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A lot of words in Chinese have been shortened into single-syllable, and thus single-character, words. Often times though these single syllable words are not 'clear' enough in speech, in writing though this does not really pose an issue. A second syllable (character) can be added to make things clearer, for example:

已 — 已经

易 — 容易

I suppose we can call these single character words with double character words with same meaning equivalents.

How can we find a single-characters double-character equivalent?

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There is a concept called "同义复词" (the English translation might be "synonym compounds") to mention this way of character combination. – Peterlee Jun 12 '14 at 10:10
If you are asking about how to find a second character to use in order to make yourself clearer, I think your best bet is simply to look it up in a dictionary. – Semaphore Jun 12 '14 at 11:17
@Semaphore Like 开 (for water) how can I know it's 烧开...I don't know that a dictionary will tell me that – user3306356 Jun 12 '14 at 11:55
Well, those aren't the same. 開 means "to be boiling" and 燒開 means "to boil (the water) (by heating)". If you weren't able to get 燒開 from 開 then that might be why. – Semaphore Jun 12 '14 at 12:08
I'm just giving you an example - there are certainly times when 烧开 can simply just be shortened to 开... – user3306356 Jun 12 '14 at 12:11
up vote 3 down vote accepted

已 — 已经
易 — 容易

You can look up these word in a dictionary.

Like 开 (for water) how can I know it's 烧开...I don't know that a dictionary will tell me that

开 is called a resultative complement (结果补语). Unfortunately, there is no easy way to know them.

Most adjectives can be used as resultative complements. e.g. you can say 水开了 and 烧水, so you say 水烧开了, too.

But most resultative complements are not adjectives. You have to learn them as collocations. e.g.

but 闻到 and 想到. 闻见 and 想见 are relatively rare

You may have to ask the teacher or use Google to find out which one is more common. e.g.

If you search "看不*东西" (including the quotation marks) in Google, you can only find 看不见, 看不清 and 看不到.

Technically, 到 in 看不到 is a potential complement (可能补语). But in most cases, resultative complements are the same as potential complements. The main difference is that you put 得 or 不 between the verb and the complement. This trick can help you eliminate many false positives.

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For the first case (已 — 已经), you can look it up with a conventional dictionary (辭典) as other commentators mentioned.

For the second case (易 — 容易), you may try using 教育部重編國語辭典修訂本. It has a feature that allows you to look for phrases ending with a specific character. For example, if you enter ^.易$ in the query, you'll be able to look up 容易 in the search result.


  • The search result may be overwhelming and you still need to do some manual filtering to find out the appropriate phrase.
  • It's made by Taiwan Government, so the vocabulary is limited to Taiwan Chinese only.
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The words are not "shortened", but rather, expanded in modern Chinese. Read some ancient Chinese literature, and you'll find that literally almost every word is single-character. This is Chinese in its purest sense. If you have some feeling for ancient Chinese, then understanding single characters and associating them with multi-character modern equivalents should be a piece of cake.

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Why the down vote? Care to explain? – JI Xiang Jun 16 '14 at 2:32

OMG, your question is even a hard one for some of native Chinese. I have to admit that the concise expression (normally adjective, verb, adverb) in Chinese is the beauty of this language, while really hard to master. If you are capable of understanding some ancient Chinese literature (e.g. poems), you will have the same feeling.

Actually, the redundant expression appears after the concise in time. Ancient Chinese tended to use only one character to express what people now use two.

The concept of 同义复词 (synonym compounds) is NOT applicable here because 同义复词 means to use more than one characters that have the same meaning. e.g. 反归取之, where 反 and 归 mean the same thing, "back".

What you are facing here is simply a concise expression, I think. I have not found a list for you but maybe this can help a bit?

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