There are Chinese characters & words that have many and different meanings, my question is how remember their meanings ?

Are there any tips ?

Simple examples:

  • (de, děi, dé): particle, must, obtain, ...
  • (gàn, gān): to work, do, manage, tree trunk, to concern, shield, dry, clean
  • Your question is too general, can you be more specific?
    – Tang Ho
    Feb 6, 2022 at 10:04
  • @TangHo, taking this example 干 (gàn, gān): to work, do, manage, tree trunk, to concern, shield, dry, clean, 干 has many meanings when its tone change
    – Lee
    Feb 6, 2022 at 10:24
  • Maybe it's a better idea to first treat words as a unit and remember words like 树干、干活、干净、干燥 etc., since with some meanings the character is no longer a free morpheme.
    – lilysirius
    Feb 6, 2022 at 11:17
  • 1
    You memorize them the same way you memorize a character with just one meaning. You learn the characters they can go with, try to use them in sentences, use mnemonic if you can think of any. In short, get familiar with them. One way I definitely DO NOT recommend is trying to memorize them as dictionary entiries.
    – monalisa
    Feb 6, 2022 at 19:58

2 Answers 2


The first thing you should consider is that bilingual dictionaries are notorious for giving long lists of "meanings" or "translation equivalents" with little or no context.

Consider if you were learning English and wanted to learn the meaning of the word "set." You then encounter "sunset," "movie set," "jet set," "chess set," "set of tennis," "a set course," "waiting till glue 'sets,'" "a set-up," etc. What do you do? Two strategies tend to work: (1) pay attention to the collocations so that you can recognize the meanings even when they change slightly or are omitted and (2) try to establish a core meaning or meanings you can use to derive the others. In the case of "set," these are all things that "sit" or are made to sit together. This technique creates a reinforcing web of meanings that will help you even when you encounter new usages, i.e., a "set-piece play in basketball."

Two additional strategies that help in Mandarin are to recognize that sometimes one simplified character represents more than one traditional character with more distinct meanings. Usage can sometimes be complex, but sometimes you can associate the meanings with the additional character forms.

The other approach that works for me is to develop simple mnemonics that reinforce the meanings.

Here are examples:

To remember the core meaning of 得 (dé), I remember the etymology as “obtaining" something by taking strides 彳 to gain valuables 贝 that you handle with care 寸. For the use of 得 (de) in phrases like 说得好 ("speak well"), I just think of 得 (de) as a grammaticalization and reduced pronunciation of the meaning "obtain." "You speak so as to a obtain a result that sounds good." For 得 (děi), you can think of a mnemonic like: "to live one needs (得 děi) to obtain (得 dé) food and shelter.

To remember the "core" meaning of 干, I see it as sketch of a shield with a hand grip or a forked weapon or hunting tool. Use it for this rare meaning and for any loan usages where the syllable has no obvious meaning by itself, so 若干 (a certain number; how many/much) for both simple and traditional characters. Also use it for "concerned with" or "intefere," since shields 干 are concerned with 干 interfering 干 with someone trying to stab you with a forked weapon 干.

For 干/幹, you can look at the traditional character and imagine a simple mnemonic like: " during early morning 早 at court 朝 before the moon sets (i.e, take away the 月 element from 朝), people 人 would plant the emperor's flag on a post/tree/trunk 干 to show he was the shield (干) of the nation against calamity. For the various meanings of this usage, remember that "senior cadres/middle managers (高干/幹)and/or capable officials 干/幹员 do (干/幹) all the real work and are the backbone (骨干/幹)of any company you should not interfere (干/幹) with.

For 干/乾, 乾 is just the same as 幹, but with the flag drying 乾 as it flutters off the morning dew from the second 乙 it flies from the top of the pole or tree trunk 幹 . 乙 actually means "second in a series," and not a second of time, but looks like a winding/fluttering snake or a stream of water. You just show the flag flapping to get dry and drop the part that used to represent the pole 干 when writing the traditional character. The basic meaning is "dry."


Chinese has a long history, and its original meaning is determined by oracle bone inscriptions. In the process of evolution, it has many extended meanings (this is different from English, which tends to replace or create a new word), and it is difficult for us to distinguish its ancient meaning in social life, but You can vaguely understand his meaning. The meaning of Chinese popular words changes quickly, for example, **** means hammer, but we use him as a mood particle, similar to Nope. For literary Chinese characters, the change is very slow, We can still directly read writings from two thousand years ago after a brief education.

It should be noted that the meanings of different sounds of Chinese characters are completely different, so Chinese characters with the same shape should not be linked, which will lead to more confusion. Even different parts of speech of the same sound have different meanings Memory should not be contacted for this either.

It should be noted that most of the meanings of Chinese characters have been deprecated, and you should not pay too much attention to the meaning of the transition period, but directly focus on the ending.

For example: The verb de2 is Need in everyday use

By the way, Chinese has no inflection of part-of-speech, personal, singular, plural, voice, etc., so a verb can be used as any component, and we also often use a word and use it as another part of speech. This seems to be difficult for native English speakers to go to ditch these.. of course i often throw away ingredients when i learn english

Chinese also does not have too much grammar. All the components are more similar to glue sticking together. If you want to express what you want to express, you can add a part, instead of requiring a specific structure like English.

The de2 modal particle is similar to OKay.... Chinese modal particles, like English, have no fixed meaning, and the meaning depends on the tone of speech

Hope it will help you

  • 1
    Of course, Chinese characters can be returned to a root after all, and it may be helpful to remember the original meaning, but the most important thing is to read more to develop a sense of language. This is what you need to learn any language
    – AlanCui
    Feb 7, 2022 at 10:09

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