ): 行李 (“luggage”) and 行礼 (“to salute”)

11)lìhai(hài): 厉害 (“ferocious; awesome; et al”) and 利害 (“pros and cons”)

Source:Dig Mandarin


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