Don’t be boring!
When speaking Chinese, why describe everything as “good” or “bad”?
Is that dress cute? Is that TV show addicting? Is this guy gorgeous? Do you find his girlfriend annoying?
We’ll go through all these common adjectives and more.
But first, let’s run through some basics of how adjectives are used in Chinese.
How to Use Adjectives in Chinese
1. Noun + Qualifier + Adjective
Very important: In Chinese, we do not commonly use “to be” (is/am/are) to connect nouns with adjectives. In English, we say something is [adjective]. But in Chinese, we say something very [adjective]. Let me explain with an example.
In English: You are smart [noun + “to be” + adjective]
In Chinese: 你很聪敏。nǐ hěn cōng mǐn
Literally: You very smart [noun + qualifier + adjective]
很 (hěn), or “very,” can also be replaced by other qualifiers such as 真 (zhēn — really), 不 (bù — not), 挺 (tǐng — quite), or 非常 (fēi cháng — extremely).
她非常乖. (tā fēi cháng guāi. — She is extremely obedient.)
我挺累了. (wǒ tǐng lèi le. — I’m quite tired already.)
我爸爸很好。(wǒ bà bà hěn hǎo. — My dad’s very well.)
这个东西不好用。(zhè gè dōng xī bù hǎo yòng. — This thing’s not useful.)
This is the most common sentence structure when using adjectives in Chinese. Remember, use a qualifier like “very” to link nouns with adjectives.
2. Noun + 是 + Adjective + 的
Here, we bring back 是 (shì), or “to be.” But don’t get confused!
This sentence pattern is used to emphasize a point.
这件衣服是新的。(zhè jiàn yī fú shì xīn de — This shirt is new.)
[Compare with: 这是一件新衣服。zhè shì yī jiàn xīn yī fú. — This is a new shirt.]
这台手机是坏的。(zhè tái shǒu jī shì huài de. — This cell phone is broken.)
[Compare with: 这是一台坏手机。zhè shì yī tái huài shǒu jī. — This is a broken cell phone.]
Normally, 的 is a possessive. When used in this sentence construction, following 是 and the adjective, it’s like saying the noun “owns” this adjective, hence adding the emphasis.
In this construction, you can again replace 是 with qualifiers like the ones discussed above. The structure [noun + qualifier + adjective + 的] also works, again giving affirmation to your point.
她挺懂事的。(tā tǐng dǒng shì de. — She’s quite responsible.)
这里东西很贵的。(zhè lǐ dōng xī hěn guì de. — Things here are very expensive.)
3. Modifying Nouns: Include 的 with Multi-syllable Adjectives
In Chinese, when using adjectives to modify nouns (e.g. pretty girl, fast car, expensive house), we put 的 after the adjective if the adjective is more than one syllable (that is, more than one character long).
漂亮的女孩子 (piào liàng de nǚ hái zǐ — pretty girls)
超重的行李 (chāo zhòng de xíng lǐ — overweight luggage)
However, when the adjective is only one syllable or character, don’t include 的. Examples:
一个好男人 (yī gè hǎo nán rén — a good man)
红袜子 (hóng wà zi — red socks)
The exception to this rule are compound nouns. Certain [multi-syllable adjective + noun] combinations are so common that they are treated as compound nouns, and therefore do not require 的 after the adjective.
全职妈妈 (quán zhí mā mā — full-time mom)
名牌包包 (míng pái bāo bāo — brand name handbag)
全脂牛奶 (quán zhī niú nǎi — whole milk)
Now that we have preliminaries out of the way, let’s move on to learning some of the most common everyday adjectives you might hear or use.
Beyond Good and Bad: 10 Useful Chinese Words to Brighten Your Vocabulary
1. 可爱 (Cute)
Okay, we’ve gotta know how to say “cute” in Chinese: 可爱 (kě ài). It’s the go-to word to describe anything slightly attractive, small, lovable, pink, cuddly, good-looking or anything that simply suits your taste.
Puppies, babies, clothes, boys, hairstyles and houses can all be described this way.
“Cute” in Chinese literally translates as “able to love,” or lovable: 可 (able) + 爱 (love).
你的小狗好可爱喔。(nǐ de xiǎo gǒu hǎo kě ài ō — Your little doggy is so cute.)
喔 is an expression like, “oh” or “aw.” In Chinese, these kinds of expressions can come at the end or beginning of a sentence. When appearing at the end of a sentence like in this one, it’s usually used to indicate emphasis instead of expressing an interjection.
“可爱女人” (kě ài nǚ rén) is a classic pop song by Taiwanese artist Jay Chou (周杰伦) about a charming woman. Have you heard this song before?
2. 疯狂 (Crazy)
疯狂 (fēng kuáng) is another trendy descriptor, not only for actual out-of-control or illogical situations, but also for amusing, enjoyable, laughable cases.
哇， 这部电影很疯狂 。(wa, zhè bù diàn yǐng hěn fēng kuáng. — Wow, this movie is so crazy.)
哇 is another Chinese expression, similar to “Wow.”
