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Are 白菜and 白马 Words or Phrases?

In Chinese language, the character is the unit for writing. As a result, the boundary of words and simple phrases are really blurry. It is difficult for some foreigners to tell them apart when they learn Mandarin Chinese. Chinese teachers often teach you to tell apart in three aspects to judge whether it is word or phrase. Firstly, we can see whether the components of it can be used independently. If you find one of the components is not the morpheme that forms word independently, the whole structure should be the word. For example, 人in 人民 can be used independently while 民 can‘t be used as word. So 人民 is a word.

The second point we can use to tell them apart is the relationship between the two parts. We usually judge by whether the relationship is close or not and whether some elements can be inserted between them. If the relationship is not so close and you can put some constitutions between them, the structure is a phrase, or it should be the word. When you see the structure 白菜 when you study Chinese, you should know the relationship of 白and 菜 is very close and you can‘t just insert some elements like白的菜. Therefore, it is a word. However, it is not close between 白and 马 and you can add some constituents and say like 白的马. Accordingly, 白马 belongs to a phrase.

The last but not least, we can also tell whether a structure is a word or phrase from the aspect of the relationship between the whole meaning of the structure and the meanings of the components of the structure. If you find you can guess the meaning of the whole structure by adding the meanings of the two parts and the structural relationship together when you learn Chinese words, you should know the structure is a phrase but not a word. On the contrary, the structure is a phrase.

Take 白马 and 白菜as examples. From the meanings of 白and 马, we can guess the meaning of 白马 is 白色的马(white horse). But the meaning of 白菜 is not the combined meanings of 白and 菜. It is just the fixed name of a kind of vegetable. Therefore, the former is phrase and the latter word.


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My name is Sarah Fish. I am 81. I knew very little Chinese when I arrived. How was I going to survive 2 weeks of intensive Chinese? I have to laugh when I think of that now. What a positive experience this has been! I really wish we could be here a little longer. The teachers are extremely encouraging, evaluating first how much someone knows, and then starting from there.

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Stew | UK

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The place is very cool. I am with a great group of people in my class, so coming to classes is very enjoyable. It is fun, we have a lot discussions, games, activities. Our teachers are also very good, very supportive. Learning Chinese is intimidating at the start because you have so many questions. But I would advise coming to Keats because the atmosphere for learning is great. It is very relax. I would recommend the school.

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Simon | UK & France

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The visa application was really straight forward, because Keats School helps us a lot for that. Keats has a big emphasis on conversational practice, so we learn a lot of vocabulary and daily life plan which is very convenient for us to go around town and speak with Chinese people which is the whole point of coming to China.

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Kristen | Canada

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I have really enjoyed coming to Keats and meeting the teachers here and the students. We have a lot of fun in class. It is a really great school to learn with good teaching methods and really good textbook, examples and games and everything.

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It doesn’t matter what level of Chinese you have, or even you can start from the zero level. Your teacher will prepare the lessons according to your requirements. The advantage of living in the school is that you will have your tutoring, you will have your private accommodation with your own bathroom and all the meals provided. I highly recommend everybody to actually take the whole package because you get to meet other students.

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