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Explaining Subtle Differences Between Some Common Mandarin Words - Episode 163

163. Explaining Subtle Differences Between Some Common Mandarin Words

Podcast Duration: 00:45:41

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The Mandarin Blueprint Podcast focuses primarily on The Mandarin Blueprint Method online curriculum. Creators Luke Neale & Phil Crimmins answer questions and comments, discuss topics related to China and Mandarin learning, and have special guests.

163. Explaining Subtle Differences Between Some Common Mandarin Words

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1:35 Comments & Emails

Robert on 约 in Context

Can you help by giving an example of the different ways we would use 左右 to mean approximately and 约 to mean approximately? is the first one for positional contexts while the second one is for mathematical contexts? or are they interchangeable when they mean approximately?




[After a numeral] about; or so

bā diǎn zhōng zuǒyòu
around eight o’clock

Shēngāo yī mǐ qī zuǒyòu
be about 1.70 metres in height

1 make an appointment; arrange

Wǒmen yuē hǎo xià Xīngqīyī pèngtóu.
We agreed to meet next Monday.

2 ask or invite in advance

Qǐng yuē tā lái.
Please ask him to come.

3 About; around; approximately

yuē wǔshí rén
about fifty people

4 Pact; agreement; appointment

have a previous engagement


1 generally; briefly

Wǒ dàgài gēn tā shuō le shuō.
I told him briefly.

2 probably; most likely; presumably

Huìyì dàgài yào yánqī.
The meeting will probably be postponed.

3 General idea; broad outline

Wǒ zhǐ zhīdao ge dàgài.
I have only a general idea.


Mirko R on 长得 in Context

Hi Luke and Phil!
I have a question regarding
The good news: I understood what it means after I had read it twice. The bad news: I do not understand why 一个人 comes after the verb 让.
Would it be wrong to say 那怎样可以一个人让长得越来越好看呢?


Makai Allbert on 明天见 in Context

“我们俩约好了明天见。” — What’s the “好” doing in there?


After verbs to indicate finishing or finishing satisfactorily]

Wǒ bǎ tā de bìng zhì hǎo le.
I cured his illness.

Zhè jiàn shì tā zuò bù hǎo.
He can’t do this job well.

坐好吧, 要开会了。
Zuò hǎo ba, yào kāihuì le.
Take your seats, please. The meeting is going to begin.


Makai Allbert on 你喜欢做什么

What is ne (呢) doing in the sentence “我认识好多呢”? As I understood it before, it was implying a rhetorical question, inquisitiveness (for non- yes/no questions), “softening the tone”, or indicating present tense, but this instance doesn’t quite feel like it fits my prior concepts of ne 🙂 Maybe it’s the 4th instance?


1 [at the end of a special, alternative, or rhetorical question]

Nǐ gāngcái dào nǎr qù le ne?
Where were you just now?

你对这件事是赞成呢, 还是反对呢?
Nǐ duì zhè jiàn shì shì zànchéng ne, hái shì fǎnduì ne?
Are you for or against this?

2 [at the end of a declarative sentence to reinforce the assertion]

远得很, 有好几千里地呢。
Yuǎn de hěn, yǒu hǎo jǐqiān lǐ dì ne.
It’s a long way off—thousands of li away.

3 [at the end of a declarative sentence to indicate the continuation of an action or a state]

Tā hái zài shēngqì ne.
He’s still angry.

张先生, 有人找你呢。
Zhāng xiānsheng, yǒurén zhǎo nǐ ne.
Mr Zhang, somebody is looking for you.

4 [used to mark a pause]

不下雨呢, 就去;下雨呢, 就不去。
Bù xià yǔ ne, jiù qù ; xiàyǔ ne, jiù bù qù.
If it doesn’t rain, we’ll go; if it does, we won’t.

如今呢, 可比以往任何时候都要强。
Rújīn ne, kě bǐ yǐwǎng rènhé shíhou dōu yào qiáng.
As for the present, things are far better than at any time in the past.


Kolia on BONUS: “How Does What” – Adverbs of Degree

I learnt “You know nothing, Jon Snow” as “你什么都不知道, Jon Snow” , seems like a variation of sentence 8 =)


Elizabeth Mmemo on Pinyin Part 2: It Wasn’t Made for Us

Hi Luke. I’m very eager to learn. You really motivate me. Elizabeth Mmemo from Southern Africa, Botswana.


