The mistranslated Chinese character - 很 (hěn)
How to say “very” in Chinese?
Hmm, that’s a complicated question.
When learning Chinese, students almost always learn the meaning of 很 (hěn) in the first few lessons. Its meaning is always translated into “very”. Also, in Chinese-English dictionaries, 很 (hěn) is usually translated into “very, quite, awfully”. In Google Translate, 很 (hěn) is translated into “very, quite, extremely, mightily”, and so on.
However, in reality, unless it is emphasised in speaking, 很 (hěn) does not mean “very”. The correct understanding of 我很好 (wǒ hěn hǎo) is “I am good”, not “I am very good”.
The reason that 很 (hěn) is translated into “very” is because there isn’t any equivalent word in English. This mistranslation serves its purpose until a more elaborate answer can be given.
This article is that elaborate answer to the exact meaning of 很 (hěn).
很 (hěn) is a commonly used word to indicate a degree. There are many words having the same function in Chinese. And the best way to understand 很 (hěn)‘s meaning is by comparing it with other degree-indicating words in Chinese.
To indicate a small degree
There are two commonly used words to indicate a small degree, or a bigger degree only in a comparative sense (still a small degree):
To indicate a great degree
There are many commonly used words that indicate a great degree:
A degree somewhere in between
There are two words that indicate a degree somewhere in between the above two categories, 很 (hěn) is one of them:
A degree that is a step further
Different from the above three categories of degree indicators, there is the fourth category that indicates various stages of the development of the same thing, or when comparing two things, indicate a step further from the norms.
There are two words:
Practice makes Perfect
Fill in the blanks with an appropriate words introduced in this article:
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