Most Frequently Used Words in Chinese, by Dr. Ho Yong

 In this article, Dr. Ho Yong introduces you how “Yi” is used in all different situations. You can also hear the audio voice of the words consisting of “Yi” by clicking on the blue words below. Dr. Ho Yong, the author of the popular Chinese language book “Beginner’s Chinese” and the Director of Curriculum at the China Institute in New York, will be soon the host of our upcoming bulletin board discussion “Everything about Chinese Language”.

One of the most frequently used words is yi (click to hear the sound)

Yi is pronounced the first tone when a) it is read in isolation; b) it serves a designating or identifying function rather than a quantity such as in a telephone number and account number: (telephone number) 212-744-8181 (er yi1 er qi si si ba yi1 ba yi1); or c) it appears in the ones and tens position of a number: 511 (wu bai yi1 shi yi1). Otherwise it is pronounced the fourth tone before a first tone, a second tone or a third tone word: yi4 ben3 shu1 (one book), and the second tone before a fourth tone word: yi2 ci4 (one time). In an ordinal number, yi is always pronounced in the first tone: di yi1 jia canguan (the first restaurant); yi1 yue (January). If pronounced in isolation as in a designating number that consists of three or more digits, "yi1" can be read as "yao1".

1. one. 2. Used between reduplicated monosyllabic verbs to suggest that the
action is brief, informal or tentative. As such, it is pronounced in the neutral tone: kan yi kan (have a look); ting yi ting (listen for a minute); deng yi deng (wait a minute). Yi in these expressions can be omitted without affecting the meaning. 3. whole, entire, full: women yi jia ren zuotian qu le bowuguan (our whole family went to the museum yesterday); ta you yi fangzi de shu (he has a roomful of books). Unless it appears at the beginning of a sentence, yi can be omitted when used with a classifier to qualify a noun: wo xiang mai (yi) jian maoyi (I'd like to buy a sweater); ta shi (yi) ge hao laoshi (she is a good teacher).

as soon as: ta yi lai wo jiu qu (as soon as he comes, I'll go). Note that 1) the main clause always follows the subordinate clause, and 2) the subject of the main clause precedes jiu instead of following it.

yiban   1. usually; generally. 2. ordinary; average; regular; most; plain

yibian... yibian...
Used in pairs to indicate two actions are taking place simultaneously: ta xihuan yibian kanshu yibian ting yinyue (he likes to listen to music while reading). If the two verbs share the same subject, yi in the expression can often be left out; otherwise, it must be present: ta xihuan bian kanshu bian ting yinyue (he likes to listen to music while reading); ni yibian shuo, wo yibian ji (while you were talking, I took notes). Bian in yibian can often be substituted by mian.

yidianr a little

1. definitely, certainly, must be: Niuyue yiding you Zhongguocheng (there must be a Chinatown in New York). 2. certain, given, necessary: zuo zheyang de shi, bixu you yidingde tiaojian (to do such a thing, there must be necessary conditions). 3. must, used in imperative sentences, often with verbs such as yao (need) or dei (have to): ni yiding yao zao lai (you must come early).

yifangmian ... yifangmian   on one hand, on the other hand

yihuir   in a little while

yiqi together

Used after a verb to suggest "briefly", "informally", "casually" and "tentatively": qing lai yixiar (please come here for a minute); wo jieshao yixiar Shanghai (let me say a few words about Shanghai). Yixiar can be used interchangeably with the "Verb yi Verb structure": zuo yi zuo/zuo yixiar; yong yi yong/yong yixiar (use for a minute).

1. some; a few. Yi can be omitted if it does not appear at the beginning of the sentence: wo zuotian qu shudian mai le yi xie shu (I went to the bookstore yesterday and bought a few books). 2. Used before shenme (what) in a question to soften the speech. Yi is usually left out: nimen xiang chi xie shenme (what would you like to eat)? 3. Used after an adjective to mean "somewhat". Yi is usually left out: wo mama de shenti xianzai hao xie le (my mother's health is a little better now)?

1. same: yiyang de shu (the same book), nide qiche he wode qiche yanse yiyang (your car has the same color as my car). 2. similarly; as ... as: Suzhou he Hangzhou yiyang haowan (Suzhou is just as fun as Hangzhou). If the negative word bu is used in 1 and 2, it more often than not precedes yiyang instead of gen or he: Zhongcan gen Xican bu yiyang (Chinese food is not the same as Western food). 3. like, used with xiang: jintian xiang dongtian yiyang (it is just like winter today).