Expressing Exclamation in Chinese with 真 (zhēn)

Expressing Exclamation in Chinese with 真 (zhēn): A Quick Guide

The adverb 真 (zhēn) is one of the most basics words in Mandarin Chinese. It corresponds to “really” or “truly” in English and is often used before adjectives and verbs to intensify the degree. In this post, we’ll look at how to use 真 (zhēn) to express exclamation in Chinese. Afterward, we’ll explore the differences between 真 (zhēn), 很 (hěn), 非常 (fēicháng) and 真的 (zhēn de) which often cause confusion among beginners in Chinese, and even some intermediate learners.

Let’s get started!

Use 真 (zhēn) to Intensify Adjectives

This is the most common scenario. People use 真 (zhēn) to intensify the degree of adjectives. The sentences can be translated as “(subject) is really or so (adjective)!”.

Pattern

真 (zhēn) + adjectives

Let’s see some examples!

  • 漂亮!
    zhēn piàoliang!
    You are so pretty!
  • 这里冷!
    Zhèli zhēn lěng!
    It’s so cold here!
  • 上海大!
    Shànghǎi zhēn dà!
    Shanghai is so big!
  • 她的英文好!
    Tā de yīngwén zhēn hǎo!
    Her English is really good!
  • 你们的宝宝可爱!
    Nǐmen de bǎobao zhēn kě’ài!
    Your baby is so cute!
  • 这个菜吃!
    Zhège cài zhēn nánchī!
    This dish is really disgusting!
  • 那部电影吓人!
    Nà bù diànyǐng zhēn xiàrén!
    That movie is really scary!
  • 他们看上去蠢!
    Tāmen kànshàngqù zhēn chǔn!
    They look so dumb!
Use 真 (zhēn) to Intensify Adjectives

Stick to the classic topic + comment” structure in exclamatory sentences! Don’t attempt to use the verb 是 (shì) before 真 (zhēn) to link the subject.  

Use 真 (zhēn) to Intensify Verbs

Besides adjectives, 真 (zhēn) can also be used before certain psychological verbs related to feelings or emotions (e.g. think, like) as well as some modal verbs (e.g. can, will) to intensify the degree. This is similar to using “really” or “very much” in English.

Pattern

真 (zhēn) + (certain) verbs

  • 想哭!
    zhēn xiǎng kū!
    I really want to cry!
  • 喜欢这个地方!
    zhēn xǐhuan zhège dìfang!
    I really like this place!
  • 讨厌上学!
    zhēn tǎoyàn shàngxué!
    I really hate going to school!
  • 希望明天下雨!
    zhēn xīwàng míngtiān xiàyǔ!
    I really hope it’ll rain tomorrow!
  • 懂我!
    zhēn dǒng wǒ!
    You really understand me!
  • 妈妈爱你!
    Māma zhēn ài nǐ!
    Mommy loves you so much!
  • 能吃!
    zhēn néng chī!
    You really can eat! (You ate so much!)
  • 会做菜!
    zhēn huì zuò cài!
    You really know how to cook! (You cook so well!)
Use 真 (zhēn) to Intensify Verbs

Differences between 很 (hěn), 非常 (fēicháng), 真 (zhēn)

真 (zhēn) conveys a stronger tone than “很 (hěn)”. It’s at the same intensity level as “非常 (fēicháng)”, which literally means “abnormally” or “extraordinarily”. The difference is that “非常 (fēicháng)” is used for description (just as 很 hěn), while “真 (zhēn)” is used for exclamation.

  • 漂亮。
    hěn piàoliang.
    She is quite/fairly pretty.
  • 非常漂亮。
    fēicháng piàoliang.
    She is extremely pretty. (stating a fact)
  • 漂亮!
    zhēn piàoliang!
    She is so pretty! (expressing approbation or admiration)

Remember, 真 (zhēn) should only be used to express your own feelings, emotions or opinions. That explains why you can’t use 真 (zhēn) in the following sentence.

× 听说她漂亮。
Tīngshuō tā zhēn piàoliang.
Use it for what you think, rather than what you hear!

For plain statements, use 很 (hěn) or 非常 (fēicháng) instead.

 听说她漂亮。
Tīngshuō tā hěn piàoliang.
I’ve heard that she is quite/fairly pretty.

√ 听说她非常漂亮。
Tīngshuō tā fēicháng piàoliang.
I’ve heard that she’s extremely pretty.

真 (zhēn) VS 真的 (zhēn de)

Many learners, even though they have attained a good level of Chinese, often get 真 (zhēn) and 真的 (zhēn de) mixed up.

The difference between the two words, however, is quite noticeable to native speakers. In short words, 真 (zhēn) is used to intensify the degree (you can think of it as “so” or “so much”), while 真的 (zhēn de) simply emphasizes that the statement is true. (think of it as “it’s true” or “I mean it”).

Compare these.

爱你!
zhēn de ài nǐ.
He loves you so much! (expressing approbation or admiration)

真的爱你。
zhēn de ài nǐ.
He loves you, I mean it.

会跳舞!
zhēn huì tiàowǔ!
You really know how to dance! (You dance so well!)

猴子真的会跳舞。
Hóuzi zhēn de huì tiàowǔ.
Monkeys can dance, it’s true.

In regular conversational Chinese, 真的 (zhēn de) is also used at the end of the statement.

  • 他爱你,真的
    Tā ài nǐ, zhēn de.
    He loves you, I mean it.
  • 猴子会跳舞,真的
    Hóuzi huì tiàowǔ, zhēn de.
    Monkey can dance, it’s true.
真的 (zhēn de) emphasizes that the statement is true

Notice that, unlike 真 (zhēn), 真的 (zhēn de) cannot be used directly before an adjective! You must insert an adverb of degree to modify the adjective.

  • × 这里真的冷。
    Zhèli zhēn de lěng.
    Missing an adverb of degree!
  • √ 这里真的冷。
    Zhèli zhēn de hěn lěng.
    It’s quite cold here, I mean it.
  • √ 这里冷,真的。
    Zhèli hěn lěng, zhēn de.
    It’s quite cold here, I mean it.
  • × 上海真的大。
    Shànghǎi zhēn de dà.
    Missing an adverb of degree!
  • √ 上海真的非常大。
    Shànghǎi zhēn de fēicháng dà.
    Shanghai is very big, I mean it.
  • √ 上海非常大,真的。
    Shànghǎi fēicháng dà, zhēn de.
    Shanghai is very big, I mean it.
  • × 这个菜真的难吃。
    Zhège cài zhēn de nánchī.
    Missing an adverb of degree!
  • √ 这个菜真的难吃!
    Zhège cài zhēn de tài nánchī le!
    This dish is extremely disgusting! I mean it.
  • √ 这个菜难吃!真的。
    Zhège cài tài nánchī le! Zhēn de.
    This dish is extremely disgusting! I mean it.

Wrap up

The Chinese adverb 真 (zhēn) corresponds to “really” or “truly” in English. It can be used before adjectives and certain psychological or modal verbs to intensify the degree. 真 (zhēn) conveys a stronger tone than “很 (hěn)”, and is at the same intensity level as “非常 (fēicháng)”. Bear in mind that 真 (zhēn) should only be used to express your own feelings, emotions or opinions.

Remember, grammar is the glue that holds the pieces of language together, so don’t forget to check other grammar articles on ImproveMandarin.Com’s Grammar Channel! 谢谢 (xièxie) for reading this post!