Archive for the ‘Difficulties of Chinese’ Category

In this article, I will discuss the difference between 可能[ke3 neng2] and 可以[ke3 yi3] when both of them are translated as “may”.

可能 and 可以 have brought confusion to foreign learners by their similar English translation. However, the meaning of these two words in Chinese is very different. I will introduce the differences by using several examples.

我可能去看电影。[wo3 ke3 neng2 qu4 kan4 dian4 ying3] I might go to watch the movie.

我可以去看电影。[wo3 ke3 yi3 qu4 kan4 dian4 ying3] I can go to watch the movie.

The first example has an indication that there is a possibility for me to watch the movie. In other words, I might go to watch the movie or I might not go to watch it (my attendance therefore depends on external factors like my mood or availability). In terms of the second example, it refers to the ability that I am permitted to go to  the movie (this permission might have come from the speaker’s mother or his overbearing spouse).

他可能生病了。[ta1 ke3 neng2 sheng1 bing4 le] He may be sick.

他可以请假。[ta1 ke3 yi3 qing3 jia4] He can ask for leave.

Sentence 3 has the meaning that he has possibility to be sick but it is just a guess. Sentence 4 shows that he is permitted to ask for leave.

Therefore,可能 indicates the possibility for an action however 可以 refers to the permission which is necessary for the activity to take place.



In this article, I would like to discuss the vital difference between 没[mei2] and 不[bu4] when both of them are used to make a question sentence.

In Chinese language, apart from 吗 (ma), the other way to make a question sentence is to use the positive form of a word plus the negative form of the word. For instance, 你忙不忙?[ni3 mang2 bu4 mang2] (are you busy?) In this sentence the positive form is 忙 and the negative form is 不忙。 More examples can be: 你好不好?(ni3 hao3 bu4 hao3] (how are you?) 你看没看书?[ni3 kan4 mei2 kan4 shu1] (Have you read the book?/did you read the book?).

The difference between 不 and 没 is fundamentally semantic one. Both 不 and 没 can be used to negate an action ( or a verb, structurally speaking), but 不 is used to talk about you own intention, whereas 没 is used to negate a past fact.

EX:你吃没吃饭? Have you eaten (or not)?

EX:你吃不吃饭?Do you want to eat or not/Are you going to eat or not?

In most statements, 不 is usually used to describe the change of the state of something. However, 没 is usually to describe a negative fact.

EX:车不走了 (the car is not going anymore) in this sentence, it indicates the car was going/working but now it is not going/working anymore.

EX:车没走 (the car hasn’t gone) in this sentence, in indicates that the car is still here.

Enjoy it! Best wishes for a new year!

Thank you Delia

Michael and Jing


Today kicks off a new feature for us at MJChinese – a section of our site devoted to providing clarification on vocabulary use in Chinese, called “Nasty nuances!”

This feature will present bite-sized blog posts designed to demonstrate the different features, functions and subtle intricacies of words which translate similarly from Chinese -> English.

Our first stop is differentiating between 贷款 (dai4kuan3 – to get a loan) and 借债 (jie4zhai4 – to borrow money). 

First, a great quote relating to all things monetary:

“Borrow money from a pessimist – they don’t expect it back”—Janeane Garofalo

OK, now onto the serious stuff.  This time, our respective English translations “to get a loan” and “to borrow money”(fortunately) do contain some clues as to when each should be used. 

 “To get a loan” does sound rather official, and sure enough, we use 贷款 when we trudge to our local bank branch or credit institution for a loan. 

我同学要向银行贷款. (My classmate had to ask the bank for a loan)

In English, “to borrow money” can be used in both informal and formal contexts.  You can borrow money from a friend, a bank or a loanshark.  In Chinese, 借债 is usually employed in an informal sense, when you borrow money from a friend or close acquaintance.  On a more interesting note, 借债 can also be used for a loan from seedy underword figures, such as loansharks!

For instance, 明天早上我会向他借债 (Tomorrow, I will borrow some money from him)

It’s important to note that when constructing sentences when you are approaching somebody to request something, 向 (xiang4) is used.  This is a preposition which means “toward”.  If we deconstruct the use of 向 in the above sentence by interpreting the example sentence literally, we get:

Tomorrow morning I will toward him to borrow money.

This does make some sense! After all we need to approach the creditor(whether they be friend, financial institution or a more unscrupulous individual) in order to obtain a loan, so think of 向 in that sense, thereby making our literal translation somewhat more refined:

Tomorrow morning I will approach him to borrow money.

As such, remember that the preposition must follow the basic Chinese grammar structure, whereby 向 comes before the “target” of the request, which is then followed by the verb.

Happy studying!

Michael and Jing 

Today I wrote (in Chinese) a small piece on different customs in different cultures.  It may contain some minor errors, but I’ll post it anyway:

我找了中国女朋友以后,我发现不同国家的人有不同习惯。我觉得中国的风俗跟澳大利亚的风俗很不一样。比如说,不但中国人正常用筷子吃饭, 而且他们不用自己的盘子。在澳大利亚,好多人用刀叉吃饭, 常常有自己的盘子。对澳大利亚人来说,用筷子吃饭好像特别难。现在我有中国人的习惯和西方人的习惯。因为我有点不习惯用筷子,婧有时候会笑我。我跟婧常聊天不同的风俗。

Now, for my mind, this small article’s effectiveness is let down by a crippling problem: a limited vocabulary.  In English, I can talk endlessly about the differences between Chinese and Western manners. 

Here, however, I can only string together a few sentences about the use of chopsticks vs the knife and fork.  It absolutely kills me that I can’t fully express myself in my second language

I know this is the same for many second-language learners.  It seems that no matter how many expressions we learn per week, a new word (whether it will be slang or not) crops up.  Or, more annoyingly, we can’t find the right word in our second language, but could easily use its equivalent in our mother tongue. 

Rather than mope for too long about it, I’ve come up with a small action plan for the next semester of Chinese language study. 

On top of my in-class 生词 (new words), I’ll be adding a further 10 words to my vocabulary per night.   That will give me an extra 840 words by the end of the semester, and hopefully enough to discuss more interesting cultural differences between China and Australia.

Wish me luck!