I guess in English maybe this would only be done by italics, I am not sure but here is a sample in English and my bad translation to Chinese, what is the best way to emphasis?

I know for example that in Chinese:

我太太 vs 我的太太

The first one says "my wife" and the second one emphasizes "She is my wife not your wife"1.

But adding a "de" particle does not really work (in my head) here:

  1. Now I don't want to talk to her. (Declarative sentence)
  2. Now I don't want to talk to her. (Declarative sentence emphasizing that before the other person did not want to talk to the writer.)

How would that emphasis be implied in:

现在 我 不要给他说话。

Is the emphasis best added with bold or italics?

1: Taken from Beginner's Chinese Yong Ho

  • Good question, but I have some of my own :) "my wife emphasizing that she is not your wife" - how can she be your wife and not be your wife? Also, is 我太太 ever correct, or wouldn't you always refer to your wife as 我的太太? – Cocowalla May 17 '12 at 15:12
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    Related: Is this an exception in the use of 的? – Alenanno May 17 '12 at 15:27

Your example is just an example of possessive elision in Chinese. Both are acceptable and considered equivalent. None of the two has more emphasis than the other.

One thing to note is there are two different types of emphasis, one being the emphasis of tone/mood, the other being the emphasis of meaning. In your case, it's the former. In English, the first type is often represented with italic and the latter with bold.

There are many ways to bring the reader's attention to a particular phrase in a passage in Chinese.

1) The official method, the underdot, as the name suggests, is placed under the characters that need to be emphasized. Sometimes a small circle is used as well:


2) Another method is to use the squiggly underline (same as the one you see in MSWord when you have a spelling error)

3) Yet another method (but much rarer) is to use the normal underline, but this causes confusion in some cases, as it is also used to indicate proper nouns in Chinese in some older texts.

4) The first two methods are good for hand-written materials, but with the advent of typography, people are increasingly inclined towards using bold font to represent semantic emphasis and italic to represent tone/mood emphasis. This method is openly denounced by language purists due to the fact Chinese characters, unlike Western alphabets, look aesthetically displeasing when boldened or italized in a computer font.

My suggestion for you is to express the emphasis in some other way. For example, you can spell things out: “她是我的太太, 不是你的!” Or if you are quoting someone, then: “她是我的太太.”, 他特别强调了‘我’这个字.

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    There is a font call "Heiti" (黑体) which may be used instead of bold font, and looks much better. – fefe May 18 '12 at 2:21
  • Nice to know :). This is a pratical problem in contemporary Chinese and I am glad someone brought this up. – deutschZuid May 18 '12 at 2:24

I think bold or italics or any other typographical emphasis is the wrong way to go here. Yes, the underdot and the squiggly underline are technically analogous to the way we single out words in English, but I only see them used in Chinese grammar textbooks or possibly once or twice in instruction manuals where an entire sentence was "very important". Dots and underlines are almost never used in everyday writing, probably because they don't accurately reflect how emphasis is delivered in everyday Chinese speech.

What are used are contextual clues, especially adverbs (副词) like 也 and 都. When dealing with emphasis in Chinese, I would advise you to, instead of thinking about how to emphasize a word (which is tricky even in spoken Chinese because of tone), think about what the emphasis means in the first place. Take your example:

"Now I don't want to talk to her."

Like you said, this probably implies that there was another person who didn't want to talk to this woman, and now the speaker also (也) doesn't want to:


You can almost hear the speaker's voice get just slightly louder and longer on the "我" leading up to the "也", which is how the speaker probably would have said it in real life anyway.

It might also be that the speaker is someone closer to the woman than the first person, in which case a Chinese person might chose to emphasize the irony that even I don't want to talk to her now, which can be expressed with 都:


So even though a Chinese person still probably would emphasize "我" when speaking (by adjusting volume or duration) in the sentences above, the adverbs allow the reader to "hear" the emphasis without being explicitly told where it is.

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  • +1. Also, hey guy. – J.. May 18 '12 at 13:47
  • Hence my final suggestion, Gus. I personally have never used 'formatting' to stress a word or phrase. How would you do this with the OP's first example? – deutschZuid May 18 '12 at 23:02
  • Your final suggestion was spot on. I just wanted to make an answer in which that sentiment was the main point instead of an afterthought, since it seemed like the OP was misunderstanding something more fundamental about emphasis in Chinese. I think OP's "的" in the first example is enough; it was his second example that made me decide to write another answer. – Gus May 19 '12 at 3:07

Chinese characters do not like italics or bold-face treatment. Chinese people use other methods:


Can be emphasized on the 我 part like this:


It means that right now, it is I who do not want to talk to her, as opposed to a moment before, when it was another people that did not want to talk to her.

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    I think it should be "现在我就是不要跟他说话", which means "I don't want to talk to him now." – gonnastop May 19 '12 at 20:15

From my high school Chinese lessons in China, (double) quotation marks, has one of its use being emphasizing. But the standards are only set by government authorities in Chinese speaking socities, so this might not work for other Chinese-speaking countries.

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