Word of the Week: zhēn shì de
I remember clearly the first week of teaching second grade at a primary school in shanghai. One cheeky seven year old thought it would be funny to get up and slap me right on the arse in front of the whole class.
I actually thought it was pretty funny of the little git, but I couldn’t let him know that. I had to make the quite class think I was genuinely angry.
When relating this story to my Chinese friends I usually say
tā zhēn shì de!
He really is!
In Chinese you can say zhēn shì de 真是的 (really is) as a joking expression of anger. It doesn’t really translate into English but if you say nǐ zhēn shì de (you really is) it roughly means “you cheeky little…”
tā zhēn shì de!
He really is a cheeky little bastard.
wǒ de xué shēng zhēn shì de!
My students are really are a bunch of little…
You can use zhēn shì de without fear of offending. It sounds more funny than anything else and isn’t used to for expressing genuine anger.
shì de can also sometimes be used to mean “yes”, although Chinese doesn’t really have a word for yes or no. You usually just repeat the verb in positive or negative. If you’ve ever taught English in China you will have probably noticed that when you ask “do you like watching movies?” low level students often reply “I like” or “I don’t like.” That’s because this is exactly how you say it Chinese.
nǐ xǐ huan kàn diàn yǐng ma?
Do you like watching movies?
bù xǐ huan!
Don’t like! (No)
This type of response is often built into the questions in Chinese. It is common to ask a question by juxtaposing the positive and the negative verb. For example, if you’ve ever bought street food in Wuhan you will have heard the question
yào bú yào là jiāo?
Want not want chilli?
With this type of question it is only possible to answer by repeating the verb: yào “want” or bú yào “not want”
The other way to make a question is to put the question particle ma at the end of a statement. nǐ chī fàn le means “you have eaten a meal”. By adding the verbal question mark ma it becomes nǐ chī fàn le ma? “have you eaten?”
Again the best way to answer is with chī le (eaten) or méi chī (haven’t eaten). However, with questions using ma you can sometimes reply using shì de (is) as a rough equivalent for yes.
nǐ huì zhōng wén ma?
Can you speak Chinese?
However it is important to remeber two things. Firstly, replying by repeating the verb is usually more natural, so when someone asks nǐ huì zhōng wén ma? It is best to say huì (can) or bú huì (can’t). The other important thing is that although shì de can often be used for “yes” the negative bú shì (isn’t) can very rarely be used for no.
The obvious exception to this second rule is if the question originally uses the verb is, for example:
tā shì měí guó rén ma?
Is he American?