Formation of set phrases in Chinese

Formation of set phrases in Chinese

There are plenty of set phrases in Chinese. Set phrases are idiomatic expressions usually made up of four characters, and contain within one sentence, a single and complete meaning. Having a close study on the formation of set phrases helps substantially the learning. 




The first two characters and the last two are parallel/two pairs are parallel

1. Two pairs of subject-predicate structures

龙飞 dragons fly, 凤舞 phoenixes dance, 龙飞凤舞  lively and vigorous in calligraphy;  心灰 the heart is grey, 意懒 the mind is lazy, 心灰意懒 disheartened; 面红 the face is red, 耳赤 the ear is red, 面红耳赤 be flushed

2. Two pairs of predicate-object structures

藏头 hide the head, 露尾 expose the tail, 藏头露尾 tell part of the truth but not all of it;  营私 seek private gain, 舞弊 conduct illegal transactions, 徇私舞弊 engage in malpractices for selfish ends

3. Two pairs of modifier-noun structures

腥风 a foul wind, a rain of blood 血雨,  腥风血雨 sanguinary slaughter; 镜花 flowers in a mirror, 水月the moon in water, 镜花水月 an illusion

4. Two pairs of parallel structures

喜怒哀乐 happy or angry, sad or joyous; 是非曲直 right and wrong, proper and improper

Two pairs are not parallel

1. The first pair is subject and the second one is predicate.

面目可憎 appearance is repulsive [disgusting; ugly]; 蚍蜉撼树 an ant is trying to shake a giant tree

2. The first pair is predicate and the second pair is object.

好为人师 like to be a master to others; 如坐针毡 as if sitting on a spiked rug/be in an extremely uncomfortable position; 顿开茅塞 become enlightened at once

3. The first pair modifies the second pair.

世外桃源 land of idyllic beauty;近水楼台 a favourable position; 扶摇直上 rise directly to a high position


4. Object of the first pair is the subject of the second.

引狼入室 invite [bring] a wolf into the house; 化险为夷 change danger into safety; 认贼作父 treat a thief as one’s father 请君入瓮

5. Both the first and second pair are predicate-object structure, but the two pair don’t have any relation of modifying-being modified.

画蛇添足 paint a snake with feet; 守株待兔 stand by a tree stump waiting for a hare to dash itself against it

After learning the formation of set phrases, do you feel a bit relaxed to move on?

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