How to ask, "What does she look like?" in Chinese - 20 Questions to Basic Fluency #17

Last time we took a look at how to say, "How are you doing?" in Chinese.  If you missed that discussion, take some time to go back and check it out.

(see all "20 Questions to Basic Fluency.")

Today our friend is telling us about someone else and we are asking, "What does she look like?" Here is the question and answer:

Question
她长得怎么样?
Tā zhǎng de zěnmeyàng?
What does she look like?

 

Answer
她很漂亮.
Tā hěn piàoliang.
She is very pretty.

Asking what someone looks like in Chinese isn’t too hard despite the fact that the question doesn’t resemble the English at all.  This is one of those cases where the Chinese makes more sense than the English.  The English question, “What does she look like?” is obscured a bit.  If you were trying to learn English, you might expect to hear an answer comparing the person with a noun, not an adjective: 

Q: What does she look like?  

A: She looks like a model. 

In comparison, the Chinese question is a lot more logical.  Let’s take a look. 

 

The word 她(tā) means “she.”  (Note: the masculine “he” has the same pronunciation but uses a different character, )  The next word,

长 (zhǎng) has a few meanings, but here it would literally mean “grow.”  The character

得(de) is a particle and it has no meaning here.  In the question it is used to connect the verb with the adjective to tell how the “growing” is done (in this case, the growing is pretty.)






That’s the detailed explanation of the two characters but it might be more practical to just remember that when

长(zhǎng) combines with

得(de) the meaning is “looks like” or “appears.”  We looked at

怎么样(zěnmeyàng) in detail in question #16, so there is no need to go over each character again individually.






But if you are interested

go back and check it out. The word

怎么样(zěnmeyàng) just means “how” in our question.  When you put it all together you get something like, “She grows how?” or “She looks/appears how?”  Now let’s go on to the answer.

 

The answer gives the information you’d expect (a subject and an adjective to describe it) but Chinese is unique when it comes to adjectives.  We start out with 她(tā) which means “she.”  The next word is 很(hěn) which means “very.”






But what makes Chinese different is that it doesn’t use a form of the word “to be” with adjectives.  For example, in English you might say, “She

is pretty” so you would expect the Chinese translation to be 她是漂亮(Tā

shì piàoliang). THIS IS NOT CORRECT.  Chinese doesn’t use the verb 是(shì) with adjectives in this grammar pattern.






The final word is

漂亮(piàoliang) which means, “pretty.”  The definitions of the individual characters don’t help out much here, so it’s best to just remember them together as “pretty.” So all together we get, “She very pretty.”  Now you might be asking yourself, can I use the

长得(zhǎng de) in the answer? Sure.  Your answer would look like this,

她长得很漂亮(Tā zhǎng de hěn piàoliang.)

 

More Info

You can replace 漂亮(piàoliang)in the answer with any one of the adjectives below to describe a person’s physical traits.

 

好看 - Hǎokàn – good looking

难看-Nánkàn – ungly (lit. hard look)

可爱- Kě'ài - cute

老-Lǎo - old

年轻-Niánqīng - young

高-Gāo - tall

矮-Ǎi - short

胖-Pàng - fat

瘦-Shòu - thin

 

 


(photo credit Chovee)

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Admin
Comment by sikora on June 13, 2012 at 9:59am

Simon, 谢谢! 干杯!

Comment by Simon Webb on June 12, 2012 at 3:49pm

"If I score them.  I would say,

非常=100,很=95,挺&蛮=85,还算=70"

It's like pub banter :)
Thanks for the post & comments. Very useful! 



Admin
Comment by Seraph Ching on May 11, 2012 at 8:33pm

她是漂亮的 simply means "She is beautiful" in Chinese. Everyone can use this. It's a bit vague that people might wonder how beautiful she is.

她很漂亮 means "She's very beautiful."

There are some other expression for different level of 漂亮 if you want to make your opinion clearer:

1. 她挺漂亮的。

2. 她蛮漂亮的。

3. 她还算漂亮。

4. 她非常漂亮。

1&2 are quite similiar to each other, they are both less than 很.

3 is less than 1&2.

4 is similar to 很, but in my opinion 非常 is more than 很.   :)

If I score them.  I would say,

非常=100,很=95,挺&蛮=85,还算=70

Hope this would help, I feel it's a bit mess... :p


Admin
Comment by sikora on May 11, 2012 at 7:59pm

Thanks for the tips Seraph!  The 是+ Adjective + 的 pattern is great to know.  How would you translate #3 above into English? I've seen this pattern translated to something like this:

漂亮!

shì piàoliang de!

She is a pretty one!

I've got another question.  In my estimation, the difference between "She is very pretty" and "She is a pretty one" is as much a matter of familiarity as it is of degree in English.  "She is a pretty one" is something that would probably be said between friends.  And to me, it also conveys a sense that the speaker is some how in a vague position of superiority to the person who is pretty.  The person saying "She is a pretty one" might be older than the pretty person, or perhaps trying to express that "I've seen lots of pretty girls and in my experience, she is a pretty girl too."  And because of those reasons, a kid would not be likely to say "She is a pretty one" in English.  Is there a parallel kind of similarity between 3." 她是漂亮的." and 4." 她很漂亮."?


Admin
Comment by Seraph Ching on May 11, 2012 at 1:27pm

Good article!

A bit tips:

1. 她漂亮。- no

2. 她是漂亮。- no

3. 她是漂亮的。- ok

4. 她很漂亮。- good

For 1 & 2, people understands you if you say so, but we don't say it like this.

是+的 combination works most of the time. (In this situation, if you think she is NOT VERY beautiful, just fairly beautiful.)

4 is more beautiful than 3.  :)

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