Are you interested in knowing the secret tips and tricks to acing the N Level Chinese Composition examination? If you are, read on! Chinese idioms, or also known as ChengYu 成语are chinese character idiomatic expressions that is intended to express a particular meaning. Chinese idioms typically consist of 4 characters and are usually derived from stories originating from China. The ability to use such idiomatic expressions in writing, reading, and speaking is a testament of high Chinese calibre and usually gains the respect of many local Chinese. Possessing knowledge of a wide array of Chinese idioms will give you the edge and advantage be it in areas of education or business with Chinese companies. It is also good to be aware of more idioms so that you don’t repeat the common idiomatic phrases that have probably been reused a million times! Contrary to popular beliefs, mastering Chinese Idioms is definitely possible. The tip is to read up on how the idiom came so as to be aware of the background context and review it daily.
Listed below are some of the best chinese idioms to use in examinations as well as day to day conversations!
The meaning of this idiomatic expression is to be meticulous and to attend to every detail. This phrase is particularly useful when you want to paint the character in your composition as a highly detailed oriented person. It is a sweet and concise way to describe such a person. A literal translation is: “一丝” referring to a little bit and “不苟”referring to not careless at all. Thus, explaining its meaning.
2. 一窍不通 (yīqiàobùtōng)
Another interesting and useful idiom which you can use. This idiom essentially means that the person is completely unaware and ignorant about something. 一窍不通 (yīqiàobùtōng) literal meaning is “passing not even one hole” (as “一窍” translates to one hole/opening and “不通” is blocked/impassable). It is also somewhat like the English expression of “It’s Greek to me”. Students can use this phrase in their Chinese composition when they want to describe characters not understanding how to use computers or just being unable to make any sense of the current situation.
3.哪壶不开提哪壶 (nǎ hú bù kāi tí nǎ hú)
This idiomatic expression is an uncommon one and probably a good one to impress the examiner. This idiom means to touch a soft spot in someone. It can be used when someone said or did something which caused others to suddenly remember an unfortunate past or something unpleasant. It’s literal translation to English is “to pick a kettle that is not boiling”.
4.民以食为天 (mín yǐ shí wéi tiān)
This is also yet another idiomatic expression that does not follow the typical 4 characters idiom. This is a great and refreshing idiom for students to use in their composition relating to food, health and fitness! Since Singapore is a food haven, it is highly appropriate to use it to discuss the importance of food in this little red dot. The literal translation of this idiomatic expression is that people view food as their heaven, this highlighting that people place a high priority on food.
This Chinese idiomatic expression suggests that the person which we are referring to is outstanding and excels in whatever he/she is doing. It is useful for students as they can use this idiom to describe a person who is talented in a certain skill. The literal meaning of this meaning in English is translated to this “ A crane standing in a flock of chicken”, thus implying that the person is a high achiever and stands out from the rest.
6. 豁然开朗 (huò rán kāi lǎng)
This idiom is used to describe the eureka moment that you have. It means that the person has gained enlightenment to a difficult problem or situation, and he/she suddenly saw the light. It is really helpful when you want to express that the character suddenly thought of a great brilliant idea, this idiom is not commonly used amongst students and hence using this would be perfect to stand out and impress your examiner!
7. 爱不释手 (àibùshìshǒu)
This is a rather common idiom which students use, so it is best to know it! This means to love something so much that you are unwilling to let go of it. That is the literal translated meaning as “释手” essentially means to let go, hence the idiom when translated means unwilling to part with the object. This idiom can be used when you would like to describe a child in the toy store being unwilling to put down the toy he saw. It is a good idiom to use, so make sure you master it well!
8. 不可兼得 (bù kě jiān dé)
This idiom means that one cannot get both things at the same time, or rather you cannot have the best of both worlds. It came from a longer chinese idiom “鱼与熊掌不可兼得”, meaning the fish and bear’s paw, you are not able to always get everything you want.
This chinese idiom was derived from the ancient Chinese story of when an old man lost his horse and yet it brought about good things when the horse came back with another fine horse, giving them good fortune. However, this idiom also depicts that happiness may also bring about misfortune, thus it is a dual meaning proverb. Essentially, it implies that setbacks are oftentimes a blessing in disguise and not all happiness is long lasting, as it can slowly turn to misfortune. Therefore, it is useful for students to use this to depict events where a misfortune actually has a silver lining!
