Learn Better Chinese from These Amusing Misinterpretations

HSK 3 quiz

During the process of Mandarin Learning, it’s quite common to run into confusing problems that create humorous situations. In that case, we will introduce some learning points through the jokes.
Although they are fun to read about, they also serve as good cautionary stories to learn with a native Chinese teacher so they can explain these points when you get stumped!
The first instance is an easy misunderstanding but thankfully the Chinese language learner was corrected so she has a new perspective on life!

#1 很 (Hěn) vs 银 (Yín)

很 (Hěn) adj. very; quite; awfully

Learn the Differences Between “很 (Hěn) ” And “太 (Tài)”

银 (Yín) n./adj. silver; relating to currency or money; silver-colored

Here’s an interesting Chinese dialogue to talk “很 (hěn) very” and “银 (yín) silver”. Let’s have a look.
Reporter: Nǐ xǐhuān Zhōngguó ma?
Reporter: 你喜欢中国吗?
Reporter: Do you like China?

Interviewee: Wǒ xǐhuān Zhōngguó, yě xǐhuān Zhōngguó rén.
Interviewee: 我喜欢中国,也喜欢中国人。
Interviewee: I like China as well as Chinese people.

Reporter: Nà yǒu méiyǒu bù xǐhuān de dìfāng ne?
Reporter: 那有没有不喜欢的地方呢?
Reporter: Is there anything you dislike?

Interviewee: Jiù yì diǎn bùhǎo,  Zhōngguó rén tài bù qiānxū le.
Interviewee: 就一点不好,中国人太不谦虚了。
Interviewee: There’s only one thing that I dislike. The Chinese are too immodest.

Reporter: Nǐ wèishénme jué de wǒmen bù qiānxū ne?
Reporter: 你为什么觉得我们不谦虚呢?
Reporter: Why do you think we’re immodest?

Interviewee: Wǒ kàn dào jiē shàng yǒu hěn duō dìfāng de zhāopái, shàngmiàn dōu xiě zhe Zhōngguó hěn xíng, nóngyè hěn xíng, jiànshè hěn xíng, nǐ kàn chāopiào shàng hái yìn zhe Zhōngguó rénmín hěn xíng.
Interviewee: 我看到街上有很多地方的招牌,上面都写着中国很行,农业很行,建设很行,你看钞票上还印着中国人民很行。
Interviewee: I see a lot of signs on the street, which say that China is very good, agriculture is very good, construction is very good, and you can see the banknote is also printed with that Chinese people are very good.

(The source of the Chinese dialogue: http://t.cn/EMEyhoA)
Chinese Note:
The shape of the character “银 (yín) silver” is like “很 (hěn) very”, and the character “行” is a polyphone, when it refers “ok; good; great”, it can be pronounced as “行 (xíng)”, while it means “line or row”, it can be pronounced as “行 (háng)”. And put “银 (yín) silver” together with “行 (háng) line/row”, make the Chinese word “银行 (yínháng) bank”.
In this case, the interviewee misread “银行 (yínháng) bank” as “很行 (hěn xíng) very good”. Therefore, it created a humorous situation.
Download this Chinese input method and you will never feel confused about “银行” and “很行”.

Key Words:

1. 形近字 (Xíng jìn zì) Similar Chinese Characters:
很 (Hěn) and 银 (Yín):
The shape of the characters is similar, while “偏旁部首 (piān páng bù shǒu) the radicals” and the meaning of them are totally different.
很 (Hěn) adv. very; quite; awfully

银 (Yín) n./adj. silver; relating to currency or money; silver-colored

2. 多音字 (Duō yīn zì) Chinese Characters with Multiple Pronunciations
行 (Xíng) adj. ok; good; great; can; capable

行 (Háng) n. line; row; rank

The next situation is actually very common since it’s a daily life occurrence. Good thing you are seeing it here first to avoid this misinterpretation.

#2 早点 (Zǎodiǎn) breakfast; a little earlier

“早 (Zǎo)” means early, “点 (diǎn)” refers a little bit (it can also mean point mark or dot). Hence “早点 (zǎodiǎn)” means a little earlier. Simple! While in fact, “早点 (zǎodiǎn)” has another meaning that is breakfast. And the signboard with the words “早点 (zǎodiǎn)” just tells people that breakfast is available here.
The point of this instance is that she could have missed out on some opportunities to have an amazing breakfast. Crisis averted.

#3 哪里哪里 (Nǎlǐ nǎlǐ) (politely responding to thanks or praise given)

“哪里 (Nǎlǐ)“ literally means “where or wherever”. However, in daily Chinese dialogue, “哪里哪里 (nǎlǐ nǎlǐ)” is just politely responding to thanks or praise that is given, which means I don’t deserve it!/ You flattered me!
It could be avoided by knowing more about Chinese culture and how compliments are given and received. It’s not a disaster but it’s still a little humorous.


哪里 (Nǎlǐ) where

哪里哪里 (Nǎlǐ nǎlǐ) (politely responding to thanks or praise given)


Nǐ yào qù nǎlǐ?
Where are you going?

Nǐ yào dào nǎlǐ qù?
Where are you going?


HSK 3 quiz

1. Please choose the best answer to fill in the blanks.

______ háng dòngjié le tā de suǒyǒu cáichǎn.
(1) ______ 行冻结了他的所有财产。

A. 很 (Hěn)

B. 银 (Yín)

C. 退 (Tuì)

D. 狠 (Hěn)

Guǎng dōng de ______ hěn yǒu míng.
(2) 广东的 ______ 很有名。

A. 早点 (Zǎo diǎn)

B. 晚点 (Wǎn diǎn)

C. 快点 (Kuài diǎn)

D. 慢点 (Màn diǎn)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top