You may have noticed that in Chinese there are two ways to describe wearing or putting on clothes or accessories. At first it might be confusing which word should be used at which time, but there’s actually a very easy way to remember.
The two words for ‘wear’ or ‘put on’ in Chinese are:
The first word （戴 dài） is used for putting on hats, glasses and scarves etc, while the second word （穿 chuān） is used for wearing clothing such as T-shirts, pants or jumpers. The problem of deciding which word to use doesn’t really occur in English, since ‘put on’ can be used for anything – put on a pair of glasses; put on a T-shirt etc. Though in Chinese this isn’t the case.
So how can you remember the difference between these two words?
It’s easy, just take a look the second word, 穿（chuān）. In addition to meaning ‘to wear’, it also means to ‘pierce’ or to ‘go through’. Therefore, use this word only when the piece of clothing is worn by putting your arms or legs through the clothing. A hat or glasses are placed on your body and not through, so in these instances you would use 戴 and not 穿. The only exception to the rule seems to be with gloves and socks – while the action of putting them on is very similar, you 穿 socks and 戴 gloves.
There are some great notes in the Radical Reference about the word 穿, as it contains the radical for tooth:
For this radical try to think of a big tooth, such as a fang or a tusk. Basically something that sticks/pokes out. I want to make special note of the character 穿, which is mostly means ‘to go through’. If you look closely you can see the top part is radical 穴, a cave. Think of a tooth-like object boring into the mountainside and you will never forget the meaning of this character. keep reading
What tricks do you have for remembering the meaning of words?