是 To be or 不是 Not to be?

是 shì, is one of the most useful words in Chinese language. The top part is 日 rì, the sun, and the lower part is 正 zhèng which means correct, positif, straight. rì and zhèng together form the most essential verb to be. Long before that Shakespeare was asking To be or not to be, ancient Chinese people already chose the sun and the right one in order To BE, 是 shì.

Nowadays, 是 shì is the daily mandatory word used for:

- the introduction: 这是 zhè shì This is; 我是 shì I am;

- asking confirmation : 是不是 shì bù shì, isn’t it? Doesn’t it?

- “Yes” or “No” : shì 是的 shì de, yes; 不是 bù shì, no

- “But” : 但是 dàn shì, 可是 kě shì

- “Always” : 总是 zǒng shì

- “Or” / “Rather” : 还是 hái shì

Some popular Chinese idioms reflect the initial meaning for correctness and positiveness of 是 shì.

一是一 yī shì yī, 二是二 èr shì èr”, “one is one, two is two” describes an honest person. “说一是一 shuō yī shì yī, 说二是二 shuō èr shì èr” is a person who always fulfils his promises.

There is a famous 是 shì tongue twister in China. Let’s try it aloud !

四 是 四 sì shì sì,十 是 十 shí shì shí, (Four is four, ten is ten)

十四 是 十四 shí sì shì shí sì, (fourteen is fourteen)

四十 是 四十, sì shí shì sì shí (forty is forty)

十四 不是 四十 shí sì bù shì sì shí,(Fourteen isn’t forty)

四十不是十四, sì shí bù shì shí sì . (Forty isn’t fourteen)


So, to be or not to be, 是 还是 不是


Xiao Ling and Lao Long explain more details in the video hereunder.


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