19 Mar 2015

东(dong) 西(xi) is not only东(dong) 西(xi)

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Have you ever used a word in the wrong matter in Chinese? As a Chinese teacher I see that Chinese learners tend to do this all the time. For example, one day one of my students, Cherry said to her Chinese friend, “我不是东西(wǒ bú shì dōng xi) , 我是人(wǒ shì rén) 。 所以我会难受(suǒ yǐ wǒ huì nán shòu) 。”. Her Chinese friend told her that she should never say “我不是东西(wǒ bú shì dōng xi) 。” to anybody. She felt so confused and asked me “Why?”. I explained the usage of 东(dōnɡ) 西(xi) like this:

1. 东西(dōnɡ xi) means things which refer to the objects, like table, food, sky, etc.

A: Zhè shì shén me (dōnɡ xi )?

这  是  什   么    (东   西 )? (What is this? We always omit dong xi)

B: Zhè shì yí ɡè pínɡ ɡuǒ 。

这  是  一 个 苹   果  。 (This is an apple.)

A:  Nǐ de shǒu lǐ shì shén me (dōnɡ xi )?

你 的 手   里 是  什   么 (东   西) ? (What is it in your hand?)

B:  Wǒ de shǒu lǐ shì yí ɡè jī dàn 。

我 的   手   里 是  一 个 鸡 蛋  。(It is an egg in my hand.)

2. Somebody + 不(bú) 是(shì) 东(dōnɡ) 西(xi) is used to curse someone or swear at someone.

Nà ɡè rén bú shì dōnɡ xi ,tā zǒnɡ bèi hòu shuō rén huài huà 。

那 个 人  不 是  东   西 , 他 总   背  后  说   人  坏   话  。

(That person is not a good guy, he always backbites others.)

3. Directionally, we can use east东 (dōng) and 西(xī) west. But we also use these two directions together to refer to all directions, 东西(dōng xī).

A:  Zài dà chénɡ shì lǐ , wǒ hěn rónɡ yì mí lù , yīn wèi wǒ fēn

bù qīnɡ dōnɡ xī 。

在  大 城    市  里 ,  我 很  容   易 迷 路 ,   因  为  我   分

不 清   东   西 。 (I always get lost in the big cities as I cannot tell the directions)

B:   Bié dān xīn , nǐ kě yǐ  kàn dì tú 。

别  担  心  , 你 可 以  看  地 图 。(Don’t worry, you can read the map.)

Cherry has a better understanding for东(dōnɡ) 西(xi) now, and I believe she will never make mistakes with this interesting word. I hope you have learned the difference too. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes because you will only learn from them. Just be aware that you may need to ask your Chinese teacher or friends about the mistakes.