As far as I know sarcasm is not commonly used in Chinese.

In English and many other languages, sarcasm is a matter of pragmatics and usually expressed by applying different intonation or stressing specific words. Sometimes intonation change is not even required and sarcasm is implied simply from the meaning.

How does that work in Chinese? I tried to think of different cases when you would use sarcasm. For example:

  1. That movie was so interesting. [but it actually wasn't]
  2. I ordered a USB cable on Taobao and got nail polish as a gift. That makes sense. [it really doesn't make any sense]
  3. Yeah, right, I really wanna eat that slimy pasta from 4 days ago (here "Yeah, right" also takes part). [i don't want to eat old pasta]

Any idea how one would express those three examples in Chinese? Can intonation take part in Chinese as well? Are there certain words or some grammar particles that help to convey the subtext of sarcasm?

Thank you for your thoughts.

  • sarcastic:讥讽的,讽刺的,挖苦的,example sentences in jukuu, might suggest things not too different from English: He said it with a sarcastic twist.他说这话时带上一点讽嘲的意味。Lovett's main contribution lay in elegantly sarcastic phrases.洛维特的主要贡献就是说了一些措辞文雅的挖苦话。I meant it seriously, but it sounded sarcastic.我这是真心话,可是听来有些尖刻。They resented his bantering remarks because they thought he was being sarcastic.他们对他的开玩笑很不满意,他们认为他在挖苦人。etc.
    – user6065
    Feb 11, 2016 at 16:55
  • 2
    Almost the same. "Sarcasm" is commonly used in Chinese – specifically for your examples, we call it 反语 in Chinese (it may be similar to the English term apophasis). Just translate your examples into Chinese, and they work (you can also stress specific words; however different intonation is not often involved because it may sound weird). But anyway we don't use it often in daily conversation, because in our culture a person using too much 反语 may be considered flippant.
    – Stan
    Feb 11, 2016 at 17:20
  • @Stan I don't think it's not used very often. People actually use it every day on the Internet. e.g. 呵呵
    – zypA13510
    Feb 11, 2016 at 17:23
  • 1
    @zypA13510 not want to be pedantic but 呵呵 is 语气词 (modal particle) – it doesn't originally mean "funny" but it is just said because we feel something funny. You may say it connotes "funny" but the word 呵呵 itself doesn't bear that meaning.
    – Stan
    Feb 11, 2016 at 17:44
  • 1
    More about 反讽 on Wikipedia
    – zypA13510
    Feb 11, 2016 at 17:52

2 Answers 2


Intonation works, but particles and certain rhetorical phrases can also reveal mood:

  1. 哎,那部电影岂能没有意思呢。

果然 is often used sarcastically, to indicate an unexpected outcome:

  1. 在淘宝上订购了一条USB电缆,果然收到了指甲油为礼物。

Often the context is self-evident, just like in other languages:

  1. 对啦,真真想吃下那四天前做的谄媚的面条。
  • Your translation of the second sentence is far better than mine. But I think the first one is not a very common expression (except in literature/novels).
    – zypA13510
    Feb 11, 2016 at 17:51

Can intonation take part in Chinese as well?

Yes of course. From my opinion, the sentences above could be translated word by word while still preserve their meaning. Or if you are writing it instead of actually saying it, you can add a few word to better illustrate the sarcastic sense.

  1. 这电影真好看。(stress 真) or


  2. 我在淘宝买了条USB线,结果赠品是指甲油。卖家真有脑。(here 有脑 actually means 无脑, doesn't have a brain / idiot)

  3. 呵呵,4天前的意面真好吃。(呵呵 also takes part)

    In both cases, adding 他妈的 or something similar right after 真 is perfectly fine in oral language. It's like "so fucking fine"(actually not fine) or "You are SO DAMN right."(may be right or not, depending on the context).

This technique is actually called 反语 in Chinese. For example, (not about sarcasm) 好不热闹 actually means 好热闹.

  • cf。好不容易,好容易 which mean the same thing when used adverbially(作状语): after all the trouble,with great difficulty; have a hard time (doing sth.)
    – user6065
    Feb 12, 2016 at 1:25
  • Thanks for the answer. I suppose the possibility to add intonation in Chinese as well makes it easier. In the written form, however, it seems like you injected a pinch of vulgarity or disdain (他妈的,无脑), which makes me think you have to add meaning, bad meaning, in order to make the sarcasm come out, otherwise it won't be clear. I am wondering if there is a way to express that sarcasm while keeping the "bad words" out. Feb 12, 2016 at 4:28
  • @YoavVollansky When I write this answer, I'm thinking about the way we use it in daily life, mostly in spoken language. I think it's pretty fine to add some "bad words" in oral language. So I didn't cover the writing aspect. As I said in the comment, the using of 果然 in the other answer is very well.
    – zypA13510
    Feb 12, 2016 at 8:43
  • @zypA13510 I understand, daily life lingo is great, however better be careful with using 他么/他妈 in some daily life circumstances such at the office or with your in-laws, for example. It really does sound a inappropriate or harsh to some ears. Feb 13, 2016 at 18:12

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