The Power of Chinese Characters - 过 guò (part 1)

This is Part 1 of our discussion of

过- guò- to cross, to celebrate (a holiday) 

过 is a very dynamic character, so we’ll break it up into two parts so as to not have it be too much info all in one spot. For now, we’ll look into its original meaning of “to cross” (like the chicken) and a secondary meaning of “to celebrate”. 

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Every time you cross the street, you can say 过马路 (mǎlù- literally “cross horse path”). This is the most basic form of the character, but when you tell somebody to “come over” or “go over”, you’ll also use 过 by saying 过来 guòlai or 过去 guòqu respectively. This confused me when I first started learning Chinese. Aren’t 来 & 去 verbs? Well, when they are by themselves they sure are, but when they come after some verb that implies movement (like 过 “cross”), 来 & 去 are actually resultive complements i.e. The action is "to cross”, the result is that you’ve either come or gone in relation to the speaker. In that way it works just like English, when someone is moving away from us they are “going” (过去) and if someone is moving toward us, they are “coming” (过来). 

Another way to think of “crossing” is “passing” someone or something, like a car passing another car in traffic. So suppose two runners are in a race, if one of the runners “surpassed” the other, you can say 超过 (chāo). 超 means to supersede or surpass, so to cross in such a way that surpasses is expressed through 超过. 

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Yet another way of expressing “to pass” is to use the word 经过 (jīng). I always used to 经过 the Sichuan University Gymnasium on the way to class. 经过 can also mean “to undergo” something, but that’s more related to an alternative meaning of 过 that we’ll talk about in the next part.

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The secondary meaning of “to celebrate” is most commonly used related to people’s birthdays. To celebrate you birthday is 过生日 shēngrì (literally celebrate-birth-day), but really the celebration of any holiday can use 过。

过年 nián- to celebrate the Chinese new year

过圣诞节- shèngdànjié- celebrate Christmas

过国庆节- guóqìngjié- celebrate National Day

You’ll note that Christmas and National Day end with the character for festival, which is 节 jié, so if you aren’t exactly sure how to say the name of a holiday, you can always just say “过节” as a general word for celebrating holidays.

We’ll have more to say about 过 coming up in Part 2.

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