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减弱 (jiǎn​ruò)
CC-CEDICT: to weaken / to fall off

I find this counter-intuitive, since we have:


CC-CEDICT: to lower / to decrease / to reduce / to subtract / to diminish


CC-CEDICT: weak / feeble / young / inferior / (following a decimal or fraction) slightly less than

It seems like 减弱 should mean "reduce weakness" and therefore "strengthen", but it means the opposite. For comparison, 减肥 means "lose weight".

Question: Why does 减弱 (lit. "reduce weak") mean "to weaken"?

  • I wondered the same thing myself quite recently, but then I decided to accept it as "just being that way". I think as students we come across 减肥 first, and then expect 减 to behave in the same way with other characters. Clearly it does not! – goPlayerJuggler Nov 20 at 9:27
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肥 in 减肥 is a noun; 弱 in 减弱 is an adjective

减肥 = 减(少)肥(胖) = reduce obesity

减弱 = 减(低)(變)弱 decrease and weaken

Example:

"颱風减弱" = "颱風(威力)(低)(變)" = "Typhoon (power) decreases and weakens"

The power decreased and the typhoon became weaker

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In "减肥", "肥" is the target and 减 is the action.

However in "减弱", this is a verb as a whole, 弱 is NOT the TARGET。 When you say "强度减弱",强度 is the target, 减 is the action, and 弱 is the result/status after the action. It literally means "减 something and 使 something 弱" (don't speak this way).

A similar example is its antonym "增强"。强 is the status after the action 增, rather than the target being 增ed. E.g. In "增强实力", 实力 is the target, 增 is the action, and 强 is the result/status after the action. Again, "增强" is a verb as a whole, don't separate them.

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  • So, in other words, the meaning of 减 and 弱 are cumulative in this case and modify the same target? – jpaugh Nov 20 at 19:11
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It may help if you analyze 减弱 in terms of a verb plus an adjectival complement of result, i.e. the subject NP reduces, with the result that it is weak.

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I believe this word uses the "coordinate" compounding structure. If we interpret both of the characters as verbs, then the compound would consist of two words with similar meanings, like 觀察 (observe observe), 成長(grow grow), 減弱 (v.) (reduce deprived/cease to have)

As someone has mentioned, 減肥 (go on a diet, lit. reduce fat) seems to have the opposite effect. That is because the 2 words aren't similar, but the first is describing the second, forming the "verb-object" compounding structure, similar to: 觀鳥(observe bird), 成佛 (become Buddha), 減肥 (reduce fat)

I have listed other types of word formations in this answer: What are the grammatical functions of 一米八五 and 一个小时?

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