瘋狂的石頭 (fēng kúang de shí tou), or “Crazy Stone,” is a famous Chinese black comedy about how a precious jade stone causes a frantic competition over who can own it. On the other hand, 疯狂石头 (fēng kúang shí tou), Emerald Thief, is a fun and popular online game!
3. 好笑 (Funny)
A million different things can be funny, or 好笑 (hǎo xiào). So you gotta learn this one.
好笑 literally translates as “good laugh”: 好 (good) + 笑 (laugh/smile).
这笑话不好笑。(zhè xiào huà bù hǎo xiào. — This joke is not funny.)
Another way to say “funny” is 搞笑 (gǎo xiào). 搞笑 means “make fun,” as in creating humor.
我的弟弟很搞笑, 他会办恐龙。(wǒ de dì dì hěn gǎo xiào, tā huì bàn kǒng lóng. — My younger brother is very funny. He pretends to be a dinosaur.)
4. 漂亮 (Pretty)
Pretty, 漂亮 (piào liàng), was mentioned earlier. But since words for beauty are so common, let’s run through a few more.
- 帅 (shuài — good-looking/hot)
- 美丽 (měi lì — beautiful)
- 动人 (dòng rén — moving)
她的歌声美丽动人。(tā de gē shēng měi lì dòng rén. — Her singing is beautiful and moving.)
这位警察好帅啊。(zhè wèi jǐng chá hǎo shuài a. — Whoa, this policeman is hot.)
Why not try complimenting someone today using one of the above words of beauty?
5. 尴尬 (Awkward)
Un-pretty, not-funny things happen sometimes. You might think to yourself: That was so awkward, 很尴尬 (hěn gān gà).
你这样说我很尴尬。(nǐ zhè yàng shuō wǒ hěn gān gà. — When you say that, I feel so awkward.)
尴尬 (gān gà) can also mean embarrassing. Example:
我迟到了! 好尴尬。(wǒ chí dào le! hǎo gān gà. — I’m late! It’s so embarrassing.)
6. 麻烦 (Annoying)
Alright, it’s not cute, not funny and not just awkward—you hate it. It’s annoying, 麻烦 (má fán).
坐公车很麻烦。 (zuò gōng chē hěn má fán. — Taking the bus is so annoying.)
麻烦 describes things or situations that are time-consuming, inefficient and bothersome.
You can also use 烦人 (fán rén), which means irritating. For example:
哎呀你真的很烦人! (āi yā nǐ zhēn de hěn fán rén. — Man, you are so annoying!)
哎呀 is another famous Chinese expression. Depending on the context, it can mean everything from “oh no,” “oh man,” “oh my goodness” and “yikes” to even “ewww…”
麻烦你 (má fán nǐ) is a polite way to ask someone for a favor. It means, “May I bother you?”
7. 可怕 (Scary)
可怕 (kě pà) can mean ghost-like scary, or dangerous-scary. For example:
这段新闻很可怕。(zhè duàn xīn wén hěn kě pà. — This piece of news is really scary.)
Another way of saying scary is 恐怖 (kǒng bù), which is like horrible.
这个怪兽很恐怖。 (zhè gè guài shòu hěn kǒng bù. — This monster is really horrible.)
恐怖片 (kǒng bù piān) are horror movies. Some people think Asian horror movies are scarier than American horror films, but that’s actually not the case. Whereas American horror films tend to feature monsters and gore, Asian horror films usually deal with death and the supernatural.
8. 臭 (Stinky)
Here’s a descriptor that requires your sense of smell: 臭 (chòu). You’ll want to know this one in case you ever happen upon your roommate’s stinky socks, or if someone farts in the room.
拜托, 你的袜子真的很臭! (bài tuō, nǐ de wà zi zhēn de hěn chòu. — My goodness, your socks are really stinky!)
Stinky tofu, 臭豆腐 (chòu dòu fǔ), is a special snack in China and a popular street food. It’s really fermented tofu. Just like blue cheese, you usually need an acquired taste to appreciate stinky tofu.
9. 烂 (Awful)
烂 translates to “rotten,” and is used to describe poor-quality, shoddy stuff. It’s similar to saying, “It sucks.”
这台电脑很烂, 很快就坏了。(zhè tái diàn nǎo hěn làn, hěn kuài jiù huài le. — This computer sucks. It broke down so quickly.)
You can also use 坏 (huài) to describe something bad or awful. 坏人 (huài rén) means bad guy.
10. 很棒 (Awesome)
很棒 (hěn bàng) means great or awesome. It’s also an excellent way to encourage or compliment someone, equivalent to giving them a thumbs up.
你很棒! (nǐ hěn bàng. — You’re awesome!)
这家餐厅的火锅很棒 (zhè jiā cān tīng de huǒ guō hěn bàng. — This restaurant’s hot pot [Chinese cuisine] is so awesome.)
Go ahead and make someone’s day, tell them, 你很棒!
With the above stash of great descriptors, you can carry on many Chinese conversations and describe all sorts of everyday things and events.
Remember to use qualifiers to connect nouns with adjectives, instead of “to be,” and you’re good to go!
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