Very often in Chinese, you will come across words that share the same pronunciation, but are written using different characters – the so-calles Chinese homophones.
In this article, we are going to take a look at 4 pairs of homonyms, which are frequently used in both daily conversations and in academic topics.
Same Sound, Different Meaning
There is a large number of homophones in Chinese, and it’s highly likely that you will to come across two, or sometimes even three words with the same pronunciation, but different meanings. That’s why comprehension in Chinese largely depends on the context.
工夫 gōngfu vs. 功夫 gōngfu
工夫 gōngfu is a slang word meaning “time”. However, this word doesn’t indicate a specific time as in “What time do you get up?”. Instead it usually refers to a short period of time. In Chinese, there are some very useful set phrases with the use of this word, such as 一会儿工夫 yī huìr gōngfu (a while), and 闲工夫 xián gōngfu (free time).
功夫 gōngfu has two meanings. This word could mean “kungfu”, which is equivalent to martial arts in English. It could also mean a special skill which a person have, such as tea-making skills, or painting skills.
我一会儿工夫就回来。Wǒ yīhuǐ’er gōngfu jiù huílái. (I’ll be back soon.)
Mike会功夫。Mike huì gōngfu. (Mike can do kungfu.)
她泡茶的功夫一流。Tā pào chá de gōngfu yīliú. (Her tea-making skills are excellent.)
品味 pǐnwèi vs. 品位 pǐnwèi
Both words mean “taste”. However, 品味 pǐnwèi is usually used as a verb in contexts mainly related to food and drinks, and 品位 pǐnwèi mostly has to do with fashion.
Jason是品味红酒的行家。Jason shì pǐnwèi hóngjiǔ de hángjiā. (Jason is a wine tasting expert.)
Linda穿衣服很有品位。Linda chuān yīfú hěn yǒu pǐnwèi. (Linda has a good taste for clothes.)
反应 fǎnyìng vs. 反映 fǎnyìng
Both words are often used as verbs, but in completely different contexts as their meanings are totally different. 反应 fǎnyìng means “to react”, whereas 反映 fǎnyìng means “to reflect”. In addition, 反应 fǎnyìng can be also treated as a noun, which means “reaction”.
他对这个问题的反应让我很吃惊。Tā duì zhège wèntí de fǎnyìng ràng wǒ hěn chījīng. (His reaction to this issue surprised me.)
人们的生活水平反映了一个国家的经济。Rénmen de shēnghuó shuǐpíng fǎnyìngle yīgè guójiā de jīngjì. (People’s living standards reflect a country’s economic level.)
过度 guòdù vs. 过渡 guòdù
过度 guòdù can only be an adverb, which means “over the top”, or “too much”. This word usually comes after a verb. 过渡 guò dù is often used as a noun or a verb meaning “transition” or “to transit”.
他饮酒过度。Tā yǐnjiǔ guòdù. (He drinks too much.)
从计划经济到市场经济的过渡 Cóng jìhuà jīngjì dào shìchǎng jīngjì de guòdù (The transition from a planned economy to a market economy)
What Chinese homophones have you come across in your learning?
Share in comments – or tweet us at @thatsmandarin!