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I was talking to one of the staff members at LTL Mandarin, and she mentioned that when negotiating contracts (e.g. when moving house) there is an important difference between the following homophones:

预订 (yù​dìng)
CC-CEDICT: to place an order / to book ahead

预定 (yù​dìng)
CC-CEDICT: to schedule in advance

They seem similar in meaning too, so I don't understand why this would be so important. I'm wondering if someone could describe a hypothetical scenario where the distinction could lead to a disaster.

Question: What is so problematic about the homophones 预订 and 预定 when negotiating contracts?

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Usually, 预订 followed by a noun (object); 预定 followed by a verb (action). It is not difficult to tell the two apart.

Example:

预定明天出發 - scheduled to leave tomorrow

预订一打玫瑰 - place an order for a dozen roses

However, let's say you tell a supplier that "想向你們预订 X number of Y" (want to order X number of Y from you), and they agreed and said, "會预定提供 X number of Y 給你" (will schedule to provide X number of Y for you). If they can't deliver on the agreed date, they can argue: 'to schedule to' is the same as 'to prepare to'. It never was a firm order.

  • 预订明天交貨 = ordered (goods), deliver tomorrow (a firm order)

  • 预定明天交貨 = scheduled to deliver tomorrow (not a firm order)

预订 is an official contract. You are expected to pay for the goods and they are expected to deliver the goods

预定 is a 'promise to reserve', that's why we say 向餐館预定一张桌子 (Reserve a table from a restaurant) and say 向傢具店预订一张桌子 (pre-order a table from a furniture store)

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In legal terms, you may pay some money in advance for the contract, which is called 定金 for 预定, and 订金 for 预订. And, later, when for some reason, you do not want to sign the contract anymore, 定金 cannot be refunded, but 订金 can be refunded (maybe partially).

Disclaimer: I have no expertise in law, this cannot be treated as legal advice. This only describes the law in the mainland.

This is an article discussing the problem, which is from a government website hosted by Beijing court: “订金”与“定金”的区别

A news article linking discussing 预定 and 预订: 买车留心!“预定”“预订”差别这么大

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  • 如果一個藝人收了定金而不去演出,該要把定金還給人家吧? – Tang Ho Dec 26 '20 at 2:43
  • 上面说的付定金一方违约的,你说的是收定金一方违约,不是同一种情况。比照来看,对于收款方违约,”定金“应该比”订金“有更多的惩罚性措施。所以,可能不是仅仅退定金就能解决的,可能还会有违约金。 – fefe Dec 26 '20 at 2:48
  • Well, the difference between 订金 and 定金 is not the same as the difference between预定 and 预订 – Tang Ho Dec 26 '20 at 3:02

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