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I'm learning Sino-Korean vocabulary at the moment and have noticed that many words seem to end in a '子' that doesn't seem to add much semantically to the other character in the word.

What should I take '子' to signify in this case?

http://www.archchinese.com/chinese_english_dictionary.html?find=子 suggests that it can mean 'small thing', but a 獅子 is not a very small thing.

  • If you were able to read in Chinese, you could refer to this similar question in 知乎。 – zyy Sep 5 '18 at 21:33
  • @zyy thanks... but I think it will take me a whole lifetime to learn Korean :) – topo Reinstate Monica Sep 5 '18 at 21:48
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「子」originally meant child. By extension, through the following sequence, it was further used:

  1. To emphasise the smallness of an object.
  2. As a diminutive suffix, conveying a sense of intimacy/endearment.
  3. As a nominal suffix, doubling as a way of transforming a monosyllabic noun to disyllabic.

In the diminutive aspect (Chinese: 指小詞, Korean: 指小辭・지소사), its function is very similar to the examples in the answer given by the question posted here.

In 菓子 and 帽子,「子」may play any one or a combination of the three uses above; the answer is not entirely clear, as the uses are related to one-another. In 獅子, which is obviously not small,「子」is used in sense 3 above and should be seen as the same as —이 in Korean 虎狼이.


Note, non-Mandarin Chinese languages also use diminutives; Cantonese「仔」is cognate to Mandarin「子」.

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  • 1
    This is spot on. Diminutive doesn't mean small. – NS.X. Sep 6 '18 at 3:52
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    By extension, there are also other suffixes and prefixes that does not convey much meaning in modern Chinese, like 老- in 老師/老虎/老鼠, or -頭 in 石頭/木頭/芋頭. – Daniel Cheung Jan 28 at 15:27
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[國] zi5 - Mandarin only

noun suffix added to certain nouns and measure words, e.g. 桌子, 胖子, 亂子, 一下子, etc

子 is a suffix that:

  1. emphasize a noun.

  2. add one more syllable to a single syllable word to make it more easy to hear

The actual meaning of 子 itself doesn't matter in this role

Similarly, 了 itself means 'finished/ end/ complete', but as a [final particle]( that indicating change of situation) those definitions do not matter

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adjective word that describe people +"子”,means this kind of person, only used in informal situation: 书呆子 bookworm 呆子 idiot 傻子 idiot 疯子 crazy people 高子(高个子) tall people 矮子 short people 瘦子 thin people but there is no "帅子""丑子""聪子"(maybe they can be the nickname) And it's not a common phenomenon! words below don't exist: 酷子 可怜子 美子 美丽子 快乐子 强子 弱子 壮子 活泼子 内向子 干净子 开放子 善良子 聪明子 仔细子 They don't exist at all.

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