Answer to Watch Your Tone! Different Meanings of “扫”

Answer: C
In Chinese there are a few polyphones, or characters with multiple pronunciations, “扫(sǎo/sào)” in the test is one of them. The two pronunciations of “扫(sǎo/sào)” express different meanings.
“扫(sǎo)” means “sweep” in English, as in to clean the dust and rubbish away, like “扫地(sǎodì) sweep the floor” and “清扫(qīngsǎo) to clean and sweep”. There are other collocations that are derived from this meaning, among which are “扫描(sǎomiáo) to scan”, “扫墓(sǎomù) to sweep one’s tomb/pay respects to somebody at his or her tomb”, and “扫兴(sǎoxìng) to have one’s spirits dampened/to feel disappointed”.


Lǐ Yù měizhōu dōu qīngsǎo fángjiān.
李 玉 每周       都    清扫     房间。
Li Yu cleans her room every week.

Yòng shǒujī sǎomiáo èrwéimǎ jiù kéyǐ fùkuǎn le.
用      手机   扫描       二维码   就 可以付款   了。
Scan the QR code and then you can pay your bill.

Sǎomù shì qīngmíngjié de xísú.
扫墓     是  清明节        的 习俗。
Tomb-sweeping is the custom on Tomb-Sweeping Day.

Xiàyǔtiān bùnéng chūqu, zhēn sǎoxìng ā!
下雨天     不能      出去, 真    扫兴     啊!
We can’t go out when it is raining. What a disappointment!

“扫(sào)” refers to a broom, as in “扫把(sàobǎ) broom” Also, the word “comet” is referred to as “扫把星(sàobǎxīng)” since the comet has a long, shining tail when flying across the sky, which looks like a broom. Some Chinese people superstitiously believe that comets bring disasters, so the term “扫把星(sàobǎxīng)” also refers to those who are bringers of bad luck.


Mā, sàobǎ zài nǎr? Wǒ yào sǎodì!
妈,扫把   在 哪儿?我  要   扫地!
Mom, where is the broom? I want to sweep the floor!

Tā zhēn shì gè sàobǎxīng!
他  真    是  个 扫把星!
He always brings bad luck!

In our test, “扫把” is pronounced “sàobǎ” and “扫地” is pronounced “sǎodì,” so the answer is C.
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