I read the first two pages of 狐狸的窗户 (Húlí de chuānghù) = The Fox's Window (douban.com) on my Kindle, and encountered several 4-character phrases:

Some of these should be considered chengyu (成语, chéngyǔ), but others look like they just happen to have four characters. I'm wondering if there's a way of deciding which are chengyu and which are not.

Question: What's distinguishes a chengyu (Chinese idiom) from a 4-character expression?

It's possible this question is related to Are there any chengyu or xiehouyu that only mean their literal meaning? Maybe if it has a figurative meaning, then it's a chengyu, and otherwise not.


1 Answer 1



成语 versus 俗语 versus 谚语, what is the difference?

成語 (idiom) include "situation description" , "common sense", and "words of wisdom". Mostly came from known historical references, like poems, classical literature or famous quotes by historic figures .

4-character expressions are common phrases from unknown origin, just happen to have four characters, they are "idiomatic expressions" but they are not true idioms.

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