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Expressing Location and Directions in Chinese

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In this article, we’re going to look at two related topics: location and directions in Chinese. First, I’m going to introduce some basic location words and then some sentence patterns that you can use to describe where objects are, if an object exists and locations as description. The second part of the article will focus more on phrases and vocabulary that will be useful when asking for and giving directions in Chinese.

Location in Chinese

方位词 (fāng wèi cí) or location nouns are used to express both direction and location. These can be divided into two sections, 单纯方位词 (dān chún fāng wèi cí) simple localizers and 合成方位词 (hé chéng fāng wèi cí) compound localizers.

The following characters are 单纯方位词 (dān chún fāng wèi cí) Simple localizers:  (shàng),  (xià),  (qián),  (hòu),  (zuǒ),  (yòu),  (lǐ),  (wài),  (dōng),  (nán), 西 (xī),  (běi).

If a character such as  (zhī) and  以 (yǐ) is added before the simple localizer or  (miàn),  (bian),  (tou),  (fāng) and  (bù) after the simple localizer and this will create a compound localizer, such as the following: or example:  以上 (yǐ shàng), 之前 (zhī qián), 里面 (lǐ miàn), 外边 (wài bian), 后头 (hòu tou), 前方 (qián fāng), 西部 (xī bù), 左右 (zuǒ yòu) and 内外 (nèi wài).

Generally, the 单纯方位词 (dān chún fāng wèi cí) simple localizer can not be used alone, except when part of a commonly used phrase such as 上有老下有小 (shàng yǒu lǎo  xià yǒu xiǎo), meaning ‘to support both your elderly parents and your children’ and 前怕狼 后怕虎 (qián pà láng hòu pà hǔ), which means ‘to be overcautious’.

合成方位词 (hé chéng fāng wèi cí) compound localizers can be used alone. For example:

外面很热。(wài mian hěn rè) It is hot outside.

西边的学校。(xī biān de xué xiào) The school in the west.

Localizers are always used after other words to make a 方位词组 (fāng wèi cí zǔ) Localizer phrase. These are used to express a location or time.

For example:

书在桌子上。(shū zài zhuō zi shàng) The book is on top of the table.

两年以前我们就认识了。(liǎng nián yǐ qián wǒ men jiù rèn shi le) We knew each other two years ago.

Although the simplest use of a localizer is to express the location, sometimes  (shàng) ,  (zhōng) and  (xià) do not express a physical location:

For example:

学习上,他一直很努力。(zài xué xí shàng, tā yī zhí hěn nǔ lì) He always works hard when he studies.

她的帮助下,我顺利完成了学业。(zài tā de bāng zhù xià, wǒ shùn lì wán chéng le xué yè) With her help, I completed my studies successfully.

他们招飞行员,要求身高在一米七以上。(tā men zhāo fēi xíng yuán, yāo qiú shēn gāo zài yī mǐ qī yǐ shàng.) They recruited pilots, whose height can be no less than 1.70m.

location     面 miàn face/side 边 biān side    
shàng on 上面 shàng mian on top of 上边 shàng bian on top/above
xià under 下面 xià mian below/ under 下边 xià bian below/ under
in 里面 lǐ miàn inside 里边 lǐ bian inside
wài out 外面 wài mian outside 外边 wài bian outside/outer surface
qián front 前面 qián miàn ahead/ infront 前边 qián bian front/the front side
hòu back 后面 hòu mian back/ behind 后边 hòu bian back/ behind
zuǒ left 左面 zuǒ miàn left side 左边 zuǒ bian the left side of
yòu right 右面 yòu miàn right side 右边 yòu bian the right side of
duì toward 对面 duì miàn opposite
páng next to 旁边 páng biān beside
zhōng middle 中间 zhōng jiān between
nán south 南面 nán miàn south side 南边 nán bian south side
běi north 北面 běi miàn north side 北边 běi biān north side
dōng east 东面 dōng miàn east side 东边 dōng bian east side
西 west 西面 xī miàn west side 西边 xī biān west side

在 zài

The character  (zài) can be used in several different ways, but in this instance it is being used as ‘is located at/in’.

For example

在英国。(zài yīng guó) [is located] In the United Kingdom…

Describing the Location of an Object

Describing the Location of an Object

If you wish to say that an object is in a particular place, use the following sentence pattern:

Object + 在 (zài) + place + (的 (de)) + location

裙子在衣柜(的)里面。(qún zi zài yī guì (de) lǐ miàn) The dress is in the wardrobe.

The  (de) particle is used here to mean ‘of the’, so the sentence basically reads

‘the dress is located in the wardrobe’s inside’. You can read about the 的 (de) particle in more detail in the article, How to use the ‘de’ particles 的, 得 and 地 in Chinese.

