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河 vs 湖



Am I the only one here that is totally unable to remember which one means "river" and which one means "lake"? All I can remember is that they both have something to do with water.

At least I can easily remember the pronunciation, due to 可 and 古 being in there, and each of these have the same vowel (e vs u) as those, and in both cases the initial is "h" and the tone is second.


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Never had issues with these probably because I learned them in words:

河流 the liu2 part expresses the flow of the river

湖泊 the po1 part expresses the stability of the lake

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Why don't you think of the Yellow River, or Huanghe, China's second largest river after the Yangzi, or Changjiang (literally "long river"), for "river"?

And the famed West Lake, Xihu, for "lake"?

Here's a bit of a mnemonic device.

Mao was famous for swimming the Yanzi River or "long" river.

And Mao made the "long march", and was according to a tell-all biography by his physician a bit of a ladies man (Me ruv you wrong time).

Three wrongs...er...longs don't make a right. :)

Now, think of Hu Jintao, the current President of China. His surname is Hu, the right side of the character for "lake".

It's also the "Ho" of Ho Chi Minh.

It was the name for one of the northern tribes that use to raid China in the past but has come to mean foreigners in general. Or is translated usually as "barbarian" in English.

A lot of food not originally native to China will have the hu- prefix attached.

Black pepper, carrots, etc.

Anyway, think of Mao swimming the raging rapids of the Yellow (long) River while Hu swims the placid waters of West Lake.

The implication is that Hu is no Mao. :)

Or for a non-political mnemonic think of butterfly, hu die. The hu is the same as the hu of lake but with the insect radical in place of the water radical.

Think of a butterfly, swimming a river vs. a lake.

Which would be more its element?

A raging river or a calm lake?

Kobo-Daishi, PLLA.

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Forget my Mao mnemonic it doesn't work. :mellow:

Wrong river.

Mao swam the Yangtze River or "long" river but the character for river there is "jiang" while you're after the "he" of Huanghe, the Yellow River.

Does Jiang Zemin swim? :)

Kobo-Daishi, PLLA.

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I find it hard to believe that you're having problems differentiating these two characters, considering some of the more arcane stuff you go on about in your blog! (But then, that more arcane stuff might be the problem i.e. be being too much of a distraction from more basic meat-and-potatoes fare).

Regarding the phonetic 胡, a good place to start is always Wieger, as made available here: http://www.smarthanzi.net/ (click on the 'Find a character' sublink, and then no.450 in the 9-stroke section of the English version). The good thing with this one is that the great majority of the characters it appears in are all second tone, and there are some memorable items like hudie (butterfly). The actual 'lake' character itself is also used in 'Hubei' and 'Hunan'.

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Thanks all for your ideas! I'm going to have to try a couple and see what works for me.

BTW, I wasn't trying to imply that 古 is the phonetic part for 湖, just that it is contained in it....

The actual 'lake' character itself is also used in 'Hubei' and 'Hunan'.

And there is also a Hebei and a Henan.....

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@hbutchel (and jbradfor:): Well, if you follow the phonetic decomposition further, 胡 hu is indeed found under and associated with 古 gu (see no.132 at smarthanzi link previously given), and 河 he with 可 ke (see 130) with 丂 kao/qiao/yu (see 3) ultimately. Harbaugh/zhongwen.com however is a quicker, more easily navigable way (e.g. it has Pinyin look-up) to get certainly individual character breakdowns and explanations (but the trade-off is that the phonetics aren't as explicitly listed/in lists like Wieger's are).

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Jbradfor doesn't have a problem with the pronunciations.

He just has a difficult time telling which character means "river" and which one means "lake".

As a mnemonic he should imagine Mao swimming a raging river in his twilight years.

And then imagine Hu floating on an inner tube with a glass of lemonade.

Then when he encounters the characters he should think of their surnames.

Is "Mao" pronounced like He or Hu?


Then think of Hu, does his surname sound like He or Hu.

Then since it sounds like Hu recall the image of Hu lounging on the lake.

Thus Hu equates to lake.

Certainly, no worse a mnemonic than some of those found in those picture books. :)

Kobo-Daishi, PLLA.

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Perhaps you're not used to seeing characters with 可 on the right, such as 何 柯 阿 訶 呵 坷. IMO those look more like 河 than 湖.

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Thanks Kobo-Daishi, you're pretty much right on. "Mao in river, Hu in lake, Mao in river, Hu in lake, Mao in river, Hu in lake..... "

Who was that in the lake again? [sorry, couldn't help myself....]

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@欧博思: But 月 as a "body part" radical is found pretty much only on the left or base of its characters, whereas 月 on the right relates primarily to "moon". So if only for consistency's sake I'd prefer a mnemonic that ran something like "water as old as the moon" i.e. a relatively still, non-moving body :) of water (i.e. a lake), versus the running flowing nature of rivers (one could view the 'ke' part of the he/river character as a pictorial whirlpool perhaps).

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Ooh, you're right, Xiaocai! I've had my nose buried in simplified dictionaries a bit too much, I think (with regard to radicals, not that the radical in 湖 is usually anything other than 氵). That being said, the character 胡 seems to be the only exception I can see (in Harbaugh, the Far East, and the ABC ECCE) to the generalization I was trying to make about 肉/月 only being a left or base component. (Perhaps this exceptionality will help jbradfor remember it better!). Heh, we (I, at any rate!) learn something new every day, eh! :oops::P:)

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And to complete Kobo-Daishi's mnemonic (which I find useful! thanks!), I just realized that 濤 in 胡錦濤 means "big waves"; since you can't get big waves in rivers, but you can in (some) lakes, that completes the mnemonic....

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