How Do You Build Your Chinese Vocabulary?

How Do You Build Your Chinese Vocabulary? Block by Block!

by Min Xiong

从So far, I’ve shown you three Chinese characters. Do you remember them?

  • (hǎo) good,
  • (rén) people, and
  • (kǒu) mouth.

Today, I want to show you four new characters you can build from these three.

All Chinese characters are logograms, meaning they represent whole words or concepts (as opposed to letters in an alphabet which represent sounds). Watch how new concepts are formed by combining two or three existing Chinese characters.

  • 人 + 人 = 从 (cóng) to follow
  • 人+ 人 + 人 = 众 (zhōng) a group
  • 口 + 口 = 回 (huí) to return
  • 口+口+口 = 品 (pǐn) to taste/savor

Can you make the connection between these compound characters and their respective components? Let’s follow the logic together.

  • 从 (cóng) is a person walking behind another, hence, to follow.
  • 众 (zhōng) is three people together, hence, a group.
  • 回 (huí) is a small mouth entering a big mouth—think of a child returning home—hence, return.
  • 品 (pǐn) is three mouths—it generally takes no more than three bites to decide the taste of something, doesn’t it?

Now that we’ve formed these compound characters, let’s use them to build some compound words you will see in everyday life:

  • 军 (cóng jūn) to join the army
  • (dà zhòng) the masses
  • (lái huí) round trip (come and return)
  • 茶 (pǐn chá) to enjoy tea

Now for your Chinese challenge. Can you make up other words using these four compound characters: 从, 众, 回, and 品? Post your answers in the comments below. We can’t wait to see what you find. 再见!


Min Xiong is a journalist, Chinese teacher, and cultural ambassador in Washington DC.

7 thoughts on “How Do You Build Your Chinese Vocabulary?

  1. Great lesson!
    In the Japanese usage of 汉字 you have place names like 品川(Shinagawa) in Tokyo.
    Some of the other grouping I struggled with learning Japanese 木 林 森 for tree, brush/woods, and Forest. But If that, then why 車 and 轟 but 車車 isn’t anything?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Joshua, when one tree multiplies by three to create the character for forest, it doesn’t mean the forest is made of three trees, but means it’s made of PLENTY of trees. Three indicates the mass. For the same reason, it requires three cars to represent PLENTY of cars, or the car noise (roaming).


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