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Chinese Characters Explained (3) Ones That Are Two Ideas Put Together

Welcome to part 3 of my series explaining how Chinese characters work in detail. In part 1 I introduced the Chinese characters that look like things, and part 2 was about Chinese characters that represent ideas.

The third type of Chinese characters that we need to talk about is Chinese characters that are two or more ideas put together.

These characters can also be called ‘compound ideograms’ or 会意字 huìyìzì in Chinese. Ancient lexicographers claimed that about 13% of Chinese characters belong to this category, but this proportion is now though to be much less. 

In these characters, there are two or more meaning components. The components can be either pictograms (direct pictographic representations of objects, the ones I talked about in part 1), or ideograms (characters that represent ideas, which I talked about in part 2).

Here are some examples of this third type of Chinese character that I mention in the video 🙂

好 hǎo – good / well
The left hand side means woman
The right hand side means child

休 xiū – stop, rest is 亻(person) + 木 (tree)

森林 sēnlín – forest.
The first character sēn is 3 trees put together, and the second character ‘ín is 2 trees put together.

明 míng – bright, clear is 日 (sun) + 月 (moon)

家 jiā – family, home, house is 宀 (roof) + 豕 (pig)

男 nán – man, male is 田 (field) + 力 (strength)

尖 jiān – point, tip, pointed is 小 (small) + 大 (large). These two characters put together represent the idea of a big thing that gets smaller at the top.

众 (眾) zhòng – crowd. The simplified character 众 3 people (人) standing together, representing a crowd.

歪 wāi – crooked, askew is 不 (not) + 正 (straight)

劣 liè – inferior, bad, low quality is 少 (few) + 力 (strength)

囚 qiú – prisoner is a combination of 人 (a person) and 囗 (an enclosure), representing the idea of the person inside a prison.

苗 miáo – seedling, young plant is 艹 (grass) + 田 (field)

功 gōng – achievement is 工 (work) + 力 (strength)

灾(災) zāi – disaster.
The simplified version of this character is 宀 (roof) + 火 (fire)
and the traditional character version is 巛 (which comes from 川 river) + 火 (fire)

艳(艷) yàn – gorgeous, brightly coloured is 丰(豐) – (abundant) + 色 (colour)

裕 yù – abundant, wealthy is 衤(衣) (clothing) + 谷 (grain). The idea is that having enough clothing and grain to eat is considered abundant. People’s priorities may have changed slightly since ancient times, but the idea remains relevant today.

双(雙) shuāng – pair, double
The simplified version of the character 双 is two 又 (hands)
The traditional version of the character is two 隹 (an ancient components meaning bird) in a 又 (hand)

多 duō – many, much is made up of two 夕 components, standing for the idea of multiplication, multitude, or many.

These are some of the most common characters you will see in this third category.

And in the next post I’m going to teach you about the most common type of character in modern Chinese, so watch out for that!