10. 心血来潮 (xīn xuè lái cháo)
This idiom is suitable to be used in the beginning of the sentence to signal an impulse or doing certain things on a whim. This phrase is directly translated to “heart blood which comes suddenly” in English. It is used to describe the feeling of desiring to do something on an impulse. Therefore, it is very suitable for students to use this expression to describe somebody’s actions that were prompted by an impulse and the spur of a moment.
11.全力以赴 (quán lì yǐ fù)
This idiom literally translates into giving it your all. It is a highly versatile idiom that can be used in writing or in oral conversations. Possessing a positive connotation which signals a person’s determination to achieve a goal, it is used to describe the actions during the process and not those that have already been completed. For instance, It can be used to describe a student putting in his all for the national examinations.
12.不可思议 (bù kě sī yì)
Breaking down this 4 character idiom, we will have “不可” which means cannot and “思议” which means imagine or believe. Hence, this phrase means that something (can be a place, thing or an event) is unbelievable and unimaginable. It can have both positive and negative connotations to indicate that something is noteworthy or marvellous in an unexpected way. For example, natural phenomena can be described as such. Terrorist attacks can also be described that way as well.
13.理所当然(lǐ suǒ dāng rán)
The meaning of this phrase is that “it goes without saying”. It is used to refer to the inevitability of things and it is reasonable should something happen. It is an excellent connector and phrase to start the sentence, replacing the mediocre “当然”. It will definitely be a plus point since it sounds more sophisticated and advanced. It can also be used to describe taking something for granted, like for example you would like to state that we should not take safety and security for granted in Singapore.
The literal meaning of this idiom means to talk about the military on paper, which is deemed useless and impractical unless one combines experience and practical skills with it. This idiomatic phrase originated from a story narrating how the general Zhao Kuo of Zhao Dynasty only studied military strategies and tactics on paper but never practiced it on a battlefield. As such, the lack of practical exercises led to his defeat and failure during the Campaign of Changping.
15. 自相矛盾 (zìxiāngmáodùn)
This idiom explains the meaning of contradicting oneself. “自相” means self and “矛盾” means to contradict. This idiom came about when a man boasted that the spear could penetrate anything, yet he also sold a shield which he claimed that no spear could pierce through it, thus an obvious contradiction. As such, this idiom is suitable for describing paradoxical situations or people who have contradictory opinions.
16.有朋自远方来，不亦乐乎(yǒupéng zì yuǎnfāng lái, bù yì lè hū)
Now, this string of characters is definitely not the norm. It has more than four characters, but it is still considered an idiomatic expression just that it is a quote from Confucius. This can be a little tough to memorise, so knowing its context and meaning might help a little. Essentially, this is the more complex version of “好久不见” which means “long time no see” in English. This is especially suitable for context when you reunite with your old friends and you would like to express more happiness and positive vibes.
17. 一鸣惊人 (yī míng jīng rén)
This idiom means to wonder and amaze the world with a brilliant act. It can be used positively to show that the character has surprised people with his success or carry out astounding acts such as displaying one’s dancing or singing talents.
18. 多多益善 (duo duo yi shan)
This idiom means the more the better. It can be used in situations when you would like to depict the greater the help, the better the situation. For example, it can be used in compositions where you are describing charity work or to garner support and cooperation, basically a call to action since the more the merrier.
19. 学富五车 (xue fu wu che)
In literal translation from Chinese to English, this idiom means that the person possesses more knowledge than the knowledge combined in 5 books, therefore he or she is steeped in knowledge. It can be used to describe someone noble, or in a high position such as the school’s principal or a famous person in history.
20. 挑拨离间(tiǎobō líjiàn)
This idiom means to stir trouble or to drive a wedge between people. It is usually used to describe a third party who spread rumors or did something to cause trouble and sow dissension between two people who have established a good relationship.
Learning idioms is by no means an easy task. However, it can be fun and interesting through storytelling and constant revision of the phrases! It is definitely the number one tip to impress your examiners and display your proficiency in Chinese.