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It is significantly more important to have a deep understanding of individual characters in Chinese than it is to have a similar understanding about an individual word.
As such, we like to take time to look at how an individual character is constructed, and then how it functions across several different words. This encourages a deeper, and therefore more long-lasting, study of the language.
样 is made up of two character components, 木 (mù- wood) and 羊 (yáng- sheep). The meaning of the character is related to patterns or appearance, so of the two components “木” is the one that expresses semantic meaning, as many pattern based works of art or tools were made of wood in ancient China. The second component 羊, on the other hand, is part of this character to give a phonetic hint for the pronunciation (yang), but in no way represents its original semantic meaning of sheep.
This type of “Phonetic-Semantic Compound” in Chinese makes up 82% of the most common Chinese characters. Most often, the semantic component is on the left and the phonetic component on the right, just like in 样。
So what words is 样 most commonly used in? The most common is definitely 一样, which could be literally translated as “one appearance”, aka “the same”. Other common words:
这样- zhèiyang– (“this” + “appearance”)- this way, like this
那样- nèiyang– (“that” + “appearance”)- that way, like that
怎么样- zěnmeyàng– (“how” + “appearance”)- how does that appear? how about it?
什么样- shénmeyàng– (“what” + “appearance”)- what kind of…?
样子- yàngzi– the appearance (of someone or something)
榜样- bǎngyàng– (“A list of successful candidates e.g. honour students” + “appearance”)- role model
Here’s a short dialogue to illustrate the different ways 样 can be used:
nǐde láobǎn shì shénmeyàng de rén
shì zhèiyang, tā méitiān fā píqì, duì wǒ hé wǒde tóngshìmen dōu hěn xiōng. zhèiyang de rén búshì yíge háo bǎngyàng
wǒde láobǎn wánquán yíyàng! wǒmen liǎ dōu cízhí, zěnmeyàng?
A: What kind of person is your boss?
B: It’s like this, he loses his temper every day and is aggressive toward my colleagues and I. This kind of guy is not a good role model.
A: My boss is completely the same! How about we both resign?