In today's reading, I encountered the expression 敬而远之. However, I noticed this x而y之 structure is repeated in many other 4-character expressions (Pleco search ?而?之):


Thus, it seems I should study how such structures work and thereby learn whole families of 4-character expressions at a time.

Question: What are the repeatedly used structures in 4-character expressions (e.g. chengyu) and what do they mean?

I'm seeking a kind of overview of major structures (those that occur in multiple 4-character expressions, like x而y之 above) for 4-character expressions, and a brief explanation as to how to interpret them. It looks like x而y之 is an adjective that combines x and y.

Note that x而y之 is just one example, and there are others like 千x万y (see also Chengyu with two numbers).

(Whenever I look up chengyu on the web, I find pages like this and this which give a handful of common but disparate examples, making them very difficult to actually remember.)


It seems that there are two types of 成语 represented by the same “structure”.

A而B之 could mean “action + action, done to something (third person pronoun)”.

取而代之 means “to take and replace 之 (something that was previously mentioned)”. Compare this to 取代, which simply means “replace”. You could consider 取而代之 a literary form of 取代; using it adds elegance to an otherwise common word. Other examples include 换而言之、敬而远之 and 分而治之.

A而B之 could also mean “adjective + adjective, used to describe something (third person pronoun)”.

堂而皇之 means that something (之) is “wide like a hall and grand like imperial edifices”. Similarly, this can be considered a literary form of 堂皇. I would say 久而久之 has similar characteristics, but note that the 久 is describing a long period of time, instead of the appearance or a quality of an object.


Axel Tong answered A而B之 perfectly. I would address some other idiom structures not mentioned in the question

Becky 李蓓 wrote:

Note that x而y之 is just one example, and there are others like 千x万y

  1. [(adjective A) + (noun A) + (adjective B) + (noun B)] / Example: 千丝万缕,如狼似虎

  2. [(adverb A) + (adjective A) + (adverb B) + (adjective B)] / Example: 穷凶极恶,巨奸大恶

  3. [adverb A] + [(verb A) + (adverb B) + (verb B)] / Example: 穷追猛打,虚打假闘

  4. [(verb A) + (adverb A) + (verb B) + (adverb B)] / Example: 赶尽杀绝,看惯见熟

In the four structures above, the relationship between (A) and (B) are either being similar or being one half of a split-up compound word

千万 丝缕 --> 千丝万缕

如似 狼虎 --> 如狼似虎

穷极 凶恶 --> 穷凶极恶

巨大 奸恶 --> 巨奸大恶

穷猛 追打 --> 穷追猛打

虚假 打闘 --> 虚打假闘

赶杀 尽绝 --> 赶尽杀绝

看见 惯熟 --> 看惯见熟

Studying the examples about, you can apply the same structure to coin new idiomatic phrases out of the common compound words that contain two characters that have a similar, identical or opposite meaning


粉碎 身(体) 骨(骼) --> 粉身碎骨

超赶 英美 --> 超英赶美

忽然 冷热 --> 忽冷忽热

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