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I think that the 成语 "凤毛麟角" is pretty awesome, and I would like to learn how to use it. Could you please help me?

My teacher said I could use it to describe a person who is truly unique, but when I did (as a compliment to someone, who is very unique), they said it was kind of weird. Would you use it to describe an event?

In other words, say you are describing a friend who has truly caring and special personality, can you say, 他真是凤毛麟角

Thank you!

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Remember that "鳳毛麟角" is used to describe something excellent.... not only unique, but also excellent. –  Henry HO Aug 3 at 5:09

5 Answers 5

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Jukuu.com has many highly rated examples, here are two:

People who stand taller than 1,70 meters are a rarity of rarities there.

在那儿身高超过1.70 米的人有如凤毛麟角。

This one is more specific to your question as it deals with using the phrase with respect to an individual.

Women like Huan Shaojun are truly rare.

世间如桓少君的,真是凤毛麟角,少之又少了!

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+1 for the Jukuu.com reference, that seems like a great resource for learning how to use expressions. –  The_Anomaly Jul 31 at 18:36
    
@The_Anomaly It's one of my favorite reference sites. A search of the CSE website will yield many other resources. –  Tommie C. Jul 31 at 18:39

很多美国人都想去中国,但会说或写中文的人却是凤毛麟角

There are many Americans who want to go to China, but few can write or speak Chinese.

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凤毛麟角 is used when somebody has some special skills or talent which is very rare. When you are trying to compliment someone(really has unique skills), it's a good phrase.

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@The_Anomaly:

When you wanna describe the number of a specific range is very little, you can use this.

Sample: 虽然我们是中国人,但是如今懂得甲骨文的人是**凤毛麟角了**

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About How to Use 凤毛麟角

I guess you can see it as something you describe the occurrence of something not directly something. And it's better to be used as a sentence adverb.

For example:

能够真正理解量子物理的人凤毛麟角。

People who truly understand quantum physics are really rare.

And the meaning of 凤毛麟角 is "as rare as phoenix feathers and unicorn horns." or simply "very rare." That's why your teacher told you it means unique. However, you should try not to use it to describe particular instance of something. Instead, use it to describe the occurrence or existence of certain type of things.

But when you used it to describe people you can see why it would be sort of weird:

You are as rare as phoenix feathers and unicorn horns.

For example

你真是凤毛麟角。 You are really rare.

Although it make sense in English, it's quite uncommon in Chinese because you are describing a particular individual.

Instead, this is better:

你这样的人真是凤毛麟角。 People like you are really rare.

In this sentence you are describe the occurrence of people like "you".

The reason of focusing on the occurrence of something is because the implication of 凤毛麟角 is something extremely hard or even impossible to find or occur. But when you use it to describe a known instance, you've actually already found it, which is short of against the setup of the scene.

Proper Way to Compliment Other People

If you want to compliment a particular object or person, use following idiom or adjective:

  1. 与众不同、特别 Both of them can means special in a good way. The first one is an idiom which literally means different from others, but doesn't necessarily be the only one of the same kind.

  2. 独一无二 This means unique or unparalleled. Literally it means the only one and there is no second object or people which is of the same kind.

Another term to say people are special or different from others is 另类. But it can be in both a good way or a bad way. And some people what consider it offensive without a context.

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Really a solid answer, thank you. The distiction between "people like you are really rare" and "you are really rare," is very helpful. Also, what would the grammatical way to use some of the other phrases you mentioned? For example, "他真是与众不同," and “你真是独一无二”? –  The_Anomaly Aug 1 at 15:29
    
@The_Anomaly: You can 与众不同 and 独一无二 as other plain adjectives the means "special" and "unique" respectively. So the examples you gave are all appropriate. –  user1228520 Aug 1 at 23:32

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