My Chinese tutor was talking to me about what happens when the wind blows. It all started with remembering her then four year old’s wisdom about money, which is,
(qian2) (shi4) (yong4 lai2) [(hua1)(de.)]
(money) (is) (used for) [(to spend)(used to turn a verb into the noun of prepositional phrase)]
Money is used for spending.
Learning opposite words or phrases right away can help the whole concept, and all the vocabulary can thus be easier to remember, so my tutor began to compare 用來 (yong4 lai2) to 用不著 (yong4 bu4 zhao2) and 用不到(yong4 bu4 dao4)。 用 (yong4) means “to use” and, in this case, 來 (lai2) means “for”. Adding 不著 (bu4) (zhao2) to the 用 (yong4), makes it a negative of “to use,” and, therefore, means “uselss” or “no need to.” So when 不著 is added to a verb, it means “unable” to carry out that particular action.❶
As I was thinking about this, my husband texted me to say he was stranded at the airport, due to a wind storm or something at the airport he was trying to get to. I tried to apply this to my Chinese lesson, and was guided to this sentence:
(kong1 qi4) [(mo1)(bu4 zhao2)], [(kan4)(bu4 dao4)] (chu2 fei1) (feng1) (zai4) (chui1)
(air) [untouchable, ungraspable], [unseeable] (unless) (wind) (-ing for following word) (blow)
The air cannot be touched or seen unless the wind is blowing.
This introduced the verb 摸 (mo1), which means “to feel, to touch, to grasp.” I texted the sentence to my husband, even though he isn’t learning Chinese, because I knew he would be diverted. He responded with, “Really?” I sent him the translation, and he immediately quipped, “or unless there is dust.” So, naturally, I had to say
(wo3 men.) (dou1) (shi4) [(feng1) (zhong1)(de.)] (chen2 ai1)
(we) (all) (are) [(wind) (middle) (ending making this an adjective)] (dust)
All we are is dust in the wind.
It was soon time for him to check back with the airline about getting on another flight before he had to wait another 12 hours, so I went on practicing sentences.
The wind creates many problems, so it wasn’t too hard. As long as I mostly stuck to using the 不著 (bu4 zhao2) after 用 (yong4). It gets harder to know when to use it, otherwise, as I mention in the notes below.
(ru2 guo3) (feng1) (zai4) (chui1), (yong4 bu4 zhao2) (da3 sao3) (tian1 jing3)
(if) (wind) (indicates add -ing to following verb) (blow), (useless) (clean) (patio)
If the wind is blowing it is useless to clean the patio.
(feng1) (chui1) (de. shi2 hou4) (yong4 bu4 zhao2) (shu1) (tou2 fa.)
(wind) (blow) (when) (useless) (comb) (hair on head)
When the wind blows it is useless to comb your hair.
(ru2 guo3) (xia4 yu3) (shi2) (feng1 chui1), (yu3 san3) (jiu4) (yong4 bu4 zhao2).
(if) (falling rain) (time) (wind blow), (umbrella) (just then) (useless).
If the rain is falling and the wind blows, an umbrella is useless.
[(jin1 tian1) (wan3 shang4)] (wo3) [(shui4)(bu4 zhao2)], (yin1 wei4) (feng1) (chui1) (shu4 zhi1) (duan4)(le.) (zhuang4 dao4) (chuang1 zi.)
[(today) (late on)] (I) [(sleep) (unable)], (because) (wind) (blow) (tree branch) (snap)(indicates completed action) (strike) (window)
I am unable to sleep tonight, because the wind blows and breaks the tree branches and hits the window.
I moved on to other frustrating situations. I remembered that
(因為)(很)(吵鬧)，(我)[(想)(不著)] (怎麼) (算銀行結存）。
(yin1 wei4) (hen3) (chao3 nao4)， (wo3) [(xiang3) (bu4 zhao2)] (zen3 me.) (suan4 yin2 hang2 jie2 cun2)
(because) (very) (noisy) (I) [(think) (unable)] (how) ( count bank account balance)❷
I can’t think to balance the bank account because it is very noisy.
And then I wondered if I shouldn’t go back to being more positive？ So, I thought
(feng1 chui1) (yong4 lai2) (liang4 gan1) (yi1 fu.)
(wind) (blow) (used for) )(to dry out) (clothes).
The wind is for drying out clothes.
(ye4 li.) (shi4) (yong4 lai2) [(shui4 jiao4)(de)]
(night in) (is) (used for) [(sleep) (ending like, like the English -ing, turning verb into a noun)]
Nighttime is for sleeping.
(bing1 qi2 lin2) (shi4) (yong4 lai2) (chi1 de.)
(ice cream) (is) (used for) (eating)
Ice cream is for eating.
Things were already looking much better, and I realized
(feng1) (chui1) (ke3 neng2) (dai4 lai2) (yu3 shui3) (gei3) (yuan2 zi.)
(wind) (blow) (possibly) (bring here) (rain water) (give) (garden).
Wind is for bringing rain for my garden.
I must remember
(bu4 guan3) (feng1) (zen3 me.) (chui1), (ren2 sheng) (shi4) (yong4 lai2) (sheng1 huo2 de.)
(regardless) (wind) (how) (blows), (life) (is) (used for) (living).
No matter how the wind blows, life is for living.
Notes on helpful things I learned or was reminded of while writing these sentences:
❶ 不著 (bu4 zhao2) is usually used when speaking of being unable to do less tangible things, like sleep, think, or use. I found it easiest to construct sentences with it when I stuck to adding it to the (yong4). There are suffixes to add to say “unable” in Chinese that are more common for more concrete sentences about common activities, such as 不能 (bu4 neng2) and 不了 (bu4 liao3). These are added to verbs when the situation is less definite, and will probably change in time.
❷ The Chinese way of thinking is to say the cause before the effect, more in the form of “Because…., so…..”