The Riches of the Language

Written by Julen Madariaga on December 18th, 2008

Busy week. Yesterday I had to cancel my Chinese lesson in the last minute due to an unexpected request from one of my hardcore Chinese clients. It made me feel miserable, partly because I always feel like a 9-to-5 bitch when I have to break my word for a client. But most importantly, because I know how well my teacher prepares her lesson and how she cares.

To try to make up for it (and to prove that I do study my lessons sometimes) here comes a long overdue post for the Learning Chinese section, dedicated to the most patient of Chinese teachers, FuTing.

Today’s lesson is called: The Riches of the Language.

There are many ways to measure “richness”, and whether one language is richer than other is usually a dumb discussion that I don’t like to enter. However, I can’t help being fascinated by the way some languages seem to have infinite variations and nuances for what in my own tongue is just one word. At the risk of exciting some patriotic readers from all sides: This is the lesson where I discover the amazing richness of the Chinese language.

During our last vocabulary review, I was struck by the number of characters that express different options for taking/carrying things. I asked Fu to help me put them all together, and after a short brainstorming session we came up with the list below.

Here are my 18 20 different ways to carry things in Chinese (and I’m only intermediate level):

  1. 带 - dai4   - to carry in general
  2. 拿 - na2    - to carry in your hand
  3. 抓 - zhua1 - to carry in your hand holding strongly
  4. 夹 - jia1    - to carry between two long things (like chopsticks)
  5. 捏 - nie1   - to carry with finger and thumb (like you carry a bogey)
  6. 挟 - xie2    - to carry under your arm
  7. 牵 - qian1 - to carry sb (holding hands)
  8. 挽 - wan3  - to carry sb around your arm (holding arms)
  9. 攥 - zuan4 - to carry in your hand  tight (like a fly you just caught)
  10. 捧 - peng3 - to carry with both hands facing up (like an idol)
  11. 端 - duan1 - to carry holding it from the sites (like a big plate)
  12. 抱 - bao4  -  to carry something hugging it (like a baby)
  13. 拎 - lin1    -  to carry something that hangs (like a handbag)
  14. 挎 - kua4  -  to carry a bag with a band across your shoulder
  15. 背 - bei1   -  to carry on your back (like a sack of potatoes)
  16. 提 - ti2     -  to carry in your hand with the arm down
  17. 举 - ju3    -  to carry in your hand with the arm up
  18. 抬 - tai2   -  to carry something heavy, usually 2 or more people
  19. 驮 - tuo2   - to carry on a donkey/horse/red-nosed reindeer’s back
  20. 扛- kang2 -  to carry on the shoulder, like the 7 dwarfs carry shovels
  21. 荷 - he4    - to carry on the shoulder or back
  22. 挑 - tiao1 -  to carry using a stick with two baskets hanging from it

This is only single characters, excluding combinations of them and excluding words that don’t bring a difference in meaning, like (握 and 抓). I am sure there are still more ways of carrying, and I would like to add them to my carrying list. I would be grateful for any contribution or correction in the comments.

Non-students of Chinese: now you understand what is taking us so long to learn this language!

NOTE: if you are reading this and you are struggling with the characters like myself, you should absolutely try Skritter, a new software that has been developed to help memorize the characters by having you write them yourself, instead of just looking at them on a flash card. I have been trying it this week, and although it is in beta, it works really well. It is stunning the things some people can do with a computer.

UPDATE!: Come on, we got up to 20 already, thanks to XiaoLu, who has earned thereafter the status of VIP commentator. I am sure there are still lots of “carry” characters left, any suggestions?

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Comments so far ↓

  1. Dec

    That song about the 和尚s 抬ing and 挑ing water finally makes sense!

    This list would be great to put as a themed list in Skritter, eventually. Do you know of other lists like this?

    [Reply to this comment]

  2. Dec

    The idea of theme lists is very good IMO, because you memorize better sets of words when you relate them to each other like this.

    I have loads of lists, but they are all either in my head or in messy pieces of paper that I can track down to my washing machine filter. If I didn’t have a day job I would love to compile them for you! Just some ideas: Insects, Parts of body, Surnames, Swearwords, Illegal Behaviours, Characters with 青,Characters with 贝,etc.

    [Reply to this comment]

  3. Dec

    During my Chinese studies I could never decide whether it was better or worse that there are so many options to say the same thing. On the positive side, it is great to have a very specific word to describe the exact action you are doing; however, on the negative side it is extremely difficult to figure out the nuances as a Chinese student. Keep up the great work!

    [Reply to this comment]

  4. Dec

    Hi Joel, good to see you. I don’t know, I guess those words are not strictly necessary to survive, as you can always just say take/拿. But then, life would be so dull without the unnecessary.

    BTW, I really liked your Alibaba post. I hope next week I have more time for blogging and commenting coz now I’m really stuck with work.

    Chinese readers: no suggestions to carry things?

    [Reply to this comment]

  5. Apr

    The meanings of 握 and 抓 are quite different.握 means to hold with fingers bent and COMBINED when you 抓 something with fingers fully separated.

    Here are some others:
    托:to hold in the palm of the hand
    拈:to hold with two fingers (gently)

    [Reply to this comment]

  6. Apr

    Hi Gudong,

    Thanks a lot. Chinese language will never cease to amaze me.

    I will update the list as soon as I can get back to my normal connection (I am away on holidays these days).

    [Reply to this comment]

  7. May

    荷 he4: carry on shoulder or back

    [Reply to this comment]

  8. May

    揪 jiu1 hold tight (e.g. rope). Btw pinyin would be good for these!

    [Reply to this comment]

  9. May

    担 dan1 carry on a shoulder pole

    By pinyin I meant tones, you’ve got the pinyin already.

    [Reply to this comment]

  10. May

    Hi Ximeng, thanks a lot! It’s been ages I don’t update my little carrying list. I will add the tones as well.

    [Reply to this comment]

  11. May

    Mmh. I have already added the pinyin but now I am hesitating whether to add the new words.

    The reason is that, although your characters are completely valid, their meanings are already covered by characters on the list. The point being that I want to show different characters that show different nuances in one kind of action, rather than characters that are complete synonym but originate for dialectal/historical/other reasons.

    So the question you might be able to answer if you are Chinese is: are your 荷 and 担 any different from 背 and 扛?

    As for 揪, I have the feeling that it doesn’t introduce any new meaning to the other “grasp” verbs, and a quick search on google for “揪着” shows that it is most often used in abstract contexts as in 揪着我的心, which does not really convey the realmeaning of carrying something.

    Please feel free to disagree :)

    [Reply to this comment]

  12. May

    I would also say that one condition for inclusion, although it was not clear in the post, is that it can be used in the typical construction “X +着+Object+走路, for example, so it is purely a word that means carrying. Other words, athough very similar, have more the meaning of “get” or “pick”, such as 捡 or 取。

    I want to stick to characters that can be used to translate the verbs “carry” or “take”.

    [Reply to this comment]

  13. May

    Maybe 掬? Not sure about the differences between the ones you’ve already got.

    [Reply to this comment]

  14. Sep

    兜 to carry as if in a bag, my dictionary has 小姑娘的衣襟里兜着几个苹果

    [Reply to this comment]

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