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I've been trying to find some sort of indication as to the differences between these two pronunciations for 说服: shuìfú vs. shuōfú.

I used to always read it: shuōfú, until I was corrected by a mainlander, who told me it should be shuìfú.

The only info I found though says it's a Taiwan thing:

4 Taiwan pr. [shuìfú] -CC-CEDICT

Other than that I'm lost...

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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

In recent years, Mainland Chinese have officially adopted shuōfú across the board. If you only wish to be understood and/or conform to current official standards, a sufficient answer is: just use the shuōfú pronunciation. Everyone will understand what you mean regardless of whether they agree with it.


For a more academic answer: Strictly speaking, shuìfú is the correct pronunciation. This isn't a Taiwanese thing except in that it has been preserved in Taiwan (older mainlanders would have known it too).

The character is an exemplary case of a multiple meaning character with multiple pronunciations. These meanings are not historically interchangeable. Focusing on the relevant definitions at hand:

  • shuō means "to explain, to tell".
  • shuì means "to persuade, to convince".

The meaning of 说服 is clearly derived from the latter usage. Therefore, it is correctly pronounced shuìfú. It is still listed as such in many dictionaries. Other examples of the shuì pronunciation being maintained for this usage are 說客, "a lobbyist; someone trying to sell an idea" and 遊說, "to lobby, to persuade."

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Ultimately however, languages are living, changing things. It is quite alright to use shuōfú as the pronunciation even if some people would find it as being "wrong". They all understand what you mean anyway.


Note: There's a contention that shuōfú is the correct pronunciation. The argument is that shuì means to persuade, but that, supposedly, 说服 means to "persuade with reason". It is claimed that this means shuō, "to explain", fits the word's overall meaning better than shuì, "to persuade".

I don't find this convincing at all, but that's an alternative angle.

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Recent years is about when exactly? 00s? –  user3306356 Jul 28 at 16:44
    
@user3306356 I'm not sure. 现代汉语词典 lists it as shuō since 2005 I think. You'd have to check the textbooks to see when/if that has changed... –  Semaphore Jul 28 at 16:55
    
Similar case in Cantonese: When pronounced as "seoi3", it means "to persuade"; when pronounced as "syut3", it means "to tell". –  Henry HO Jul 29 at 3:26

I think both shuìfú and shuōfú are correct, but for different meanings.

说服 shuìfú

It is closely related to the word 游说 yoúshuì, which means "lobby", or "sell an idea to some important persons or decision/law makers" or "try to persuade someone of high social status with your own arguments which may or may not be true."

In 说服 shuìfú :

说 takes the same pronunciation and meaning of the 说 in 游说.

服 means "agree/obey/be convinced."

So together 说服 means 用话劝说别人,使他听从自己的意见 or persuade/convince people to follow your suggestions by putting forward your arguments, which may or may not be true.

Example: 国王终于被大臣们说服决定宣战。The King was finally persuaded by ministers to declare a war.

说服 shuōfú

It is closely related to the word 说教 shuōjiào, which means "preach."

In 说服 shuōfú :

说 takes the same pronunciation and meaning of the 说 in 说教.

服 again means "agree/obey/be convinced."

So together 说服 means 用理由充分的话使对方心服, or "reason someone (usually from same or lower social status) into agreeing with you."

Example: 我们已经说服了大部分同志,但是我认为我们还是说服不了他。We have got over most comrades, but I don't think we can get him over.

对于错误的意见,不是压服,而是说服,以理服人。Do not coercion people with wrong views into submission but convincing them by reasoning.

他想说服她,可是一看她那倔强的、不易说服的眼睛,他不做声了。

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Below is the situation about the two pronunciations as I know in Mainland China.

In dictionaries

In modern Chinese dictionaries, you'll find the pronunciation for 说服 is "shuo fu", which means persuade.

However, the single character 说 normally should be pronounced as "shui" when it means to persuade or more specifically, to make people agree with your opinion. For example 游说(you shui, basically means to lobby).

Here you can see the source of the confusion. That is since 说服 means to persuade, and when it means to persuade, why 说 isn't pronounced as "shui"?

The only reasonable explanation I can come up with, although seems a little bit retrospective, is that 说服 as a whole word means to make people agree though talking.

I'm no linguistic, but you can see 说服 as a verb-adverb phrase, in which 说 is the verb, 服 is an adverb stating the result of the action. In this sense, 说 literally means speaking, and 服 means affirmative.

So you can think it as 说(shui) equals 说服(shuofu) in their core meanings. However, nowadays, 说(shui) is often used in a more politically aggressive context and only used in "游说"

In day-to-day use

In everyday, scenarios, most people I know would use 说(shuo)服, but 说(shui)服 is also acceptable and nobody would confuse them.

Personally, I would pronounce it as 说(shuo)服, in sentences like:

我说(shuo)服了他来参加派对。 I persuaded him to come to the party.

But in certain situations, I would go against the dictionary and say:

我会说(shuo/shui)服董事会赶走他的! I will persuade the board to kick him out!

To me, there are three scnarios that I would use 说(shui)服

  1. the subject matter is important to me and I really want to win the case.

  2. I'd like to make the other party agree with me no matter what, even it means that I would have to distort facts or being misleading or deceitful in the argument.

  3. Or in a politically aggressive context like the example sentence above.

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