In English, ambiguity (mishearing, or intentional wordplay) can be created by boundary shifting. Do you have anything like this in Chinese? Thank you. HH

(written space -shifting)

notable -- no table -- not able

              is a perfect longer example.

(aural (spoken?) "juncture" -shifting) -- (moving of perceptual grouping?)

grade A    ---   gray day 
night-rate   ---  nitrate 
I scream     ---   ice cream 
a nice man   ---   an ice man 
home-acre    ---   hoe-maker 

Intended tags: Wordplay, Speech-error, Humor

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    – user23013
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 16:07
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    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 21:03
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4 Answers 4


喜欢上 一个人

to get to like someone or to get to like being alone

喜欢 上一个 人

to like the previous man/woman

喜欢 上 一个人

to like to f-word someone


Chinese do have mishearing issue, because of the limited pronunciation and tones.

The classic example may be all foreigners know when they were starting to learn Chinese tones is:

请问shui jiao 多少钱一 wan ?

If foreigners don't pay attention to the tones, It could be: 请问水饺多少钱一碗?(How much for one bow of dumplings, please?), or 请问睡觉多少钱一晚?(How much for sleeping with you for one night, please?). 睡觉 and 水饺 have same pronunciation but different tones, 晚 and 碗 have the exactly same pronunciation and tone.

  • Mandarin only has 4 sounds, in contrast, Cantonese has 9 sounds, mishearing problem is less common.
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 4:21
  • I don't think mishearing is common issue in any language, but Chinese do have.
    – thinwa
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 5:32

There are wordplay in every language, Chinese is no exception.


"Raining day make the guest stay, although heaven keeps the guest, the host does not."

"下雨天,留客天。留人不?" "留!"
"Raining day, a day to keep the guest. Do you keep the guest ?" (answer) "Keep!"


From Steven Chow's movies-

西人,狠樣 ( can't explain here because these are vulgar terms)

  • 西人,狠樣 ( can't explain here because these are vulgar terms) --( it is in Cantonese)
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 4:22

Another example, "小處不可隨便" is a motto which means one should be serious even on small matters.


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