What is the difference between all these waving and shaking verbs? My reseach gave me these results:

  • 滚 - to roll (like a wheel does).
  • 晃 - to rock from left to right (like a wind blowing on the side of the boat). Or, as some say, 晃 is connected to "visual swinning" like a lantern on a thread or tree leaves waving and thus blocking and unblocking the sun's light which passing through the tree top.
  • 荡 - to rock from front to back making large swings? Nose dipping - back raising and so on.. Like a child on a swing (a hanging seat).
  • 摇 - to spin in one place (to spin on spot)? Etymology suggest it's a depiction of a process of making some pottery using potter's wheel. So spinning sence should come from this process. There is also a phrase 摇电话. Why use 摇 with电话? Maybe it comes from the old telephones with a disk number plate? But on the other hand some say it is "to shake" as a bell shakes when ringing.
  • 摆 - to wag a tail (like a dog), but then what is the difference with 晃? Can a dog 晃 it's tail?
  • 抖 - ?
  • 挥 - to wave, but what's so special about this kind of "waving"?
  • 颤 - ?

I guess the difference between all those verbs might be in the:

  1. direction of waving/swining. UpDown vs LeftRight vs BackForth.
  2. ability to use those verbs in specific tense. (like 往往 is used for past and 常常 is for present and future tense)
  3. amplitude of movement.

p.s. any etymology info which might help to differentiate between those verbs are much appreciated.

2 Answers 2


滚 : to boil; to roll; Get lost!


No definitions or words explicitly relating to waving or shaking

荡 (dang4): pond, pool; wash away, cleanse + shake


The definition 'shake/swing' appears to be more literary. It resembles the swaying movement of a boat or reed in a pond.

I would add that in my experience it's counterproductive to seek differences in meaning of individual characters without context, as many characters are not used on their own but form parts of actual words.

The rest of the question would be better phrased as the difference between 摇动 摆动 晃动 抖动 and 挥动

挥动 is used when a person is waving some thing, because 挥 is also used in words to mean to command

摆动 is used for oscillating movement

摇动 would be your typical word for shake

I see 晃动 used a lot with liquids. It expresses shaking to and fro, oscillating up/down, or shaking in waves (that's why dogs don't 晃 their tail)

抖动 and 颤动 are both about trembling

抖动 is simpler lower frequency trembling, 颤动 is higher frequency trembling

抖动 is local 颤动 is global

  • So 晃 is like - маячить, мелькать, if so does it really have "waving/shaking meaning" or it just came into 晃 through generalization? 抖动 vs 颤动 though is still not clear to me. May it be that 抖 is used for hands shaking or shaking made by the use of hands and 颤 is for "non-hands shaking" (like whole body shaking but not becasue someone uses hands to shake it, but because it is cold or something of this kind of reason)?
    – coobit
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 9:28
  • @coobit The only source I use for etymological information is chineseetymology.org, as this is not a subject I spend much time on, therefore I do not know how the huang3 and huang4 meanings evolved together. 晃动 meaning: baike.baidu.com/item/%E6%99%83%E5%8A%A8 。 Shivering from cold is 发抖. 抖动 has the added meaning of using hands to shake something 抖动一条毛毯, while 颤动 does not. Some say that 抖动 does not have the emotional impact that 颤动 has zhidao.baidu.com/question/27929365.html Commented May 5, 2017 at 13:29

As you consult dictionaries, you can see those characters have many overlapped meanings among them. To learn specifically which one to use in what sentences, the best way is to study the compound words those characters associated with.

For example:

晃- 晃動(shaking), 摇晃(shake), 虛晃 (wave in the air), 一晃 (flash past; pass in a wink)

Example: 往左邊虛晃 (wave to the left)

You can try the same with the rest of the characters on the list:

[搖]- 搖動(shake), 摇晃(wobble), 搖頭 (shaking head)

[抖]- 抖動(shake), 顫抖(trembling), 抖開 (shaking off)

[盪]- 動盪(turmoil), 震盪(shock), 盪鞦韆(swing in a swing set)

[擺]- 擺動(swing), 搖擺(rock), 擺尾(shaking tail)

[揮]- 揮動(swing), 揮舞(waving/brandish), 揮手(waving hand), 揮劍 (swing a sword)

[顫]- 顫動(quiver), 顫抖(trembling) 冷顫 (shiver)

[滾]- 滾動(roll), 滾滾(rolling), 翻滾(tumble)

More details on 晃:

[晃] made up of [日]+ [光], mainly means 'to shine' . 'To flash' is an extended meaning that describes a sudden, quick movement.

Edit - answering a comment:

You see 搖 and 抖 are still too close. What kind of "shaking" each of them represents? As for 揮 and 擺, I guess 揮 is mostly for "waving made by the hand", whereas 擺 is for "non hands waving". The 抖 and 顫 are still too close. Maybe 抖 is used for shaking made by hands and 顫 is for other kinds of shaking (like head shaking, or body shaking)?– coobit

Each of the listed character describes 'a movement. ' There's no distinction between hand or non-hand ones.

  1. 搖(rock/shake/swing/sway) can be slow or fast, strong or gentle; 抖 is always a quick shark or jerk. It is never slow or gentle.

  2. 揮 can be a big or small movement e.g 狂揮(madly swing), 輕揮(gently wave); 擺 is mostly a more rhythmical movement - think 'pendulum'.

  3. 顫 is a smaller movement than 抖. Both describe a shark or a jerk.


胸肌一顫 - chest muscles jerk (small jerk)

長矛一抖 - the long spear shakes (big shake)

  • You see 搖 and 抖 are still too close. What kind of "shaking" each of them represents? As for 揮 and 擺, I guess 揮 is mostly for "waving made by the hand", whereas 擺 is for "non hands waving". The 抖 and 顫 are still too close. Maybe 抖 is used for shaking made by hands and 顫 is for other kinds of shaking (like head shaking, or body shaking)?
    – coobit
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 9:25
  • Thanks for 晃 info. Since I now have some background on 晃(flash) and 荡(reed or grass waving) I can better "feel" where to use them and there not to.
    – coobit
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 10:42
  • @ coobit, I edited my post and added the answers to your comment
    – Tang Ho
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 12:00

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