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Chinese Standard Usage Notes

Usage issues are quite insidious because there is always this tug-of-war between the shift in daily usage versus what the standard usage dictates. Think "I wish I was/were here" or "Me and my mom/My mom and I went to the market" in English. But as language professionals working with the written words, we translators have the responsibility to exemplify thoughtfulness and mindfulness in our approach. I want to quickly flag some common usage issues I've noticed when proofreading Chinese writing.

那/哪/这 as in 你在哪?我在这。

The standard usage should be 那儿/哪儿/这儿 or 那里/哪里/这里.

E.g. 你在哪儿/哪里?我在这儿/这里。


The standard usage should be 你干吗呢?


The standard usage is 两三个人.

For larger numbers, use Chinese characters instead of Arabic numerals.

E.g. 七八十年前、十七八岁的孩子

The same applies to numbers that include "几 "

E.g. 二十几万的观众、几千个夜晚


This one is a little tricky. I was taught to differentiate 其他 and 其它 when I was in school for people and inanimate objects. But over the last decade, 其它 seems to be on its way out, and 其他 has emerged to be the standard usage for all situations. I wouldn't fault the use of 其它, however, as long as it's reserved for inanimate objects only.

哎 and 唉

哎 is similar to "hey" in English. E.g. 哎,快看那边!哎,你别这样!

唉 is when you are letting out a sigh. E.g. 唉,真可惜啊。

不只 and 不止

The rule of thumb is to use 不只 when it's paired with 还有 or 还能, which is similar to "not only...but also" in English. Otherwise, use 不止, which means more than.

E.g. 我们不只是商业伙伴,还是挚友。我们的关系不止是普通朋友。

Resource recommendations:

新华字典: There's an app available for purchase.

现代汉语词典: App version also available.




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