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Chinese opposites words


There are lot of cool things in Chinese vocabulary, from forwards-backwards words to the physical shape of characters being used to express meaning. Another interesting type of vocabulary in Chinese is opposites words.

I haven’t been able to find a proper term for these – if you know of one please point it out in the comments. Note that these are not simply 反义词 (antonyms). They are pairs of antonyms that are used together as one word to express a larger idea.

真假

These words work by putting two opposite concepts side by side to express some sort of encompassing concept. Often each part of the word indicates one end of a spectrum, and the whole word refers to the spectrum as a whole. I’m compiling a list of these words here (in no particular order). Suggestions are welcome.

 

真假
zhēnjiǎ
true – false
veracity

长短
chángduǎn
long – short
length

沉浮
chénfú
sink – float
ebb and flow

粗细
cūxì
thick – thin
thickness

大小
dàxiǎo
big – small
size

东西
dōngxi
east – west
thing

动静
dòngjìng
move – still
activity

多少
duōshǎo
many – few
how many

方圆
fāngyuán
square – round
circumference

否则
fǒuzé
not so – so
if not

刚柔
gāngróu
hard – soft
yin and yang

高低
gāodī
high – low
height

黑白
hēibái
black – white
monochrome

水火
shuǐhuǒ
water – fire
disaster

水土
shuǐtǔ
water – soil
natural environment

吞吐
tūntǔ
swallow – spit
to churn through

先后
xiānhòu
first – after
in order

虚实
xūshí
empty – real
the real situation

缓急
huǎnjí
unhurried – urgent
priority

进退
jìntuì
advance – retreat
sense of propriety

快慢
kuàimàn
fast – slow
speed

宽窄
kuānzhǎi
wide – narrow
width

来去
láiqù
come – go
comings and goings

老少
lǎoshào
old – young
all ages

男女
nánnǚ
male – female
male and female

胖瘦
pàngshòu
fat – thin
fat and thin

起落
qǐluò
rise – fall
rise and fall

前后
qiánhòu
before – after
beginning to end

轻重
qīngzhòng
light – heavy
severity

曲直
qūzhí
crooked – straight
right and wrong

善恶
shàn’è
good – evil
good vs evil

上下
shàngxià
up – down
top and bottom

阴阳
yīnyáng
yin – yang
yinyang

涨缩
zhǎngsuō
rise – fall
fluctuation

正反
zhèngfǎn
right – reverse
pros and cons

左右
zuǒyòu
left – right
approximately

胜负
shèngfù
victory – defeat
outcome of a battle

-

See also


  • http://hanyuxiaofaxian.tumblr.com Sam Duncan

    胜负 Victory – Defeat: The outcome of a battle

    • http://eastasiastudent.net/about Hugh Grigg

      Thanks! I’ve added it to the list.

  • http://twitter.com/ Anonymous

    How about 东西 (east-west) – thing? Would you count that here?

    • http://eastasiastudent.net/about Hugh Grigg

      Already in the list!

  • Anonymous

    Really useful! Thanks Hugh

  • Alex

    How about 远近 (far, near => distance), 高矮 (tall, short => height), 横竖(horizontal, vertical => anyway), 规矩 (compass for drafting, square/rectangle => rules)?

  • lella

    What about 买卖?

  • Alex

    And 是否 (yes, no => whether), and, as suggested by my friend, 矛盾(spear, shield => contradiction).

  • http://Beijingrollerderby.com Jay

    You can call them 反义词. (fan3 yi2 ci2) Sorry if that has been said already!

    Here are some of my suggestions, sorry for any repeats.

    黑白 Black White
    大小 Big Small
    好 坏 Good Bad
    胖瘦 Plump Thin/Slim
    高矮 Tall Short
    上下 Above Below
    美 丑 Beautiful Ugly
    闻听 To smell to listen
    关合 To Shut To open
    升落 To raise To lower (Example: A flag)
    前后 In front Behind
    左 右 Left Right
    南 北 South North
    东西 East West
    远近 Far Near
    内外 Inside Outside
    里外 Inside Outside
    进出 To come To go
    轻重 Light Heavy
    明暗 Bright Gloomy
    宽窄 Broad Narrow
    熟生 Cooked Uncooked
    长短 Long Short
    拉推 Pull Push
    干湿 Dry Wet
    对错 Correct Incorrect
    单双 Single A pair
    薄厚 ThinThick
    新旧 New Old
    强弱 Strong Weak
    苦甜 Bitter sweet
    哭笑 To cry to laugh
    加减 to add to ubtract
    问答 to ask to answer
    买卖 To buy To sell
    热情冷笑 Passionate Dissatisfied
    温暖寒冷 Warm Cold
    成功失败 Success Defeat
    进步落后 Progress To fall behind
    明白糊涂 To understand To be muddled
    顺从反抗 Obedient to resist
    喜欢讨厌 To like To hate
    安全危险 Safe danger
    黑暗光明 Dark light
    战争和平 War Peace

    Let me know if you want the pinyin :)

    • http://eastasiastudent.net/about Hugh Grigg (葛修远)

      Hi, thanks for your comment. I’m not sure that all of those words are the kind we’re looking for here. Some of them certainly are, e.g. 买卖, but some of them are simply antonyms and not generally used together as single words.

      Also I think 反义词 is just “antonym” and not specifically this kind of opposite-inversion word.