Book Review: 500 Common Chinese Idioms

Written byZoe Mei

Idioms (成語/成语 chéngyǔ) are a special part of Chinese. In everyday boring conversation they rarely come up, but every now and again a perfect situation arises when one of these four-character gems can describe a situation or feeling perfectly.

Through idioms you not only get a better understanding of the Chinese language, but also Chinese culture. Plus, it’s very cool when you get the chance to use one, or hear and actually understand it.

According to Wikipedia there are anywhere between 5,000 and 20,000 Chinese idioms, so there’s the challenge of knowing which idioms to actually learn, and that’s where this book comes in.

500 Common Chinese Idioms: An Annotated Frequency Dictionary presents the 500 most frequently used idioms, which, according to the book will cover 40 to 50% of idioms in common use. This takes the pain out of selecting which idioms to focus your time on learning. The idioms are also ordered by frequency, which makes for more effective learning.

As explained in the introduction, the aim of the book is threefold – to present practical idioms for foreigners to learn, explain them clearly, and provide example sentences that use modern Chinese. Here’s the full list of the data provided with each idiom:

  • Idiom in both Simplified and Traditional Chinese with Pinyin pronunciation.
  • English translation and general explanation
  • Example sentences (in only Simplified Chinese) with Pinyin and English.
  • Comments on usage
  • Allusions such as historic and cultural references
  • Notes about the idiom such as if it’s positive or negative, spoken or written etc.
  • Synonyms
  • Antonyms

When looking up an an idiom, the English explanation gives you a general overview of the meaning. The characters and words contained within the idiom are also reviewed, which further helps in understanding the meaning. This makes the book good for just picking up and flicking through. Though, if you are in the mood for serious studying you can read further on.

The example sentences are invaluable, and show the idioms being used in topics such as business, education, society, culture and more. The inclusion of synonyms and antonyms is also very useful, but they aren’t referenced, so if another idiom is mentioned you’ll have to look it up in the main index yourself.

The appendix includes an index of the characters ordered by Pinyin, and another ordered by the number of strokes in the first character of the idiom. Also of note is the included index of common structural patterns seen in idioms. For example 不可** which includes the examples 不可思議, 不可多得, and 不可理喻. Twenty one patterns are explained and this is an interesting and useful addition to the book.

The book not only addresses the problem of not just which idioms are most useful to learn, but also how you should use them. The explanations and examples are clear and practical and make the book good for light reading or serious study. If you’re looking for a coffee table book of Chinese idioms (and your friends are all Mandarin-learning nerds) then this is perfect.

Purchase 500 Common Chinese Idioms: An Annotated Frequency Dictionary on

  • Share:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
Chinese Language Guide
Learn Chinese
Make sure to subscribe.
Get the best content that I don't share publicly to your inbox:
This online learn Chinese resource guide is for anyone who wants to learn the Chinese language. My goal is to help you learn Chinese grammar and phrases, and share the best Chinese resources to help you learn.
Get my best content that I don't share publicly to your inbox
Chinese Language Guide
Author: Zoe Mei
"学一门语言,就是多一个观察世界的窗户。"Learn Chinese here.Make sure to subscribe.
© Chinese Language Guide, 2024. Privacy Disclaimer Contact