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7 Interesting Ways to Use the Character 吃 (chī)


You probably already know that the character 吃 (chī) literally means "eat". (If you don't, check out this lesson from our Beginner Conversational Course.)

But 吃 (chī) is also used figuratively in a TON of different ways. In this series, we're going to show you 7 interesting ways to use the Chinese character 吃 (chī).

The expressions aren't just fun - they are actually used all the time by native speakers!  Learning these common phrases can keeping you from getting lost in a conversation, and help you sound like a native speaker yourself.

* TIP: New to studying Chinese characters?  Click here to learn more about how our character courses can teach you to read and write Chinese.

Without further ado, here are 7 interesting ways to use the character 吃 (chī).

1. 吃亏 (chī kuī) - to suffer losses / to get the worst part of the bargain

Our first example is 吃亏 (chī kuī), which means to suffer losses - to get the worst part of the bargain.

An example sentence using 吃亏 (chī kuī) is:

"他这个房子买吃亏了,花了比平均价格多一倍的钱 (tā zhè ge fáng zi mǎi chī kuī le huā le bǐ píng jūn jià gé duō yí bèi de qián)."

"He suffered losses buying this house, he spent double what the average price was."

Even if you're not going to start using 吃亏 (chī kuī) yourself, native Chinese speakers say it all the time! That's why learning these common figurative expressions is so important.

2. 吃官司 (chī guān si) - to get sued / get in trouble with the law

吃官司 (chī guān si) is literally, "eat government department" but actually means to get sued, or get in trouble with the law.

For example, you might tell a friend with a lot of parking fines:

"你不快点处理这件事,到时候可能会吃官司 (nǐ bú kuài diǎn chǔ lǐ zhè jiàn shì dào shí hou kě nénɡ huì chī ɡuān si)."

"If you don't take care of this matter soon, later on you might get sued."

You don't have to be an advanced speaker to start using these kind of fun phrases in Chinese. In fact, these phrases make it easier to express yourself without having to think through all the vocabulary and grammar.

3. 吃得开 (chī de kāi) - to be popular

The characters 吃得开 (chī de kāi) literally translate to "eat openly", but the expression means "to be popular".

For example, you might say of a super social classmate or co-worker:

"他很会说话,在哪里都吃得开 (tā hěn huì shuō huà zài nǎ lǐ dōu chī de kāi)."

"He's a great speaker, he's popular everywhere."

*TIP:  Want to learn another common way of saying "to be popular"? Check out this lesson from our Upper Intermediate Conversational Course!

4. 吃老本 (chī lǎo běn) - live of past gains / past glory

When something is hard to express in our native language, we often use idioms or figurative expressions as a kind of "shortcut" to get our meaning across.

Well if it's hard to express in our native language, it's DEFINITELY going to be hard in a foreign language. That's why studying idioms isn't a waste of time, but actually gives you super useful ways to express yourself when speaking Chinese.

In English we might describe someone as "living in their glory days" or even "basking in their own past glory." But how would you describe this kind of person in Chinese??

The expression 吃老本 (chī lǎo běn) literally means 'eat old roots'. But it's a really useful, simple way to describe someone who lives of their past gains, or past glory.

An example using 吃老本 (chī lǎo běn) in a sentence is:

"他不想着进步,光想着吃老本,早晚会退步的 (tā bù xiǎng zhe jìn bù guāng xiǎng zhe chī lǎo běn zǎo wǎn huì tuì bù de)."

"He doesn't want to improve, he only wants to live off his past gains."

5. 吃苦 (chī kǔ) - to undergoing hardship

Chinese people use the phrase 吃苦 (chī kǔ) ALL THE TIME! 

It literally means to "eat hardship" or "eat pain", and is a great way to express undergoing some hardship. Start trying to work this phrase into your conversations and I guarantee you will surprised at how perfect it is in so many situations!

For example, you might encourage a friend through a tough challenge by saying:

"能吃苦才能做大事 (néng chī kǔ cái néng zuò dà shì)."

"Only if you undergo hardships can you do big things."

6. 吃醋 (chī cù) - to be jealous of a rival in love

I love this next expression! I think it really captures the feeling it's trying to communicate!

吃醋 (chī cù) literally means "eat vinegar". This expression actually means to be jealous of a rival in love. 

For example, if your girlfriend gets angry because she saw you chatting with someone, you might say:

"你不要吃醋了,我跟那个女生没有关系 (nǐ bú yào chī cù le wǒ gēn nà ge nǚ shēng méi yǒu guān xi)." 

"Don't be jealous, I don't have any relation to that girl."

If you heard someone use this and hadn't learned what it meant, you might wonder why this person is "eating vinegar"! But now that you know what it means, isn't it a poetic way to express this kind of romantic jealousy?

* TIP: Want to learn some other ways of saying "jealous" in non-romantic situations? Check out this lesson.

7. 吃闲饭 (chī xián fàn) - to be a loafer / to lead an idle life

If you translate 吃闲饭 (chī xián fàn) literally, it means "eat idle food". But it actually has nothing to do with eating... instead it's a great expression for describing a loafer, or someone leading an idle life.

For example, I can imagine a grumpy co-worker complaining:

"这个部门人太多了,好多人都是吃闲饭的 (zhè ge bù mén rén tài duō le hǎo duō rén dōu shì chī xián fàn de)."

"There are too many people in this department, a lot of people are loafers."

Learn More

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