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Useful Chinese Chengyu for Daily Conversation

Have you heard of Chinese Chengyu before? Only 4 Chinese characters to express a big idea? Do you know what Chengyu the Chinese people frequently use in their daily life? If not, it’s time for you to find out!

What is Chengyu (成语, chéng yǔ) ?

https://www.maayot.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/成语.mp3
成语 (chéng yǔ)

Chengyu are a type of Chinese idioms, which mostly consist of 4 Chinese characters, but some have 3 or more characters. Chengyu are originally derived from Chinese ancient classics or historical stories, so that they are quite meaningful. In Chinese culture, Chenyu are previous generations’ wisdom. Now, let’s find out the most common Chengyu related to animals in our daily life to make you “出口成章” (chū kǒu chéng zhāng, the translation is “quick and smart talking”).

https://www.maayot.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/出口成章.mp3
出口成章” (chū kǒu chéng zhāng)

High-frequency Chengyu (related to animals)

Here we have listed 6 Chengyu related to animals, their direct translation, the stories behind them, and their derived meanings from the stories. An example of each Chengyu is given to show how to use these Chengyu.

1. 塞翁失马,焉知非福 (sài wēng shī mǎ , yān zhī fēi fú)

https://www.maayot.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/塞翁失马,焉知非福.mp3

Direct translation?

Also known as “塞翁失马,安知非福” (sāi wēng shī mǎ ,ān zhī fēi fú). “塞翁” is an old man’s name. “失马” means losing the horse. “焉知” or “安知” means “how can you know”. “非福” means “it is not a blessing”. So combine them together, the translation is “Saiweng lost his horse, how can you know it is not a blessing?”. This chengyu has an interesting story behind it.

What’s the story behind it?

Once, the old man Saiweng, his horse ran to the Huren’s residence for no reason. People came to comfort him for this. Saiweng said, “Why it is not a good thing?”. After a few months, the horse came back with many good horses of the Huren. People came to congratulate him. Saiweng said again, “Why is it not a disaster?” Saiweng’s son loves riding horses, but he fell off his horse and broke his leg. People came to comfort him. Saiweng said, “Why is it not a good thing?” After a year, the Huren invaded the frontier fortress, and many strong young men were recruited to fight. Many people died near the frontier fortress. Only Saiweng’s son survived from the war due to his lame leg.

What’s the meaning?

“塞翁失马,焉知非福” this Chengyu is an analogy that although you suffer a loss at the moment, you might get benefits from it later. It also means bad things can turn into good things under certain conditions, and vice versa. To describe a person’s mentality, one must be optimistic and positive. Everything has two sides and the bad side could be transformed into the good side.

How to use it?

  • 疫情期间,我失业了。

(yì qíng qī jiān, wǒ shī yè le.)

  • 看淡点。塞翁失马,焉知非福。你现在有时间陪伴你的家人了呀。

(kàn dàn diǎn. sāi wēng shī mǎ, yān zhī fēi fú. nǐ xiàn zài yǒu shí jiān péi bàn nǐ de jiā rén le ya.)

Translation:
  • I lost my job during the epidemic.
  • Take it easy. It might not be a bad thing. Now you have spare time to be with your family.

2. 画龙点睛 (huà lóng diǎn jīng)

https://www.maayot.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/画龙点睛.mp3

Direct translation?

“画龙” means painting a dragon. “点睛” means adding the eyes. So connect them together, it should be “adding the eyes can make the painted dragon more vivid”.

What’s the story behind it?

In the Liang Dynasty, a painter named Sengyou Zhang painted four dragons at a temple, but he never painted eyes for the dragon. Some curious people asked him why. He replied, ” If you add the eyes, the dragons will fly away.” People didn’t believe him and thought he was bragging, so they still wanted him to add the eyes. Then Sengyou painted the eyes for two dragons. Suddenly, storm, lightning and thunder came together. These two dragons flew out of the wall into the clouds. Only the two dragons with no eyes left on the wall.

What meaning?

“画龙点睛” this Chengyu metaphors that the key parts of speaking or doing something are handled well, making the content more meaningful and powerful. We can also think of this as a kind of innovation, which bring a creative and effective solution.

How to use it?

你最后一段话简直是画龙点睛啊!客户肯定会满意的!

(nǐ zuì hòu yī duàn huà jiǎn zhí shì huà lóng diǎn jīng a! kè hù kěn dìng huì mǎn yì de!)

Translation:

Your last paragraph is so powerful! The client must be badly satisfied!

3. 画蛇添足 (huà shé tiān zú)

https://www.maayot.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/画蛇添足.mp3

Direct translation?

“画蛇” means painting a snake. “添足” means adding extra feet. So connect them, it becomes painting a snake but with extra feet.

