Introduction to Chinese:
Lesson 3

By Linas

We have learned some important characters such as is, of (the most common one) and a bunch of other useful words. Let’s now learn the words for above and below because they are generally good for your education and both fall in the top 50 of the most common characters. They actually also help make a lot of other characters as well.

The word for under is a the letter T with a bit under it:

The position of the bit marks that it means under because the bit is under the horizontal line of the T.

Here’s the word for above then:

Basically it is the word for under inverted. The bit looks a little bit different now but basically that’s the only important difference apart from the fact that the bit is now above the horizontal line and that’s why the word means above. It can also mean on since there is no real difference in Chinese (the character for under is the same way also the character for below). They like to simplify things sometimes...

In a bit of a side note, if you combined both of these in the same character, basically having one vertical line of T and the bit above and below it at the same time, you would get the character for card:

This is generally not a very common character (it falls in the top 1000, though) but it may help you remember the characters for on and under. Look at it’s the two characters drawn on one picture: it might help you remember them. If you are into maths, you can see how this kind of looks like the coordinates’ plain. It also looks like the number ten in Chinese which we have learned with two bits.

Since we know the characters for under, let’s learn one of the other important building blocks in Chinese. We will call it the slash since it is so similar to the / slash we use in writing. Here is a similar but not quite accurate depiction of it:

Slash is a very important building block as well because it is used in quite a big number of characters. Look at the most important of them, which is one of the top 5 most frequently used Chinese characters as well. It is slash combined with under which is the character for no:

You can see how both of these come together in this character. It is used indeed very often. For example, if you want to say something is not you say something no is in Chinese.

How would you say a month is not a day which comes out as month no is day:

A month is not a day.

Answer: 月不是日
Not correct. Please try again.

This could also mean the moon is not the sun. Anyway... Another important Chinese character with slash is the character for is at. It consists of the number one on the top, the number two on the bottom, two sticks in the bottom and a slash. It goes one, two, two and slash. Here it is:

If you look at it upside down, it kind of looks like letters Fy underlined. Fy could mean found you... think I found you... you are at home.

The character is at is in the top 10 of the most frequently used characters. It means that somebody is at some place or that somebody is doing something at the moment. For example, if you wanna say the king is in China you say king is-at China. That would come out as:


How would you say the king isn’t in China or literally king no is-at China:

The king isn’t at China.

Answer: 国王在中国
Not correct. Please try again.

Right. It’s a shame we have missed very many easy characters along the way but that’s not what this course is far. Here’s another character that is in the top 10 of the most frequently used ones. It is the character for man:

Does it looks like a man to you? You can see two legs coming together. If you think about it, it is one of the easiest ways to draw a man and since you had to draw it a lot in Chinese, I think it kind of makes sense that they choose it as the character for man.

If you draw this man with his arms stretched out as if saying I caught a fish this big you have the character for big:


the big man

Answer: 大人
Not correct. Please try again.

This word 大人 actually means adult as well. Adults are big men, aren't they. Draw:


Answer: 大人
Not correct. Please try again.

The next one is one of the words we shouldn’t learn in the first place in this course since there are just too many of them but I couldn’t resist. If you take the big man and draw a bit on its shoulder, you have the character for dog:

The dog symbolizes this little thing sitting on the man. Get it? How nice is that...

Getting back to the character for big: if we divide it in half by using that stick which we used before, we get the character for tree:

If you add another line at the bottom to symbolize where the tree starts from, you have the word for root:

Believe it or not, root (stem) is also one of the top 100 most common characters. But anyway, getting back to man: if you combine man with a lot of other characters, it changes a bit and starts looking like the number 1.

For example, if you combine man with ten you get the word for what:

The first part is just man that looks like 1 just like I told you and the second character is ten. It goes like... man + ten... combining these two characters that seemingly have nothing to do with each other... What the hell??? ... Exactly!

It would be too easy if we could just get away with using one character for what. It doesn’t work that way. We have to used our second character for what which is actually slash plus the letter L so it looks like iL:

Imagine asking... .. what’s that? Having these two in mind, you have the full character for what which is literally what what:


If you look at it in the right way, it can look like 1T1 written together with the first 1 being simple and the second 1 being fancy.

I think that’s a good place to stop our learning for now. See you in the next lesson.