好 hao – No good if you don’t know it
你好 Nǐ hǎo！
This is probably the first phrase that a beginner picks up when learning Mandarin. And you would have learnt that it is a greeting that means ‘Hello’, whereby 你 nǐ means ‘you’, and 好 hǎo, ‘good’, ‘fine’. Do you also know that the word 好 expresses a lot more than just ‘nice’? In this lesson, we’ll find out just how versatile this word is!
First things first. Are you aware that there are two ways to read this character? It can be read in the third tone hǎo, and also in the fourth tone hào. Good if you knew this, but if you didn’t, well, now you do!
Let’s start from the third tone hǎo. This is mostly an adjective, and the basic meaning is, as you know, ‘good’. It has several uses, and we will be looking at five of the most common ones.
I. 好 ― Good
The fundamental meaning of 好 is ‘good’, ‘well’, ‘fine’, ‘nice’. How do we use it then? Let’s look at four structures.
1. All-round ‘hello’
So I said that 你好 nǐ hǎo is literally, ‘you good’, but specifically, what about you is good? Your state, your situation, your health. This would be clearer in its question form – 你好吗？Nǐ hǎo ma – How are you? Take away the question marker 吗, and you can look at the greeting 你好 as a shortened statement of ‘I hope you are fine’. What if you want to greet someone else? Simply change the subject 你 to whoever it is!
We can also replace the person with a time word.
Let’s have a look at other structures of this fundamental meaning ‘good’.
2. Predicate describing the subject before it
Māma: Nǔ’ér zhè nánpéngyou hǎo, wǒ xǐhuan!
Mum: Our daughter’s boyfriend is great, I like him!
Bàba: Shì ma? Nǎli hǎo?
Dad: Really? What’s good about him?
Māma: Rénpǐn hǎo, tóunǎo hǎo, yàngmào hǎo, yàngyàng hǎo!
Mum: He has a good personality, a good brain, good looks, good everything!
3. Attribute modifying the noun after it
Wǒ yǒu yī ge hǎo xiāoxi hé yī ge huài xiāoxi, nǐ yào xiān tīng nǎ ge?
I have good news and bad news. Which do you want to hear first?
Hǎo shì bù chū mén, huài shì chuán qiān lǐ.
Good news remains unheard, while bad news spreads far and wide.
4. Expression of agreement
II. 好 ― Easy
Let’s move on to the second meaning of 好. Placed in front of verbs, it indicates that something is easy to do. The opposite is 不好 bù hǎo ~ or 难 nán ~.
Zhè zhī bǐ zhēn hǎoxiě.
This pen writes well (nice to write with).
Zhège jùzi bù hǎodǒng, děi gǎiyigǎi.
This sentence isn’t easy to understand, we need to tweak it a bit.
III. 好 ― Pleasant
And now on to the third meaning. Placed in front of some verbs, it indicates pleasantness on the senses. The opposite is 不好 bù hǎo ~ or 难 nán ~.
Zhēn hǎokàn de qúnzi, nǎli mǎi de?
What a nice (good-looking) skirt! Where did you buy it?
Zhè shǒu gē yīdiǎnr dōu bù hǎotīng, wèishénme zhème liúxíng?
This song isn’t nice (good-sounding) at all, why is it so popular?
Zhè shì wǒ hēguo zuì hǎohē de kěkě!
This is the most tasty (nice to drink) cocoa that I’ve ever had!
Wǒ lǎopo yǐqián zuò fàn chāo hǎochī, bù zhīdào wèishénme xiànzài zuò de bù hǎochī le, yuè zuò yuè nánchī.
My wife used to make super yummy (nice to eat) food, but for some reason now it no longer tastes good. It’s getting more and more unpalatable.
At this point, you may be wondering if this third use of 好 could be easily confused with the second use? They both come in front of verbs, and even the opposite structure (不好 bù hǎo ~ or 难 nán ~) is the same. If you think about it, they are both derivatives from the fundamental meaning of ‘good’. For example, 好写 hǎoxiě ([pen] writes well) is ‘good/easy to write’, and 好看 hǎokàn (pretty) is ‘good/nice to look at’. While it may seem that this makes for ambiguous cases, it actually does not usually cause misunderstandings. Context makes it clear, and more importantly, combinations of pattern III) are not that many. The following examples are more or less what you would encounter.
(person or thing) pretty; (movies or books) interesting
(music, sounds or words) pleasant
to smell good
to feel good
As you can see, these are expressions that indicate feelings on the senses. Moreover, these combinations are already mostly seen as fixed compound words, so they hardly would make room for misunderstandings. Let’s take a look at the following example.
Tiān a, hǎokàn bù hǎoyòng de dōngxi jìngrán zhème hǎomài, zhè niántóu qián zhēn hǎozhuàn.
Goodness, such a useless thing that only looks good could sell so well? Nowadays it’s easy to make money.
If there is possibility of being unclear, we could always use other ways of expression. We’ll use 好看 and 好吃 as examples.
Zhè běn shū hěn hǎokàn, wǒ kànle sān biàn le.
