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Is there a difference between 回转 and 掉头? I have heard them both used to describe a U-turn, so are there any subtle differences between the two words?

  • Also what about 调头? – Bad At Chinese Dec 15 '19 at 5:40
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    Hey, Michael, welcome to the site. Instead of leaving comments on your own question you can click the edit button under your question and make revisions to the actual post that way. – user3306356 Dec 15 '19 at 6:40
  • @user3306356 Ok thanks – Bad At Chinese Dec 15 '19 at 7:01
  • @user3306356 I just don't want to be flagged for asking too many questions – Bad At Chinese Dec 15 '19 at 7:01
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    There are no flags for too many questions here. The more the merrier. – user3306356 Dec 15 '19 at 7:16
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回转 = "rotate" e.g. "1000rpm" means "rotate 1000 times per minute" = "每分鐘回转1000 次"

回转 (至相反方向) = "rotate to opposite direction" = "turn 180°/ turn around"

~

调头 = "turn around" (to the opposite direction)

掉头 = "turn one's head; turn around"

调头 and 掉头 are interchangeable when it means "turn around" But 掉头 can mean "turn one's head" in different context

  • 回转 means rotate back. Rotate is 旋转. – dan Dec 15 '19 at 9:01
  • 回转 [1] to turn around; to U-turn [2] to spin; to rotate; to gyrate. See cantonese.sheik.co.uk/dictionary/words/17893 – Tang Ho Dec 15 '19 at 9:04
  • That looks an archaic usage. In mondern Chinese, we only say 每分鐘转1000 次 or 每分鐘旋转1000 次. I doubt if anyone would say 每分鐘回转1000 次 nowadays. – dan Dec 15 '19 at 9:24
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Don't know about China, but in Taiwan 回轉 mostly explicitly means u-turn performed by a vehicle. As for 掉頭, in addition to the literal "turn your head", you can use it whenever you are heading from A to B, then suddenly requires to return to A.

Example, when you are going to work by taxi, and your just found out you forget to bring something important, then you can tell the driver, "掉頭!". In this case the driver understands you want to return to your house, instead of literally make a u-turn right at the intersection where you are. But if you tell the driver to "回轉", then he might be confused about why you want him to make a u-turn here?

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回转 isn't used that often for making a U-turn, but you might still hear it sometimes. 回转,往回转, or 往回旋转 literally means rotate back/backwards. E.g. 把方向盘往回转.

掉头 or 调头 is common for making a U-turn. E.g. 师傅,前面掉头。

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非常有趣的问题。

“回转”是一个比较少使用的词语,而且更偏书面。譬如,“回转你的方向盘”或者“回转寿司”。

“掉头”一般只指车辆。

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