Chinese: the many ways of expressing similitude

Foreword: if you can’t read Chinese characters yet, make use of the Perapera plugin for Chrome which will give you roll-over definitions and Pinyin for Chinese words. This saves me having to type out lots of Pinyin. It also avoids cluttering up pages even more than they already are. (Perapera doesn’t work with Firefox Quantum, unfortunately, but I’d love to hear what the latest alternative is.)

The most basic pattern of making comparisons in Chinese literally goes “X with Y [degree of similarity]“. A common word for ‘with’ is ‘‘. Here are a bunch of examples to illustrate:

一樣
I am the same as you
[Lit. I with you same]

差不多
I’m about the same as you
[Lit. I with you about-the-same]

差很遠
I’m pretty different to you
[Lit. I with you pretty-different]

不一樣
I’m not the same as you
[Lit. I with you not same]

完全一樣
I’m completely the same as you
[Lit. I with you completely same]

完全不一樣
I’m completely different to you
[Lit. I with you completely not same]

你有點一樣
I’m kind of similar to you
[Lit. I with you have little same]

相似
I’m similar to you
[Lit. I with you similar]

The above sentence patterns are all pretty easy, right? You can replace ‘我‘ or ‘你’ in the above sentences with any other nouns you please. Here are a few examples that you can build off:

一樣
You are the same as me

一樣
You are the same as him/her

不一樣
Pigs and horses are not the same

野狗差不多
Feral dogs and wolves are about the same

Now comes the fun part: you can interchange pretty much every instance of with or . ‘‘ is more characteristic of writing than speech, but it’s still fairly common. Examples:

你一樣 / 我你一樣 / 我你一樣
I am the same as you

他不一樣 / 你他不一樣 / 你他不一樣
You’re not the same as him

You can go through the other examples listed at the start, systematically substituting in or .

[Note: there are differences in collocation for 跟, 和 and 與, but they are relatively minor. You can try Googling different permutations of 跟, 和 and 與 with a noun and 一樣, 不一樣 (or whatever); you’ll see that for nouns like 人, virtually every permutation will register hits.]

Other ways of expressing similitude: [Likeness word][Noun][Demarcator]

Chinese songs make extensive use of similes using verbs other than 跟, 和 and 與. The pattern goes [likeness word][noun][demarcator]. The demarcator tells us we’ve finished our noun phrase.

As we’ll see, there are lots of likeness words and lots of demarcators, and most permutations are acceptable in Chinese. You can leave out either one, too.

[Likeness word][Noun]

A common demarcator is , which demarcates the end of the noun we’re talking about. We can also substitute in lots of other ‘likeness’ words instead of 彷彿 (or none at all); for example:

 像
好像
就像
Like a dog

  
 如
猶如
宛如
Like a pig


Like a horse

彷彿
Like a chicken

As you can see, there are a lot of alternatives. The first three are more likely to be found in speech, whilst the other six are more likely to be found in writing. There are slight nuances in which ‘likeness’ word is appropriate for different situations, but it’s okay to consider them the same to start with. (Hint for more advanced learners: the ‘best’ choice depends on the number of syllables of the surrounding words.)

Note that these are all fragments: although they can theoretically form sub-clauses on their own, it’s more common to include other parts of a sentence with them. For example:

咳嗽
咳嗽
Like a cough

咳嗽的聲音
咳嗽的聲音
A noise like a a cough

發出咳嗽的聲音
發出咳嗽的聲音
Make a noise [that sounds] like a cough

他突然發出咳嗽的聲音
他突然發出咳嗽的聲音
He suddenly makes a noise [that sounds] like a cough

…and so on.

彷彿[Noun][Demarcator]

I’ve arbitrarily picked 彷彿 as our ‘likeness’ word for this section, but you can pick any other one you like from the previous section. (Also, something interesting to note: 彷彿 can also be written as 仿佛 or 髣髴. These three are all pronounced fǎng fú, and are just variant character forms of each other.)

We’ve already seen in the previous section the demarcator that goes at the end of the clause. There are a few others that we can use:

她的頭髮彷彿
她的頭髮彷彿
她的頭髮彷彿一般
她的頭髮彷彿一樣
她的頭髮彷彿似的
Her hair is like snow

Again: it’s okay to assume for now that these demarcators are identical in usage. Anything sentence with 彷彿 is more likely to be written rather than spoken, so don’t get too hung up about which demarcator to use.

Examples from songs

“Waiting for You” by Jay Chou

沒考上一樣的大學
I couldn’t get in to the same university as you

“Beginning of the End” by Mayday

我們彷彿天生在一起
We seemed to be made for each other
[Lit. We seem from-birth at together]

No demarcator here at all!

就像白痴一樣 by Crowd Lu

展開英雄的冒險
Going on a grand adventure
[Lit. Open hero-same adventure]

Here there’s a demarcator but no initial likeness word. You could also identically say:

展開英雄的冒險
展開彷彿英雄的冒險
展開彷彿英雄一般的冒險

…or you could use some of the other alternatives already introduced. The one you pick depends on how you want you line to scan.

“Oh Yeah!!” by Crowd Lu

就像電影明星一樣美麗
As beautiful as a film star

This is a nice example of putting an adjective after 一樣 to make a comparison. More examples:

就像電影明星一樣
As tall as a film star

就像電影明星一樣有錢
As rich as a film star

就像電影明星一樣出名
As famous as a film star

 

This page is a work-in-progress: the goal is to have some grammar pages can be cross-referenced with commonly-recurring patterns that appear in songs. So, this page will be updated from time-to-time. Comments, questions and suggestions are all welcome.


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