Questions and Answers When Lost

4.5 Questions and Answers When Lost

This lesson is set in the PRC. You’ll learn to understand questions and answers used in locating street addresses when you’re lost.

Clara Matthews is having some trouble finding a friend’s house. Listen as she stops someone on the street to ask for directions.

Duìbuqǐ.对不起 Excuse me.
Nǐ yǒu shénme shì a?你有什么事啊 What can I do for you?

Here’s the word a matter/issue.

shì a matter, issue, thing

The noun shì, the short version of shìqíng 事情, has a very broad meaning and is difficult to translate into smooth English. Some of its more common translations are matter, issue or thing.

You’ve also learned the word dōngxī which also means a thing although it is only used to refer to tangible things, whereas shì refers to abstract things/issues.

In the context of someone asking for help, the reply nǐ yǒu shénme shì a could be translated somewhat literally as what is your problem? although such a translation sounds somewhat hostile in English. Our non-literal translation reflects the mood of the Chinese sentence rather than its words. Notice this final a which helps to soften the sentence. Without it, the question might come across as rather rude.


The conversation continues.

Qǐngwèn. zhètiáo lù shì shénme lù?请问。这条路是什么路 May I ask, what road is this?
Zhè shi Nánjīng Xīlù.这是南京西路 This is Nanjing West Road.

Here’s is how you say this road.

zhè tiáo这条 this road

The tiáo is a counter for long, twisting things such as roads, rivers, fish and dragons. In English you say What road is this? whereas in Chinese you say What road is this road? zhètiáo lù shi shénme lù. You may not leave out the final .

Listen again to the name of the road Nanjing West Road.

Nánjīng Xīlù南京西路 Nanjing West Road

Notice that the word for West is not in its usual English position in the street name. Whereas in English we would likely call this street West Nanjing Road, direction words in Chinese street names, always come at the end of the name with the word attached.

Notice also that in the answer zhè shi Nánjīng Xīlù, the word for this is given with its non-Beijing pronounciation zhè instead of zhèi. From now on the forms zhè this, that, and which will be used for all non-Beijing speakers. You’ll be expected to use these forms yourself only when a speaker uses them to you.

Listen again and review.

The conversation continues.

Nǐ zhǎo shénme dìfang?你找什么地方 What place are you looking for?
Wǒ zhǎo Nánjīng Dōnglù Yíduàn, Wǔshisìxiàng.我找南京东路一段,五十四巷 I am looking for Lane 54 of Nanjing East Road, Section 1.

Here is the word for to look for.

zhǎo to look for

This can be used to when looking for places, people or (abstract) things. For example:

nǐ zhǎo shéi?你找谁 Who are you looking for?
tā shì bu shi zhǎo gōngzuò?她是不是找工作 Is she looking for work?

Here are the words for a section and a lane.

duàn section
xiàng lane

In Taipei, streets that are divided into North/South or East/West may be further divided into sections. These sections are numbered like floors of a building. yíduàn, èrduàn, etc.

Lanes in Taipei are numbered as if they were houses – even numbers on one side, odd numbers are on the other.

Notice that Chinese mentions the road, which is larger before the lane, which is smaller. While English uses the opposite order. In Chinese you would give the address as Nanjing East Road, Section 1, Lane 54 while in English it would be Lane 54, Nanjing East Road, Section 1.

Listen again and review.

For the next exchange, you’ll need a new street name. Here is how you say Zhongshan North Road.

Zhōngshān Běilù中山北路 Zhongshan North Road

Zhongshan North Road is a major tourist shopping street in Taipei.

Now listen to another person who has lost his way. Review afterwards.

Let’s go back to Ms. Matthews. You’ll remember that she had just said she was looking for lane 54 of Nanjing East Road Section 1. The conversation continues.

Nǐ zǒucuò le. Zhè shì Nánjīng Xīlù.你走错了。这是南京西路 You went the wrong way. This is Nanjing West Road.
Nǐ wàng nàbian zǒu. 你往那边走 You go that way,
Guò sāntiáo jiē, Jiù shi Nánjīng Dōnglù Yíduàn.过三条街,就是南京东路一段 Cross three streets, and that’s Nanjing East Road, Section 1.

Note that while in English you would probably say go three blocks in Chinese directions are usually given in terms of streets guò sāntiáo jiē. The word lùkǒu intersection is also used: guò jǐge lùkǒu go a few blocks.


