This character is incredibly dynamic, but that makes it all the more fun to explore the many ways in which it can be used. By the way, it can also mean “noodles”, however for this article we’ll be focusing on its other meanings. First we’ll take a look at its meaning of “surface”:
All of these words simply refer to the surface of the character before it (with the exception of 平面). 桌 means table, so 桌面 is the surface of the table. 页 means page (as in a page of a book), so the surface of the page is the 页面. 路 is the word for road or path, so if you wanted to refer to the road’s surface you would say 路面. Perhaps you are throwing some rocks into a pong and watching the surface of the water (水面) react to the skipping pebbles. 平面 means “even or flat + surface”, so it is merely referring to a flat surface.
The second meaning of 面 is an area in space. It doesn’t have to be very specific, just a general term for the “area” being described, and its made clearer by whatever character comes before it:
上面 (shàng)– The area above (上)
下面 (xià)– The area below (下)
前面 (qián)– The area in front (前)
后面 (hòu)– The area behind (后)
对面 (duì)– The area opposite (对)
侧面 (cè)– The area on the side (侧)
里面 (lǐ)– The area on the inside (里)
外面 (wài)– The area on the outside (外)
A third meaning of 面 is someone’s face. It is usually used to refer to your face in relation to something else. If you wanted to talk about some detail related to your actual bodily face, you’d use the word 脸 liǎn. Also, 面 having the meaning of “face” can also refer to the common cultural concept of “having or losing face”, in which case they will use the word 面子 (zi5). Here are some other examples.
见面 (jiàn)– to see (见) face-to-face
面前 (qián)– the things in front of your face
面对 (duì) – the things you are facing. 对 in this context means “towards”, so “face-towards”. It is usually used metaphorically, as in “I’m facing many challenges”
面具 (jù) – literally “face-tool”, or mask
当面 (dāng) – to someone’s face, used to say something like “He lied right to my face!” 当 can have a mean of “just at (a time of place)”, so “just at face” would be a literal translation for this one.
面试 (shì) – 试 means to “try”, so its not to big of a stretch to understand why 面试 “face try” means “interview”, like a job interview.
The final usage of 面 refers to the “aspect” of “respect” of some situation. Similarly to how you would say “I agree in some respect, but not in another”. Here are several examples:
方面 (fāng)– the general term for aspect or respect. In this context 方 simply means “side or aspect”, so this is a Juxtaposed word structure where both characters have the same meaning.
正面 (zhèng)– We’ve talked about this word in our article about 正 (check it out here), so we know that it means “upright, correct or honest”, so the translation of 正面 (upright aspect) to mean positive makes a lot of sense.
负面 (fù)– The opposite of 正面, 负面 means negative, which isn’t surprising when you consider that one of the meanings of 负 is “to suffer”, so the “suffering-aspect” is certainly negative.
反面 (fǎn)– 反 means “opposite” or “opposing”, so the 反面 can literally mean the opposite side of an object, and it can also mean the opposing side or viewpoint.
全面 (quán)– What if you are trying to get across the idea that all sides are being represented? Just add 全 in front of 面 and its quite clear, as 全 mean “complete” or “entire”.
This character is so dynamic that its impossible for us to give you a 全面 explanation, however you should feel quite 正面 about the prospects of learning Chinese when you take each 方面 character-by-character!