What story behind it?

In the Zhou dynasty, a man in the state of Chu held an event to commemorate ancestors. After the event, he took out a pot of wine to his guests. They discussed with each other and had an idea, “This pot of wine is not enough if everyone comes to drink, and we will run out if someone drinks it all. Each of us draw a snake on the ground, and those who complete it first can drink this pot of wine.” One person completed the snake first. But he continued to draw, saying, “I will draw its feet.” Before he finished his painting, another person completed the snake. Then he grabbed the pot and said, “Snake has no feet, how can you draw feet to it!” Then he drank the wine. The person who drew the feet eventually lost the wine.

What meaning?

“画蛇添足” this Chengyu has an opposite meaning with “画龙点睛”. It means it is useless to do something redundantly, however, it can be terrible or harmful.

How to use it?

别在这画蛇添足了。没看到妈妈已经够心烦的了吗?

(bié zài zhè huà shé tiān zú le. méi kàn dào mā mā yǐ jīng gòu xīn fán de le ma?)

Translation:

Don’t make any more troubles here. Don’t you see your mother is upset already?

4. 守株待兔 (shǒu zhū dài tù)

https://www.maayot.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/守株待兔.mp3

Direct translation?

“守株” means staying at the tree stump. “待兔” means waiting for the rabbits. So combine them, it means staying at the stump to wait for the rabbits coming by themselves.

What’s the story behind it?

In Song Dynasty, a farmer has a farmland with a tree stump. One day, a fast-running rabbit hit the stump, broke its neck and died. The farmer saw it and stayed next to the stump day and night, hoping to get another rabbit. However, it is impossible to get another one, and he himself became a joke in Song Dynasty.

What meaning?

“守株待兔” this Chengyu is a metaphor for delusion to gain something with just good luck, or clinging to a narrow experience but do not know flexibility.

How to use it?

不要守株待兔了。你不说出你想要做什么,你领导怎么会知道呢?

(bú yào shǒu zhū dài tù le. nǐ bú shuō chū nǐ xiǎng yào zuò shí me, nǐ lǐng dǎo zěn me huì zhī dào ne?)

Translation:

Don’t just wait for the chance itself coming. If you don’t speak out what you what to do, how can your boss know that?

5. 对牛弹琴 (duì niú dàn qín)

https://www.maayot.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/对牛弹琴.mp3

Direct translation?

“对牛” means face to face with a cow. “弹琴” means playing the guqin (古琴, a type of Chinese instrument). So combining these two is playing the guqin to a cow.

What story behind it?

In the Warring States period, Mingyi Gong once played the guqin to a cow, but the cow still ate the grass as before. The cow can hear it but cannot understand the meaning in the tune. So Mingyi used the guqin to imitate the sounds of mosquitoes and calves. Then the cow wagged its tail, raised its ears and stepped back and forth.

What meaning?

“对牛弹琴” this Chengyu can be used to describe someone who doesn’t understand one’s words. It also reveals that to do anything, you must look at your target audience and match your approach on a case-by-case basis.

How to use it?

他是个外行人。不要在意他说的话。跟他讲话,就是在对牛弹琴!

(tā shì gè wài háng rén. bú yào zài yì tā shuō de huà. gēn tā jiǎng huà, jiù shì zài duì niú dàn qín!)

Translation:

He is not in this industry. Don’t care about what he said! Talking to him is just like playing the guqin to a cow!

6. 狼吞虎咽 (láng tūn hǔ yàn)

https://www.maayot.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/狼吞虎咽.mp3

Direct translation?

“狼” means wolf. “虎” means tiger. Both “吞” and “咽” mean swallowing. So combine them, it means eating just like beasts.

What story behind it?

The Chengyu came from a Chinese historical book. In that book, it says “十人自来吃酒…… 须臾之间,狼吞虎咽,算来吃够有六七十斤肉”, which means “ten people love eating…… just in a while, they ate very fast like beasts, and at least had 30 to 35 kg of meat”.

What’s the meaning?

“狼吞虎咽” this Chengyu can be used to describe someone who eats food quickly and messily, just like beasts. It could be the case that person is extremely starving or has an urgent thing need to do later.

How to use it?

你看看你自己狼吞虎咽的样子,像是十几天没吃饭!

(nǐ kàn kàn nǐ zì jǐ láng tūn hǔ yān de yàng zǐ, xiàng shì shí jǐ tiān méi chī fàn!)

Translation:

Look at yourself, eating like a hungery beast, as if you haven’t had any meals these days!

Chengyu can have an effect of “画龙点睛” on your conversation with your Chinese friends! Have you memorised the 6 Chinese Chengyu above? Now you can use them to “出口成章” with your Chinese friends and impress them!

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