10 ways to use点 (diǎn)

点 (diǎn) is one of those characters in Mandarin that pops-up all over the place.

In the dictionary, there are multiple meanings given, including “dot”, “point”, a “small amount”. In terms of etymology, 点 is derived from the traditional character 點, which is composed of黑 (meaning “black”) plus占 (the phonetic part).

So点 was first used to mean “black dot”, but how is it applied in everyday language today?
This post covers 10 key uses of the character点, to help you navigate Mandarin’s maze of little black points and dots…

Used as a dot or point:

1. Chinese calligraphy

点 is used to describe the dot stroke in Chinese writing, along with other strokes that make up Chinese characters.

2. O’clock

点钟 means “o’clock” (think of a point on the clock). For example:

o 现在是三点钟.
(Xiànzài shì sān diǎn zhōng. )
It’s 3 o’clock.

3. .com

Little black dots are everywhere in the online world! For example, you could say:

o 网站地址是www 点 speakupchinese 点 com
The website address is www.speakupchinese.com

4. A point of discussion or a point in time

Just in English, in Mandarin you can use the idea of a point to mean an article or argument for discussion or a stage in time. For example:

o 就这点来看,我们必须采取行动而不只是谈论.
(Jiù zhè diǎn lái kàn, wǒmen bìxū cǎiqǔ xíngdòng ér bù zhǐshì tánlùn.)
At this point, we must take action not just talk.

o 我们下次会议对这点问题讨论吧.
(Wǒmen xià cì huìyì duì zhè diǎn wèntí tǎolùn ba.)
Let’s discuss this point during the next meeting.

Used to mean “a little bit”:


5. 一点点 (yī diǎn diǎn)

This means a little bit; a smidgen. For example:

o Q. 你会说汉语吗?
(Nǐ huì shuō hànyǔ ma?)
Can you speak Chinese?

A. 会一点点!
(Huì yī diǎndiǎn!)
Yes, a little bit!

6. 一点 (yī diǎn)

Adding一点 after certain adjectives is used in making comparisons or requesting something, i.e. to be bit earlier or cheaper etc.

o 你比我高一点.
(Nǐ bǐ wǒ gāo yīdiǎn.)
You’re a bit taller than me.

o 这个菜好一点.
(Zhège cài hǎo yīdiǎn.)
This food is better.

o 你能便宜一点儿吗?
(Nǐ néng piányi yīdiǎnr ma?)
Can you give it to me a bit cheaper?

o 明天可以来早一点吗?
(Míngtiān kěyǐ lái zǎo yīdiǎn ma?)
Tomorrow can you come a bit earlier?

7. 有点 (yǒu diǎn)

Add有点 before an adjective to emphasize that something is a unwelcome or a problem, implying it’s just a bit too much to be good. For example:

o 我有点不舒服.
(Wǒ yǒudiǎn bú shūfú.)
I’m a bit uncomfortable.

o 他有点不客气
(Tā yǒudiǎn bù kèqì.)
He’s a bit rude.

o 外面有点冷
(Wàimiàn yǒudiǎn lěng.)
Outside it’s a bit too cold.

8. 差点 (chà diǎn)

差点 literally means “lacking a bit” and is used to mean “nearly”, “almost” or “barely”. For example:

o 她太生气了,差点失去了冷静。
(Tā tài shēngqìle, chàdiǎn shīqùle lěngjìng.)
She was so angry, she almost lost her cool.

o 这次考试我差点得了满分!99%
(Zhè cì kǎoshì wǒ chàdiǎn déliǎo mǎnfēn! 99%)
I had a near perfect score in the test! 99%.

o 我差点笑死过去。
(Wǒ chàdiǎn xiào sǐ guòqù.)
I almost died I was laughing so much!

Other uses:

9. As a measure word

点 is also used as a measure word, especially when referring to a small amount or “a bit” of something (as distinct from a countable amounts). For example:

o 他给了我一点建议.
(Tā gěile wǒ yīdiǎn jiànyì.)
He gave me a bit of advice

o 我有一点儿东西要给你.
(Wǒ yǒu yīdiǎn er dōngxi yào gěi nǐ.)
I have some little things I’d like to give to you.

10. 点菜 (diǎn cài)

点菜 means “to order food”. I consulted the Speak Up Chinese teachers about what ordering food has got to do with “black dots”. No one was able to find a clear answer – maybe pointing at food? Either way, here’s how you use it:

o 服务员我们要点菜.
(Fúwùyuán wǒmen yàodiǎn cài.)
Waiter, we’d like to order.

o 你们想再点哪个菜?
(Nǐmen xiǎng zài diǎn nǎgè cài?)
Which dish would you guys like to order more of?

There are so many uses for the word点 – too many to cover in one blog post – but hopefully this has given you some insight into the meaning of this commonly occurring little character. If in doubt, just remember that this character generally refers to small amounts, points or dots, and work from there!

Sarah Soulié

Sarah Souli é is British and lives in Los Angeles, after six years in Shanghai working in online marketing within EdTech. She has been learning Chinese since 2008, and currently contributes to the Speak Up Chinese blog. Speak Up Chinese is a newly-launched service based in Beijing. Their mission is to help you speak authentic Chinese with confidence, through 1-1 and group online lessons.