Coming Out in China

Word of the Week: chū lái

This word of the week literally means “come out” but it is so much more useful than you could possibly imagine from this English translation. 1081622151011447684010

Like the English “come out” you can use chū lái as a verb, to physically come out of a room or building. Unlike the English you can’t use it to mean coming out as a homosexual, for that phrase click here.

tā chū lái le (s)he has just come out (of the room /building)

However, by far the more interesting use of chū lái is the way that it can be placed after verbs to mean you can tell something is true by doing that verb. Confused? A couple of examples should make things crystal clear:

Somebody with a thick Beijing accent is talking to you, so ask them if they’re from Beijing. They’re surprised and ask you how you know, and you reply wǒ tīng de chū lái (I listen can come out/ I can tell by listening)

Your friend asks “how did you know I just ate some stinky tofu?” And you reply wǒ wén de chū lái (I smell can come out/ I can tell by smelling)

Stinky tofu smells disgusting but is popular street food in some parts of China

Stinky tofu smells disgusting but is popular street food in some parts of China

It’s important to use the particle de after the verb because in this sentence de means can. If you replace de with the negative it means “can’t tell”

I have a colleague who is British but one of his parents is from Singapore and so he looks just like a Chinese person.

wǒ kàn bù chū lái tā shì yīng gúo rén (I look not come out he is British person/ I can’t tell by looking that he’s British.)

However, he has a thick London accent.

dàn shì wǒ tīng de chū laí tā shì yīng gúo rén (but I listen can come out he is British person/ I can tell by listening that he’s British)

So basically we have sensory verbs see/ hear/ smell/ touch and we add de chū lái to mean “can tell” and bù chū lái to mean “can’t tell”. It’s that simple.

Comments

If you have any problems understanding this or any other word of the week please feel free to leave a comment below or email info@themandarincorner.com

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