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粘 can be read as either "nian" or "zhan", but in both way it can be translated as "sticky", so what is the difference? In other words what should I take in mind, when reading a text , in order to understand which pronunciation I should use?

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I was taught at class, that zhan is the reading when 粘 is used as a verb, 'to stick, to glue'; the more common reading nian covers almost all the other cases, when its used as an adjective, 'sticky'. But I think this is not entirely correct.

Here's a long list with compound words. In most cases the reading is nian, in some cases zhan. Try to see if you can find a rule.

Interestingly, the Taiwanese Education Ministry's dictionary only lists nian as reading.

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Originally, you had two separate characters (zdic links):

粘 = zhan1 = (v.) to stick

黏 = nian2 = (adj.) sticky

The usage distinction still remains, but it is now acceptable to use for either word. Unihan lists the characters as semantic variants.

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    There is an article on this subject [『黏』『粘』『沾』有什麼不同?][1] The gist is that as noted above 黏 is a stative verb, and 粘 is a verb (intransitive and transitive). It also adds the word 沾 to the mix, but this seems to be a red herring. There's probably more to be said on this. I'll add if I find more examples/material. [1]: big5.hwjyw.com/teacher_hua/200910/t20091026_32980.shtml – wpt Jul 11 '15 at 4:00
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From a native Chinese perspective: 粘(zhan) = 粘 (nian1) = to glue, to stick = verb. 粘(nian2) = 黏 (nian2) = sticky = adj.

Although 黏 is more used in written, while 粘(nian2) is more oral.

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