Last time, we discussed the basic differences between 在 (zài) vs. 再 (zài.) In case you need a reminder, those are Chinese homophones, or characters that are pronounced the same but written differently. Asides from 在 and 再, some other common homophones are 他, 她, 它 (tā) and 的, 地, 得 (de.)
Here’s a homophone pair that even native Mandarin speakers have trouble with: 做 (zuò) vs. 作 (zuò). The differences and similarities between 做 and 作 are a bit confusing, but we’ve boiled each character’s appropriate times of use down to a few points:
做 (ZUÒ) IS USUALLY USED TO 1. IMPLY THE OBJECT BEING CREATED IS TANGIBLE OR 2. SUGGEST SOME SORT OF JOB OR ACTIVITY
1. CREATING SOMETHING TANGIBLE
你要跟我做晚餐吗? (nǐ yào gēn wǒ zuò wǎn cān ma)
Do you want to make dinner with me?
The object being created is “dinner.” Similarly, 做 is also applied when talking about the production of other material things. For instance, “做蛋糕 (zuò dàn gāo)” means “make/making a cake and” “做衣服 (zuò yī fú)” means “make/making clothes.”
2. JOB OR ACTIVITY
你在做什么(nǐ zài zuò shén me)
What are you doing?
Here the speaker questions what sort of activity is being done.
爸爸下星期去上海 做生意。 (bà ba xià xīng qí qù shàng hǎi zuò shēng yì )
Father is conducting business in Shanghai next week.
“Conducting business” is the job/activity. Such applies in other cases as well. For example, “Doing homework” would be “做功课 (zuò gōng kè)” and “doing worship” would be “做礼拜 (zuò lǐ bài).”
作 (ZUÒ) IS USED WHEN TALKING ABOUT 1. NONCONCRETE THINGS AND 2. THE ARTS AND LITERATURE
1. ABSTRACT OR NON-CONCRETE THINGS
他的作风很奇怪 (tā de zuò fēng hěn qí guài)
His style is very strange.
“Style” is not material. It’s a distinctive manner of doing something or a personalized appearance. Other terms that use “作” are “作用 (zuò yòng)” which means “effect/function,” and “操作 (cāo zuò)” which means “operate.”
2. ARTS AND LITERATURE
他是有名的作家. (tā shì yǒu míng de zuò jiā)
He is a famous author.
Other words related to literature and art also use “作,” like “作曲” which means “to compose” and “作文” which means “composition.”
Can we use them together in a sentence? Of course!
他在做作业. (tā zài zuò zuò yè)
He is doing homework.
Action: "Doing (做)"
Item: "Homework (作业)"
REMEMBER HOW WE MENTIONED THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN 做 (ZUÒ) AND 作 (ZUÒ) ARE CONFUSING? IT’S BECAUSE THEY ARE SOMETIMES INTERCHANGEABLE:
作客/做客 (zuò kè): guest/to be a guest
作对/做对 (zuò duì): to go against
To really know when to use each “zuò,” spend lots of time to familiarize yourself with Chinese passages and outlets. Frequent exposure to phrases and words that contain either “zuò” will help you identify when to use each homophone. One way to do this is to take some Chinese lessons with a teacher.
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