I've heard that character amnesia is becoming more and more common.

  1. What if a Chinese has to write something and he doesn't have a cellphone or computer with him, what does he do if he forgot the character he needed? Does he use another character with the same pronunciation?

  2. Under the same situation do the Taiwanese use bopomofo?

  • 1
    I asked my Chinese daughter-in-law this question. She said she would call her mom in China!
    – user836
    Jul 7 '12 at 22:40
  • 1
    From watching Chinese people write, the usual reaction is to sit there thinking "F***! How did I forget how to write that?!?"
    – jsj
    Feb 23 '13 at 10:50
  • @user836 lol lol
    – velut luna
    Jan 15 '16 at 3:39
  • 1
    we have cellphone any time. in older time, we have dictionary instead of computer. if really don't have these, we can write PINYIN instead, and edit it later .
    – GongT
    Jan 15 '16 at 8:18

As a native Chinese speaker, I sometimes replace the forgotten phrase with another one which has same meaning. Sometimes I even rewrite the whole sentence to avoid writing some hard characters.

By the way, since there are a lot of Chinese characters has the same pronunciation (ex: 意義/異議). The input programs are also very error-prone to select correct characters. Some people will just use wrong characters with the similar pronunciation because they are too lazy to correct them. This is why you can see some common mistakes like 因該 instead of 應該.

  • 2
    I suppose that would be the Chinese equivalent of a spelling error.
    – Kenjo
    Jul 7 '12 at 4:59
  • Or it could just be a spelling error (-; I'm always surprised when people feel the word "spelling" doesn't apply to Chinese or Japanese. Oct 31 '12 at 13:10

This is a difficult question to answer without generalizing.

Anyway, it is hard to imagine a Chinese without a cellphone/smartphone, so in practice they would mostly use their phone with a pinyin input method (I'm talking about mainland Chinese, in Taiwan they would use something similar). If for some reason they wouldn't be able to use their cellphone, they'd ask somebody else and if he/she also doesn't know it and there isn't a good synonym, they would use pinyin. In most cases it will be clear from the context what is meant.


Please think: as a native speaker of English (or maybe some other languages), how often do you forget how to spell a word? I guess that situation hardly happens.

As a native Chinese speaker, I seldom forget how to write characters. If I do forget, I would look it up with phones, computers or dictionaries, or ask someone around. If I can do none of these, I tend to write a character which looks similar, and try to use that as an aid to recall. If that doesn't work either (which is very unlikely to happen), I will write Pinyin, or just find a synonym to replace the word, or try to rewrite the sentence.

When one forgets how to write it, he/she does not have totally no clue about it. Usually it happens when a character is infrequent and has seldom used parts. A common example would be 嚏 in the word 喷嚏 (sneeze). This character is only used in this word, and consist of an extremely uncommon part 疐. Thus, many people may forget how to write it.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.