10 Common Beginner Mistakes in Chinese

1. 学 vs 学习 (xué / xuéxí)

Both words mean ‘to study’ or ‘to learn’, whereas 学习 can be used both transitively and intransitively, 学 in normally reserved for transitive use.

e.g.

我学(习)汉语,她学(习)法语。Wǒ xué(xí) hànyǔ, tā xué(xí)fǎyǔ.
I study Chinese, she studies French.
我学习,他不学习。Wǒ xuéxí, tā bù xuéxí.
I learn, he doesn’t learn.

In the second sentence, the word 习 cannot be omitted.

 

 

2. 认识 vs 知道 (rènshi / zhīdào)

认识(rènshi): to know (be familiar with)
知道(zhīdào): to know (facts)

Compare:

你知道乔治 克鲁尼(George Clooney)吗?Nǐ zhīdào George Clooney ma?
Do you know George Clooney?
是的,我知道他。Shìde, wǒ zhīdào tā.
Yes, I know him.

Ling: you know him because of his films, ads, or other media.

你认识乔治 克鲁尼(George Clooney)吗?Nǐ rènshi George Clooney ma?
Do you know George Clooney?

▲Ling: although the English translation is the same as the ‘知道’ sentence, this sentence comprises another meaning: are you familiar with him? In other words, are you a friend of him? Do you know well his personalities? etc.

我知道George Clooney,但是我不认识他。Wǒ zhīdào George Clooney, dànshì wǒ bú rènshi tā.
I know George Clooney, but I am not familiar with him.

Therefore, 认识(rènshi) can be understood as a deeper or better knowing than 知道(zhīdào).

Let’s see another example:

你认识她吗?Nǐ rènshi tā ma? 
Do you know her?
不认识,但我听说过她。Bú rènshi, dàn wǒ tīngshuō guò tā.
No, but I’ve heard about her.

Set phrases:

很高兴认识你!Hěn gāoxìng rènshi nǐ!
Nice to meet you!
你是在哪里认识她的?Nǐ shì zài nǎlǐ rènshi tā de?
Where did you get to know her?

 

 

3.  vs 贵姓 (xìng / guìxìng)

姓’(xìng) and ‘贵姓‘(guìxìng) both mean ‘Surname’, the difference is: ‘贵姓'(guìxìng) is formal, ‘姓'(xìng) is less formal. ‘贵'(guì) is a courteous word used here to show the respect. ‘贵姓’(guìxìng) can only be used in the ‘您贵姓?’ (guìxìng) sentence. However, ‘姓'(xìng) has other usages. When you reply the question ‘您贵姓?’(nín guìxìng),remember to drop the honorific ‘贵’(guì).

The most common mistake:

  • Wrong: 你贵姓什么? Nǐ guìxìng shénme?
  • Correct: 你姓什么?Nǐ xìng shénme?

Other proper ways of asking someone’s surname politely in Chinese is ‘您姓什么?’(nín xìng shénme?). In spoken language, you may also hear people sometimes saying ‘怎么称呼您?’(zěnme chēnhu nín?)or ‘您怎么称呼?’(nín zěnme chēnhu?), which literally means ‘How (do I) address you?’. Either of them is correct.

 

 

4. 学院 vs 学校 vs 大学 vs (xuéyuàn / xuéxiào / dàxué / xì)

学院(xuéyuàn): institute, college

学校(xuéxiào):school

大学(dàxué):university 

系(xì): department, faculty 

Normally, in China, a ‘大学'(dàxué) has many ‘学院’(xuéyuàn), a ‘学院'(xuéyuàn) includes different ‘系'(xì),  ‘系'(xì) is also major. Sometimes, ‘学院'(xuéyuàn) can also be a university by itself, for example, Business College (商学院shāng xuéyuàn).

 

 

5. vs 多少 (jǐ / duōshǎo)

Both of these can be used to mean “how many” or “how much”. Whereas ‘几'(jǐ) should be used with a measure word, ‘多少'(duōshǎo) can be used either with or without a measure word for the noun it modifies.

 

你有几本词典? Nǐ yǒu jǐ běn cídiǎn?

How many dictionaries do you have? 

你有多少 ( )词典?  Nǐ yǒu duōshǎo (běn)cídiǎn?

How many dictionaries do you have?

 

The measure word ‘本'(běn) is a must for the first sentence, but only optional in the second.

