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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.


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