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I want to translate "Using the knife on these types of surfaces will dull the knife." This I find to be difficult grammatically as well. However, I'm not sure how to say "dull" in Mandarin, and google doesn't provide much help.

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Dull (adjective) as in 'a dull knife' is in Mandarin. There is not a two-character version for it.

Dull (vt.) as in 'dull the knife' is 使..变钝, literally 'make .. become dull'.

Example of 钝 (adjective):

It's impossible to cut a pineapple with such a dull knife.

用一把这么的刀子切菠萝是不可能的。

To translate your sentence, which is also an example of 使..变钝:

Using the knife on these types of surfaces will dull the knife.

在这些类型的表面上用刀会使变钝

Related words:

  • (Knife or blade) sharp (adjective): 快 or 锋利.

快 must be used in the same sentence as the noun (刀), otherwise it doesn't mean 'sharp'. 锋利 can be used standalone.

  • Sharpen the knife (V+O): 磨刀.

An example using all these words:

刀子用多了会变钝,磨一磨就又变快了。

Knife becomes dull after some use. Burnish it and it will be sharp again.

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You can certainly stick another character to front and make it two character, such as 粗钝. Of course, the core part is 钝. –  user58955 Sep 26 '13 at 23:16
    
@user58955 Sure but 粗钝 is not a common word and can't replace 钝 in most circumstances. –  NS.X. Sep 26 '13 at 23:20
    
not uncommon in 武侠小说 (kongfu novels) –  user58955 Sep 26 '13 at 23:22
    
@user58955 Indeed. This answer is speaking in the context of OP's sentence:) –  NS.X. Sep 26 '13 at 23:23
    
Actually, according to your translation, 变钝 is an acceptable word, literally "become dull". "在这些表面上用刀会使它变钝。" –  congusbongus Sep 27 '13 at 2:02
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