Sorry about the broad title, but I am a newish Chinese student (just finished HSK1) and there's a concept that continually appears in my classes that I can't grasp.

Basically, there are lots of situations where omitting a word can be done or not (think 我爸爸 VS我的爸爸 for example), or where one can chose between a long or short word (商店 vs just 店).

In many of those cases, my (native) teacher switches between using one option or the other during a dialogue depending on the specific phrase. When asked about it, she can't really explain why one option is better than the other, she just tells me that some version makes the phrase more "balanced" or that it makes it "complete".

My guess is that it has to do with the cadence of the phrase or something, but I am completely clueless about how to really understand this concept, and I don't even know if it has an actual name. How can I learn more about the topic?

  • Cadence is not the only consideration. Formality is too.
    – L Parker
    Commented May 31, 2021 at 0:44
  • This is of course a very big topic. It traverses the whole multifarious landscape of any language, not just Chinese. I, for one, would love to read answers from some of the more illustrious contributors here. Why "illustrious" and not "knowledgeable"?, well, it just sounds more "wide-ranging", I hope. Commented May 31, 2021 at 3:22
  • When beginning to learn a foreign language, the best way is to treat yourself like a child - learning through imitation and memorization. After you have built up enough vocabulary and fluent in conservations, you will find the balance much easier.
    – r13
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 19:30

1 Answer 1


My answer to this question What is the difference between 有时 and 有时候? How are they used differently in context? may explain some aspects of this topic.

Generally, using the full term make the speech sounds more literary, and using the shorter form make the speech sounds more colloquial

In the case of 我爸爸 vs. 我的爸爸, it is not full-term vs. short form, it is to omit vs. not to omit. See Why there is no 的 after 你 in 你国家的医院好吗?

If you can say 我爸爸 or 我的爸爸, the shorter one 我爸爸 is always more preferable.

In the case of 商店 vs. 店, the difference is specific vs. general. In some context, we need to specifically state 商店 (a commercial place for selling and buying), because 店 also include a commercial place for providing and receive service e.g. 酒店, 兌換店

Generally, omit as much as possible and not change the context of your sentence is considered elegant speech/writing.

You can decide when to sound more colloquial and when to sound more literary depend on the situations and the audience. For a serious paper, it is better to write more literary, use more idioms, short forms. As for casual conversations, you can mix everything up, having colloquial, literary, and slang elements all at once as long as you get your point across and doesn't have run-on sentences


It wouldn't feel right to not have examples in my answer


我爸爸做校對工作做了很多年 (casual, detailed, sounds colloquial but a little too wordy for writing)

我父從事校對工作多年 (brief and to the point, sounds literary, too formal for day to day speech)

Google Translate translates the two sentences exactly the same (My father has been doing proofreading for many years)

Another example:

真利害,三個後衞夾攻之下他也能起腳使勁把球射入龍門! (conversation between fans)

利害! 三人夾擊仍能勁射破網 (Game commentator talk)

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