I would like to know whether in chinese there are polysemous disyllabic words made up of disyllabic morphemes, that is a word made up of two characters and which when (at least one of) its syllables are pronounced differently, this not being due to sandhi effects, a different meaning is obtained.

I know there are polyphonic polysemous characters with different meanings when their pronunciation change, so in theory this should be possible.

Hope to hear news soon. Thanks in advance.

2 Answers 2


How about 利害 and 结果 and 东西?

利害(都四声),both 4th tone pros and cons
利(四声4th)害(轻声neutral tone) , terrible (and confusingly also great)
结果jie1guo3 bear fruit
结果jie2guo3 outcome
东西dong1xi1 east and west
东西dong1xi thing
精神jing1shen2 spirit mind (this word just came up in my text) 精神jing1shen vigour, vitality

Homonyms with the same meanings look here:


This is about single characters:


Question: 字相同,读音不同,意思不同, Character the same, tone different, meaning not the same

Answer: 很多啊 和字 有五个读音 意思都有所不同 比如,我和他 he 是连词 麻将和了是动词 读hu 和面 读huo 是动词 等等

Translate for you,

很多啊 There are a lot '和'字 有五个读音 the character '和' has 5 different pronunciations 意思都有所不同 each has its own different meaning 比如,我'和'他 'he' 是连词 for example, I 'and' he '和' is a conjunction read he 麻将'和'了是动词 读hu Mahjong '和' is a verb read 'hu' '和'面 读'huo' 是动词 等等 '和' bread, read 'huo' is a verb etc.

This link is for words with the same sound, but different characters.(I know, not what your asking for, thought it was interesting!)


You can see, I don't have a lot to do this morning!

PS I think 'differentely' is spelt differently. Vive la difference!

  • In which dictionary are these entries? could you provide a link or a scanned image? thanx in advance.
    – GJC
    Nov 12, 2016 at 7:06
  • They are easy to find. Try any English Chinese dictionary. celinedict.com mdbg.net zdic.net On your mobile I like HangpinPro or Pleco. These are just ordinary words, not unusual at all. You will find a lot more if you look.
    – Gangosa
    Nov 12, 2016 at 9:10
  • How about trisyllabic words or in general polysyllabic words? any examples? Thank you in advance
    – GJC
    Nov 12, 2016 at 12:42
  • Here is a link to a page of 3 character words. I think you need to look yourself whether or not any of them fit your bill. zhidao.baidu.com/question/619197759248433252.html Generally speaking, for things Chinese it is always good to look in baidu.com 4 character phrases will put you in the realm of Chengdu, sayings. Also, a Chinese word of 1 character may have more than 1 syllable, jian, zhuang, xian, qian as examples, so we don't have: word = syllable.
    – Gangosa
    Nov 13, 2016 at 3:05

Off the top of my head:


相親 |xiang4 qin1|arranged blind date with intention to marry

相親 |xiang1 qin1|love each other


和議 |wo6 ji5 | to second a motion

和議 |wo4 ji5| peace talks

To find polysemous disyllabic words, you could look for polysemous disyllabic characters .

For example: 相 is pronounced differently in 相同 and 相貌 in Mandarin and Cantonese; 和 is pronounced differently in 和平 and 附和 in Cantonese.

Then you can use these characters to form compound words, some of the words would be polysemous disyllabic like the examples above

Since Cantonese has 9 sounds compare to 4 sounds in Mandarin, it would has more examples of polysemous disyllabic words

more examples:



[1] zyun2 gei1 (jyutping) a turn for the better; a favourable turn of events

[2] zyun3 gei1 (jyutping) to switch flights (at an airport); flight connection

[1][2] zhuan3 ji1 (pinyin)


重犯 serious crime convict

重犯 re-offend

  • How about trisyllabic words or in general polysyllabic words? any examples? Thank you in advance
    – GJC
    Nov 12, 2016 at 12:42
  • polysyllabic words? you mean polysyllabic but not disyllabic? ( a two characters word has more than one meaning?
    – Tang Ho
    Nov 12, 2016 at 13:17
  • a word of three or more syllables/characters with different meanings because their pronunciations, and thereby the meaning of the characters, change.
    – GJC
    Nov 12, 2016 at 14:46
  • That would be hard to find. I can't think of one right now. Most of Chinese words are two characters compounds
    – Tang Ho
    Nov 12, 2016 at 14:49

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