Indicating an object exists or not

Indicating an object exists or not

In Chinese, the character  (yǒu) is more often used to say ‘have’ or combined with  (méi) to produce 没有 (méi yǒu), meaning ‘not to have’. To indicate that something exists in a place, we use the 有 (yǒu) character. Essentially we are saying that a place ‘has’ an object.

location + 有 (yǒu) + object

桌子上有杯子。(zhuō zi shàng yǒu bēi zi) There is a cup on the table.

location + 没有 (méi yǒu) + object

房子里没有人。(fáng zi lǐ méi yǒu rén) There is no one inside the house.

Describing with Location

Describing with Location

When using a location to describe something, you need to use the following pattern:

Location + 的 (de) + noun

左边的人。(zuǒ bian de rén) The person who is on the left.

后面的车。(hòu mian de chē) The car that is behind.

Distances – Near and Far

Distances – Near and Far

The words to use for ‘near’ or ‘far’ are as follows:

 (yuǎn) – far

 (jìn) – near

You can also add an adverb, such as  (hěn), to say ‘very’ far 很远 (hěn yuǎn).     

When talking about distances, we frequently use the character  (lí), which means ‘away from’. The sentence will be something like, ‘this place + away from + this place +[is] far/near’.

Noun phrase + 离 (lí) + noun phrase + 远 (yuǎn) /近 (jìn)

我家离超市近。(wǒ jiā lí chāo shì jìn) My house is close to the supermarket.

公园离学校很远。(gōng yuán lí xué xiào hěn yuǎn) The park is very far from the school.

Specific Distances

When you need to tell someone  that a place is specific distance from somewhere, we add  (yǒu) + distance. Remember,  (yǒu) means ‘to have’, so the sentence becomes ‘a place + away from + a place + has this much distance between them’.

Noun phrase + 离 (lí) + noun phrase + 有 (yǒu) + distance

我公司离酒吧有五里。(wǒ gōng sī lí jiǔ bā yǒu wǔ lǐ) My company is 5 miles from the bar.

Here are some useful measurements of distance:

英里 (yīng lǐ) a mile

公里 (gōng lǐ) a kilometer

公尺 (gōng chǐ) Metre

 (lǐ) Chinese mile

Asking if a place is near or far

Noun phrase + 离 (lí) noun phrase 远不远 (yuǎn bù yuǎn)?

Noun phrase + 离 (lí) noun phrase 近不近 (jìn bù jìn)?

你家离图书馆远不远?(nǐ jiā lí tú shū guǎn yuǎn bù yuǎn?) Is your home far (or not far) away from the library?

OR

Noun phrase + 离 (lí) noun phrase 远吗 (yuǎn ma)?

Noun phrase + 离 (lí) noun phrase 近吗 (jìn ma)?

你家离图书馆近吗? (nǐ jiā lí tú shū guǎn jìn ma?) Is your home close to the library?

Directions in Chinese

Asking Where a Place is

Place + 在 (zài) + 哪儿 (nǎr ) /哪里 (nǎ lǐ)?

超市在哪儿?(chāo shì zài nǎr) /超市在哪里?(chāo shì zài nǎ lǐ)

Where is the supermarket?

超市在图书馆的旁边。(chāo shì zài tú shū guǎn 的 páng biān) The supermarket is next to the library.

Asking How to Get to a Place

A simple way to ask someone how to get somewhere is by asking:

怎么走?(zěn me zǒu?)

How do I get there?

However, if you need to be more specific and ask how to get from one place to another use the following pattern:

 (cóng) + place +  (dào) + place 怎么走?(zěn me zǒu?)

从酒店到商场怎么走?(cóng jiǔ diàn dào shāng chǎng zěn me zǒu.)

How do I get from the hotel to the mall?

从。。。到 means ‘from….to’.

Taking and Giving Directions in Chinese

Here are some simple instructions for giving and taking directions:

The character  (wǎng) means ‘to go in the direction of’ and the final character,  (guǎi) means ‘turn’. The following sentence pattern is to say ‘make a right/left turn’.

 (wǎng) + direction +  (guǎi)。

往左拐。(wǎng zuǒ guǎi) Turn left.

To tell someone to go straight forward, you don’t need to use  (wǎng), just use the phrase,

一直走。(yī zhí zǒu) Go straight ahead.

We’ll look at transportation and getting around in more detail in a future article.

Exercises

Translate the English sentences into Chinese.

1: The polar bear is sitting is the left side of the rabbit.

2: The rabbit stood in the front of the fox.

Directions in Chinese - Map of China

Translate the Chinese into English.

3: 北京在中国的北部,广州在中国的南部。

The answers are in the comment section of The China Story of a Laowai Lifer.

 
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