Grammar - Four fun new ways to use 玩 (wán)

 from BingoChinese

We all love to play! The Chinese word for play is “玩” (wán) and we use it for all sorts of situations that involve having fun. This was probably one of the first characters you learned, but it has rich meaning and many other uses. 玩 can mean “toy”, “curio” and “to do something for amusement” among other things.

Today we’re going to explore the meanings of 玩 and by looking at four new expressions.

1. 玩火 (wán huǒ)

玩火, literally means “play with fire”. The meaning of the expression is very similar to the English. It can literally mean, “playing with fire” as we see the little boy in the picture being told not to do.

However, 玩火 can also mean “to take foolish risks” which often result in doing people harm. We can extend this to get the expression “玩火自焚” (wán huǒ zì fén) which translates roughly to “play with fire and you will get burned” but can also be a bit more sinister, conveying the idea “whoever plays with fire will perish by fire”.

Here’s an example of how it could be used:

他一直 在 做       情,不知 道自己是 在玩火自焚。

(Tā yìzhí zài zuò yìxiē wēixiǎn de shìqínɡ, bù zhīdào zìjǐ shì zài wánhuǒzìfén.)

He has been doing some dangerous things, and he does not even know that he is playing with fire.

2. 玩花招 (wán huā zhāo)

玩花招 (wán huā zhāo) means “to play tricks”. It generally conveys a negative meaning, people doing something bad to achieve their own goals, rather than people playing pranks for fun.

For example:


(Tā zǒnɡshì xǐhuɑn wán huā zhāo, dàjiā dōu bù xǐhuɑn ɡēn tā hézuò.)

He always likes to play tricks, everyone dislikes working with him.

3. 玩儿命(wánr mìnɡ)

玩儿命 means “gambling with one’s life”. Remember the squirrel from the film Ice Age? It was intent on catching the acorn no matter what dangerous situations it put itself in, whether it was plunging itself into freezing cold water or launching itself off mountains. We would say the the squirrel was “玩儿命” or “gambling with his life”.

You might say this to a person as well for example:

你要注意身体,工 作 不要太玩儿命 

(Nǐ yào zhùyì shēntǐɡōnɡzuò bú yào tài wánr mìnɡ.)

Which means “watch your health, don’t gamble with your life too much at work” but more generally means “Take care of yourself, don’t devote yourself too much to work”.

4. 玩儿完 (wánr wán)

玩儿完 means “the jig is up”, “play’s over” or even “game over”. We use this when we find out a plan or scheme is likely to fail, before it has succeeded. “玩儿完” can also means “to die” or “to fail” more broadly.

For example:


(Tā méiyǒu tīnɡ wǒ de huàɡōnɡsī zuìhòu wánr wán le.)

He did not listen to me, finally the company busted up.