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多音字(duō yīn zì): Did you really know the Characters with Different Pronunciations and Meanings?

While studying Mandarin, one feature of the language you have to remember is that you can have a specific character in mind, but you can also have several different ways of pronouncing it. These kinds of characters are called polyphones, or 多音字 in Chinese. The English equivalent is called a homograph, which are words that are spelled the same but are different in meaning and/or pronunciation.Depending on the context, a different pronunciation can alter the intended meaning of that Chinese character. This is why proper listening and pronunciation is so important in Mandarin.

For example, did you know that there are actually two ways to pronounce the character 好? You can say it using the third tone (hǎo), or the fourth tone (hào), and both ways have different meanings.

In this article we will present 好 and nine other characters — 折 空 着 看 和 行 把 会 乐 — each of which can be pronounced in different ways, which can then change the meaning and usage of the character. (Our new e-book, we listed top 50 commonly used polyphones or 多音字 for you to learn.)

Practice your pronuciation of these characters, and you will certainly impress others with how well you can use them in different situations and contexts!

#1: 好

This is one of the first characters that any beginner learning Chinese will encounter. Most of the time it is pronounced as the third tone, “hǎo”, and it means “good” or “easy”, as in很好(very good) or好人 (a good person). However, in a handful of words and expressions it is pronounced as the fourth tone, “hào,” and it then becomes a verb which means “to like”, as in爱好(hobby), 好奇(curious) etc.

      

hǎo

(Nǐ de xiǎng fǎ hěn hǎo, dàn shì bù hǎo shí xiàn.)

你的想法很,但是不实现。

Your idea is very good, but not easy to achieve.

hào

(Wǒ hěn hào qí, tā  wèi shén me yǒu nà me duō ài hào.)

我很奇,她为什么有那么多爱

I`m curious why she has so many hobbies.

#2 折

This character becomes prominent during sales season at the mall. Most of the time it is pronounced as the third tone “zhé” and it means “discount”, as in打折(have discount). As a verb, it  means “ break”, as in折断 )(break off). However, in a handful of words and expressions, it is pronounced as the first tone “zhē” and it’s a verb which means “roll over”, as in折腾(toss about). The third way to pronounce this charter is “shé”. The meaning for it is to “lose money in business”.

      

zhé

(Rú lì jí fù kuǎn kě dǎ jiǔ zhé .)

如立即付款可打九折。

A 10% rebate for immediate payment.

zhē

(Shuì yī huìr , bié zhē teng  le.)

睡一会儿, 别腾了。

 Sleep for a while. Don’t toss and turn restlessly.

shé

(Tā jīn nián shé le hěn duō qián .)

他今年了很多钱。

He lost a lot of money in his business this year.

 

#3 空

There are two pronunciations for this character. The first way is “kōng”. As an adjective, it means “empty” or “hollow”, as in 空房间(empty room). As a noun, it means “air” or “sky”, as in 晴空(a bright sky). As an adverb, it means  “in vain”. The second way to pronounce it is “kòng”. As a verb, it means “to  leave empty or blank”. As an adjective, it means “unoccupied”, as in 空座位(unoccupied seat). As a noun, it means “free time”, as in 没空(not available).

      

kōng

(Zhú zi hěn qīng , yīn wei tā zhōng jiān shì kōng de .)

竹子很轻, 因为它中间是的。

Bamboo is light because it is hollow.

kòng

(Měi duàn kāi tóu yào kòng liǎng gé .)

每段开头要两格。

Leave two blank spaces at the beginning of each paragraph.

 

#4 着

This is a frequently used character and there are four ways to pronounce it. The first way is “zháo”; it means “burn”, as in着火(be on fire). It also means “fall asleep”, as in睡着(fall asleep). The second way to pronounce it is “zhe”. It means “the action or the state is ongoing”, as in看着(is / was looking). The third way is “zhuó”. The meaning of it is “wear”, as in着红色衣服(be dressed in red clothes). The fourth way to pronounce it is “zhāo”. We use it as a noun frequently. The meaning is “move”, as in走错一着(make a false move).

      

zháo

(Lú huǒ zháo dé hěn wàng .)

炉火得很旺。

The stove is burning briskly..

zhe

(Tā tí zhe xiāng zi zǒu le jìn qù .)

他提箱子走了进去。

 He went in carrying his suitcase.

zhuó

(Tā shēn zhuó  yì tiáo piào liàng de qún zi.)

