11.4 Use of the Hyphen; Abbreviations and Short Forms

The hyphen is no more than the "connecting dash" described in 11) above. A most striking difference between the hyphen and all other punctuation marks is that the hyphen alone can be used inside a word.

The hyphen always figured prominently in the various Latin-alphabet spelling systems for Chinese brought forward from as early as the end of the Qing dynasty. Any construction that was not indisputably either one word or two was written with a hyphen. This naturally resulted in overuse and misuse of the hyphen, and in the flooding of Latinized Chinese writings with this punctuation mark. This was and is clearly undesirable. On the other hand, however, Hanyu Pinyin cannot do without the hyphen altogether. In certain situations, the hyphen can be an important aid to comprehension. In addition, the hyphen can serve as a regulating feature, providing an interim solution in cases where it really is impossible to decide whether a construction should be written as one word or two. In view of these facts, it has been decided to make use of the hyphen in Hanyu Pinyin, though only within strict limits and according to clearly stated rules.

Various uses of the hyphen have been mentioned throughout the preceding chapters of this book. For ease of reference, all the uses of the hyphen, including a few that have not yet been discussed, are here brought together and presented systematically.

Hanyu Pinyin makes use of the hyphen in six distinct ways:

  1. Coordinate constructions

    When two morphemes (possible [sic] more than two in the case of noun morphemes; see Chapter 1, Section 7) stand in a close relation or in opposition to each other, and each retains its original meaning, then they are linked by a hyphen:

    • Noun + noun:
      • shī-shēng (teacher-student);
      • gōng-jiàn (bow and arrow);
    • Verb + verb:
      • mǎi-mài (buying and selling);
      • dǎ-mà (beat and scold);
    • Adjective + adjective:
      • hēi-bái (black-and-white);
      • kuài-màn ("fast-slow": speed);
    • Numeral + numeral:
      • bā-jiǔ (eight or nine);
      • sān-wǔ ("three or five": several);
    • Measure word + measure word:
      • jià-cì (sortie);
      • rén-cì (person-time);
    • Proper noun + proper noun:
      • Yīng-Hàn (English-Chinese (language));
      • Jīng-Jīn (Bejing-Tianjin).
  2. Reduplicated coordinate constructions

    When monosyllabic words or morphemes are reduplicated and joined into coordinate constructions of the form AABB, a hyphen is used to link AA to BB:

    • A and B are nouns:
      • rìrì-yèyè (night and day);
      • jiājiā-hùhù (each and every household);
    • A and B are verbs:
      • lālā-chěchě (drag (somebody) around);
      • shuōshuō-xiàoxiào (talking and laughing);
    • A and B are adjectives:
      • qūqū-wānwān (crooked and winding);
      • hónghóng-lǜlǜ (red and green);
    • A and B are numerals:
      • sānsān-liǎngliǎng (in twos and threes);
      • qiānqiān-wànwàn (thousands upon thousands);
    • A and B are onomatopoeic words.
      • pipi-papa (slapping or patting);
      • dingding-dangdang (jingling and clattering).
  3. Four-syllable idioms

    In a four-character idiom composed of two disyllabic yǔjié (segments), a hyphen is used to link the yǔjié.

    • Symmetrical:
      • fēngpíng-làngjìng ("the wind is calm and the waves have died down": calm and tranquil);
      • kāitiān-pìdì ("open the sky and clear the earth": since the beginning of history);
    • Asymmetrical:
      • shùzhī-gāogé ("bundle it up and put it on the top shelf": to pigeonhole, fail to act on);
      • huījīn-rútǔ ("throw gold about like dirt": spend money like water);
    • Four syllables in coordination:
      • zhǐ-bǐ-mò-yàn (paper, brush, ink and inkstone: the four tools of writing and painting);
      • zhī-hū-zhě-yě (pedantic terms and archaisms).
  4. Ordinal numerals

    A hyphen is used to connect the prefix dì to the numeral that follows it:

    • dì-yī (first);
    • dì-sānshíbā (thirty-eighth);
    • dì-356 (three hundred fifty-sixth).

