Synonyms in other languages have always intruiged me, and Chinese is no exception. Why does one language have twenty words for one concept? It’s a perrenial debate, and one that will be forever immortalised in the infamous urban legend about the Eskimo words for snow. Throughout my Chinese studies I’ve come across many such “Eskimo-snow” words in Mandarin, but none quite as extensive as the simple verb for “shout”. This post is my effort to try to explain all the possible translation choices in a straight-forward way. I hope you find this useful!
1. 喊叫 hǎnjiào
This seems to be the most basic translation of “shout” as a verb in Mandarin. One of my friends gives the following example sentence:
保持安静，不要在喊叫。 — Be quiet, and don’t shout.
2. 呼喊 hūhǎn
By contrast, you might say this verb has more of a “calling out” feeling, implying the sound travelling a little more distance. Some native speakers also reported a more “formal” – 书面语 shūmiànyǔ – implication. Here’s one example I was given to ponder:
每次想起你，我就想呼喊你的名字。— Everytime I think of you I shout out your name.
3. 大声喊叫 dàshēng hǎnjiào
The adverb 大声 dàshēng is commonly used with a verb to communicate thrust of a good shout. These adverbial constructions, as compared to the other forms of “shout”, appear to have different stylistic connotations. Take 大声喊叫 dàshēng hǎnjiào, for example, of which one native speaker remarked:
大声喊叫更形象点吧，有时儿童文学中的语言也可以用这两个词。— “Dàshēng hǎnjiào” has more imagery and is sometimes used in children’s novels.
4. 大喊大叫 dàhǎn dàjiào
大 喊大叫 dàhǎn dàjiào is a bit more quirky. At first glance it appears to just mean “to shout at the top of one’s lungs”, and I can confirm that, like 大声喊叫 dàshēng hǎnjiào, it is also quite vivid and is sometimes used in children’s novels and the like. That being said, there are definite connotative differences here. For instance, one of my informants tells me that it has a more disapproving tone, and is commonly used to describe kids, uneducated and middle-aged women and “bitches” – 贱人 jiànrén. Another friend says it is often used by “angy” people who are “out of their mind”, such as in this example sentence:
你少在那大喊大叫，无理取闹。— Stop shouting and stirring up trouble.
Wenlin claims it also means “[to] rant” and “[to] conduct vigorous propaganda”, but I’ve yet to confirm this.
5. 大声呼喊 dàshēng hūhǎn
By contrast, 大声呼喊 dàshēng hūhǎn does not appear to really give off that kind of vibe. As one friend put it, “same meaning but different emotion”. More neutral, if you like. Some example sentences:
示威者挥舞着旗帜，呼喊着口号。— The demonstrators held banners and shouted out their slogans.
我向他们大声呼喊求助。— I cried out to them for help.
6. 叫 jiào
Moving out of the adverbials and into single-syllable words, let’s examine 叫 jiào. Many dictionaries list “cry out”, “call” or “shout” as its first meaning, but many do not provide example sentences, and instead launch into an explanation of all its other senses (of which there are many). Thankfully, my friends were able to compose a few:
他刚才在叫你，你听见了吗？— I just called out/shouted for you, did you hear me?
他冲着我叫了一声。— He shouted at me.
Per Chinese’s usual ambiguity, one should look at the context to see if the speaker is suggesting more of a “calling” or “shouting” tone. After asking so many people, I’m almost convinced Mandarin speakers can’t unconsciously differentiate between the two.
7. 喊 hǎn
This word is more or less interchangeable with 叫 jiào. You might also want to look out for the bisyllabic (and palindromic) forms – 叫喊 jiàohǎn and 喊叫 hǎnjiào which are semantically identical. However one cannot mention 喊 without mentioning the recent online catchphrase which exemplifies it:
贾君鹏，你妈喊你回家吃饭。— Jia Junpeng, your mum wants you home for dinner. (Literally, “Your mum is calling you to return home to eat.”)
This comment was first posted in a gaming forum. Now it is used jokingly to address someone you think is spending too much time in front of a screen.
8. 呼 hū
Though commonly indicated as “shout” in dictionaries (in addition to its primary meaning of “exhale” of course), apparently this may be used more often to indicate a “calling” or “calling back” motion. 呼 can be preceded by 高 gāo to create 高呼 gāohū 呼 (“to shout loudly” or “to cheer”). Other syllables may also be put after it to create a number of compounds:
呼喊 hūhǎn is common, and acceptable in both writing and conversation. It basically means to “shout out” or “yell” something.
呼唤 hūhuàn is commonly used in literary or highly expressive contexts, e.g.:
光荣呼唤着你。— Glory calls out to you.
他在梦中呼唤着我。— He called out to me in a dream.
So, it’s not really “shout” at all I suppose – there’s an “outwards” motion. Or perhaps I’m being pedantic.
You also have a word like 呼叫 hūjiào which, in addition to “shout”, also means “to call on an electronic device”. Its synonym is 召唤 zhàohuàn, which also has this dual usage.
9. 嚷 rǎng
That’s right – another character that means “shout”. This one though has more of an argumentative tone and can be used in situations where you reason with someone impolitely and loudly. More common in colloquial contexts, 嚷 may duplicate as 嚷嚷 rāngrang (note the tone change). It has a couple more derived terms too, like 大嚷 dàrǎng (which may also be preceded by the adverb 大吵 dàchǎo, “argumentatively”) and 叫嚷 jiàorǎng. They’re both pretty loud forms of shouting.
10. 吆喝 yāohe
吆 喝 yāohe (or its alternative form, 邀喝) could also be considered an adequate translation for “shout”. However it is more commonly used in the context of a peddler hawking his or her wares. Unfortunately not all dictionaries list this contextual information.
In the process of my research I came across a few translations for “shout” which seem a little too formal and/or uncommon, such as 喝叫 hējiào and 呐喊 nàhǎn. Others were too specific for my liking, e.g. 嘶叫 sījiào, “to shout hoarsely”. And there was one which really confused me – 噪嚷 zàorǎng. Dictionaries insist this word means “shout” but the native speakers I asked either said they had never seen it before or that it was a corruption of 噪音 zàoyīn, “noise”.
There were also a lot of cool verbs which are similar to “shout” but a bit stronger in tone – 吼叫 hǒujiào: “to shout at the top of one’s lungs”, 破口大骂 pòkǒudàmà: “to hurl abuse”, etc, etc…
Another interesting term is 叱咤 chìzhà, a great example of a 书面语 shūmiànyǔ (formal/literary term) that has gone out of fashion over the years. Its original meaning of “shout” seems to have been almost forgotten, however the character combination lives on in the relatively well-known idiom 叱咤风云 chìzhàfēngyún, “all-powerful”.
Ironically, despite the fact this post focuses on word-for-word translations for “shout”, one could mount a convincing argument that the most common and pragmatic translations in fact consist of two words – one an adverb (“loudly”) and the other a simple verb (“talk”) or noun (“speech”). So you get paraphrased forms like:
- 大声说 dàshēngshuō
- 大声叫 dàshēngjiào
- 大喊 dàhǎn
- 大叫 dàjiào
- 大喊一声 dàhǎn yīshēng
- 大喝一声 dàhè yīshēng
- 高声 gāoshēng
… which we didn’t even put in the list! And yet these are quite common and easily understood by native speakers. Could it be that the Chinese have no concrete concept for “shout”? I’ll leave that to you to decide.
Special thanks for Chinese-Forums.com and all my friends who helped me refine this semantic (mine)field. Comments are of course welcome.