Describing Skin Conditions

In English we commonly use the verb “have” with any number of nouns to express a bodily condition. A commonly cited example is “have a headache”, which in Mandarin must be expressed as 我的头疼 wǒ de tóu téng (literally, “my head aches”). Another example is “have a mouth ulcer” which, if translated literally into Mandarin as 我有一个溃疡 wǒ yǒu yī gè kuìyáng sounds a little awkward – here the 有 yǒu implies a kind of permanent state, as if the ulcer has always been there.

By contrast, 我长了一个溃疡 wǒ zhǎng le yīgè kuìyáng and 我起了一个溃疡  wǒ qǐ le yīgè kuìyáng are much more natural, since ulcers are not usually something you’re born with. These examples probably demonstrate how Mandarin favours verbs to nouns – unlike English which has a habit of using the simplest verb possible in conjunction with a longer, more complex noun.

However in Mandarin the appropriate verb to use with the right kind of noun is not always obvious. Today’s topic – skin conditions – may seem a little strange, but the example sentences give you a fairly good idea about how different verbs are used with different kinds of nouns. And only a couple of them can be used simply with 有 yǒu.

Pimples and Acne

  • 起 qǐ + 痘痘 dòudòu
  • 长 zhǎng + 痘痘 dòudòu
  • 多 duō + 痘痘 dòudòu

我的腮帮子上起了两个痘痘。Wǒ de sāibāngzi shàng qǐ le liǎng gè dòudòu. — There are two pimples on my cheek.

我的下巴上长了一些痘痘。Wǒ de xiàba shàng zhǎng le yīxiē dòudòu. — There is some acne on my chin.

As a verb, 起 qǐ can be used to represent any action in which something rises up from something else. 长 zhǎng – “to grow” – is also an option. 多 duō implies “more” than what was there before.
Depending on the context, 了 le may or may not be added after the verb. Numbers and measure words may also be omitted in certain situations.
Note that there are many synonyms for “pimple”/”acne” to choose from:

  • 丘疹 qiūzhěn
  • 疙瘩 gēda
  • 麻子 mázi
  • 青春痘 qīngchūndòu
  • 粉刺 fěncì
  • 痤疮 cuóchuāng
  • 酒刺 jiǔcì

Rashes

  • 起 qǐ + 疹子 zhěnzi
  • 长 zhǎng + 疹子 zhěnzi
  • 多 duō + 疹子 zhěnzi

我吃海鲜就起疹子。Wǒ chī hǎixiān jiù qǐ zhěnzi. — When I eat seafood I break out in a rash.

我的满腿长了疹子。Wǒ de mǎn tuǐ zhǎng le zhěnzi. — I got rashes all over my leg.

疹子 zhěnzi can also be replaced by 皮疹 pízhěn, a more formal synonym.

Blisters

  • 起 qǐ + 泡 pào / 水泡 shuǐpào
  • 长 zhǎng+ 泡 pào / 水泡 shuǐpào
  • 多 duō + 泡 pào / 水泡 shuǐpào
  • 磨出 móchū + 泡 pào / 水泡 shuǐpào

每次滑雪过后,我的脚上都会起水泡。Měi cì huáxuě guòhòu, wǒ de jiǎo shàng dōu huì qǐ shuǐpào. — I always get blisters after skating.

磨出 móchū means “to grind/rub out.”

The alternative form for 水泡 is 水疱.

Ulcers

  • 起 qǐ + 溃疡 kuìyáng
  • 长 zhǎng+ 溃疡 kuìyáng
  • 多 duō + 溃疡 kuìyáng
  • 得 dé + 胃溃疡 wèikuìyáng

我的嘴里老是长溃疡。Wǒ de zuǐ lǐ lǎoshì zhǎng kuìyáng. — I often get ulcers in my mouth.

我爸爸得了胃溃疡。Wǒ bàba déle wèikuìyáng. — My dad got a stomach ulcer.

In Chinese “stomach ulcer” is considered a whole disease, and not a countable noun; thus it is inappropriate to use 一个 yī gè in such a context.

Scabs

  • 结 jié + 痂 jiā
  • 生 shēng + 疮 chuāng

我的伤口结了一个痂。Wǒ de shāngkǒu jié le yīgè jiā. — My wound formed a scab.

我的伤口生了疮。Wǒ de shāngkǒu shēng le chuāng. — My wound turned into a scab.

There are two options here – the formal 结 jié (“to form”) + 痂 jiā (“scab”) and the informal 生 shēng  (“to produce”) + 疮 chuāng (“sore”).

