Confusing Chinese Synonyms
July 25, 2019
Every language has synonyms. For those of us who study Chinese, choosing the right word in the right context can be a coin toss. Sometimes, there is no distinction between the English meanings, which makes the Chinese synonyms even more confusing!
Here are six word-pairs that we laowai often mix up, as well as how to use them properly:
1. The difference between 原因 and 理由 (Reason)
原因 yuányīn means “cause; condition that brings about a certain result, or accounts for a certain occurrence.”
Wǒ zuò xiàlái de yuányīn shì wǒ lèile.
The reason I sat down was because I was tired.
理由 lǐyóu means “ground; rationale.”
Tā méiyǒu lǐyóu shuōhuǎng.
He has no reason to lie.
2. The difference between 目的 and 目标 (Goal)
目的 mùdì means “purpose; intention; end; place or realm to be reached.”
Wǒ xué hànyǔ de mùdì shì wèile gēn zhōngguó rén liáotiāner.
My goal in studying Chinese is to chat with Chinese people.
目标 mùbiāo means “objective; target (of shooting, attack, etc.)”
Wǒmen zhège yuè dádàole xiāoshòu mùbiāo.
We reached our sales goal this month.
3. The difference between 理解 and 了解 (To Understand)
理解 lǐjiě means “to know (a fact) clearly.”
Tā bǎ wǒ nà jù huà de yìsi lǐjiě cuòle.
She misunderstood the meaning of what I said.
了解 liǎojiě means “to understand somebody or something (culture, communication methods, etc.)”
Wǒ péngyǒu hěn liǎojiě wǒ.
My friend understands me.
4. The difference between 经历 and 经验 (Experience)
经历 jīnglì means “personal experience.” This can also be a verb, meaning “to personally go through; to undergo; to experience.”
Tā de jīnglì hěn fēngfù.
His experience is very rich.
Tā jīnglìle liǎng cì chēhuò.
He experienced two car accidents.
经验 jīngyàn means “knowledge or skill attained through practice; anything observed or lived through.”
Tā yǒu hěnduō jiàoxué jīngyàn.
He has a lot of teaching experience.
5. The difference between 表达 and 表示 (To express）
表达 means “to convey or voice (one’s feelings).” >
Wǒ bù zhīdào zěnme biǎodá wǒ duì tā de gǎnjī zhī qíng.
I don't know how to express my gratitude to him.
表示 means “to show, indicate, or express with words or acts.”
Tā wéixiàozhe biǎoshì duì wǒ de huānyíng.
Smiling, he expressed welcome to me.
6. The difference between 羡慕 and 嫉妒 (Jealous)
羡慕 xiànmù means “to admire; to envy”.
Wǒ xiànmù nǐ xiě dé zhème hǎo.
I envy how well you write.
嫉妒 jídù means “to be jealous”.
Mǎdīng jídù mǎlì shàngrènle, yīnwèi tā juédé mǎlì bǐ bù shàng zìjǐ, nà fèn gōngzuò yīnggāi shǔyú tā.
Martin is jealous of Mary’s promotion because he thinks Mary cannot compare to him, and he should have gotten the job.
- A good tip to help you remember the difference is that 羡慕 is for good things other people have. 嫉妒is for things you think rightfully should be yours.
We dare say six pairs of Chinese synonyms are enough to make your head spin for now, but there are plenty more out there! Want to learn more? Sign up for Chinese classes today!
You might also like these popular Chinese idioms.
About the Author
Eden has been learning Chinese since 2008. She fell in love with the language, food, and culture and never looked back! Eden lived in China for six years, including in Harbin, Beijing, and Dali.