Which wear and when to use it in Chinese

by Dave Flynn | 7th November, 2011 | Vocabulary |

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.

Which wear and when to use it

The two words for ‘wear’ or ‘put on’ in Chinese are:

戴(戴)

Pinyin: dài
English: to put on (used for hats, glasses, scarves etc)

穿(穿)

Pinyin: chuān
English: to wear; to put on (used for clothes – t-shirts, jumpers, pants etc)

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?

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Dave Flynn

Dave is a designer of websites, learner of Chinese and lover of technology. Originally from the UK, he's been living in Taiwan and learning Mandarin Chinese for the last eight years. He founded and runs Chinese Hacks, a blog dedicated to effectively learning Chinese.

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Tags: #beginner #clothing #to pput on #to wear #usage #Useful #wear

9 Comments

  1. Robert Moore

    Can one say ‘wear a smile’?


    • You can say “面帶微笑”, even though it’s a different dài the meaning is the same.


  2. Nice. But don’t rings, bracelets, and necklaces complicate things a little too?


    • Good point, all jewellery uses 戴, and the confusion between 戴 and 穿 is really only between certain pieces of clothing.


  3. I’m no expert, but it seems to me that 穿 is for any clothing that most people typically wear each day whereas 戴 is something additional that they wear part of the time or not at all. This might help explain ‘穿 socks’ and ‘戴 gloves’.

    Does anyone know if this is true?


    • This might be a good way to rememeber it for the majority of people, though if you’re like me and 戴 glasses every day, or live in a cold climate and 戴 gloves every day it doesn’t work.


    • I like this idea a lot. Today I’m 穿ing my clothes, oh and I think I’ll 戴 this hat. It’s almost like things you 穿 are essential, but the things you 戴 are optional. Is it purely a coincidence that it is has the same sound as 帶?


      • Eric Jo

        帶 means “bring”.


  4. 胡萝卜

    “穿”多用于普通日常衣物,如:衣服,裤子,鞋子,袜子等等
    “戴”多用于展示性的物件,如:首饰,项链,发簪,帽子,戒指,等等


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