Expressing Difficult in Chinese with 难 (nán): A Beginner’s Guide
The word 难 (nán) is truly versatile in Chinese. By itself, it conveys a simple concept: “difficult”, but when it’s used as a compound word, its meaning becomes much more diverse. In this article, we’ll explore the various ways of using 难 (nán) in Chinese to help you sound truly authentic when speaking the language.
Let’s get started!
Use 难 (nán) by Itself
Using 难 (nán) by itself is very simple as it directly translates to the English word “difficult” or “hard”. Here is a basic example:
Rìyǔ hěn nán.
Japanese is hard.
Use 难 (nán) in Combination with Verbs
In Chinese, you can just add a verb after 难 (nán) to express “something is hard to do or to be done”.
Rìyǔ hěn nán xué.
Japanese is hard to learn.
难 (nán) + verb
Let’s look at some more examples:
Zhè hěn nán shuō.
It’s hard to say.
Zhè zhēnde hěn nán bàn.
It’s really hard to be done.
Zhège zì bù nán xiě.
This character is not hard to write.
Huài xíguàn fēicháng nán gǎi.
Bad habits are hard to change.
Yī děng jiǎng hěn nán yíng.
The first prize is hard to be won.
Xiànzài kǒuzhào hěn nán mǎi.
Face masks are hard to buy now.
Zuìjìn gōngzuò bù nán zhǎo.
Jobs are not hard to find nowadays.
Zhè liàng chē tài nán qí le!
The bike is so hard to ride!
难 (nán) in Compound Words
Some “难 (nán) + verb” combinations appear so often in Chinese that they sort of have become compound words themselves already, with a meaning on their own. (their Pinyin are often written without any space in between)
One of the most noticeable examples would be “难吃 (nánchī)”. Following the previous pattern, you would probably think that it means “something is difficult to eat”, but actually it means it doesn’t taste good (therefore “eating it” is difficult).
难 nán + 吃 chī = 难吃 nánchī
hard (to) + eat → unpleasant to eat, unsavory
And you use this type of word as an adjective in Chinese.
Zhège cài tài nánchī le!
This dish is so unpleasant to eat!
nánchī de cài“unpleasant-to-eat” (unsavory) dish
Obviously, this is a literal translation, in English, you would say something like “this dish is disgusting/awful” or something more specific, but this is the most common way that Chinese speakers describe food that tastes bad.
When learning Chinese, it’s always important to remember that some expressions don’t have exact equivalence in other languages, translations of the same word, or the same structure will often be different.
难 (nán) can be used in the same way for many other words. Here are some most common examples:
- 难 nán + 喝 hē = 难喝 nánhē
hard (to) + drink → unpleasant to drink, unsavory
Zhè kāfēi chāo nánhē!
This coffee is super disgusting! (hard to drink)
- 难 nán + 看 kàn = 难看 nánkàn
hard (to) + look at → unpleasant to look at, ugly
Wǒ juéde zhè shuāng xié bù nánkàn.
I don’t think this pair of shoes are ugly. (hard to look at)
- 难 nán + 听 tīng = 难听 nántīng
hard (to) + listen to → unpleasant to listen to, sounds bad
Búyào chàng le! nántīng sǐ le!
Stop singing! Sounds horrible! (hard to listen to)
- 难 nán + 闻 wén= 难闻 nánwén
hard (to) + sniff → unpleasant to sniff, smells bad
Liúlián yǒu zhǒng nánwén de wèidào.
Durian has a kind of awful smell. (“hard-to-sniff” smell)
- 难 nán + 忘 wàng = 难忘 nánwàng
hard (to) forget → unforgettable, memorable
Zhè shì yí cì nánwàng de lǚxíng!
This is an unforgettable trip! (“hard-to-forget” trip)
- 难 nán + 过 guò = 难过 nánguò
hard (to) + pass → sad
Tā kànshàngqù hěn nánguò!
She looks very sad. (hard to pass)
If you already know that the meaning of 过 (guò) is to “pass”, to “cross”, then this word should make a lot of sense. Here we are essentially saying that, to her, something is difficult to get over, or in other words, she is sad or miserable about something.
难 (nán) is a versatile word in Chinese. By itself, it means “difficult” or “hard”. You can use it in combination with verbs to express “something is hard to do or to be done”. When it’s used as a compound word, its meaning becomes more diverse. Some common examples include 难吃 (nánchī), 难喝 (nánhē), 难看 (nánkàn), 难听 (nántīng), 难闻 (nánwén), 难忘 (nánwàng), 难过 (nánguò), etc. Slip these into your conversation and you’ll sound very Chinese.
Don’t forget to check other grammar articles on ImproveMandarin.Com’s Grammar Channel. Remember, grammar is the glue that holds the pieces of language together!