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July 21, 2009

My Top-Ten Favorite Vague Chinese Words

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 5:28 pm

My Top-Ten Favorite Vague Chinese Words – Part One

Vague words are awesome for language learners. Keep a few in your pocket and you can pull them out any time you’re in need of “beating around the bush”, or you simply can’t find the specific word in Mandarin. These same words native speakers also use to talk around a subject or get out of giving the details.

#1 有事 yǒu shì = to have some matters (to tend to)
Man, I love this word! You can use it for almost anything. You can’t make it to a party; you cancel an appointment; you want ‘out’ of doing something; any time is a good yǒushì time. In Chinese, this is a universally accepted vague answer:

Usage: Subject + yǒu shì.

Example Sentences:

对不起, 我不能来,因为我有事。
Duìbùqǐ, wǒ bù néng lái yīnwèi wǒ yǒu shì.
Sorry, I can’t come, because I’ve got something going on.

我星期五晚上不行,因为我有事。
Wǒ xīngqīwǔ wǎnshàng bù xíng yīnwèi wǒ yǒu shì.
Friday night isn’t possible for me; I’ve got something going on.

#2 这样(子) Zhè yàng (zì) = like so, as such, in such a way, things like that
I remember the day I discovered the “zhè yàng” trick and have been a “zhè yàng zì” addict every since. It is so non-specific you can use it in many situations from responding vaguely to something someone said to showing somebody how to do something (without having to say the details):

The “like so” zhè yàng
你可以这样做。
Nǐ kěyǐ zhè yàng zuò.
You can do it like this.

The “In that a way” zhè yàng
哦, 结果你是这样做的。
O, jiěguǒ nǐ shì zhè yàng zuò de.
Oh, so in the end that’s the way you did it.

“oh, so that’s the way it is” Zhè yàng zì
(in response to something someone said)
这样子。
Zhè yàng zì.
“Oh I see” / “So it was like that”/ “Ah that’s what happened”/ “So that’s the way it gonna be.”

“things like that” Zhè yàng
这样的事情真让人生气。
Zhè yàng de shìqing zhēn ràng rén shēngqì.
Things like that really can make a person angry.

“like that” Zhè yàng
如果你这样做,我不会把你当朋友。
Rú nǐ zhè yàng zuò wǒ bú huì bǎ nǐ dāng péngyǒu.
If you are going to do it like that, then I’m not going to be your friend.

#3 那个,那个 nà ge, nà ge = ummmm (expression to buy time while speaker thinks)

Need time to think because the Chinese isn’t flowing out of your mouth at the moment? Look no further. Just like our “ummmm” in English, this word can be repeated two or more times to show you are searching for the word or to not leave blank air time during your conversation.

Example:

他说他要请我吃饭, 然后带我去… 那个,那个,那个… 新的博物馆。
Tā shuō tā yào qǐng wǒ chīfàn , ránhòu dài wǒ qù … nàgè ,nàgè ,nàgè … xīn de
bówùguǎn.
He said he wants to take me out to dinner, and then take me to that new, ummmm, museum.

#4 怎么样? zěnme yàng ?= “How’s it going?”; “How’d it go?”; “What’s it like?” “What’s happening?”; etc.
You probably have already come across this one. Very useful, very vague, and very multi-purpose. From “Wha’s up, yo?” to “How’d it all go?”. Find yourself unsure how to plug in a follow up question? No need to look further than“zěnmeyàng

Example: 纽约怎么样?
Niǔyuē zěnme yàng?
How’s New York?/ What’s New York like?

#5 不好意思 bù hǎo yìsi = “How embarrassing”; “Whoops, thanks”; “Oh thanks, I could have gotten that”, etc.
You drop something on the floor; someone is doing you a favor; you need help with something and it is obvious: These are all bù hǎo yìsi moments. Literally it is “not + good + meaning”, but its really used in moments we might say in English “oh, thanks”, or “ oh, I could have done that….”.

#6 随便 / 随便你 suíbiàn / suíbiàn nǐ = “It’s up to you”; “You decide”; “Whatever you want”
Don’t feel like ‘taking the bull by the horns’? I’ve got just the expression for you: suí biàn nǐ. Leave it up to the other person with this expression. It is as vague as it comes, litereally “casual + you”. You are

#7 无所谓 wúsuǒwèi = “It doesn’t matter to me”; “I don’t care”; “Either way is fine with me”
You don’t have much of an opinion about the matter; you’d like the questioner to make the decision; you simply don’t care which choice is made: These are all excellent wúsuǒwèi moments. Someone asks if you prefer to order a chicken dish or a beef dish, and either are fine with you, just simply answer wúsuǒwèi.

Stay tuned for Part 3…

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