I’ve always been curious about words in Chinese which can refer to two more different meanings in English. Here are 15 words I could think of that I have encountered before. If you can think of any more please let me know by leaving a comment at the bottom of this post!
1. 笑 xiào
笑 can mean both “smile” and “laugh”. To avoid possible confusion, the terms 微笑 and 大笑 can be used respectively. “Laughter” is translated as 笑声; “laughable” as 可笑. In most cases, context will make the intended meaning clear. For example, in the sentence 如果做得不好，请别见笑 it goes without saying that a person would laugh at someone’s poor job, rather than merely smile at it. Similarly, in the phrase 笑得很灿烂 (literally, “to xiao in a slendid and dazzling way”) it should be clear that “smile” is being referred to.
2. 声音 shēngyīn
声音 can mean both “voice” and “sound” in general. Context should make it obvious which sense is being referred to. For example, in the sentence 这女孩的声音很低沉 it would be absurd to translate it as “this girl’s sound is low and deep” – obviously it is her voice which is low and deep. In the same way, in the sentence 关门的声音把他唤醒过来 it must be the sound of a door shutting that woke the person up, since a door cannot speak obviously.