Also, when ‘几'(jǐ) is used, the expected answer is usually under 10, whereas ‘多少'(duōshǎo) can be used whether one expects a large or small answer.

你们大学有多少学生?Nǐmen dàxué yǒu duōshǎo xuésheng?
How many students are there at your university?
你家有几个人?Nǐ jiaā yǒu jǐ gè rén?
How many people are there in your family?

 

 

6. vs (èr / liǎng)

These both mean “two”. ‘两’(liǎng) indicates an amount, while ‘二’(èr) is used as a numeral. They are used as follows:

1. When ‘二'(èr) is followed by a measure word, use ‘两'(liǎng) :

两个人 liǎng gè rén
Two people
两本书 liǎng běn shū
Two books

2. 二(èr) should be used in a number greater than 10, even if it is followed by a measure word:

二十二 èr shií èr
22
一百零二次 yì bǎi líng yī cì 
102 times
十二个人 shí èr gè rén
12 people
四千三百三十二块 sì qiān sān bǎi sān shí èr kuài
4332 kuài

There are some more restrictions, though:

1. Only ‘二'(èr) can be used before the character ‘十'(shí).

二十 èr shí
20
二百二十五 èr bǎi èi shí wǔ
225

 

2. When before the character ‘百'(bǎi), ‘二'(èr) and ‘两'(liǎng) can both be used

二百五十 èr bǎi wǔshí
250
两百五十 liǎng bǎi wǔ shí
250

 

3. For numbers like ‘千’(qiān),万’(wàn) or ‘亿’(yì),两’(liǎng) is used more often than ‘二’(èr)

两千块 liǎng qiān kuài
Two thousand kuai
两万三千 liǎng wàn sān qiān
23 thousand
两亿人口 liǎng yì rén kǒu
200 million population

 

 

7. vs vs (tiān / rì / hào) 

Use ‘日'(rì) or ‘号'(hào) for a specific date. Usually, ‘日'(rì) is used in written and formal language whereas 号'(hào) is used in conversation.

For example, in speaking:

一号 yī hào

二号 èr hào

三十一号 sānshí yī hào

四月六号 sì yuè liù hào

 

In writing:

十月二十五日 shí yuè èr shí wǔ rì

 

The word ‘天'(tiān) should only be used to express yesterday, today, tomorrow, etc.

作天(zuótiān) = yesterday

今天(jīntiān) = today

明天(míngtiān) = tomorrow

 

 

8. vs 呢(ma / ne)

Please click here to see the difference between these two question particles.

 

 

9. vs vs 可以 (néng / huì / kěyǐ)

能(néng)/会(huì)

To express the ability

1. 能(néng): the inborn ability, don’t need to learn.

  • I have eyes, so I can see.
  • I have ears, so I can hear.
  • I can take care of myself.

2. 会(huì): not inborn ability, emphasise the sill.

  • He can play basketball.
  • I can cook.
  • She can dance.
  • I can make cakes.

 

(néng)/会(huì)

To express possibility

1. 能(néng): emphasise the objective possibility

  • He knows a lot of people, he can help you.
  • Things are cheap here, 100 yuan can buy many things.
  • He has a meeting, so he can’t come today.

2. 会(huì): emphasise the subjective possibility

  • He is kind-hearted, he will help you
  • I will miss you
  • Believe me, I will not cheat you.

 

 

10. vs (xiǎng / yào)

Both ‘‘(xiǎng) and ‘要’(yào) express subjective intention and demand. They are basically the same in meaning. Sometimes 要(yào) emphasises the intention or demand, while 想(xiǎng) places more emphasis on the intention or hope.

我要喝咖啡。Wǒ yào hē kāfēi

I want to drink coffee. (demand)

我想去咖啡店。 Wǒ xiǎng qù kāfēi diàn

I want to go to the Coffee shop. (hope/desire)

The negative form for ‘想‘(xiǎng) is ‘不想‘(bùxiǎng). When ‘要’(yào) is used to express the desire or actual need, its negative form is ‘不用’(búyòng) or ‘不要’(búyào).

 

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Ling

Ling

Hi, I’m Ling, a Chinese tutor and a language learning amateur. I create this blog with a goal to help Mandarin learners and Chinese culture lovers to study and know about this language by self-learning. Welcome to visit me from time to time and give me your precious advice! Thank you! 😛

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