    The prefix chū used in the names of certain days of the month (see Chapter 4, Section 2), is connected directly to its numeral without a hyphen.

  5. Short forms and abbreviations

    Luèyǔ, or short forms, are a very common type of construction in Putonghua. They are formed by selecting certain component syllables from a long phrase and combining them to form a short and simple word with the same meaning.

    There are three types of short form. The first type includes those which, through long and widespread use, have been transformed into ordinary words. These are not usually thought of as shortened forms by the people who use them, particularly since they have almost wholly supplanted the original word in usage. These short forms are treated as ordinary words in writing, and no hyphen is used to separate their components:

    • chūjí zhōngxué (elementary high school) chūzhōng;
    • jūnrén jiāshǔ (soldiers' dependents) jūnshǔ;
    • sǎochú wénmáng (eliminate illiteracy) sǎománg;
    • shàonián xiānfēngduì (Young Pioneers) shàoxiānduì.

    The second type of short form includes those which, due to insufficient length of time or limited currency, have not yet become single words. Many of these are specialized vocabulary items, or are limited in use to a small number of situations. Some of them soon fall out of use and are forgotten. None of them fully qualify as words. It is therefore convenient to use a hyphen to link their components. If such a short form eventually becomes a true word, the hyphen can be dropped. A few examples of this hyphenated form:

    • huánjìng bǎohù (environmental protection) huán-bǎo;
    • gōnggòng guānxì (public relations) gōng-guān;
    • diànhuà jiàoyù (education with audio-visual aids) diàn-jiào;
    • tuīguǎng Pǔtōnghuà (popularize the use of Putonghua) tuī-pǔ;
    • chángtú diànhuà (long-distance telephone call) cháng-huà.

    Short forms of proper nouns should always be written with a hyphen:

    • Běijīng Dàxué (Beijing University) Běi-Dà;
    • Guójiā jiàoyù Wěiyuánhuì (National Education Commission) Guójiān Jiào-Wěi.

    The third kind of short form uses a numeral to indicate the number of items in the original phrase. It is easier and better to write this type of short form without a hyphen.

    • "sān hǎo" ("three good": good health, good study, good work);
    • "sì hài" ("the four pests": flies, mosquitoes, rats, and sparrows);
    • "wǔ jiǎng, sì měi" ("five stress, four beautiful": stress civilization, politeness, hygiene, order and virtue; beautiful spirit, language, behavior and environment).

    The question of abbreviations should be mentioned briefly here. Abbreviations are similar in some ways to short forms. While short forms are drawn from the spoken language, however, abbreviations are drawn from the writing system. Abbreviations are not used much in Hanyu Pinyin as yet, and only a few have received wide recognition. Of these few, some examples are given below.

    Abbreviations of proper nouns:

    • ZRG or Z.R.G.: Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó (People's Republic of China);
    • GB or G.B.: Guójiā Biāozhǔn (National Standard);
    • BJ: Běijīng;
    • WH: Wǔhàn.

      (These last two are used mainly in telegraphy.)

    Abbreviations of common nouns:

    • kp or kp.: kēpǔ = kēxué pǔjí (popular science);
    • xs or xs.: xiānsheng (Mr.);
    • dd or dd.: děngděng (etc.).
  6. Word division

    At the end of a written line, a word must sometimes be divided because it will not all fit on one line; the portion that will not fit is carried over onto the line below. In Hanyu Pinyin, as in other Latin-alphabet writing systems, a word is always divided between syllables. A hyphen is added to the first half of the word to indicate that it is continued below. Using chūntiān (spring) as an example:



    If the word already has a hyphen in the spot where it must be divided, then this hyphen is carried along onto the next line along with the second half of the word. Taking gōng-sī (public and private) as an example: