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This is a faulty-wording grammar exercise from the HSK6 Standard Course textbook page 30 (photo of original) in the part titled 词语误用 = "word misuse":

因为是冬天,没有什么人到山上来玩儿。我站在山顶上,空气很清凉

The textbook considers this an error (answers, page 5), correcting 清凉 to 清新. No further explanation is given.

I don't understand why 清凉 cannot describe 空气. It's certainly not hard to find examples online of native speakers using it that way (e.g.清凉的空气如牛乳般新鲜; 清凉的空气; 下雨天空气很清凉是好还是不好?; 呼吸着干冽清凉的空气). ChatGPT says "the sentence you provided is grammatically correct and well-formed" when given the above. I asked ErnieBot:

Me: 清凉能够形容空气吗?

ErnieBot: 当然可以!虽然空气是无色无味的,但我们可以形容它的触感和温度。当我们感觉空气凉爽时,通常是因为温度较低,空气中的热量较少。所以,用“清凉”来形容空气是完全合适的。

My Chinese-Chinese dictionary 现代汉语词典, defines 清凉 as 凉而使人清爽, giving the example 清凉的山风. Pleco lists examples 清凉甜润的空气 and 夜晚芬芳清凉的空气.

These AI responses, examples found through Google, and dictionaries are consistent, and make me lean heavily towards 空气很清凉 being correct, and the textbook is likely mistaken. But there could be something special about the specific context given in the textbook's example.

Question: Why does my textbook consider 空气很清凉 incorrect, and change 清凉 to 清新?

At this point, I'm thinking it's one of two possibilities: (a) the sentence is grammatically correct, but the author disagrees with 我's assessment so strongly that they consider the word choice incorrect (maybe they're from a climate where winters are particularly harsh), or (b) the author considers the collocation 空气清新 to be so strong that not using it should be regarded as incorrect.

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因为是冬天

The air in winter should be described as 'cold'(寒冷), not 'cool' (清凉) which is typically a description of autumn weather (or summer at the top of a mountain)

在山顶上

Air at the 'top of the mountain' (山顶上) is typically more 'refreshing' (清新)

  • 'Cool' (清凉) isn't fit to describe air in winter at the top of a mountain

  • 'Refreshing' (清新) is fit to describe air at the top of a mountain

  • 'Cold'(寒冷) is fit to describe air in winter, especially at the top of a mountain

With this logic, 寒冷 could also be a correct answer, but 清新 should be the natural choice immediately following 在山顶上

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  • I thought so too. Whether I would use 清新 for the air of a mountain top in Winter is doubtful, but I would not have used 清凉 which I would more likely use for Springtime. Jan 5 at 1:54
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    It seems like the author is declaring the phrase untrue rather than ungrammatical, akin to e.g. "the sky is red."
    – Becky 李蓓
    Jan 5 at 3:42
  • @Becky Are they? The phrase 词语误用 doesn’t relate to truthiness any more than to con- or denotation to me. The fact that 清凉 is more like ‘pleasantly cool’ and 清新 more like ‘bracingly fresh’ was my immediate thought as well. If you climb to the top of a mountain in winter, almost anywhere in the world, the air will be more than just pleasantly cool. Jan 5 at 11:58
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    @JanusBahsJacquet with the current pace of global warming, just give it a couple years...
    – Tiercelet
    Jan 5 at 15:05
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My conjecture is that 清凉 is logically unrelated to the "没有什么人到山上来玩儿" in the previous sentence. If there is few people then the air is undisturbed, hence fresh, pristine, etc., but is not necessarily "cool". However this is a very weak hint: I would not consider 清凉 to be out of place here.

There is a secondary reason: 清凉 is used less frequently than 清新 as a predicate. You can confirm this by comparing the number of hits of "很清凉" vs "很清新" in a corpus, though I cannot immediately give a reason for this.

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清凉 - 凉而使人清爽的

清新 - 清爽新鲜

Either can be used to describe the feel of the air on top of the mountain, however, I think it is a case of "mismatch" rather than "misuse":

  • 因为是早春/深秋的清晨,没有什么人到山上来玩儿。我站在山顶上,空气很清凉/新鲜。

IMO, 早春/深秋 correspond to 清凉; 早春 and 清晨 correspond to 清新.

The better word describing the winter should be:

  • 因为是冬天,没有什么人到山上来玩儿。我站在山顶上,空气很淒寒。

淒寒 - 凄凉而寒冷 (凄凉的空氣 implies the chill of winter and lack of noisy tourist)

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I agree with conjecture (b). 清凉 is not incorrect. It's just less common. When I read the sentence, I notice the word and believe it's a considerable choice from the author, as 空气 is much more often accompanied by 清新, while 清凉 is usually for environment/atmosphere. If I have to explain why this is the case, the feeling of 清新 comes from the nose, while that of 清凉 comes from the whole body.

Reference where 空气清凉 is totally fine: Lyric: https://mojim.com/cny241848x6x1.htm

Conjecture (a) is unlikely. Some part of China doesn't have harsh winter.

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“清” is used to describe clean, “凉” is used to describe cool, “新”is used to describe fresh and not dirty, “清凉”is a fixed combination used to describe clean and cool water. If the air is clean and cool, use “清冽”

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没有什么人到山上来玩儿 <- this is the critical difference.

If your sentence were "因为是冬天,我站在山顶上,空气很清凉。" 清凉 would be correct.

However, "没有什么人到山上来玩儿" implies that the air were fresh (if there were a lot of people the air would be less fresh). So 清凉 is correct.

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