I learned that in Chinese counterproductive is 起到反作用 or 起反作用

I'm trying to figure out what the characters or words mean in this phrase.

I know 作用 means result or effect here, 反 means opposite. How does 起 fit in here and what part of speech is it? Is 到 necessary, or is it a completed action marker here?

Many thanks!

2 Answers 2


起 = establish

作用 = effect

起作用 = take effect

反(opposite) --> (opposite of positive = negative)

起反作用 = take opposite (negative) effect --> The opposite result of the intended goal = counterproductive

When your action cause a positive/productive effect, that is 起(正面)作用

When your action cause a negative/ counterproductive, effect, that is 起反面作用 = 起反作用

正面 in 起正面作用 is omitted because the term 'effect' is presumed positive.


突襲起了作用 -- The raid took effect (a positive effect/ result of improving the odds of winning)

突襲起了反作用 -- The raid took opposite effect (a negative effect/ result of worsening the odds of winning)

'到' in '起到作用' is a verb particle that indicates the verb is succefully completed

  • Great, makes sense!
    – Curiosity
    Commented Apr 25, 2021 at 23:00

I think you can see it nicely here:

Some measures adopted in response,
such as export restrictions,
led to (a) strong counter-effect. = have been highly counterproductive.

起到: give rise to
反作用: opposite, counter-effect

  • Thanks, the example helped.
    – Curiosity
    Commented Apr 25, 2021 at 23:00

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