Most Common 同音词 (Word-Homophones) in Mandarin

I say “word-homophones” deliberately, since I’m referring specifically to 同音词 (homophones made up of multi-character words), not 同音字 (“character-homophones”, when two characters have the same pronunciation).

 

Most Common 同音词 (Word-Homophones) in Mandarin

 

yóuyú: 由于 (“because of; due to”) and 鱿鱼 (“squid”)

chénmò: 沉默 (“silent; taciturn”) and 沉没 (“to sink”)

jìyì: 记忆 (“remember”) and 技艺 (“skill; art”)

jiāodài: 交代 or 交待 (“to hand over; to explain; to make clear; et al”) and 胶带 (“tape”)

yuányīn: 原因 (“cause; origin; reason”) and 元音 (“vowel”)

bēijù: 悲剧 (“tragedy”) and 杯具 (“cups; tragedy, as a euphemism”)

wángguó: 王国 (“kingdom”) and 亡国 (“country/kingdom heading for destruction or that has vanished”)

quánlì: 权利 (“power; right; privilege”) and 权力 (“power; authority”)

yìyì: 意义 (“sense; meaning; significance”) and 异议 (“objection; dissent”), plus 意译 (“meaning-based translation”)

mílù: 迷路 (“to get lost”) and 麋鹿 (“Père David’s deer; milu”)

bǐshì: 鄙视 (“despise; disdain; look down upon”) and 笔试 (“written examination”)

lìzi(zǐ): 例子 (“example”) and 粒子 (“grain; particle”)

shǒushì: 手势 (“gesture; signal”) and 首饰 (“jewellery”), plus 守势 (“defensive position”)

gōngshì: 公式 (“formula”) and 攻势 (“military offensive”)

xiāngjiāo: 香蕉 (“banana”) and 相交 (“to cross over; to intersect; to make friends”)

xíngli(lǐ): 行李 (“luggage”) and 行礼 (“to salute”)

lìhai(hài): 厉害 (“ferocious; awesome; et al”) and 利害 (“pros and cons”)

dǔzhù: 堵住 (“to block up”) and 赌注 (“stake (in a gamble)”)

qǐngkè: 请客 (“to entertain guests”) and 顷刻 (“instantly”)

zhìfú: 制服 (“to subdue; to check; uniform; et al”) and 制伏 (“to overpower; to control; et al”)

pípa: 枇杷 (“loquat”) and 琵琶 (“pipa, the Chinese lute”)

róngyì: 容易 (“easy”) and 溶液 (“solution, in chemistry” – this homophone exists in Taiwan only, in mainland China it is pronounced róngyè)

shèngshì: 盛世 (“prosperous period”) and 盛事 (“grand occasion”)

bàofù: 报复 (“revenge”) and 抱负 (“aspiration; ambition”)

jùbiàn: 巨变 (“massive changes”) and 剧变 (“fast change”)

xīnsuān: 心酸 (“sad”) and 辛酸 (“spicy and sour” – can also be used as a metaphor for sadness)

pǐnwèi: 品味 (“to sample; to taste”) and 品位 (“rank; grade; aesthetic taste”)

zhēnchá: 侦查 (“to detect; to investigate”) and 侦察 (“to investigate a crime; to scout; et al”)

guǎnzhì: 管制 (“to control; to supervise”) and 管治 (“to govern”)

yǐnqíng: 隐情 (“facts one wishes to keep secret; ulterior motive”) and 引擎 (“engine”)

guòdù: 过度 (“excessive”) and 过渡 (“to cross over; et al”)

mùdì: 目的 (“goal”) and 墓地 (“graveyard; burial ground; cemetery”)

 

In addition, any word with “shi” or “li” in Mandarin can be a gamble. There are two particular utterances which may represent the worst homophony in Putonghua:

shìlì, which can stand for:

  • 势力: power; ability to influence
  • 视力: vision; eyesight
  • 示例: example; typical case
  • 事例: to illustrate; typical case
  • 势利: selfishly concerned with gaining advantages for oneself; favourable

and gōnglì, which can refer to:

  • 公历: Gregorian calendar
  • 公立: public (facility, institution, etc)
  • 功力: merit; efficacy; et al
  • 功利: utility
  • 工力: skill and force; manpower

Hope there are some readers out there who find this post helpful. If you have any additions please leave a comment.

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