Lesson 8 How to use adjectives in Chinese (1)

Posted by Grace Feng on January 4, 2012

Adjectives are words that used to describe the person or thing following them. Positioning adjectives in a sentence is no difference in English and Chinese.

However, there are some interesting facts about Chinese adjectives that you really need to know. Once you get a hang of it, your expression will become more charming.

First of all, let’s meet some new single-character words that are frequently used as adjectives:

  xiǎo   kuài
大 (big) 小 (small) 快 (fast)
màn  cháng  duǎn
 慢 (slow)  长 (long)  短 (short)
 yuǎn  jìn  yě
 远 (far)  近 (close)   也 (also)

And some other new words as well:

shǒu piào liang měi lì
手 ( hand) 漂亮 (pretty)  美丽 ( beauty)
 jǔ qǐ  yī shuāng  bǐ
 举起 (raise)  一双 (a pair of)  比 (than)
 líng qiǎo
灵巧 (nimble)


Please use estroke tool to practice the writing of each character. Once you’re ready, move on:

  • You can copy and paste a few characters together into the box. They’ll show in the animation window one by one.
  • Once the stroke animation stops, click in the animation window and hit ENTER to replay it.
  • You can use the sliding bar to control writing speed of the animation.


If you place a single-character word before a noun, they are adjective in their own. The word they form is an “adjective + noun” type of word. Such as, “小手(xiǎo shǒu)” – small hand.

You can also add the character “的” after a single-character word to be used as adjective. Such as “小的手(xiǎode shǒu)” – small hand.

You can also double the single-character word, and then add “的” after it to emphasize on the feature that the character describes. Such as “小小的手(xiǎoxiǎo de shǒu)” – very small hand (implying it’s cute and lovely).

Wondering about two-character word?  For two-character word, the usage is the same as single-character word. The only difference is when you double them, you need to double each character individually, not together. For example, 漂亮 – pretty, you can say “漂亮女孩”, “漂亮的女孩(piàoliang de nǚhái)” or  “漂漂亮亮的女孩(piāo piàoliang liàng de nǚhái)”. But not “漂亮漂亮的女孩”, got it?

Let’s put all three situations in one context. You’ll get the picture quickly I hope:

bàba yǒu yī shuāng dà shǒu, dìdi yǒu yī shuāng xiǎo shǒu. dìdi jǔqǐ tā xiǎoxiǎo de shǒu duì wǒ shuō:” xiǎode shǒu bǐ dà de shǒu língqiǎo.”

爸爸有一双大手, 弟弟有一双小手.  弟弟举起他小小的手对我说:” 小的手大的手灵巧.”

Dad has a pair of big hands, brother has a pair of small hands. My brother raised his cute little hand and said to me:”Small hand is nimbler than big hand.”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Another one:

xiǎo lì shì yī gè piāo piàoliang liàng de nǚhái. tā de mèimei yě shì yī gè piàoliang nǚhái. tā de māma yě hěn piàoliang.

小丽是一个漂漂亮亮的女孩. 她的妹妹也是一个漂亮女孩. 她的妈妈也很漂亮.

Xiao Li is a very pretty girl. Her sister is also a pretty girl. Her Mom is also very pretty.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Remember, 小, 小的, and 小小的 don’t necessarily compare to each other. They are used individually, never try to use them as small, smaller, smallest. They are not equivalent as comparison of adjectives in English. I’ll talk about comparison in another post.

Now, let’s look back at the single-character word that is used as adjective. Aside from the usage I talked about above, each one of them can combine with other characters into a compound word as well. One skill you’ll gain in time is to be able to tell whether it’s an “adjective + noun” or a compound word that is used as a noun. Do you understand what I’m saying?

No, you don’t. (Even if you nod. :-))

OK, let’s look at an example first:

If a single-character word “美” is placed before “女”, the word they build is an “adjective + noun” type:

měi nǚ

美女 (beautiful woman)

How about “美丽(měi lì)”? “丽” means “pretty” in its own. If you use “adjective + noun” type to translate it, it’ll become:

“beautiful pretty”?!

No, actually it’s a compound word. It means “beauty”.

With the growth of your vocabulary and more practice of reading and listening, your feel for Chinese language will get better. By that time, you’ll feel easier and easier to identify “adjective + noun” type of words from compound words from the context.

In next lesson, I’ll give you more examples about Chinese adjectives.

Have you had a wonderful holiday?

I had. Hope you did too. If you haven’t gone through my first Reading, Listening & Speaking practice yet, I’d suggest you to go over that post whenever you got a chance.

Let’s meet again soon!



Related posts:

Lesson 14 How to count things in Chinese
Lesson 18 How to structure “however” and “but” sentence in Chinese
Reading, Listening and Speaking practice 19


Category: JLC Chinese grammar lessons

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4 Responses to “Lesson 8 How to use adjectives in Chinese (1)”

  1. nothing

    Torri Zellous:

    02-04-2012 10:16 pm

    Thankyou for helping out, excellent info .


  2. nothing

    Chhaum Kroem:

    01-11-2017 8:09 am

    So good, about this website Just Learn Chinese Online Free.
    Thank you so much.


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