The Power of Chinese Characters - 体 tǐ

体- tǐ- body, system, form, state

I like the character 体 right off the bat, because its visual meaning is very clear. The left side of the character 亻has the meaning of “person”, and the right side is the character we talked about in a previous article 本 that means “origin” or “basis”. So the “base” for a “human” is their body. Quite right.

It can also relate to systems, but first let’s see how it can be used both literally and metaphorically.

身体 (shēn)

By far the most literal use of 体, as the previous character 身 also means body, so you guessed it, this word simply means body. They also will use 身体 to mean one’s health, which makes sense because if your body is not doing well, your health isn’t either. 

体验 (yàn)

体验 is an interesting word because it is essentially saying “with your body 体 gains experience 验” e.g. “I 体验’d skydiving the other day!” Its effectively saying that you did something “in person” and took away from it something that you’ll carry with you through life. 


个体 (gè)

个 is often known as being the universal “measure word” in Chinese, but in this case it contains its original meaning of “individual”, so when you add body (体) after it, the meaning of the whole word is also individual. It is used in the context of comparing the individual to the whole, whether it be a person in relation to society or a singular brick in a wall.

主体 (zhǔ)  

主 means “main” or “master”, but in this case the word 主体 could be translated as “main-body” or “main-part”, so it can be applied to almost anything that has a number of sections or parts, but one in particular is the “main part”. For example, Disney World has many different sections, but many would consider Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom to be the 主体 of the theme park (don’t ask me how I know that…).

体力 (lì)

体内 (nèi)


体力 and 体内 both are quite easy to understand. 体力 is directly translated as “body power”, so it gets more accurately translated as physical strength

For things that occur “inside” (内) the body, 体内 is the way to describe where they are happening, so if you are having a discussion with your doctor about pain you are having, you might say that the pain is inside your body.

媒体 (méi)

群体 (qún)

The term “Body” is describing a system or organization of physical objects and/or processes. Therefore 体 can sometimes take on the meaning closer to “system, which is evident in the word 媒体. 媒 means “intermediary” or “go-between”, so its cool to conceptualize the media as being the “go-between system” for things that happen in the world and the population. 

The second word 群体 could be thought of as “group-system” when it is translated as colony. If you imagine an ant colony, it could well be understood that what you are observing is the naturally occurring system of this larger group.

气体 (qì)

液体 (yè)

固体 (gù)

字体 (zì)

具体 (jù)

The final words here use the definition of 体 that is “state” or “form”. The first three are the meanings of gas 气体, liquid 液体 and solid 固体. 气,液 and 固 mean gas, liquid and solid respectively, and by adding 体 after it, you are emphasizing that what you are referring to is the “state” they are in. 

字体 means font, aka the “letter-form” you use when typing. 


The final word 具体 is cool to think about. 具 means “tool”, so what does “tool-form” mean? Well, interestingly enough it translates as specific. At first glance that may not make much sense, but if you think about the main difference between things that are general vs. specific, it is specific information helps you take action, just like a tool. If you imagine someone ordering you to “Cut down that tree!”, well that’s a bit general, you may not know where to start. However, if the same person said “Take this saw and starting sawing at this specific point”, we can conceptualize that this specific information acts as a tool to action.

体 is very dynamic, and we hope that the 体验 of reading this article has helped you understand more clearly some of the 具体 ways you can use it.

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