When to use 子?

August 06, 2009, 04:56 PM posted in General Discussion

I've read from various places that it's used to sort of "finalise" words but I'm still unsure as to when you would use it. Is it only used after nouns or does it have other uses? It is a particle (ie: does it only go at the end of the sentence?)

Thanks from a Newbie! ^.^

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August 06, 2009, 09:32 PM

There is no rule here. Its just part of the word. Zhuozi (desk) has it, so does yizi (chair), but shui (water) doesn't.  There is no magic formula - just learn all new vocabulary as it comes. And yes, it only appears in nouns. No, it is not a particle. And by the way, although some particles only go at the end of a sentence, many don't have that restriction.

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August 06, 2009, 09:59 PM

Okay, thank you ^.^ I was just wondering because I looked up in my dictionary the word for skirt and it gave me both 裙子 (qúnzi) and 裙 (qún). So which one would be more correct in this situation? Is there a general rule of thumb here or is it a sort of do-what-you-fancy kinda of thing...? :/ 

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August 06, 2009, 10:24 PM

Qún may occasionally be used by itself if the context is absolutely clear. This may also happen in written language, because it is absolutely clear then which qún is meant. The reason qúnzi is usually used is that there is more than one character that is pronounced qún, but none of the others are followed by zi.

To give you some statistics, there are about 50000 Chinese characters, about 8000 of which are used today. However there are only about 1300 different ways of pronouncing a syllable, even after allowing for tones. So you can see the confusion that would arise if every word consisted of one character.

That is why two or more characters are often combined to form words in modern Mandarin. Each character in the word might be ambiguous when spoken, but the combined word is unique. In many of those words, it is obvious how the meanings of the 2 characters combine to give the new meaning. In others, seeing the link is a real stretch at best - you just remember the word, and don't try to understand its composition.  Zi is one of two common generic suffixes - it has a meaning by itself, but that meaning is not carried into these words.

The main reason  qún  is given the same definition as qúnzi in the dictionary is that it carries this meaning into yet other combination words, eg. chènqún (petticoat), or wéiqún (apron). The zi suffix usually doesn't change the meaning of the base word, but it is generally needed in spoken Mandarin.


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August 06, 2009, 10:51 PM

doodlemonster, this is my non-authoritative understanding:

裙 (qún) is generic, (the concept of) skirts.
裙子 (qúnzi) is actual, a material skirt.

子 denotes that the object or thing is very close and familiar to people, part of actual everyday life. In a way it almost personifies the object. Scissors is 剪刀 jian3dao1 but in everyday life you would call them 剪子 jian3zi for instance.  Notebook is 笔记本bi3ji4ben3 but you'd refer to one of yours in everyday speech as your 本子 ben3zi影片ying3pian4 is one of the ways to refer to a movie, but people often informally talk of that latest 片子 pian1zi they haven't yet seen.

Other indispensables people can't not refer to all the time are 筷子 kuai4zi (chopsticks) and 房子 fang2zi (one's house). 

I'm sure there are other aspects of the use of 子, but would like to leave those to more knowledgeable people to explain.

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August 06, 2009, 10:55 PM

Hi doodlemonster

Is it only used after nouns or does it have other uses?

"子" is used after adjectives and verbs too, for example

胖子 fat (adjective) + 子 = a fatty
傻子 foolish (adjective) + 子 = an idiot
剪子 cut (verb) + 子 = sciccors
骗子 swindle (verb) + 子 = a swindler

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August 06, 2009, 11:57 PM

Changye, so in those examples you gave, the 子 is making nouns of those adjectives and verbs: "one who is ~", "one who does ~".

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August 07, 2009, 12:53 AM

Hi zhenlijiang

Yes, the suffix "子" can make verbs/adjectives change into nouns (substantivation, nominalization). As you explained above, making something abstract/generic/formal change into something concrete/specific/casual should be an important function of this suffix.

P/S. I should have shown the examples this way.

胖子 a fatty = fat (adjective) + 子
傻子 an idiot = foolish (adjective) + 子
剪子 sciccors = cut (verb) + 子
骗子 a swindler = swindle (verb) + 子

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August 07, 2009, 03:47 AM

Your explanation is awesome! 子 can be used afer nouns,adjectives and verbs!

裙子 would be more correct. 裙 should be used like 连衣裙 liányīqún 短裙 duǎnqún.



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August 07, 2009, 04:07 AM

You should say:

你想买 裙子 还是 裤子?
nǐ xiǎng mǎi qúnzi háishi kùzi?

not 你想买 裙 还是 裤?