Beginners’ Chinese: a taster course
Beginners’ Chinese: a taster course

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Beginners’ Chinese: a taster course

1.6 Word formation

In this section and Section 1.7 you will look at combining characters to form new words. Begin by reading the language note below.

Language note: word formation

Words in Chinese are formed by one or more characters. For example, when you say ‘hello’ you use two characters ‘nĭ hăo你好 (simplified Chinese). This literally translates as ‘you good’ and means ‘hello’ when greeting one person (i.e. not a group). To greet a group of people you use a combination of three characters nĭ men hăo 你们好 (simplified Chinese), which literally translates to ‘you all good’ and means ‘hello all’.

Another example is the word ‘China’, which is formed by combining two characters zhōng and guó. zhōng has multiple meanings such as middle, centre, inside. Similarly guó can mean state, country, nation. Combined, ‘zhōng guó 中国’ literally translates to ‘central kingdom’.

There are applications and online tools which you can use to explore the meanings of characters on their own or combined with others and which can help you improve your Chinese vocabulary. The Further reading section at the end of this course includes links to resources which you may find helpful.

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