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I have looked at the Wikipedia article "Couplet (Chinese Poetry)", but I think it poses more questions than answers.

So a 对联 (duì lián) is a "Chinese couplet":

  1. it is composed of two lines;
  2. each line must have the same number of characters;
  3. the characters on each line must have a correspondence with each other;
  4. the characters on each line must have opposite "tone pattern" (平 vs 仄).

If a 平 tone is a "first tone", and all other tones are 仄, then the Wikipedia example doesn't make sense (qín wéi is 平?).

And I'm unclear as to whether each "character" must be related, or each "word"?

For example, 很贵 and 便宜 have opposite meanings as words, but not as characters.

As an example, is this a 对联?

猪扒便宜 Zhū pá piányi
鸡腿很贵 Jītuǐ hěn guì

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  • 便宜 & 贵 are adjectives, but 很 is an adverb. You should use 昂贵 to replace 很贵.
    – xenophōn
    Jul 10 '17 at 12:11
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  1. 平仄 can not be understood by a Chinese who only speaks Mandarin or some dialects, as I mentioned in my answer to the previous question "Different kinds of writing in Chinese". In mandarin, in many cases, 平 refers to the 1st and 2nd tone.

  2. The pattern of 对联 derives from the classic poems, a word-match is enough.

  3. Nowadays, we usually write a 对联 at a celebrating time, e.g. the spring festival, or on the day when you get married, etc., and paste it besides the gate of your house to celebrate the event. As it is written to celebrate something, the content usually refers to good things like "be fortunate, be lucky, be happy, be healthy, etc.", so I think your example would not be considered as a 对联. Of course, you can use it in a humorous way, but I think you won't paste it.

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  • I'm thinking about it more as a creative device (rather than something to post on our doors). The same as haiku or limerick. So I'm more concerned about the constraints of writing one. Do you think the 平仄 constraint is important? Jan 5 '12 at 15:19
  • @MatthewRudy马泰 I am not sure. I can't tell 平仄 before looking the character up in some special reference books, so I am not sure if this is important nowadays(I can't write one,sorry). Also, I think, when you write a 对联,you should express the meanings in a literal way, so I don't think your example is a good one.
    – Huang
    Jan 5 '12 at 15:27
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  1. 平仄 is not strictly required in modern 对联 but it is in poems some time in history such as Tang Dynasty.

  2. If possible, character to character match is preferred. In your example 很 is an adverb for 贵, but 便宜 in total is an adjective. So it's not a good match in characters.

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  • Thank you. I am most interested in the modern form. Glad I don't have to worry about 平仄. Jan 7 '12 at 16:52
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The 平仄 rhythmic system has been destroyed in Mandarin. You cannot figure out the 平仄 rhythmic system in Mandarin.

If you speak non-Mandarin Chinese, e.g. Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochew, Hokchew, Hakka, etc, then there are eight tones in Chinese, as the picture below:

四声八调

The 阴平 tone and the 阳平 tone are 平, while the rest of the tones are 仄.

If you only speak Mandarin, then ignore the rule of the 平仄 rhythmic system.


The characters (not words and phrases) on each line must have a correspondence with each other.

This rule is very important.

猪扒便宜

鸡腿很贵

First character: 猪, 鸡 OK

Second character: 扒, 腿 wrong

Third character: 便, 很 wrong

Fourth character: 宜, 贵 wrong


The correct example:

猪腿廉

鸡翅贵

First character: 猪, 鸡 OK

Second character: 腿, 翅 OK

Third character: 廉, 贵 OK

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  • The first half of the couplet typically ends in 仄 and the second half 平. So, the order of the couplet should be reversed.
    – joehua
    Jan 17 at 9:55
  • @joehua Yes. If 平仄 is considered, surely it is better to reverse two lines.
    – Victor
    Jan 18 at 12:30

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