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Why Chinese Speaking People Are Very 很 (hen3) Happy – Lessons in Word Usage

There is a Chinese word that means “very”. The character for it is 很 and it’s pin yin spelling is (hen3). Yep, like the chicken, only to my ear it is pronounced more like “huhn” with the third tone, a sound like dipping low in the middle. The discrepancy in phonetics is because pin yin is not assigned the same sounds as our English use of the alphabet.  This youtube video about the vowel sounds in pin yin may be helpful. To listen to a beginner’s level video about Chinese tones, click here. But back to my point about why you will find native Chinese speakers constantly saying they are “very happy,” or (hen3) (kuai4le.) (很)(快樂)。

My predominantly German heritage has passed on to me a bias toward avoiding unnecessary exaggeration. Along with this comes the idea of avoiding potentially empty adjectives. Hence, I think carefully about using the word “very” in English. I would rather rely on understatement much of the time, hoping the reader is paying attention to every word. With Chinese it is different, I have learned. They feel that to just say you are “happy” is to lack expression and feeling. Either you are “very happy” or you are not really happy at all.

Of course, this also means that if you are busy (mang2) 忙, or cold (leng3) 冷, or tall (gao1) 高, or almost anything, you are “very” 很 whatever-it-is. In fact, the common positive response to a question is “very good” (hen3 hao3) 很好。When I first started my lessons, and my instructors responded “very” 很 enthusiastically to my efforts, I had the impression they were overly excited. Instead, by their speech, they were already imparting to me the common usages of the Chinese language.

So, what, you may ask, if you want to add even more degree to your happiness? Then, there are words like:

(tai4) 太 which means “the highest, greatest, extremely,” and yes, also “very”, but apparently a more important “very”

This is the word of the marketplace, where you can constantly tell the salesperson, “Too expensive.” (tai4 gui4) 太貴。

Then, there are those times that go beyond even that. You might want to say something is extraordinary, or not all all common. That would be the time to use the word (fei1 chang2) 非常。So, for my blog subtitle of “ordinary woman, extraordinary fun”, I can now say:


(ping2fan2)(de.)   (nu3ren2) (que4) (fei1chang2) (you3qu4)

(ordinary)(Chinese suffix making the word an adjective to the following noun) (woman-person) (but) (extraordinary) (fun)

But supposing something happens that is like nothing else previously, or you can’t remember anything “more” extreme. Then, you might want to say:


(wo3) (mei2you3) (xiang4) (zhe4) (yang4) (gao1xing4) (guo4)   —-      (same “gao”/高 as tall)

(I) (not have) (like) (this) (kind) (glad) (in the past)

I have never been this happy before!

So, whether you are too tired (tai4lei4) 太累, very fast (hen3kuai4) 很快 (快 can mean either fast or happy… ),or your dog is extremely dirty (ni3de.) (gou3) (fei1chang2) (zang1xi1xi1)  你的狗非常髒兮兮, you can say it with appropriate Chinese emphasis,


(zhi3) (yao4) (ni3) (ji4de.) (hao3hao3de.) (lian4xi2) (zong1wen2), (ni3)(jiu4)(hui4)(shuo1de.) (hen3hao3).

(only) (must) (you) (remember) (put your mind to) (practice) (Chinese language), (you) (precisely)(will) (speak) (well)

Only you must remember to practice Chinese with dedication, then you will speak it accurately and well.



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