As I improve my vocabulary, I'm encountering a lot of "in-between words": they are 2-character words where both characters are both contractions of individual 2-character words. I don't know if these words have a name.

Question: Is there a name for 2-character "in-between" words in which both characters are abbreviations for individual 2-character words?

To give an idea of what I'm referring to:

  • 舒适 seems to combine 舒服 and 合适;
  • 谢绝 seems to combine 感谢 and 拒绝;
  • 互动 seems to combine 互相 and 活动;
  • 短暂 seems to combine 短期 and 暂时;
  • 节庆 seems to combine 节日 and 庆祝;
  • 损害 seems to combine 损失 and 伤害.

I'm not sure if all these particular examples are exactly correct, but hopefully you get the overall idea. (Please ensure answers actually answer the question, and not just comment on the examples.)

  • The Wikipedia article on linguistic productivity might help. Many morphemes in Chinese are still actively used to form new lexical items; they are not frozen (or relegated to scientific literature) like Greek and Latin roots in English.
    – dROOOze
    Jun 7, 2020 at 2:40
  • 1
    Question: Is there a name? yes-- it's 复合词 Jun 7, 2020 at 5:56
  • The 谢 in 谢绝 doesn't mean 感谢 but 'to refuse', 'to decline', which is an older meaning from Classical Chinese, seldom used in modern times. This meaning is preserved in words like 谢绝, 敬谢不敏, 闭门谢客 etc.
    – ekd123
    Jun 7, 2020 at 12:05

2 Answers 2


Two characters words are all compound words. There are different ways to coin compound words

One way to coin compound word is to combine two characters that share a similar meaning to make it specific

Most single character words contain multiple meanings thus make them too general for expressing a more specific meaning.

Example (adj + adj) :

沉 can mean 'sing' or 'heavy'

To make a specific term, we add one more character to it to clarify the meaning

没 also have the meaning of 'sink', That make '沉没' specifically mean 'sink'

重 also have the meaning of 'heavy' That make, '沉重' specifically mean 'heavy'

Example (verb + verb) :

攻 means 'attack' but it also contains the meaning of: study; specialize in; work at

擊 mainly mean 'hit' but it also contains the meaning of: 'attack'

攻擊 is a specific term for 'attack'


Question: Is there a name for 2-character "in-between" words in which both characters are abbreviations for individual 2-character words?

  • 攻擊 are not abbreviations for 攻打 and 打擊

  • 攻擊, 攻打 and 打擊 are all compound words that happen to share one component (攻擊 and 攻打 share 攻; 攻打 and 打擊 share 打)

Example from this post 认识 vs 知道 based on glyph origins

見識: experience(v) = (see + know) *'to see to know'

見識: experience(n)= (see + knowledge) knowledge from what you had seen

學識: knowledge; acquirements (n) = (learn/study + know) knowledge from what you had studied

常識: common sense; general knowledge(n) = (common + knowledge) knowledge that is common

They are all compound words that share the 識 component

It doesn't mean 見識 are abbreviations of 眼見/看見 and 認識/知識

It doesn't mean 常識 are abbreviations of 平常/通常 and 認識/知識


First, let me point out that some of the examples you gave are not what you explained.

The 谢 in 谢绝 serves more like an adverb, so a rough translation is to thankfully decline.

The 损 in 损害 means 使...损失.

You are correct that 互 in 互动 means 互相, but 动 would be quite different from 活动.

Maybe 舒适 can be viewed as combining 舒服 and 合适, but not exactly.

Second, my understanding is that in certain Chinese construction, we prefer to have two-character. 短 and 暂 are roughly synonyms, either is sufficiently for the semantic purpose. But we can either use both, or add something else, e.g., 短期 and 暂时. Maybe this is more like we don't say 桌 or 椅 or 筷,but always 桌子, 椅子, and 筷子. When we say 桌椅, it simply because 子s are no longer necessary.

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