In a previous chapter I showed you how Chinese characters are usually composed.

Now you know that the majority of Chinese characters consists of phonetic and meaning parts.

Together they create a unit that has visual form, pronunciation and meaning (or several meanings to be more accurate).

Anyway. To form a word that can actually be used in a sentence, we need to connect two (sometimes three or four) characters.

Only the most basic words (PAPER, WATER, TREE, to BE, to BUY…) are one-syllable (thus one-character) words. Most of Chinese words consists of two syllables (thus two characters).


What are the most common ways how to form a word in Chinese?

  • a sum of meanings TRAIN is FIRE plus VEHICLEMOTIVATION is to MOVE plus MECHANISMCELLPHONE is HAND plus MACHINE… We could go on like this forever.
  • a combination of synonymes… word WEIRD is a combination of ODD, RARE and STRANGE
  • a combination of characters with opposite meaningsSIZE is BIG plus SMALLHOW MANY is MANY plus A FEW

Discovering the logic of Chinese words is the most interesting part of learning Chinese, in my oppinion.

It opens the door to completely different way of thinking – thinking that is based on finding connections and relations. I don’t know any other language that would provide this amount of brain vitamins. 


Example: word PLACE 地方 <dìfang> is a sum of meanings EARTH and SQUARE.


Another characteristic feaure of Chinese is that words can play a role of several parts of speech

For instance 工作 <gōngzuò> can be both WORK and TO WORK.

How do we know what meaning it is? 

We analyze the position of the word in the sentence. Word order is fixed, so once you get used to it, it is quite easy to find the proper meaning.