Do You Know Where the Phrase ‘Get Off Your High Horse’ Comes from?

HSK 3 quiz

In English we have a saying, “Get off your high horse!” It means someone is being prideful and we want them to take their pride down a notch, or just act more humble. The cool thing is that in Chinese we have a similar phrase, although it has a few different meanings from the one in English.

The exact phrase is:


When you break these characters down, they mean:

下 (Xià): from high to low; landing.

马 (Mǎ): horse.

A Popular Chinese Idiom Story You Don’t Want to Miss:

An Old Man in the Frontier Lost His Horse

1. The characters put together are now used today to signify:

下马 (Xiàmǎ): action, get down from a horse; dismount from a horse.

When you use this phrase in a sentence, the sentence structure will look like this:

Sentence Structure:

V. + 下马 (Xiàmǎ)


Tā cóng lìng yì biān tiào xià mǎ.
He sprang down onto the other side.

This phrase has a literal meaning, to actually dismount from a horse. You can use it when describing this action in daily life.

2. This phrase also has another idiomatic meaning:

下马 (Xiàmǎ): discontinue, used to describe a major project or work item.
This is often used in daily life when describing work situations. When you use this phrase in a sentence, the sentence structure will now look like this:

Sentence Structure:

Subject + 下马 (Xiàmǎ)


Yóuyú quēfá zījīn, tāmen zhǐhǎo ràng gōngchéng xiàmǎ.
They had to discontinue the project because of a lack of funds.

Zhè xiàng gōngchéng bùnéng xiàmǎ.
This project should not be abandoned.

3. This word also can be used as a noun:

“下马 (Xiàmǎ)” means ceremony, a ritual of the Taoist practice in rural areas in some parts of China.
When using this phrase as a noun you put it into this sentence structure:

Sentence Structure:

下马 (Xiàmǎ)+ V.


Xiàmǎ shì yì zhǒng yíshì.
Dismounting is a ritual.

4. And finally this word can mean a change in roles:

“下马 (Xiàmǎ)” means role change. In ancient times, it meant the transition from cavalry to infantry.
When using this word like this you use it in this sentence structure:

Sentence Structure:

Subject + 下马 (Xiàmǎ)


Qíbīng bùduì xiàmǎ chéngwéi le bùbīng bùduì.
The cavalry unit switched roles and became an infantry unit.

It’s amazing how many meanings just one word in Chinese can have! Are you ready to test your knowledge on “下马 (Xiàmǎ)?” Read here!

HSK 3 quiz

1. What does “下马 (Xiàmǎ)” in “项目下马 (Xiàngmù xiàmǎ)” mean in Chinese?

A. 继续 (Jìxù)

B. 取消 (Qǔxiāo)

C. 完成 (Wánchéng)

Want to Learn More Popular Chinese Words? Check the articles below:

辣眼睛 (làyǎnjīng) Spicy Eyes—Hilarious Internet Slang
Let’s Show and Share Our Happiness
抬杠 (táigàng) Argue & 放鸽子 (fàng gēzi) Fail to Keep an Appointment

―Written by Becky Zhang―

Becky Zhang is a teacher at She has over eight years of experience teaching Mandarin Chinese to foreign students and promoting Chinese culture. She lives in Beijing but loves traveling to ancient Chinese villages. One day she’d like to be a tour guide in China!
Chinese Popular Words (Fun Stuff) 
Chinese Idiom
General Chinese (Beginner Level) 
General Chinese (Intermediate Level) 

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