Chinese is a rich language with a vast vocabulary – every nuance of a given concept or object is expressed by its own word. This can get confusing, as there are many examples of words in Chinese that initially seem similar, but actually have significant differences. (Not to mention that many concepts expressed by certain words in English have different words to express them in Chinese!)
Today we will look at 3 examples of seemingly similar words with important differences:
1) 看待(kàn dài) vs 对待(duìdài) vs 招待(zhāo dài)
看待(kàn dài)：to look upon, to regard as
对待(duì dài)：to treat
招待(zhāo dài)：to receive (guests), to entertain, how one treats his guests after inviting them (招 (zhāo) – to invite + 待(dài) – to treat = 接待，对待 (jiē dài ，duì dài)
招待周到 zhāo dài zhōu dào
This is a fixed Chinese idiom that means “the guests are well accommodated.”
(wǒ mā mā yī zhí bǎ wǒ kàn dài wéi /chéng yī gè hái zǐ.)
My mother always regarded me as a small child.
(nǐ zěn me duìdài zhè jiàn shì?)
How do you treat this thing?
(wǒ men yīng gāi bǎ kè rén zhāo dài hǎo.)
We should entertain the guests well.
(tōng cháng ，wǒ men gōng sī huì xuǎn zé zài jiǔ diàn zhāo dài hé zuó fāng chī fàn.)
Generally, our company chooses a restaurant to entertain our partners.
(fù mǔ duì dài zǐ nǚ dōu yī yàng ，dàn yǒu shí hòu hái shì gèng xǐ huān tā men dāng zhōng de yī gè.)
Parents treat their children the same, sometimes in spite of liking one of them more than the others.
(rú cǐ duì dài fàn rén ,zhēn shì tài cán rěn le.)
Treating prisoners in that manner was barbarous.
2) 坦率 (tǎn shuài) vs 坦诚 (tǎn chéng) vs 豪爽 (háo shuǎng)
坦率 (tǎn shuài)
Direct, honest, open. It means that a person is frank with other people and tells them the truth without giving excuses or lies. For example, when invited to lunch with a friend, a person with this quality might tell his friend he cannot come because he is depressed.
It is generally used in the phrase: 坦率地说 (tǎn shuài de shuō) frankly speaking / to be candid
坦诚 (tǎn chéng)
To confess, to admit. Similar to tǎn shuài, this phrase means that a person is open with other people, but also is willing to share with them the realities of his actual situation. For example, when invited to lunch with a friend, a person with this quality might tell his friend he cannot come because he is depressed, and then share what is causing him to feel depressed.
豪爽 (háo shuǎng)
Describes a person who is outspoken without necessarily being honest. He may smoothly express his feelings to other people, and doesn’t try to conceal his joy, anger, or other emotions. However, he simultaneously might be concealing his real opinion about a friend.
(tǎn shuài kě yǐ jiě jué hěn duō rén yǔ rén guān xì de wèn tí.)
Being frank and open can solve many conflicts between people.
(rú guǒ nǐ bù xiǎng péi wǒ qù wánr，qǐng nǐ tǎn shuài de shuō，ér bú shì zhǎo jiè kǒu.)
If you don’t want to come with me, please say it frankly and don’t use excuses.
(gēn zì dà hé yǒu pī píng xìng gé de rén bù gāi tài tǎn chéng.)
It is better to not confess to arrogant and critical people
(yīn wéi nǐ háo shuǎng ，rén men xǐ huān nǐ.)
Because of your openness, people like you.
(tā shì gè hǎo rén ，yī gè fēi cháng háo shuǎng de jūn guān.)
He’s a good man, and a very outspoken officer.
3) 亲切(qīn qiè) vs 亲密(qīn mì) vs 密切(mìqiè)
All three could mean “close,” but have different connotations. Let’s take a look:
亲切 (qīn qiè)
- A cordial attitude from one person toward another person or animal.
- To feel close to someone or someone because it reminds it you of yourself.
The next two words describe “close” contact or relation.
- 亲密 (qīn mì)
- 密切 (mìqiè)
Close contact between two people or objects, either due to a mutual interest or another cause – not necessarily a close friendship.
(zhōng guò de diàn yǐng ràng wǒ gǎn jué hěn qīn qiè.)
“I feel very close to Chinese movies.” (“Qin qie” is used because Chinese movies remind the narrator of some part of herself; perhaps she is reminded of her past life in China, or demonstrates similarities between life in China and life in her current country.)
(tā hěn qīn qiè de rén.)
He is an extremely nice person
(fū qī zhī jiān de guān xì yīng gāi shì zuì qīn mì de.)
The relationship between a married couple should be the most intimate.
(yī bān lái shuō，shuāng bāo tāi zhī jiān de guān xì fēi cháng qīn mì.)
Generally, the relationship between twins is very intimate.
(duì wǒ lái shuō，tiān qì qíng kuàng hé qíng xù yǒu mì qiè de guān xì.)
The current weather greatly influences my mood.
(góng tòng de lì yì，shǐ dé tā men bǐcǐ de guān xì yuè lái yuè mì qiè.)
Because of a mutual interest, their contact became closer and closer.
As you’ve seen, there are many words in Chinese that mean similar things but are used differently. Some of the words are so close in their meaning that many dictionaries translate them into the same word, which is one of the thing about Chinese that makes it difficult to study on your own after a certain point.
Mainly for this reason, when I reached an intermediate level of Chinese I concluded that in order to progress, I needed private lessons from a native speaker. I encourage any serious learners of the Chinese languages to consider doing the same!