One Chinese Word You Really Should Know

Word of the Week jiā yóu

One thing I love about China is how everybody is always giving each other added oil. No, I’m not talking about the food (although there is a lot of added oil in that…) I’m talking about that phrase 加油 jiā yóu. If you’ve lived in China and never heard jiā yóu then I don’t think you can really say you have lived in China.

jiā yóu literally means ‘add oil’ and of course Chinese people do like to jiā hěn duō yóu (add lots of oil) when cooking. However, jiā yóu can also mean fill your car up with petrol or, if you’re American, jiā yóu can mean to fill your car up with gas. A petrol station (gas station) is a 加油站 jiā yóu zhàn.


An ‘add oil station’ in Taiwan

Best of all is how jiā yóu is used to mean “come on!” It’s a way of giving support to another person, so if you go to a sports match you might hear supporters shouting jiā yóu at the top of their voices. But you might also say it to a class mate who thinks studying Chinese is difficult. zhōng wén zhēn de hěn nán. jiā yóu! (Chinese is really difficult. Come on – you can do it!)

So if you gěi péng you jiā yóu (give friend add oil) it just means to give them encouragement or support. It’s this usage of jiā yóu that is extremely common throughout China. In fact, I find Chinese people to be very supportive. How else can I explain frequent visits to karaoke? In Britain everyone would ridicule my bad singing, but in China wǒ péng you gěi wǒ jiā yóu (my friends support/encourage me).

In Chinese the word 加 jiā (add) is also a lot more useful than the English equivalent. Of course it can be used with lots of nouns. For example, jiā bān (add work) means to ‘do overtime’ or ‘work overtime’. jīn tiān wǒ yào jiā bān (today I have to work overtime).

That said, I think it’s far more interesting to know that, unlike the English word ‘add’, in Chinese the word jiā can be used with adjectives. When you use it with an adjective it means to ‘make it more adjective’.

For example jiā dà (add big) means to ‘make it bigger’. If you find yourself at MacDonald’s in China and want to ‘supersize’ your ‘meal’ you can say wǒ yào jiā dà (I want add big/ I want to make it bigger) but for that you have to jiā sān kuài qián (add 3RMB).


I like to jiā dà my coffee

Or maybe you’re starving hungry in the taxi on the way to MacDonald’s and just can’t wait to get there and jiā dà your chips and fizzy drink (fries and soda). What do you say to the taxi driver? You could say néng bù néng (can you…) followed by jiā kuài (add fast) so you get the sentence néng bù néng jiā kuài? (can you speed up/ go faster/ accelerate)

Unfortunately, if you’re not eating in you might find that your very delicious meal is already cold when you get home. In this situation you might want to jiā rè (add hot/ heat it up) so you can yòng wēi bō lú jiā rè (heat it up using the microwave). Alternatively you could just eat some Chinese food when in China.