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Last time we took a look at how to say, “What are you doing tomorrow?” in Chinese. If you missed that discussion, take some time to
go back and answer the question in the reply.
"20 Questions to Basic Fluency.")
Today's question, "Where is the bathroom?" is probably one of the most important to know in any language. Asking for the location of something in Chinese is wonderfully simple, so let's take a look.
First let's check out the question. All you need to do is start out your question with the place you want to know about. In this case,
厕所 (cèsǔo). Next, the verb
在(zài) means “is.” (*Note: You may remember that 是(shì) also means “is” as in, 我是美国人(Wǒ shì měiguó rén) “I
The verb 在(zài) is used to express“to be” when you want to know where something is. You can't use 是(shì) in this context.) Finally, use 哪儿(nǎ’er) which means "where." It’s backward from the English word order but still very easy to understand. The beauty of this pattern is that you use it for people, places, and things so it’s very high frequency and very flexible. The answer is even simpler.
To respond you once again use the verb
在(zài). But here you can leave out the place that you asked about in the question. We do the same in English too. Once you’ve established that “the bathroom” is the topic in question, there is no need to repeat it in the answer. Can you say it again? Sure thing. Place 厕所 (cèsǔo) in front of 在(zài) and you’re good to go.
The end of the sentence is where you find the information about where the place is. In our answer we have 那里(nǎlǐ) which means “there.” Obviously there could be a lot of information about directions to the place you are asking about so 那里(nǎlǐ)is just one of many options. Notice that now the word order matches with the English exactly.
You may have noticed that 哪儿(nǎ’er) in the question and 那里(nǎlǐ) in the answer have a similar pronunciation and that the characters almost look identical. The little 口 in front of 哪儿(nǎ’er) signifies that it is a question and it means “which.” If 口 isn’t in there, then it isn’t a question and it means, “that.” Another important point is that 儿(er) and 里(lǐ) are interchangeable in this context. You can use either one with 哪(nǎ) and 那(nǎ) and be perfectly correct.
Here is a list of places that you might need to ask about. Just substitute any one from the list below for 厕所 (cèsǔo)in the question:
城市 － Chéngshì – the city
市中心 － Shì zhōngxīn - downtown
市场 － Shìchǎng – the market
商场 － Shāngchǎng – the mall
商店 － Shāngdiàn – the store (a shop)
超级市场 － Chāojí shìchǎng – grocery market
药店 － Yàodiàn － the pharmacy
饭店 － Fàndiàn - restaurant
面馆 － Miànguǎn – noodle shop
路边摊 － Lù biān tān – street vendor
咖啡馆 － Kāfēi guǎn – the cafe
茶馆 － Cháguǎn – tea house
酒吧 － Jiǔbā – the bar
图书馆 － Túshū guǎn – the library
书店 － Shūdiàn – the bookstore
公园 － Gōngyuán – the park
博物馆 － Bówùguǎn – the museum
学校 － Xuéxiào - school
办公室 － Bàngōngshì – the office
工作 － Gōngzuò - work
教堂 － Jiàotáng - church
银行 － Yínháng – the bank
邮局 － Yóujú – the post office
海边 － Hǎibiān – the ocean
湖边 － Hú biān – the lake
河边 － Hé biān – the river
山 － Shān – the mountains
沙漠 － Shāmò – the desert
农场 － Nóngchǎng – the farm
工厂 － Gōngchǎng – the facotry
体育馆 － Tǐyùguǎn – the gym
游泳池 － Yóuyǒngchí – the pool
球场 － Qiúchǎng – the (ball) field/court
高尔夫场 － Gāo'ěrfū chǎng – the golf course
自动取款机 － Zìdòng qǔkuǎn jī – the ATM
机场 － Jīchǎng – the airport
Understanding directions in another language is notoriously difficult. Your understanding depends as much on your listening comprehension as it does on the other person's ability to explain the route clearly (and his honesty about whether or not he actually knows where the place is that you are asking about.) As a beginner in this situation, sometimes the best you can do is find out if the place is close or far, have people point you in the general direction and then ask someone else further down the road. So the list below is more of a guide for listening than a structure for how to give directions. Listen for these words to show up in the answer.
那里－Nàlǐ - there
这里－Zhèlǐ - here
后面－Hòumiàn - behind
前面－Qiánmiàn – in front
对面－Duìmiàn – opposite
附近－Fùjìn - near
远－Yuǎn - far
旁边－Pángbiān – next to
拐角－Guǎijiǎo - corner
北－Běi - north
西－Xi - west
右－Yòu - right
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