This book is interesting. I’ve read it three times.
Zìtǐ fàng dà jiù róngyì kàn le.
Enlarge the font and it will be easy to read.
Zhè miàn bù hǎochī, wǒ chī bu xià.
These noodles don’t taste good. I can’t eat them.
Zhè miàn yòng sháozi chī tài xīnkǔ le, yòng kuàizi ba.
These noodles are hard to eat with a spoon. Use chopsticks.
IV. 好 ― Complete
And next, let’s look at the fourth meaning. Placed after verbs, it acts as a result complement to indicate completion or satisfactory state of an action.
Wǒ chīhǎo le, kěyǐ chūfā le.
I have finished eating. We can leave now.
Wǒ méi kànhǎo, néng zài shìfàn yī biàn ma?
A: I didn’t see it well, can you demonstrate again?
Hǎo, wǒ zài shìfàn yī biàn, nǐ kànhǎo.
B: Alright, I’ll demonstrate again, watch carefully.
Hànyǔ zài nánxué, wǒ yě yīdìng yào bǎ tā xuéhǎo!
No matter how hard to learn Mandarin is, I shall master it!
Zhè fēng xìn zhēn bù hǎoxiě, wǒ xiěle bàntiān yě hái méi xiěhǎo.
This letter is really hard to write. I’ve been writing it the whole day yet am not finished writing.
You might have noticed by now that word order in Mandarin is of utmost importance. The difference between pattern IV) and patterns II) and III) is simply a flip in the order, but the meaning is completely different. 好吃 hǎochī is ‘tasty’ (nice to eat), while 吃好 chīhǎo is ‘to be done eating’. 好看 hǎokàn is ‘good-looking’, while 看好 kànhǎo is ‘to look carefully’. 好学 hǎoxué is ‘easy to learn’, while 学好 xuéhǎo is ‘to learn well’. 好写 hǎoxiě is ‘nice to write’, while 写好 xiěhǎo is ‘to be done writing’. So, do be careful which word comes first.
V. 好 ― Very
Finally the last meaning of third tone hǎo that we’ll looking at today. This acts as an adverb and comes before an adjective or a measure word, to emphasise intensity. It is colloquial and emotive, and often translated as ‘very’, ‘so’, ‘quite’, ’such’, ‘what’.
Hǎo jiǔ bù jiàn!
Long time no see!
Hǎo kě’ài de xiǎomāo, zhēn xiǎng dài huí jiā!
What a cute kitten! I’d so much love to bring it home!
Zhè ge rén wǒ jiànguo hǎo jǐ cì.
I’ve seen this person quite a few times.
Nǐ chuān zhè yīfu hǎo hǎokàn a!
You look so pretty in this outfit!
Zhè ge míngzi hǎo nánniàn a!
A: This name is so hard to read!
Yīdiǎnr dōu bù nánniàn, wǒ juéde hǎo hǎoniàn!
B: Not hard to read at all, I find it very easy to read!
Moving on to the fourth tone hào. Fortunately, the fourth tone does not have as many uses as the third tone. Mostly, the problem is in deciding whether it is the third tone hǎo or the fourth tone hào when reading.
好 ― Like
In the fourth tone, it acts as a verb, meaning ‘to like’. Let’s have a look at some examples.
Nǐ yǒu shénme àihào?
What hobbies do you have?
Jiějie hàodòng, mèimei hàojìng.
The elder sister is active (likes to move), while the younger sister is quiet (likes quiet).
Zhēn shì ge hàoxué de háizi!
What a studious child!
Tā cóng xiǎo jiù hěn hàowánr.
She has always been playful since she was a child.
Tā hào miànzi, bù huì rèncuò de.
He is proud (likes to keep face), so he won’t admit his mistake.
Zhè rén hàojiǔ hàocái yòu hàosè, nǐ qiānwàn bù néng gēn tā jiéhūn a!
This man is alcoholic, greedy and lustful. You mustn’t marry him!
Nǐ zhème hào chī lǎn zuò, shuí gǎn qǐng nǐ ne?
You’re such a lazy glutton (idiom: love to eat and lazy to work). Who would dare to employ you?
Nǐ zěnme zhème hào guǎn xián shì?
Why are you such a busybody (love meddling in other people’s business)!
Sometimes, you may be unsure if you are looking at third tone 好 or fourth tone 好. In such cases, context is your only key.
Zhè háizi tài hǎowánr le! Wǒ kěyǐ tiāntiān lái gēn tā wánr ma?
This child is so much fun! Can I come play with him every day?
Zhè háizi tài hàowánr le! Zhēn ná tā méi bànfǎ.
This child is so playful! He’s too much for me to handle.
Zhēn shì hǎo jiǔ! Zìjǐ yī ge rén hē tài kěxī le.
Such good wine! What a shame to be drinking it alone.
Zhēn shì hàojiǔ! Hē nàme duō shāng shēn a!
What an alcoholic! Drinking so much is bad for your health.
I hope you found the above 好学 hǎoxué! Until the next lesson, 再见 zàijiàn!
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