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This post is about a Chinese phrase which is frequently used in daily life, especially in such context as someone does not or cannot make a choice. For example, when deciding what to eat for lunch, I always feel hard to make a choice. The dishes seem always the same every day. It makes no difference of eating which one. So the answer we made most of the time is “随便(suí biàn)”. In this context, it means “I can do with everything”, “Everything is OK for me”, “Choose as you wish”.
Chinese is always regarded as friendly and hospitable. Sometimes when you go to a store, the owner will immediately ask what you want. If you just want to look around or window shop, then this would be the perfect Chinese-style answer: “我随便看看(wǒ suí biàn kàn kan)”, meaning that you just want to look around casually and do not have a specific desire of buying something.
With the meaning of “casually”, “随便(suí biàn)” is also used in such context, say, a new boss who want to criticize a senior employee who has been working there for a very long time. So the boss does not want to hurt the employee’s feeling and want to do it slowly and politely. Then he may begin like this: “只是随便聊聊(zhǐ shì suí biàn liáo liáo)，别紧张(bié jǐn zhāng)” – I just want to have casual talks. Take it easy.
By the way, this reminds me of my interview. My supervisor said exactly the same sentence at the beginning of the interview. She was very nice and wanted to ease my nervousness. Therefore, if you want to be a nice supervisor or teacher, use this sentence to begin an interview or a serious talk. Tell the one with whom you’re talking “只是随便聊聊(zhǐ shì suí biàn liáo liáo)，别紧张(bié jǐn zhāng)”.
Well, speaking of the hospitability and politeness of Chinese, you might have heard such from your Chinese friends when you visit them as:
However, if you use “随便(suí biàn)” to describe someone, or his/her behavior, then you’re expressing a negative impression. For example, if you describe a young lady as “挺随便的(tǐng suí biàn de)”, then you mean she is kind of an easy girl. Another sample sentence: “他这个决定做得有些随便(tā zhè ge jué dìng zuò dé yǒu xiē suí biàn)”. By this, you mean “He is kind of thoughtless of making such a decision”.
“随便(suí biàn)” can also convey meanings like “do as one wishes”, “no matter” and “anyhow”:
E.g. 1: 对于这件事(duì yú zhè jiàn shì)，我没意见(wǒ méi yì jiàn)，你随便处理吧(nǐ suí biàn chǔ lǐ ba)。
- I have no opinion regarding this. Do as you wish.
E.g. 2: 随便我怎么问(suí biàn wǒ zěn me wèn)，他就是一言不发(tā jiù shì yì yán bù fā)。
- No matter what I asked, he just said nothing.
To sum up, with the Chinese phrase “随便(suí biàn)”, you can express the following meanings:
I’m hoping with all the contexts, those who are learning the Chinese language can get a more vivid impression of this phrase, especially if they learn Chinese online, and have no access to the native environment.
This post was originally published on the Study More Chinese Blog
(casual - photo credit Scarleth White
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