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Getting started with Chinese 3
Getting started with Chinese 3

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4 Four-character idioms and expressions

Like other languages, Chinese has a lot of idiomatic expressions, many of which consist of four characters. Four-character idioms were widely used in classical Chinese and are still common in modern Chinese writing. These four-character set phrases are known as chéng yǔ 成语 (lit. ‘set phrases’).

Let’s look at another comparison example with a chéng yǔ 成语

Wǒ māma bǐ wǒ bàba néng shuō huì dào. 我妈妈比我爸爸能说会道。

(My mum is more of a smooth talker than my dad.)

In the above sentence, néng shuō huì dào 能说会道 (lit. can talk, able speak) is an example of a four-character idiom.

Most of these set phrases have a moral or some kind of proverbial meaning. For example:

bá miáo zhù zhǎng 拔苗助长

lit. to help the crops grow by pulling them up (to spoil something by acting too impatiently).

Phrases used to make writing or speaking more colourful are often put together in pairs.

Here is a pair often used for a New Year’s card:

wàn shì rú yì ,hé jiā huā lè!万事如意,合家欢乐 !

lit. ten thousand things go as wish, whole family happy.

Why don’t you research some chéng yǔ 成语 and put them in your language notebook!