Tackling the two opposite meanings of 让(ràng)

This article covers the character 让(ràng), a word with two virtually opposite meanings in Mandarin:

  1. to permit; to yield
  2. to make someone do/feel something; to have someone do something.

Tackling these different definitions “in the wild” can be more than a little confusing for learners. But then, that’s Mandarin; we don’t learn it because it’s simple.

Below are examples of 让 in action, to help demonstrate how it’s used in both senses of the word.


To let; to yield; to permit

  • 请让一下。
    (Qǐng ràng yíxià.)
    Let me pass, please.


  • 让你的弟弟看一下。
    (Ràng nǐ de dìdi kàn yíxià.)
    Let your little brother have a look!


  • 让我想一想。
    (Ràng wǒ xiǎng yì xiǎng.)
    Let me have a think.


To make; to have someone to something:


  • 我的 新教练让我做两百个俯卧撑。
    (Wǒ de xīn jiàoliàn ràng wǒ zuò liǎng bǎi ge fǔwòchēng.)
    My new personal trainer made me do 200 push ups!


  • 他们的老板又让他们加班了。真辛苦。
    (Tāmen de lǎobǎn yòu ràng tāmen jiābān le. Zhēn xīnkǔ.)
    Their boss made them do overtime again. So hardgoing.


  • 妈妈老是让我帮她洗碗。
    (Māma lǎoshì ràng wǒ bāng tā xǐ wǎn.)
    Mum always makes me help her wash the dishes


  • 请让保洁员今天把窗户都擦干净。
    (Qǐng ràng bǎojiéyuán jīntiān bǎ chuānghu dōu cā gānjìng.)
    Please have the cleaner wash all the windows today.


To make someone feel a certain way:

  • 他让我这么生气
    (Tā ràng wǒ zhème shēngqì·)
    He makes me so angry!
  • 你又让我觉得开心了
    (Nǐ yòu ràng wǒ juédé kāixīn le.)
    You made me feel happy again (i.e. I wasn’t happy, now I am)

As you can see: context is king.

In most cases you can guess the meaning of 让. For example, no one is going to complain that their personal trainer “let” them do 200 push-ups. Obviously here the meaning is “to make”, which is an imperative.

Like with any new vocab, understanding the proper use of 让is just a question of listening and practicing… thenlistening and practicing some more!

You can learn also a lot from how native Mandarin speakers use the English word “let”. You may notice that when speaking English, they use “let” to mean both “to yield” and “to make”– an interesting back-to-front way to learn how 让 covers both meanings in Mandarin!

For any questions, feel free to comment and contact me!

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.

  • rrb

    Thanks so much for this!

    I was so confused hearing this word in songs. Usually it’s in a phrase like “let me love you” or something. But then I heard 完美 by 陈珊妮, where she sings

    如果你爱我 请求你说 说一个完美的谎话 让我感动

    which I’ve seen translated as
    If you love me, I beg you: tell me.
    Tell the perfect lie
    To move me.

    And I was so confused! I didn’t see how the concept of “allowing” applied. But now I see that it’s like “make me feel [in a certain way]”.

  • I think that calling these meanings of 让 opposites might fairly be characterised as a dogmatically medieval-European view of things.