Lesson 19: Chinese Idioms

Hey everyone, it's been a while since I posted a new Chinese lesson, so today that is exactly what I'm doing! Today we will be learning about one of the most difficult parts of the Chinese language: 成語(pronounced chen yu), or idioms. It can be very challenging to learn a foreign language, even just literal every day language, but idioms will pose a serious challenge. There are still tons that I don't know! And the meaning is not always clear. Basically, they're often something older people will say to us youngsters (I'm 30, that's still youngish, right?) to sound wise and experienced in the ways of the world. While you don't really need to learn any idioms to be able to communicate and get around in Taiwan, they will add a lot of credibility to your Chinese, and they're fun too! So let's learn some, shall we? Here are some of my favorites:

感激不盡 gǎnjībùjìn-

This means "I can't thank you enough", and it's to be used in a situation where saying 謝謝 just doesn't cut it, like if someone were to save your life.


吹毛求疵 chuī máo qiú cī-

This mean "nitpick", and is useful for when your wife or girlfriend is laying into your every action/word. Next time, tell them 不要吹毛求疵 (don't nitpick). And then you might want to run!


隨心所欲 suí xīn suǒ yù-

This means "do as you please", so if someone is retired, they can go ahead and 隨心所欲.


船到橋頭自然直 chuán dào qiáo tóu zì rán zhí-

This basically means "just go with the flow", when a ship comes into dock, it doesn't fight the waters, and you can't control everything on your own life. You'd go crazy if you tried!


青紅皂白 qīng-hóng-zào-bái-

This is used to mean " black and white", or "right and wrong", so if we are discussing someone that has done something wrong, like a politician, a celebrity or a friend, I may say "他不分青紅皂白".


馬馬虎虎 mǎmǎhūhū-

This literally means "horse horse tiger tiger", which of course makes no sense in English! The idiom is used to mean "so-so". If I see a moviend my friends ask me how it is, I may reply 馬馬虎虎 if I didn't think it was that good.


津津有味 jīnjīn yǒu wèi-

This can mean to "relish" something. For example, 他們吃得津津有味 means that they greatly relished their meal. 


知己知彼,百戰百勝 zhījǐzhībǐ, bǎizhàn-bǎishèng-

This is probably the most famous Chinese idiom in the West, as we see the reference in a lot of literature and movies. "Know yourself, know your enemy, fight a hundred battles, win a hundred victories" is pretty self explanatory, so I won't go into depth on the meaning. It's a quote from Sunzi's "The Art of War", for those of you that may not have heard it before.


百看不厭 bǎi kàn bù yàn-

This literally means that If you see something one hundred times, you won't hate it. Or "you won't get sick of it". This is good phrase for talking about your favorite movie.

For example, 那一部電影百看不厭.


羊入虎口 yángrùhǔkǒu-

This means "a lamb enters a tigers mouth", which is used to mean that you(the lamb) are treading dangerous grounds(the tiger's mouth).


As you can see, some of these idioms are easier to understand than others, but most of their meanings are not readily apparent. That is why Chinese is so challenging, and such a fun language to learn! What is your favorite idiom from our list! Let us know!