Learn About Disrupting Behavior “小动作 (Xiǎo dòngzuò)” in Mandarin

HSK 3 quiz

It’s important to learn Chinese words that also have negative connotations. This is why I have been teaching my students the word “小动作 (Xiǎo dòngzuò)”.

小动作 (Xiǎo dòngzuò) has two meanings:

1. Its first, literal meaning, is “small movement/action.”
2. Its second refers to simply a petty and mean action.
As you listen for this word in conversation you will need to figure out the meaning by the context. Let’s break down the second meaning together so you can understand how to best use it yourself in conversation:

小动作 (Xiǎo dòngzuò): n. petty and mean action.

小 (Xiǎo): adj. small, tiny

动作 (Dòngzuò): n. action, movement

When we use “小动作 (xiǎo dòngzuò)” in daily conversation we usually want to express the frustration with someone who is committing some sort of bad behavior to disturb a group of people. For example, in my class there is a student (we will call him Li Ming) who is constantly interrupting or disrupting his classmates.

Here’s how I would say this in Chinese:

Lǐ Míng jīngcháng zài kètáng shàng zuò xiǎo dòngzuò gānrǎo tóngxué.
李   明   经 常      在    课 堂       上     做    小     动 作      干 扰   同 学。

Here is one way to say this in English:

Li Ming is always doing something irrelevant and petty to disturb his classmates in class.

HSK 3 quiz

In daily Mandarin conversation, we are also using “小动作 (xiǎo dòngzuò)” to refer to the improper activities committed by someone privately for personal gain. This refers to such things as fraud, bribery, the spreading of rumors, etc. This meaning includes the feeling that this person is doing something under-the-table, or behind people’s backs. Definitely not a compliment!

Let’s look at a few ways you can use this word in a sentence:

Yǒu rén zài zhè cì bǐsài zhōng zuò xiǎo dòngzuò.
有    人  在   这 次 比赛   中      做    小     动 作。
Someone committed some petty actions in this competition.

Búyào zài zhè cì huódòng zhōng gǎo xiǎo dòngzuò.
不 要   在   这  次  活 动        中      搞    小     动 作。
Don’t do petty actions in this activity.

Looking at the examples above, what is the most common way to use this word in a sentence?

Most Common Sentence Structure:

Somebody (subject) + 做 (zuò)/搞 (gǎo) + 小动作 (n/object).
Now that you know this shortcut, you can start to make your own sentences using this word. Comment one of yours below!
HSK 3 quiz

Jack hěn kěnéng zài Lily bèihòu gǎo xiǎo dòngzuò, dàochù shuō tā de huàihuà.
Jack  很   可  能   在  Lily  背  后   搞    小     动    作 ,到  处    说   她 的   坏  话。

Which of the following statements is true?
A. Jack wants to imitate Lily’s movements and will speak highly of her.
B. Jack is likely to do petty actions secretly and speak ill of Lily everywhere.
C. Jack neither do petty actions or speak ill of Lily.
D. Jack doesn’t want to imitate Lily’s movements.

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