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.
点钟 means “o’clock” (think of a point on the clock). For example:
(Xiànzài shì sān diǎn zhōng. )
It’s 3 o’clock.
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:
(Jiù zhè diǎn lái kàn, wǒmen bìxū cǎiqǔ xíngdòng ér bù zhǐshì tánlùn.)
At this point, we must take action not just talk.
(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?
(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.
(Nǐ bǐ wǒ gāo yīdiǎn.)
You’re a bit taller than me.
(Zhège cài hǎo yīdiǎn.)
This food is better.
(Nǐ néng piányi yīdiǎnr ma?)
Can you give it to me a bit cheaper?
(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:
(Wǒ yǒudiǎn bú shūfú.)
I’m a bit uncomfortable.
(Tā yǒudiǎn bù kèqì.)
He’s a bit rude.
(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:
(Tā tài shēngqìle, chàdiǎn shīqùle lěngjìng.)
She was so angry, she almost lost her cool.
(Zhè cì kǎoshì wǒ chàdiǎn déliǎo mǎnfēn! 99%)
I had a near perfect score in the test! 99%.
(Wǒ chàdiǎn xiào sǐ guòqù.)
I almost died I was laughing so much!
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:
(Tā gěile wǒ yīdiǎn jiànyì.)
He gave me a bit of advice
(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:
(Fúwùyuán wǒmen yàodiǎn cài.)
Waiter, we’d like to order.
(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!