The Art of Punctuation in Chinese

There is a certain art to Chinese punctuation, and as a graduate student, writing papers with proper pronunciation is exceedingly important.

「知漢字者智。知標點者明。」-Me, breaking traditional poetic structure.

A Little History of Chinese Punctuation

Chinese traditionally had no paragraphs, no spaces and, especially, no punctuation. It wasn’t until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century did punctuation start to appear in Chinese, eventually being standardized into what it is today. Because Chinese punctuation was influenced by Western languages, there is some carry over in punctuation. So you’ll see the ! ? : ; ( ) [ ] that you’re likely familiar with. Still, there are some fun ones specific to Chinese so let’s take a look below!

Chinese Punctuation

punct_period
Period ( 。 )

The period in Chinese is called 句號/句号 (jùhào) and is in the middle of a line: 我很好。

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Quotation Marks  ( 「…」 ,『…』, “…”)

Quotation marks in Chinese are called 引號/引号(yǐnhào) and are different in Simplified and Traditional Chinese. Here’s how they break down:

Traditional Chinese

In Traditional Chinese,  single quotation marks are rendered as「…」while double quotation marks are『…』. Often, the double quotation makrs are used when embedded within single quotation marks, such as :「…『…』…」.

Simplified Chinese

Simplified Chinese uses the quotation marks we’re familiar with: “…” and ‘…’. In contrast to Traditional Chinese, single quotation marks are used when embedded within double quotation marks: “…‘…’…”.

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The “List Comma” ( 、 )

The “list comma” is often used in long lists, for example: 水果有很多種類:蘋果、香蕉、句子、芭樂、蓮霧、榴蓮、. It’s called 頓號/顿号 (dùnhào) in Chinese. It can be used in a list like 蘋果、三星及HTC” or  蘋果、三星、HTC (Apple, Samsung and HTC).

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Middle Dot (‧)

The fancy name for this is “interpunct” but in Chinese it’s 間隔號/间隔号 (jiàngéhào), or quite simply “gap marker”.

The middle dot you’ll often seen between Western names, separating first and last name. For example Napoleon Bonaparte is rendered 拿破崙·波拿巴/拿破仑・波拿巴 (Nápòlún · Bōnábā) in Chinese, with the middle dot separating his first and last name.

title_brackets

Title Marks ( 《》and ﹏﹏﹏)

You’ll see the two types of title marks above.  Generally, for book and film titles you’ll see《…》, while〈…〉is used more for articles and can also be embedded within the title brackets above, such as: 《…〈…〉…》. Finally, the fun little wavy underline thing (﹏﹏﹏) can also be used in lieu of the brackets to denote titles and important names.

In Chinese, these are still referred to as “quotation marks”, 引號/引号(yǐnhào). However, if you want to get fancy,《…》are called 雙尖引號/双尖引号 (shuāngjiānyǐnhào), or double pointed quotation marks. While〈…〉are called 單尖引號/单尖引号 (dānjiānyǐnhào), or single pointed quotation marks.

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The Elusive Ellipsis ( …… )

The ellipsis in Chinese has six dots instead of three, and the usage is the same as in English. In Chinese it’s called 省略號/省略号 (shěnglüèhào).

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Tilde (wavy dash) ( ~ )

This has to be my favorite one to say in Chinese because it’s the “wave mark” or 波浪號/波浪号 (bōlànghào).

The wavy dash has a few different usages in Chinese. It can show a range such as 5~8小時, especially when some numbers are estimates. It can also used to soften the ending of a sentence, or to elongate a vowel sound.

Anyway there it is!

It’s pretty straightforward, and similar enough to punctuation in English that it should be easy to get a hang of. Still, the best way to get used to the usage is to see it in the wild. Some of the best places to look are blogs, novels, and even news.

 

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7 thoughts on “The Art of Punctuation in Chinese

  1. Maybe readers would find this post more helpful if you included the Chinese names for various quotes, marks and dots, etc… I would assume a large number of them are students of the language!

  2. […] my previous post on punctuation, I left out perhaps one of the most interesting, creative, and perhaps most relevant to the […]

  3. Looks like you’re missing a comma, the “,“, which is different from the list comma ”、“ .

    • You’re quite right! I originally left it out because the usage seemed similar enough to English, but it may be worth calling out here as well.

      Thank you for your comment, and good catch!

  4. […] only reference I can find on this is this word reference forum which states ……. This also says 6 […]

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