她身一条漂亮的裙子。

She is wearing a beautiful dress.

zhāo

(Shū tā yì zhāo.)

输他一

Lose a move to him.

 

#5 看

This is one of the first verbs that any student of Chinese will learn. Most of the time it is pronounced as the third tone, “kàn”, and it means “look” or “read”, as in看电视(watch TV) or看书 (read book). However, in a handful of words and expressions it is pronounced as the first tone “kān” and it means look after, as in看孩子(look after children).

      

kān

(Kān zhù tā , bié ràng tā pǎo le !.)

住他, 别让他跑了!

Keep an eye on him. Don’t let him run away.

Kàn

(Wǒ míng tiān qù kàn tā . )

我明天去他。

I’ll go and see him tomorrow.

 

#6 和

This is one of the first characters that anyone will learn in Chinese. Most of the time it is pronounced as the second tone “hé” and it means “and”, as in我和你(you and me) . However, with somef words and expressions it is pronounced as the fourth tone, “hè”, and it’s a verb which means “to join in”, for example:和唱(join in the singing). The third way to pronounce it is “huò”, it means “mix” or “blend”, as和水(mix water with something).

      

hé

(Yì zhāng zhuō zi hé sì bǎ yǐ zi .)

一张桌子四把椅子。

A table and four chairs .

huò

(Dòu shā lǐ huò diǎnr táng.)

豆沙里点儿糖.

 Mix a little sugar into the bean paste

hè

(Tā zhe chàng.)

着唱。

He is joining the singing.

 

#7 行

Just like the character好,you can also use this character to express “OK”. In a majority  of words and expressions, this character is pronounced “xíng”. As a verb, it means “to go”, as in步行(go on foot). As an adjective, it means “capable”. And as a noun, it means “behavior”, as in言行(words and deeds). The second way to pronounce it is “háng”, it means “trade and business” when it’s used as a noun, as in各行各业(all trades and professions). As a measure word, it means “a row of”, as in一行树(a row of trees)

      

xíng

(Tā yóu yù le hěn jiǔ ,rán hòu shuō “xíng”.)

她犹豫了很久,然后说“”。

She hesitated a long time and then she said ‘ok’.

háng

(Gàn yī háng ài yī háng. )

干一爱一

love whatever job one takes up.

 

#8 把

There are two ways to pronounce this character. First way is “bǎ”. As a noun, it means “handle”, as in把手(handle). As  a measure word, it means “a handful of”, as in一把米(a handful of rice)。As a verb, it means “to hold”, as in把住栏杆(hold on to a railing).The second way to pronounce it is “bà”. It means “stem”, as in梨把(stem of a pear).

      

(Bǎ mén guān shàng .)

门关上。

Close the door.

(Tā shǒu lǐ yǒu yī xiē huā . )

他手里有一些花

There are some pedicels in his hand.

 

#9 会

More often that not, this character is pronounced “huì”.  As an auxiliary word, it means “ going to, will”.  As a verb, it means “to meet” or “to see”, as in 相会(meet). As a noun, it means meeting, as in 开会(have a meeting). In a  handful of words and expressions, it reads “kuài”. It means “compute” or “calculate”, as in 会计(accountant).

      

huì

(Jiào shī hé jiā zhǎng zài xīng qī liù xià wǔ jù huì.)

教师和家长在星期六下午聚

The teachers and parents got together on Saturday afternoon.

kuài

(Kuài jì gāng gāng lí kāi .)

计刚刚离开。

The accountant just left..

 

#10 乐

There are two pronunciations for this character. The first way is “lè”. It means “joyful” when it is used as an adjective, as in快乐(happy). As a verb, it means “enough”, as in 乐此不疲(enjoy doing something without stopping). As a noun, it means “pleasure”, as in 享乐(enjoy life). As an adverb, it means “gladly”, as in 乐于(be happy to). The second pronunciation is “yuè”. It is a noun that means “music”, as in 奏乐(play music).

      

(Nǐ shén me ya ?)

什么呀?

What are you laughing at?

yuè

(Yáo gǔn yuè yǐ jīng jìn rù le yí  gè tíng zhì qī .)

摇滚已经进入了一个停滞期。

Rock’n’roll had entered a period of stasis.

Learn more 多音字: 50 Commonly Used Chinese Polyphonic Characters (Ebook).

JING CAO

Jing Cao is the chief editor at Dig Mandarin. She devotes herself to the research of Chinese langugage and how to teach Chinese as a second language better.

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