When Drunk Doesn’t Mean Drunk

Word of the Week: zùi le

There are a lot of bad excuses for not getting drunk on a night out, but the claim made by many Chinese that they are allergic to alcohol must be among the worst. Alcohol is a poison, so if you feel ill after a heavy night that is just a natural reaction, not an allergic reaction.

That said many young Chinese students will make constant reference to being drunk. wǒ zùi le! I am drunk/ I was drunk. If you’re thinking of inviting them on a alcohol fueled student night out then you might want to think again because in Chinese drunk doesn’t always mean drunk.

wǒ zùi le! And the phrase wǒ yě shì zùi le! are actually used more like an interjection to mean “I couldn’t believe it!” or “I can’t believe it!” So when talking about something crazy or outrageous that happened you can just throw it in.


tā hē le yì píng pí jiǔ jiù zùi le! wǒ yě shì zùi le!

He got drunk off one beer, I couldn’t believe it! (Literally: He drank one beer and was drunk! I was drunk too!)

So here we see that zùi can mean drunk, but not always. What about the word le? This is actually one of those particles that doesn’t translate into English. When placed after an adjective it indicates a change of situation, and so can roughly be translated as “became…” or “got…”

nǐ pàng le! You’ve got fat!

tā shēng qì le! He got angry!

Unlike English, where we have phrases such as “smashed” and “wasted” Chinese doesn’t have a lot of colloquial words for drunk. However, you can make zùi more extreme by say you were “dead drunk”. To see how to do that click here.