The Power of Chinese Characters - 全 quán

全 quán- complete, whole, entire

We like to use Mnemonics to remember characters, and while visualisation doesn’t always relate to the original etymology of any given Hanzi, it is often the fastest way to bring it from “random assortment of Chinese squiggles” to “I know what this means”. 

If we break down 全 into its two main components, you’ll notice we have a person (人) on top and a king (王) below. However, we noticed long ago that when “人” gets placed above other components, it looks much like an umbrella (e.g. 全 伞个 会 合 今 仑 命 金 令 介 众 企 食 余 etc). 全 is an umbrella over a king you say? Well, I’m sure the king would like that umbrella to cover his entire kingdom if there were flood rains coming! Visualizing an umbrella literally growing in size to cover the whole kingdom will really help understand the meaning of 全 as “whole” or “entire” or “complete”.

Let’s look at how 全 is used in several words, and you’ll really be able to master this one:

完全 (wán)- completely, entirely

完 means “to finish” or “to complete”, 全 means “complete” as in “something that is complete”, so combine the verb and the adjective in a juxtaposed compound word structure and voila! You get the adverb completely, as in “completely finish reading this article and you’ll know loads about 全”. 

安全 (ān)- safety, to be safe

I have probably heard this word on recorded public transportation messages more than any other. How would you really define “safe” anyway? Well, if your sense of peace (安) is complete (全), then you are in a situation of safety.

These three words all are a biased compound word structure, which is to say that the second character is the more important of the two, and the first character simply describes the second. 部 means part or section, so if you were describe the entirety of sections with 全部, that’s another way of saying the total, or all of the sections. 面 is a character with many meanings, but in this context it means “aspect” or “respect”. It would be quite comprehensive (全面) if you were able to see the whole (全) picture of every aspect (面) of something. As we all know, the Earth is ball shaped (球), and so if you want to refer to something as being global, you need to make sure you are referring to the whole ball (全球). 

全力 (lì) 全身 (shēn) 全然 (rán)

These three words all related to the entirety of something, whether physical or abstract. If you use the entirety (全) of your power (力) then you have gone all-out and spared no effort (全力). Ever been shivering all over your body? Well, that’s your entire (全) body (身) that’s shivering isn’t it? The final word is pretty cool, because it includes the character 然. My favorite professor at Sichuan University always said that you could think of 然 as being the same as 样子 yàngzi, the Chinese were for “appearance”. While you won’t see this definition in Pleco, it is quite applicable to many of the words that contain it. In this case, 全然 is an adverb that means completely or entirely, which could also be thought of as a situation’s complete appearance. What makes it different from 完全 mentioned above is that 全然 is only used in the negative. “You 全然 don’t give any thought to 安全!”

While it would be too long to do a 全面 discussion of 全,we hope today will inspire you to use your 全力 to keep learning Chinese character-by-character instead of word-by-word.

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