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得 is a pò yīn zì 是一個破音字

破音字 ㄆㄛˋ ㄧㄣ ˋ are kind of like Chinese homonyms. In English, homonyms are words that sound the same, but are spelled differently (look different) and have different meanings.

Examples: here and hear.

Are you here? I can’t hear you!

The translation of 破音字 ㄆㄛˋ ㄧㄣ ㄗˋ (pò yīn zì) is humorous to me because the first character (pò) means “broken” or “to split or break”. I suppose it was an attempt at saying the use of the character is divided among various meanings. It is hard to complain about this when they do have a few thousand characters.

多音字  ㄉㄨㄛ ㄧㄣ ㄗˋ  (duō yīn zì) is another way this is referred to, literally meaning “many sounds character”.

破音字 (pò yīn zì) are Chinese characters that sound different and have different meanings, but look the same when written. This is not the same as different written characters sounding alike, which is confusingly common in Chinese from a native English speaker’s point of view (mine). I talked about this when discussing the common pronouns that all sound like “tā”.

A fun way to practice 破音字 (pò yīn zì) is in sentences that use the character in it’s various 破音字 ways. My tutor showed me this very useful phrase that uses the character 得 in 3 different ways, and the character 了 in two different ways:


Let’s break it down. You probably already know that

我 ㄨㄛˇ (wǒ) is translated as “I” or “me”

depending on where it is in the sentence. In Chinese, the same pronoun is used grammatically as the subject or object in the sentence.

急得 is the verb 急 ㄐㄧˊ (jí) followed by the particle 得 ㄉㄜ˙ (de.) that links it to the subsequent adverb. There you have the first use of .

急 ㄐㄧˊ (urgent, pressing, hurried, pressing)


ㄅㄨˋ ㄉㄜˊ ㄌㄧㄠˇ

(bù dé liǎo)

is a combination that is not easily explained by combining the meanings of its individual characters, but it means “extremely, exceedlingly” and even “disastrous, desperately serious”. And there you have the first use of .

Next is the character being used as an expletive pronounced ㄌㄜ˙ (le.). My tutor added this for emphasis, indicating a sense of completion in the statement. So to say


is to say “I am in an extreme hurry!”

In the next sentence we find out why. It begins with 我, which I already reviewed. Then there is another use of 得, which in this part of the phrase is pronounced ㄉㄟˇ (děi) and means “must”.

  ㄕㄤˋ  (shàng) is one of the most common Chinese characters. It often means “on top” or “above,” but can also be “to climb,” “to go up,” or “to attend.” I have not listed every definition in the dictionary, but those give a good general feel for the word. I think one of the last 2 definitions works best for this sentence. Go up to or attend to what?

廁所   ㄘㄜˋ ㄙㄨㄛˇ  (cè suǒ) is a common way to say “toilet” or “lavatory.”

(cè) specifically means “toilet”

(suǒ) means “place” or “location”

Obviously, you could be in a hurry about something else, but you can just change the last part to suit the occasion.

Here is the whole sentence again:


This next sentences uses 得 only in 2 ways, but it gives examples of how to use the term 不得了(bù dé liǎo). First, here are a couple of the main phrases in it:



(ㄇㄤˊ) (ㄉㄜ˙) (ㄅㄨˋ ㄉㄜˊ ㄌㄧㄠˇ)

(máng)(de.)(bù dé liǎo)

(you)(busy)(connects verb to adverb)(extremely)

extremely busy




(ㄌㄟˊ) (ㄉㄜ˙) (ㄅㄨˋ ㄉㄜˊ ㄌㄧㄠˇ)

(léi)(de.)(bù dé liǎo)

(tired)(connects verb to adverb)(extremely)

extremely tired


Now, here is the whole sentence:




(ㄋㄧˇ) (ㄐㄧㄣ ㄊㄧㄢ) (ㄉㄚˋ ㄍㄞˋ) (ㄓㄠˋ ㄍㄨ˙) (ㄋㄧˇ) (ㄎㄜˇ ㄞˋ) (ㄉㄜ˙) (ㄙㄨㄣ ㄋㄩˇ)

(nǐ)(jīn tiān)(dà gài)(zhào gu.)(nǐ)(kě ài)(de.)(sūn nǚ),

(you)(today)(probably)(to take care of)(you)(cute)(adjective marker)(granddaughter)


……(ㄖㄤˋ) (ㄋㄧˇ) (ㄇㄤˊ) (ㄉㄜ˙) (ㄅㄨˋ ㄉㄜˊ ㄌㄧㄠˇ)

……(ràng)(nǐ)(máng)(de.)(bù dé liǎo)

……(to make)(you)(busy)(connects verb to adverb)(extremely)


…………(ㄧㄝˇ) (ㄌㄟˊ) (ㄉㄜ˙) (ㄅㄨˋ ㄉㄜˊ ㄌㄧㄠˇ)

…………(yě)(léi)(de.)(bù dé liǎo)

…………(also)(tired)(connects verb to adverb)(extremely)

Today you probably took care of your cute granddaughter, making you extremely busy and also extremely tired!

That last sentence can be a jumping off point for creating your own sentences, but the first sentence is more obviously universally useful. 🙂 You should probably practice it!