You Should Have Never Trusted Him: Learn The Meaning of “栽跟头 (Zāi gēntou)”

Chinese General zaigentou

Chinese Slang Words like “栽跟头 (zāi gēntou)” are the most important Chinese words to learn, because not only are they words that are used in daily life, but they are words that have a few meanings, which you can use in multiple ways in conversation.
Do you know people who seem to suffer from a lot of setbacks, in life and work?
Colleagues who have a grand new idea at the office, but always make a failure of the presentation because they just don’t pay attention to the details.
I have friends who always seem to go for the wrong type of guy. Whenever she comes to me complaining of an insensitive mistake he made, I use the same word with her:
栽跟头 (Zāi gēntou)

This word means:

栽跟头 (Zāi gēntou): suffer a setback; come a cropper; make a blunder.

“栽跟头 (Zāi gēntou)” originally, back in the day, meant tumble. Now people often use it to refer to the lessons learned from setbacks, or setbacks suffered as a result of things like business failures or romantic frustrations.

Let’s breakdown this word so you can understand its full meaning:

栽 (Zāi): v. tumble; fall; plant.

跟头 (Gēntou): turn a somersault; loop the loop; trip and fall.

At the end of the day it is up to you to not “栽跟头 (zāi gēntou).” You have to be the one to recognize the difference between a romantic partner who is sincere or not sincere. And you have to take responsibility for your actions at work. I use this word “栽跟头 (zāi gēntou)” with myself to remind myself that, even though I may “栽跟头 (zāi gēntou)”, I can learn from my mistakes and not “栽跟头 (zāi gēntou)” again!


Nàxiē dǒngháng de rén yǒushí yě huì zāi gēntou.
那些      懂行        的  人   有时   也  会   栽   跟头。
Even those people who are experts and in the know sometimes suffer from setbacks.

Jack rúcǐ zìxìn fǎndào ràng wǒ xiǎng kànkan tā zāi gēntou.
Jack 如此 自信   反倒    让   我     想    看  看  他 栽   跟头。
Jack is so confident that I’d love to see him proved wrong.

This phrase can also be expressed in this way:
栽 (Zāi) + measure word + 跟头 (gēntou)

Wǒ zuótiān zài tā shǒu shàng zāi le gè gēntou.
我    昨天      在  他  手    上      栽  了 个   跟头。
I was cheated by him yesterday.

Tā jīnnián zài gōngzuò shàng zāi le hǎo jǐ gè gēntou.
他    今年   在     工作      上   栽  了  好 几 个   跟头。
He suffered several setbacks in his work this year.

HSK 3 quiz

Choose the correct words to fill in the blank.
Wǒ xīngfèn dé zài cǎodì shàng ___ le gè gēntou.
1. 我     兴奋    得  在  草地   上   ____  了 个   跟头。
Chēmén túrán kāi le, ràng wǒ ___ le gè gēntou.
2. 车门        突然  开  了,让 我  ____ 了 个   跟头 。
A. 栽 (zāi);栽 (zāi)
B. 翻 (fān);栽 (zāi)
C. 栽 (zāi);翻 (fān)
D. 翻 (fān);翻 (fān)

— Written by Jennifer Zhu —

Jennifer Zhu is a professional Chinese teacher from eChineseLearning. She has many years of Chinese language teaching experience and received her B.A. and M.A. in “Teaching Chinese as a Second Language.”
Chinese Popular Words (Fun Stuff) 
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General Chinese (Beginner Level) 
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