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© 2001 – 2004 Patrick Hassel Zein

This page was last updated 07.10.2004

Chinese Idioms

(and Classical Chinese)

The English language contains many common quotes, sayings, aphorisms and other idiomatic expressions of different sorts. In the Chinese language such expressions are referred to as "chengyu", i.e. "ready phrases". These chengyu are often written with classical Chinese grammar and usually consist of four characters.

It's one thing to learn to understand such expressions in Chinese text, but a completely different thing to actively use them in your own phrases. If you don't have complete control of a vast number of Chinese idioms, it can be difficult to spontaneously find suitable expressions for different occasions. To solve this "problem", I've started constructing a digital dictionary at babylon.com (as a part of my way of obtaining a masters degree in Chinese).

I've made it possible to search idiomatic expressions in Chinese simply by specifying a subject, keyword or feeling in English – or entire idioms in Chinese. You can also search by Chinese syllables/characters according to Mandarin Pinyin-transliteration such as "chu1", "yang2", "hu3", "xiao3" or "da4".

As a result, you will find phrases that in some way match the words you enter. You will get Chinese phrases listed in simplified Chinese, pronunciation according to Mandarin Pinyin and explanations in plain English. There are no explainations of the historics or stories behind each expression, since that would call for a lot more work, and the result wouldn't bee as easy to scan through as it is now.

To give you a better idea of the functionality, I may show what you might get when looking for the word "tiger":

Click here to read more information!

I hope you will be able to enjoy the possibilities this dictionary has to offer. You can install the system from babylon.com and download the latest version of my dictionary – currently covering 500 expressions!

My Research on Idiomatic Expressions in Chinese

Idiomatic Expressions in Chinese

After having gotten started with my research, I decided to translate it to English in order to make it available to more readers. I also decided to publish my ongoing work on the Net (as I did with my B.A.). Now that my work is finished, I've decided only to publish an excerpt from it.

The following information is currently available to be read directly or to be downloaded:

Description Format Uppdated
Excerpt from the thesis "Idiomatic Expressions in Chinese" (the final edition covers 64 pages and contains more than 20,000 words). Web-page on 100 kbyte 05.10.2004
Addendum A - Historic Sources (only one old page - the final edition covers 9 pages). 38 kbytes gif-picture 28.06.2002
Addendum B - List of Idiomatic Expressions (only one old page - the final edition covers 21 pages). 42 kbytes gif-picture 28.06.2002
Addendum C - Search Chengyu by English Keywords (only one old page - the final edition covers 85 pages). 41 kbytes gif-picture 28.06.2002
Addendum D - Search Chengyu by Chinese Characters (only one old page - the final edition covers 48 pages). 41 kbytes gif-picture 28.06.2002
Extra addenda: Character frequencies from Chih-hao Tsai's and Jun Da's web-pages. 396 kbytes zip-file 31.03.2002