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So I want to practice writing Chinese couplet poetry. I have been reading about the character count matching in each line, with parallel meanings, etc.

However, my question is, are there limits to what characters can be combined in couplets to be understandable?

For example, I tried writing

明月
明思

or

明月
明脑

This is supposed to translate to "Bright moon, Bright mind".

Would these character combos be allowed? Are there any limits?

  • 聰明 works better than 明腦; consider reversing 明月 (bright moon) for 月明 (the moon is bright) instead. Then again, this kind of structure needs to work with the complete poem. – dROOOze Jan 10 '18 at 20:41
  • There's no such thing as 明思 or 明脑. Couplets is just like any sentence, you cannot put non-existing terms in them. – Tang Ho Jan 10 '18 at 20:43
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    Also, if you want to match 明月 with 明思, you are violating the rule of 'avoid matching a same character with itself'. The typical rule is matching a character with an opposite or similar one-- NOT the same one. 朗月-明星 would be a perfect match. because both 朗 and 明 are adjective related to brightness, while 月 and 星 are both nouns related to heavenly objects – Tang Ho Jan 10 '18 at 20:53
  • If for some reason, you cannot match the meaning, at least match the word type, e.g. adjective with adjective, noun with noun. for example 晧月 (bright moon) -長江(long river); both 晧 and 長 are adjective, both 月 and 江 are noun – Tang Ho Jan 10 '18 at 21:05
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Are you familiar with Shakespearean sonnets--specifically, the couplets in the sonnets? You know how the couplets use a matching meter (iambic pentameter), have the same number of syllables, have compatible/matching imagery, and rhyme? That's more or less how the Chinese 对联 works (plus the middle 联).

Other than that, no rules.

Some 对联 writers write great couplets which become classics and get copied widely. Some may not be great, but they get posted nonetheless (for all sorts of reasons). That is true of sonnets as well--after all, there is only one Shakespeare.

So I say: Go to town with it. Have a blast. If you write enough 对联, you are bound to come up with some good ones.

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The general rule is simple, you just need to make sure the type of characters in same position be the same. But in good couplets characters need to be filtered carefully to make it poetic.

for instance:

明月

清风

“明” and “清” here are all adjectives, “月” and “风” are all nouns,so this couplets have a correct format. Also the characters are beautiful, too. They together create a scene of lonely night.


see this example:

海阔凭鱼跃

天高任鸟飞

海-sea, 天-sky; 阔-board,高-high;

凭 and 任 here are all acts as verb, means let someone do something freely. But do what? do 跃-jump and 飞-fly

So in English:

| sea | is board | allows | fish | jump |

| sky | is high | lets | birds| fly |

and it implies the world is large allow me do something great!


another interesting one, hope you like it :) :

海水朝朝朝朝朝朝朝落

浮云长长长长长长长消

I know you want to cruse now, but actually it is pretty neat!

Lets decompose it. This couplets is written by ancient people, and they were allowed to write wrong words! Which is knew as 通假字. you can use character with same pronunciation to replace another one. Not sure why, maybe that time it is hard to learn every characters? Anyway, here 朝 actually has two pronunciation and three meanings, holy crab!

  • 朝(chao2) replace 潮(chao2), means tide.

  • 朝(zhao1) just means day, and you can think it as 天.

  • 朝(zhao1) means daytime.

Also 长 here has several meanings:

  • 长(zhang2) replace 张(zhang2), means rise

  • 长(chang2)replace 常(chang2), means often

  • 长(chang2) replace 常(chang2), means long period. // yes, the meaning of 长 didn't be used! I guess it just because 长 is simpler.

But even when know the meaning of characters, we still don't know which one means what. What should we suppose to do??

We can separate the sentence in to pieces:

海水朝 朝朝朝 朝朝朝落

浮云长 长长长 长长长消

read as:

hai2 shui3 chao2 zhao1 zhao1 chao2 zhao1 chao2 zhao1 luo4

fu2 yun2 zhang3 chang2 chang2 zhang3 chang2 zhang3 chang2 xiao1

and then replace them with original characters:

海水潮 朝朝朝 朝潮朝落

浮云涨 常常涨 常涨常消

And now the meaning is much easier to grab. PS: there are tons of other way to separate, but I just make one example here.


海-sea.

水-water --> 海水-sea. //just for simplicity. 海 here suppose to be an adjective to describe a lot.

潮-tide. here used as verb means high-tide.

朝-daytime

朝-day

潮-tide, also used as verb

朝-day, here means everyday.

潮-tide, used as verb again.

朝-day, means everyday.

落-down, here used as means low-tide.


浮-flowing.

云-cloud --> 浮云-could

涨-rise, here means spreading

常-long period

常-often

涨-rise, means spreading here

常-often

涨-rise, means spreading here

常-often

消-disappear.


So translate in English is:

| sea | rise tide | everyday | daytime | rise tide | everyday | rise | everyday |fall

| cloud | spread | in long period | often | spread | often | spread | often | disappear

In human language is:

Sea tides up, tides up daytime everyday. tides up everyday, tides down every day.

cloud spread, spread quite often all the time. spread often, disappear often.

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When you combining characters, you have to ensure:

  1. Others know what you are talking about

  2. If it is a rare words, you can give source(典故, 化用) to proof you did not invent it.

For example, 明思, most people don't know the meaning, but if one can find the usage in books, the word still make sense, otherwise, you are inventing words, that is not a good writings, in ancient national test, that is fail.

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