Here’s how you say gone the wrong way.

zǒucuò le走错了 gone the wrong way

Zǒucuò le is a compound verb of result. Zǒucuò le is literally zǒu to walk, and cuò to be wrong hence it means to have walked with the result of being wrong.

The word cuò may be used with other action verbs to indicate a result. For instance, there is:

shūocuò le说错了 to have said incorrectly
tīngcuò le听错了 to have heard incorrectly
xiěcuò le写错了 to have written incorrectly
niàncuò le念错了 to have read (aloud) incorrectly
Wǒ mǎicuò le! Zhège tài xiǎo le!我买错了! 这条太小了 I bought the wrong one. This is too small!
Nǐ kàncuò le. Yínháng cóng jiǔdiǎnzhōng jiù kāimén le.你看错了。银行从九点钟就开门了 You read it wrong. The bank has been open since 9am.
Nǐ kàncuò le zhōng, xiànzài yǐjīng bādiǎn bàn lǐ.你看错了钟,现在已经八点半里 You read the clock wrong. It’s already 8:30.

Here’s the word for to cross or to pass.

guò to cross/to pass

This can also refer to time as well as space. For example:

Guòle zhège lùkǒu, zài wàng qián bù yuǎn, jiù dào nàge xuéxiào le过了这个路口,再往前走不远,就到那个学校了 After you have crossed this intersection, then go a little farther ahead, and then you’ll be at the school.
A: Míngtiān wǒ qǐng ni kàn diànyǐng, hǎo bu hǎo?明天我请你看电影,好不好 How about my treating you to a movie tomorrow?
B: Zhè liǎngtiān dōu yǒu kè, guò liǎngtiān zài shuō ba. 这两天都有课,过两天再说吧 I have classes the net couple of days; let’s see about it in a couple of days.
Wǒ xiǎng, guòle jǐge xīngqī, nǐde bìng jiù kéyi hǎo le.我想,过了几个星期,你的病就可以好了 I think that after a few weeks have passed your illness will be all better.

Listen to the directions and review.

Now listen to a similar exchange. Review afterwards.

Let’s go back to Ms. Matthews who is looking for lane 54 of Nanjing East Road section 1. She’s just been told how to get to section 1. Listen as the conversation continues.

Dàole Yíduàn yǐhòu , qǐng zài wèn biéren ba.到了一段以后,请再问别人吧 After you have gotten to Section 1, please ask someone else.
Hǎo. Xièxie好。谢谢 All right. Thanks.

You’ll notice that the adverb zài isn’t translated in this exchange.

Here’s the word for to ask.

wèn to ask

And here’s the word for someone else.

biéren别人 someone else

Listen again and review.

When Ms. Matthews gets to section 1, she finds lane 54 and then asks someone else for more help.

Qǐngwèn, Wǔnòng zài náli?请问,五农在哪里 May I ask, vhere is Alley 5?
Nǐ zài wàng qián zǒu yìdiǎn.你再往前走一点 You walk (straight) ahead a little farther.
Yòubian dìyīge lùkǒu jiù shi Wǔnòng.右边第一个路口就是五农 The first intersection on the right is Alley 5.

Here’s the word for an alley.

nòng alley

And here’s the word for front.

qián front

In the sentence nǐ zài wàng qián zǒu yìdiǎn, the adverb zài is translated as more and refers to the continuation of an action rather than its repetition. The combination of zài before the verb and yìdiǎn after the verb means a little more or a little farther.

Here are some other examples.

Nǐ zài chī yidiǎnr ba!你再吃一点儿吧 Eat some more.
Nǐ zài zuò yihuǐr ba!你在坐一会儿吧 Sit a while longer.
Zài gěi wo yíge ba.再给我一个吧 Give me another one.
Zài gěi wo liǎng ge ba.再给我两个吧 Give me two more.

Qián by itself may be used only in certain special phrases. One of these is wàng qián zǒu. When refering to a specific location you need to use a place word such as qiánbian or qiánmian.

There are serveral single-syllable direction words like qián which you may use after wàng. In most other contexts though a longer form place word must be used.

wàng   qián   zǒu      BUT       zài   qiánbian
hòu hòubian
shàng shàngbian
xià xiàbian
zuǒ zuǒbian
yòu yòubian
lǐbian
wài wàibian
dōng dōngbian
nán nánbian
xībian
běi běibian

Listen again and review.

Here’s another conversation reviewing everything introduced in this lesson.

Pronunciation Practice