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Break Free! Know 拖后腿 (tuō hòutuǐ) If You’re Being Held Back

Feb. 15, 2017

General Chinese break free

In both English and Mandarin Chinese we use the phrase “pulling my leg(s)”. However, the two expressions have different meanings and uses in the two languages.

In English, you can use “pulling my leg” as a way to say that you’re joking or telling lies in a humorous way:
“He told me we’d be meeting Lady Gaga, but it turns out he was just pulling my leg.”

In Mandarin Chinese we have the phrase 拖后腿 (tuō hòutuǐ) which is used in a more literal way of meaning “hold back someone or some animal’s hind (back) legs”. Think of someone trying to move forward and complete a task but being hindered by someone else.

拖后腿 (tuō hòutuǐ) could be used as a way to say that someone is “holding you back” or impeding on your progress. In a joking sense, 拖后腿 (tuō hòutuǐ) could be used among friends when discussing missing out on some opportunities at some romantic situation with someone!

Many of the foreign students that I teach here in China use the phrase 拖后腿 (tuō hòutuǐ) as a humorous and slightly sarcastic way to joke with friends, especially when “out on the town” and trying to meet someone they “have their eye on”. However, in a business or advisory situation 拖后腿 (tuō hòutuǐ) may have a more serious application, so be sure to take it seriously in that context!

So, what is the meaning of 拖后腿 (tuō hòutuǐ)?
拖后腿 (tuō hòutuǐ): a verb meaning to hinder somebody; to hold someone back;
拖 (tuō): drag, haul, delay
后腿 (hòutuǐ): hind legs

As I mentioned, it is quite literally “holding back someone’s legs”.

Examples of 拖后腿 (tuō hòutuǐ) being used in a sentence:

Háizi yào dào Běijīng qù gōngzuò, nǐ kě bié tuō hòutuǐ.
孩子   要  到   北京    去   工作,   你 可 别  拖   后腿。
The kid wants to go and work in Beijing; you shouldn’t try to hold him back.

Tā shì gè tuō hòutuǐ de rén.
他 是 个   拖   后腿   的  人。
He is a disruptive person.

Jack zǒng shì tuánduì lǐ nà gè tuō hòutuǐ de rén.
Jack   总   是    团队  里 那 个  拖   后腿   的  人。
Jack is always the one who holds back the whole team’s progress.

At times, you may use “拖后腿 (tuō hòutuǐ)” in the following way:
拖 + somebody + 后腿
This is to express that someone is being hindered. You can add “somebody” into the phrase “拖后腿”. This structure separates the phrase into two parts “拖 + somebody’s 后腿” when we use it in daily life.

Nǐ kě bié tuō wǒ hòutuǐ!
你 可 别  拖   我   后腿!
You cannot hold me back!

Free your hind legs 后腿 (hòutuǐ) and learn this valuable and sometimes humorous Chinese expression. Use it to impress your Chinese friends or teacher. Don’t 拖 (tuō), start using this phrase now!


1. The phrase 拖后腿 (tuō hòutuǐ) could be applied to your situation if:
A. Your colleagues at the office have not finished their part of the report.
B. Your friend wore out your legs and now they are sore.
C. You haven’t studied for your exam.
D. You forgot to buy Christmas presents.
See Answer

Written by Jennifer Zhu
Jennifer Zhu is a professional Chinese teacher from eChineseLearning. She has many years of Chinese language teaching experience and received her B.A. and M.A. in “Teaching Chinese as a Second Language.”

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