2016-07-10newbie

Usages of 那个 Not Found in Textbooks

If someone were to ask you “Do you know how to use 那个?” your answer would probably be ”yes”.
Of course, “那个” is a very common word in Chinese, and everyone who has studied for a while has come across it. A lot of Chinese grammar books will explain the basic usage of “那个”, but there are some usages you might not know. Many of these only appear in spoken language, so many textbooks and dictionaries will not mention them.

In this blog post, we take a look at some of these spoken language usages of “那个”. Learn them, and you will be able to speak more like the Chinese.

那个 has two pronunciations: “nà ge” and “nèi ge”, with “nèi ge” being more common in spoken language. The basic meaning of “那个” is “that”. For example:

Hover over any word to show translation
 
1.
you (informal)
rèn shi
认识
認識
to know, to recognize
neì ge
那个
那個
that
nán hái
男孩
男孩
boy
ma
(question particle for "yes-no" questions)
 
 
 
2.
nèi ge
那个
那個
that
wèn tí
问题
問題
question, problem
tài
too (much), very
nán
difficult
le
(completed action marker)
 

1. Do you know that boy?
2. That question is too difficult.

Character set
Pinyin

Now that we've reviewed the basic meaning of “那个”, let's take a look at some other useful everyday usages.

Used to fill pauses. Like “uhh” or “well”.

Sometimes you get stuck in the middle of a sentence, perhaps because you’re looking for the proper word or expression to use. In English, when you are thinking you might use “uhh”, “umm”, or “well” to fill up the pause, right? In this situation you can use “那个” in Chinese. For example:

Hover over any word to show translation
zuó tiān
昨天
昨天
yesterday
wǒ men
我们
我們
we, us
to go, to go to (a place)
yóu lè yuán
游乐园
遊樂園
theme park
 
zuò
to sit, to take (a bus, airplane etc)
le
(completed action marker)
neì ge
那个
那個
that
 
xīn kāi
新开
新開
newly opened
de
(used after an attribute)
neì ge
那个
那個
that
guò shān chē
过山车
過山車
roller coaster
 
(particle used for emphasis) certainly, very
hǎo wán
好玩
好玩
amusing, fun, interesting
le
(completed action marker)
 

Yesterday we went to the theme park and rode that, uhh, newly opened, uhh, rollercoaster. It was great.

Character set
Pinyin

In this sentence, the girl just wanted to say “zuótiānmenyóuyuánzuòlexīnkāideguòshānchēhǎowánle”, but she forgot the name of the attraction and filled the pause with two 那个 after “坐了” and “新开的” until she recalled it.

Used to soften an expression, or to express something you don't want to say directly

For example:

Hover over any word to show translation
 
A:
you (informal)
jīn tiān
今天
今天
today
yǒu
to have, there is
kòng
vacant, free time
ma
(question particle for "yes-no" questions)
 
 
B:
neì ge
那个
那個
that
 
……
I, me
jīn tiān
今天
今天
today
yǒu diǎn
有点
有點
a little
máng
busy, hurried
 
bù hǎo yì si
不好意思
不好意思
to feel embarrassed, to find it embarrassing, to be sorry (for inconveniencing sb)
 

A: Are you free today?
B: Well.. I'm a little busy today, I'm sorry.

Character set
Pinyin

In this sentence you can see that B wants to refuse A, but doesn't want to say it directly. So B used “那个” to make the expression softer.

Hover over any word to show translation
you (informal)
gāng cái
刚才
剛才
just now, a moment ago
de
(used after an attribute)
tài du
态度
態度
manner, attitude
also, too
tài
too (much), very
neì ge
那个
那個
that
le
(completed action marker)
 

Your attitude just now was a little...

Character set
Pinyin

In the same way as above, the girls wants to say “Your attitude is too rude”, but didn’t want to use the word “rude” directly. Instead she uses “那个” to represent “rude”.

Sex, Period

Many Chinese do not feel comfortable talking openly about things like sex, and don't like to use words like “zuòài (make love)” or “yuèjīng (Period)”. Instead of them, of course they use “那个”.

Hover over any word to show translation
 
1.
nǐ men
你们
你們
you (plural)
neì ge
那个
那個
that
le
(completed action marker)
ma
(question particle for "yes-no" questions)
 
 
2.
lǎo gōng
老公
老公
(coll.) husband
 
wǒ men
我们
我們
we, us
jīn tiān
今天
今天
today
wǎn shàng
晚上
晚上
evening, night
neì ge
那个
那個
that
ba
...right?, ...OK?
 
 
3.
I, me
lái
to come, to arrive
neì ge
那个
那個
that
le
(completed action marker)
 
bù néng
不能
不能
cannot, must not
yóu yǒng
游泳
游泳
swimming, to swim
 

1. Have you guys done it yet?
2. Darling, let's do it tonight.
3. It's that time of the month, so I can't go swimming.

Character set
Pinyin

Do you understand how to use “那个” now? Try it out and I’m sure your Chinese friends will think: “Wow, your Chinese is like that of a native speaker!”.