How Do You Build Your Chinese Vocabulary? Block by Block!
by Min Xiong
So far, I’ve shown you three Chinese characters. Do you remember them?
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:
- 从军 (cóng jūn) to join the army
- 大众 (dà zhòng) the masses
- 来回 (lái huí) round trip (come and return)
- 品茶 (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.