How much you really know about “上 (up)” and “下 (down)” when you learn Chinese?

Posted by Grace Feng on May 29, 2012

How much you really know about "上 (up)" and "下 (down)" in Chinese?“Up – 上 shàng” and “down – xià” are two very basic frequently used Chinese characters that appear in words, phrases and idioms. If I ask the Chinese learners that just started their learning process and have already learned these two words how difficult it is to learn them, it won’t be surprised to hear that it is actually very simple.

However, with your language study progresses into higher level, you’ll slowly discovered that even if you know these two characters inside out, you still might find yourself in a situation that have no idea about what they really mean.

Today I wanna help you with some of their interesting occurrences and hopefully at the end of the post you’ll be able to boost your vocabulary a little.

The very first smart way of engaging and  shows in Chinese idiom “seven ups eight downs” – 七上八下 qī shàng bā xià, meaning “feeling fidgeting, anxious, nervous “. You can tell your friends about your feelings before your very first interview after graduation this way :

wǒ jǐnzhāng dé xīnli qīshàngbāxià de.

我紧张得心里七上八下的. (I was so nervous that my heart beat went wild. :-) )

Please be aware, 七上八下 qīshàngbāxià can only be used after 心 xīn or 心里 xīnli .

Guess the above idiom is not that hard to digest. Now let’s have a look at a Chinese word that used the same concept to carve out “nervousness “. This time, all you need to think about is just place 上 and 下 on top of “heart – 心” itself. Like this:

tǎn tè

忐忑 ( fidgeting )

It’s almost the same meaning as 七上八下, but can be used directly on people:

wǒ tǎntè dì zuò zàinar.

我忐忑地坐在那儿.  (I was sitting there fidgeting.)

Now you might think, what if you’re stuck and can not either go up or go down, is there any words for that? Yes! 不上不下 bù shàng bùxià! You can tell people that your current position in the company is kind of dangled somewhere in the middle – does not belong to the lower rank staff, nor the upper management:

wǒ xiànzài de zhíwèi shì bù shàng bùxià de.

我现在的职位是不上不下的. (My current position is stuck in the middle. )

Or, simply smashing the two characters together into a new character: 卡 kǎ! It means ” got stuck ” !! :-) Could you get it? Don’t you know that Chinese could be very creative sometimes?

How much you really know about "上 (up)" and "下 (down)" in Chinese?

For example,

tā de shǒu kǎzhù le!

他的手卡住了! (His hand got stuck!)

Now, let me know whether you know any words or idioms that are using 上 or in a fun way…


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9 Responses to “How much you really know about “上 (up)” and “下 (down)” when you learn Chinese?”

  1. nothing


    05-29-2012 4:39 pm

    Hi Grace. Interesting usages of 上 and 下, I wasn’t familiar with any of them.

    A couple of fairly common phrases I know are 比上不足,比下有余 and 上山下乡, the latter of which I always struggle to say as it’s a bit of a tongue-twister!(Chinese = 绕口令).

    Just checking my dictionary it seems there is also 上上下下, (meaning ‘everybody’), but I am not sure how to use it. Can I say: 明天是我生日聚会,我要请上上下下来参加。?



    • nothing


      05-29-2012 5:48 pm


      上上下下指的是: everyone within an organization or company. Here 上 and 下 are referring to employees that are either at higher or lower positions than the speaker, which as a matter of fact refers to the whole company. For your example sentence, if you’re referring to everyone in your friend or relative circle , there’s no difference in position ranks, then it’s not right to use it. If you’re talking to your colleague in the company, and are referring to all people in the company, then yes, you can use it that way. A bit of tweaking is needed though:


      It’s better to add scope “公司” before “上上下下” to give clarity.

      谢谢你的补充,能真正了解”上山下乡”的含义是需要了解中国现代史的。You’re really good at Chinese :-)



  2. nothing


    05-29-2012 9:32 pm

    Thanks ever so much for your explanation Grace, I understand how to use the phrase now.

    Oh, I hope you do not mind if I point out that ‘got stucked’ is not correct English….we always say ‘got stuck’! (as in: “my hand got stuck in the door”, or “I was stuck in the traffic yesterday for over an hour because of a traffic jam”). Hope that helps YOU for a change! :)


    • nothing


      05-30-2012 12:29 am


      This is absolutely 100% welcomed!! One private goal of mine in maintaining this blog is to improve my English for as much as I can. To be honest, I’ve often got stuck in my English writing while writing the lessons and posts. However, the more I practice, the better I get. Your help with my not-so-decent English is much much appreciated! :-)

      I’ll update my post with correction you pointed out after I cleaned up my kitchen tonight. Have a wonderful day, my friend!



  3. nothing


    06-01-2012 5:53 am

    Hey Grace,

    Hey Grace,

    just landed on your blog through Social Mandarin…

    Other common uses of 上/下 I can think on the spot are

    “上班/下班” (going to work/finish to work)

    “桌子上/桌子下” (up the table, under the table)

    p.s. 卡 is one of my favorite characters ; )


    • nothing


      06-01-2012 5:07 pm

      Hi Furio,

      Welcome to my blog. Thanks for your contribution on usage of 上 and 下, “卡” is one of my favorite too. :-)

      I’ve had a browsing on your interesting blog, I could imagine one hour per day is even not easy to stick to if you have a busy schedule. I admire your determination and hope my blog can be of help to your language journey.




  4. nothing


    06-04-2012 1:22 am

    yeah, till now I kept studying Mandarin about an hour per day, let’s hope I will not lose motivation ahah


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