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It seems like there are way more words for these things than in English, and I am having a hard time figuring out the difference between them. Some adjectives can only be used to describe mood, while some can be used to describe character or temperament. I'm not even too clear how they differ.

心境: state of mind, mental state, mood

心气: mood, frame of mind

心情: frame of mind, mood

心思: state of mind, mood

脾气: temperament, disposition

气性: temperament, disposition

心性: disposition, temperament

性格: nature, disposition, temperament

性气: temper, temperament, character

性情: disposition, temperament, temper

What are the differences between these words? What adjectives may be used to describe which?

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I think one reason this question hasn't been answered yet is that it's quite intimidating. You're asking someone to distinguish between 10 closely related terms, which is a lot to ask. Perhaps a more focused question would attract more responses. –  Jon Mar 8 '12 at 4:23
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As a native speaker I can't distinguish some of the listed words. Some seem to be the same in my knowledge. I think you should try to learn them with contexts. –  coolcfan Mar 9 '12 at 6:22
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2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Those terms can be divided into two groups:

First group, temporary, like mood: 心境, 心情. Those two are close to each other. 心情 is more temporary, can be changed in a second. 心境 is more stable and broad, but it can still be changed by big event.

For example, if you say:

I am happy today. This is a kind of 心情.

I am happy the whole month. This is a kind of 心境.

Obviously, if you are happy in a month, you are happy almost everyday in that month, so most of the time 心情 reflects 心境. But it is not always true, you can have an unhappy day in a happy month.

Second group, stable, like character: 脾气, 性格, 性情. Those three are very close to each other, the difference is very subtitle.

Well, I left 心思 (ideas, thoughts), because it's totally different from the above. I also left 气性, 心性, 性气, 心气, because they are rarely used nowadays.

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Thanks very much for your answer. Is there any way to know what adjectives can be used for which group or do you just have to memorize them? –  aelephant Mar 15 '12 at 4:47
    
I think they are nouns rather than adjective. I don't think you have to memorize, all you need is to read more examples and learn the words within context. For example, you can search 心情 in a electronic book and read the sentences to feel the word. –  Jfly Mar 15 '12 at 12:23
    
Maybe my question was unclear. I know these words above are all nouns. I want to know how to know what adjectives they can take. For example, my teachers have said "性格很实在” can I also use the other nouns in that group, for example, "脾气很实在”?Is the meaning identical? –  aelephant Mar 18 '12 at 3:45
    
性格很实在 is ok, but 脾气很实在 is not. It is because that 性格 is a broader term. 脾气 is one kind of 性格. 脾气 is a measure of how one can control one's own emotion. So we can say 脾气好/脾气坏 or 脾气急/脾气慢, but 脾气 is not related to whether 实在 or not。 –  Jfly Mar 20 '12 at 5:06
    
Great answer. Just want to add that 性格 can be thought of as "personality" and 脾气 as "temperment", if that helps understand the differences in usage. –  Stumpy Joe Pete Sep 17 '12 at 4:11
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Hmm, perhaps you're trying too hard, think of synonyms. This list resembles something of a thesaurus entry. In certain situations, you can substitute one for the other, while in a different context, you can't substitute the words, and you would know when to use the correct one from experience while conversing in Chinese.

This is the best way I can explain it: think about the following two words in English: sever and cut. We can say, "sever/cut ties", "sever/cut the rope", but while we can say "let's sever up the steak into little bits", it's much more comfortable to say "let's cut up the steak into little bits". It would be tiring to compare the above words in 90 combinations, but you get the idea.

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