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I see this come up sometimes in idioms, and I find it easy to understand but not easy to use
(1) Is it used to spoken comparisons or analogies? Or is it only for literary, formal, fixed expression?
If it can be used to make new expressions, (2) What is the proper syntax?
(3) Can both adjectives and adverbs be used?

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What do you mean by "fresh analogy"? –  congliu Aug 30 '13 at 14:42
    
@congliu Right, that's not clear. I mean spoken, new analogies. Edited –  tao Aug 30 '13 at 15:07
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3 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

It is more of a literary/formal expression; It's not really colloquial.

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by making "fresh" analogies. If you mean "Can you make new formal/literary expressions when writing literature?"- the answer is yes. 如 is not bound to any fixed idioms/expressions. With that said, it helps to learn the root meaning of the word so you can use it how you want:

如 itself means "as","as if"

Take the following usage in a "fresh" expression:

天上的星星**如**无数只眼睛,在一眨一眨。
(Tiānshàng de xīngxīng rú wúshù zhī yǎnjīng, zài yī zhǎ yī zhǎ.)

The stars in the skies are **as if** there are countless blinking eyes. 

And 如, as you know, is also used in several fixed word pairs:

如果: if
如何: how
如此:if (more formal)

Hope this helps.

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Would be nicer to have 如果, 如何 and 如此 in more detail. –  congliu Aug 31 '13 at 4:21
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如 can be found frequently and in useful phrases, and to give you some confidence, I also find it easy to understand but not very easy to summarize its usage.

To answer your question:

  1. Question: "Is it used to spoken comparisons or analogies? Or is it only for literary, formal, fixed expression?"

    Answer: 如 is used in many situations including literature, formal speech or writing, idioms, spoken conversations.

  2. Question: " If it can be used to make new expressions, what is the proper syntax?"

    Answer: 如 is similar to a preposition in English. You can add something after 如; that something can be:

    (1) a noun: 如下 (as follows, analogy), 如此 (analogy), 如今 (nowadays, analogy), 如火如荼 (analogy), 百聞不如一見 (comparison), 明如日月 (analogy), 如膠似漆 (analogy), 往事如煙 (analogy), 身輕如燕 (analogy)

    (2) an adjective: 白髮如新 (analogy)

    (3) a sentence: 如獲至寶 (analogy), 如影隨形 (analogy), 如人飲水 (analogy)

    (4) a verb: 賓至如歸 (analogy)

    Special usages: 如果/如若/假如 (if), 不如... (suggestion, how about...), 如何 (how, based on analogy), 比如/譬如/例如 (for example), 正如... (just as...), 如來 (proper name), 如廁 (go to restroom), 如意 (follow), 突如其來 (如 modifies 突 yielding an adverb 突如 as a whole), among others.

    You can make new expressions by replacing parts of some existing idioms/phrases. The existing idioms/phrases are enough for you to go in the beginning.

  3. "Can both adjectives and adverbs be used?"

    Answer: I guess you mean "Can both adjectives and adverbs be used following 如?" Then see the answer to question 2. Adverbs are rare, if not never.

Leave comment if you need more help.

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If you want to find the words having same meaning as 如, I think there are "likely" or "as if" or "seems to be". On one hand, it's a formal expression in some context, e.g.,

如下所述: as follows
如你所愿: as your wish

On the other hand, 如 is used to make metaphor rather than comparison in strict sense. For example,

如花儿一样漂亮: as beautiful as the flower
如月亮般明亮: as bright as the moon

So that's two points I want to say. Any question?

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Thanks, Welcome to Chinese SE!! So would 快如飞机 make sense? –  tao Aug 30 '13 at 15:12
    
@tao should be 如飞机一样快. –  Stumpy Joe Pete Aug 30 '13 at 20:47
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@StumpyJoePete Actually you can totally say things like '快如飞机,疾似火车', which is grammatical. It's probably not preferred because you're using a very literary phrase pattern for a seemingly-unrefined metaphor, but if the metaphor suits the context, sure you can use it. On the other hand, 如飞机一样快 doesn't employ a pattern as literary as 快如飞机 (still not colloquial though), so it sounds more natural, but still, it really depends on the context. –  NS.X. Aug 31 '13 at 2:22
    
No much theory behind. 快如飞机 is acceptable, and 如飞机一样快 is also acceptable. Language is flexible. To @tao. –  congliu Aug 31 '13 at 4:09
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