Let’s look at a little story first:
Shùxué kǎoshì kuài dào le, Lily fēicháng dānxīn,
数学 考试 快 到 了, Lily 非常 担心，
The math exam is coming, and Lily is very worried about it.
yīnwèi tā píngshí xuéxí shùxué jiù hěn chīlì.
因为 她 平时 学习 数学 就 很 吃力。
Because she is finding it to be very difficult.
Wèile kǎoshì, tā měitiān dōu yào xuéxí wǔgè xiǎoshí.
为了 考试， 她 每天 都 要 学习 五个 小时。
To prepare for the exam, she studies math for five hours every day.
Tā de hǎo péngyou Zhāng Lì quàn tā zhùyì xiūxi:
她 的 好 朋友 张 丽 劝 她 注意 休息：
Her good friend Zhang Li suggests that she get more rest:
“Shíjiān chángle, nǐ huì chībùxiāo de.”
“时间 长了， 你 会 吃不消 的。”
“It is too much, and you will get burned out.”
Ér Lily què shǐzhōng xiāngxìn: chīdékǔzhōngkǔ, fāngwéirénshàngrén.
而 Lily 却 始终 相信： 吃得苦中苦， 方为人上人。
But Lily believes no pains, no gains.
Wúnài, Zhāng Lì zhíhǎo ràng tā duōduō chīfàn, bǔchōng hǎo yíngyǎng.
无奈， 张 丽 只好 让 她 多多 吃饭， 补充 好 营养。
So all that Zhangli can do is to ask her to eat nutritious meals to keep healthy.
The term “吃(chī)” appeared in the above story many times, and it had different meanings throughout the story. “吃(chī)” literally means to eat, but it means much more than just eat – have, drink, take etc . For example, we can say: 吃苹果 (chī píngguǒ) – eat apples; 吃饭(chīfàn) – have dinner; 吃药 (chīyào) – take medicine.
Overtime, 吃 (chī) has taken on an many extended meanings. For instance:
“吃(chī)” means to stand, suffer, or bear, such as “吃不消(chībùxiāo)” be unable to stand; “吃亏(chīkuī)”, suffer loses; “吃苦(chīkǔ)”, bear or suffer hardship.
Zǒu zhème duō de lù, kǒngpà nǐ chībùxiāo.
走 这么 多 的 路，恐怕 你 吃不消。
It may be too much for you to walk such a long way.
Tā gōngzuò nǔlì, néng chīkǔ.
他 工作 努力，能 吃苦。
He is hardworking, and unafraid of hardship.
In some cases, “吃(chī)” means to be popular, such as “吃得开(chīdekāi)” and “吃香(chīxiāng)”.
Tā zài bānlǐ hěn chīdekāi.
他 在 班里 很 吃得开。
He is very popular in the class.
Gèzi gāo de qiúyuán zài lánqiúsài zhōng hěn chīxiāng.
个子 高 的 球员 在 篮球赛 中 很 吃香。
The taller players have an advantage in basketball.
Besides, certain Chinese expressions concerning “吃(chī)” have both basic and extended meanings. How to make a distinction between them depends on the context. For examples: If you are attending some party or dinner and hear someone say “我吃素(Wǒ chīsù)”, it means that he does not eat meat. But if you hear “我不是吃素的(Wǒ búshì chīsù de)”, it means that he is not to be bullied or he is not that easy to be taken advantage of. “我们靠这个吃饭(Wǒmen kào zhège chīfàn)” means “we make a living doing this.” Here “吃饭(chīfàn)” does not refer to have dinner, but means “to make a living.” )
With the exception of the above mentioned expressions, Chinese is also bound with idioms concerning “吃(chī).” The following are commonly used by Chinese people in daily life.
to bear all the consequences; to get more than one bargained for; or to land oneself in serious trouble.
to do harm to one’s own people to help an outsider.
to do a hard but thankless job; or to work arduously but fruitlessly.
Under different contexts, “吃(chī)” takes on vastly different meanings. Therefore, whenever you meet it in Chinese, you must figure out its meaning by considering the related context. Otherwise, you may make a fool of yourself.
1. Which”吃(chī)” in the following sentences means to eat?
A. 吃饭 (chīfàn)
B. 吃香 (chīxiāng)
C. 吃力 (chīlì)
2. Which”吃(chī)” in the following sentences means to bear?
A. 我不是吃素的。(Wǒ búshì chīsù de.)
B. 我们靠这个吃饭。(Wǒmen kàozhège chīfàn.)
C. 他能吃苦。(Tā néng chīkǔ.)