Learn How to Pay Out of Your Own Pocket in Chinese!

My favorite moments in the virtual classroom are when I see my students learn a new word and I can see the light-bulb go off in their heads. They become excited that they can use it in a sentence and in daily life immediately.
This word is perfect to expand your Mandarin vocabulary. Ready?

掏腰包 (tāo yāobāo)

. This word comes from an ancient way of holding and carrying money. Many years ago, people native to China would put money in a small bag, which they would wear close to their waist. Almost equivalent to a fanny pack or bum bag in the 20th and 21st century.

Chinese General taoqian

Now, thousands of years later, we still use this word to refer to money. “掏腰包 (tāo yāobāo)” now means “掏钱 (tāoqián)” = pay out of one’s own pocket.
腰包 (yāobāo): waist bag;

钱 (qián): money.

Chinese General yaobao

掏 (tāo): v. pull out(of); draw…out;

腰 (yāo): n. waist;

腰包 (yāobāo): n. waist pack; pocket; wallet.

When you put these meanings together you get:
掏腰包 (tāo yāobāo): pay out of one’s own pocket, foot a bill.

So how can you use this correctly in daily life? Check these sentences out:


Tā shì zìji tāo yāobāo mǎi de wǎncān.
他 是 自己 掏    腰包   买 的   晚餐。
He paid for the dinner out of his own pocket.

Yào Benny tāo yāobāo shì bù róngyì de.
要  Benny  掏    腰包    是  不  容易   的。
Benny is not easily parted from her money.

Now, I always tell my students that the structure of “掏腰包 (tāo yāobāo)” can be changed in the sentence, but the meaning doesn’t change. Take a look at these examples:

Somebody+掏腰包 = 掏+somebody’s +腰包
So the two examples above can also be expressed as:
Tā shì tāo zìjǐ de yāobāo mǎi de wǎncān.
他 是 掏 自己 的   腰包   买   的 晚餐。
He paid for the dinner out of his own pocket.

Yào tāo Benny de yāobāo shì bù róngyì de.
要   掏  Benny 的   腰包    是  不  容易   的。
Benny is not easily parted from her money.

HSK 3 quiz

1. Which of the following is NOT the correct expression?
A. 这个礼物是Mike掏腰包付的钱。
B. 这个礼物是Mike掏自己的腰包付的钱。
C. 这个礼物是掏腰包Mike付的钱。

―Written by Becky Zhang―

Becky Zhang is a teacher at eChineseLearning.com. 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!

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