An English translation of "听上去不错" is "sounds good".

I understand ”不错“ as "not bad", i.e. "good" (the literal expression "not bad" is quite common in Britain and has the same meaning).

But I don't understand why and how "上去" function in this saying. Can someone please explain?

In more detail, I understand the individual meaning of these characters but not why together, with 听, they equate to "sound" in the phrase "sound good".

  • "上去" is a compound direction complement (复合趋向补语,others:上来、下去/来、进去/来、出去/来、回来/去、过来/去、起来、开来/去、到。。。。来/去)cf。"实用现代汉语语法"[上去] 1。 趋向意义(一):表示人或物体通过动作,由低处向高处移动,立足点在底处。例如:(1)听见楼上"嘭"的一声,我赶紧跑上楼去。(我--楼下)(2)我看见一个孩子很快地爬上树去。(我--在树下)(3)他在楼上等着呢,你快把文件送上去。(说话人--在楼下) 2。 趋向意义(二):表示通过动作,人或物体离开立足点向另一处所移动。例如:用人听见主人叫他,他很快地走上前去问主人有什么事。("用人"离开立足点)(2)一个电影明星来了,我看见很多孩子围了上去。("我"的位置是立足点,"很多还字"离开立足点) 3。 结果意义(基本结果意义):表示接触、附着以至固定,着眼点在物体的部分或次要物体。也就是说表示通过动作,使物体的一部分或次要物体与整体或主要物体接触、附着以至固定。例如:(1)这副画儿很好看,你贴上去吧。(着眼点在"墙")(2)我也报名,请你把我的名字写上去。(着眼点在"表格")(3)那根绳子太短,把这根接上去。(着眼点在"那根绳子")(4)屋子里灰尘太大,电视机容易脏,把这快布蒙上去。(着眼点在"电视机")
    – user6065
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 22:34
  • "上"的基本结果意义与"上来"、"上去"相同,但没有着眼点或着眼点不清楚。表示结果意义时,"上"比"上来"、"上去"更常用。 for 上 as direction complement see chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/21239/… for special meanings of 看上去 see e.g. bkrs:it would appear it seems (that) it seems; it looks as if e.g. 他为何看上去如此凄伤?他看上去强健,其实他的心脏很衰弱。(for E translation and more examples see bkrs), also see previous Q&A: chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/3624/…
    – user6065
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 22:35

2 Answers 2


上去 here functions as preposition (to), in this case, the object 'words' is omitted

听 (listen) + 上去 (to)

  • (听上去)不错 = "It is not bad (listen to it)."

Example of other [verb +上去] phrases

  • 看上去 (look at it)

  • 摸上去 (touch on it)

You can use 起来 instead of 上去 in this sentence - (听起来)不错 = "It is not bad (listening to) it. "

  • JFYI: I don't think you will ever hear 'listen onto', only 'listen to'. Maybe in the Bible you might find 'listen unto me'. You are Chinese I presume, so you know better, but wouldn't you rather say '听起来‘ instead of '听来’?
    – Pedroski
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 22:15
  • 1
    Some English and Chinese grammar structure do not have corresponding counterpart to each other. 'onto' is the general meaning of '上去' . As you see in example 摸上去. -- 听上去 should be more accurately translate as " upon listening to". Yes It should be '听起来‘ instead of '听来’. I should use 看来 to demonstrate result complement
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 22:36
  • I would edit my answer
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 22:41

... with 听, they equate to "sound" in the phrase "sound good".

This interpretation is not correct. 听 itself just means 'to listen'.

The word 'sound' is defined in merriam-webster dictionary:

to make or convey an impression especially when heard; i.e. it sounds good to me

"to make or convey an impression especially when heard" is the exact equivalence of 听上去 or 听起来 in Chinese.

听 is a verb. 上去/起来 is a verb complement here, expressing/implying what your impression is after you heard something or what you feel after you heard it.

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