Brian O’Connor on Word Structure Part 8 of 8 – Affixes 附加式

Whew! I imagine this will be a very useful resource in the future, but at this stage, it’s overwhelming, and just too much too fast to absorb in one sitting. I’m looking forward, though, to the day when I go back over this and it illuminates all that I’ve learned so far.


Joe Tamz on Level 19 Complete

Out of all the videos at this stage, I find the level review videos the most helpful and motivating.


Joel Silas on Unit 9 Unit Wrap-Up

I usually have trouble keeping up with new hobbies but I’m very happy to say that I have completed the entire Pronunciation Mastery Course. It took me 3 weeks with 1-2 hours per day for lessons + Flashcards. What kept me going was a constant sense of progress and excitement for what I can learn next. Looking forward to learning Characters and Components. Thank you so much for this course! P.S. Shoutout to Anny for her reviews after each small section are awesome!


Anne Giles ? on Vocab Unlocked from 懂: 听得懂 – 听不懂

I hear you and trust that I will learn the difference between words and ideas in English and Chinese when I have more context! Electronic context is useful, but it’s a one-way monologue. Social distancing and travel limits still have me hearing nearly zero real-time Mandarin Chinese and having nearly zero opportunities to interact and test my hypotheses about what word goes where when people are truly trying to understand each other.

So, I did go on a search to find the difference between 懂 dǒng and 明白 míngbái.

Here’s an excerpt from an essay I found by Chia-Chia Lin in The Paris Review:

In Mandarin Chinese, the commonly used terms dong (懂), mingbai (明白), liaojie (了解), and lijie (理解) can all be translated to the English “understand,” though which term you use is related to tone, context, familiarity, and abstractness. The breakdown of the terms can be illuminating. For example, mingbai is composed of the words ming, “bright” or “clear,” and bai, “white,” and conjures a sense of clarity. The written character for dong contains the radical, or written component, that means “heart”—often found in words that deal with feelings and thoughts. Lijie and liaojie both contain the word jie, “untie.” And the written character for jie (解) unfolds further. If you start at the upper right and work clockwise, you can identify the pictographs 刀 (knife), 牛 (ox), and 角 (horn); the word is said to have originated from “cut off the ox’s horn”—to dissect or open up.


Thanks to MB members, I used this link:


to find that 解 jiě is covered in Level 29. I looked ahead and see 了解 liǎojiě is mentioned here:


Online, I found lots of other efforts to explain the differences, none very clear 明 or helpful.


Care to explain the difference? Or does knowing the difference between them matter much?

Thanks for considering!


Nǐ zhīdao sān lù chē de lùxiàn ma?
Do you know the route of the No. 3 bus?

老师又解释了一遍, 我才明白了。
Lǎoshī yòu jiěshì yí biàn, wǒ cái míngbai le.
I only understood after the teacher explained it again.

Xuéxí zhǐ piānzhòng jìyì ér hūshì lǐjiě shì bùxíng de.
In study, memorization should not be stressed at the expense of comprehension.

Zhè yīháng tā hěn dǒng.
He is an expert in this realm.

我和他是老朋友, 我很了解他。
Wǒ hé tā shì lǎo péngyou, wǒ hěn liǎojiě tā.
He and I are old friends. I know him very well.

liǎojiě guónèiwài kējì fāzhǎn zhuàngkuàng
Keep abreast of current developments in science and technology at home and abroad


Andrew Hopkins on 香 in Context

This word always reminds me of 香港 (Xiānggǎng) the ‘Fragrant Harbour’ or as we commonly know it in the West, Hong Kong. Whenever we enter a Chinese friends house (which will inevitably involve the cooking of food of some sort going on in the background) I always hear the phrase, 好香 (Hǎo xiāng) repeated again and again. So this word, especially with its links to gorgeous smelling food for me is always positive.

40:58 Vocab Living Links

This section covers “Living Link” mnemonic techniques to remember Chinese words of two or more characters. Here’s a video explaining the theory behind it.

jay a on Vocab Unlocked from 能: 能力 – 可能

Blackadder: “I have a cunning (kěnéng) plan!” And MAYBE this one will actually work.


Thomas Brand on Vocab Unlocked from 需: 需要

For the image: one of those old “Your country needs you” posters

with Lord Kitchener / Uncle Sam pointing a finger at the viewer

9 November, 2021