The following synonyms are also possible:

  • 疮痂 chuāngjiā
  • 结疤 jiébā
  • 血痂 xuèjiā

Scars

  • 留下 liúxià + 疤痕 bāhén

我的伤口上留下了一条疤痕。Wǒ de shāngkǒu shàng liúxià le yī tiáo bāhén. — My wound left a scar.

块 kuài and 道 dào can also be used as measure words.

The following synonyms exist:

  • 伤痕 shānghén
  • 伤疤 shāngbā
  • 疤瘌 bāla
  • 瘢痕 bānhén
  • 疮疤 chuāngbā
  • 创痕 chuānghén

Calluses

  • 起 qǐ + 茧子 jiǎnzi
  • 长 zhǎng + 茧子 jiǎnzi
  • 多 duō + 茧子 jiǎnzi
  • 磨出 móchū + 茧子 jiǎnzi

我手上磨出了一个茧子。Wǒ shǒu shàng móchū le yī gè jiǎnzi. — My hand developed a callus.

Note the colloquial term 老茧 lǎojiǎn can also be used. 胼胝 piánzhī is a more technical term for it. See also 鸡眼 jīyǎn, “bunion” or “corn”.

Bruises

  • 有 yǒu + 瘀青 yūqīng
  • 瘀青 yūqíng as a verb

我手臂上有一块瘀青。Wǒ shǒubì shàng yǒu yī kuài yūqīng. — There’s a bruise on my arm.

我腿上瘀青了。Wǒ tuǐ shàng yūqīng le. — My leg is bruised.

她的腿都瘀青了。 Tā de tuǐ dōu yūqīng le. — His leg is bruised up.

Here, adding 都 dōu gives it a more colloquial feel, though it doesn’t actually add any additional meaning – that’s why I added “up” in the English translation.

Another word for bruise in Mandarin is 血晕 xiěyùn; Wenlin also gives a secondary reading as “xuèyùn n. 〈Ch. med.〉 coma after childbirth due to excessive loss of blood.” As far as I know though it is not commonly known amongst native speakers.

Grazes

  • 有 yǒu + 擦伤 cāshāng
  • 擦伤 cāshāng as a verb

我腿上擦伤了。Wǒ tuǐ shàng cāshāng le. — My leg was grazed.

我手臂上有一块擦伤。Wǒ shǒubì shàng yǒu yī kuài cāshāng. — There’s a graze on my arm.

This is another case which demonstrates that Mandarin prefers verbs to nouns – the first example sounds natural whilst the second does not. I’ve even had friends claim that to use 擦伤 cāshāng as a noun is “uncommon” and “incorrect”, but there are over 38 thousand hits on Google for “有一块擦伤” so I somehow doubt that claim. To be safe, I’d stick with the first usage.

Warts

  • 起 qǐ + 瘊子 hóuzi

我背上起了一个瘊子。Wǒ bèi shàng qǐ le yī gè hóuzi. — I got a wart on my back.

However this word is unknown to many average Chinese and might in fact be confused with 猴子 hóuzi (“monkey”). One of my friends also said that if he ever got one he might just describe it as a 瘤 liú (“tumour”)! There are a few other words for “wart”, though they don’t look very promising:

  • 肉赘 ròuzhuì (formal)
  • 赘疣 zhuìyóu (formal)
  • 疣 yóu (archaic)

Wrinkles

  • 起 qǐ + 皱纹 zhòuwén
  • 多 duō + 皱纹 zhòuwén

我眼角起了一条皱纹。Wǒ yǎnjiǎo qǐ le yī tiáo zhòuwén. — A wrinkle has formed in the corner of my eye.

The measure word 道 dào is also used, with a slightly more formal feel.

Freckles

  • 有 yǒu + 雀斑 quèbān
  • 长 zhǎng + 雀斑 quèbān

他脸上有雀斑。Tā liǎn shàng yǒu quèbān. — He has freckles on his face.

她满脸长了雀斑 。Tā mǎn liǎn zhǎng le quèbān. — There are freckles all over her face.

Since freckles are usually semi-permanent features, 有 yǒu is easily justified here.

Eczema

  • 得 dé + 湿疹 shīzhěn

不知道怎么搞的,我居然得了湿疹!Bù zhīdào zěnme gǎo de, wǒ jūrán dé le shīzhěn! — I don’t understand how I suddenly got eczema!

And you can replace 湿疹 shīzhěn here with any kind of skin disease.

I hope you enjoyed this topic. Although it is a little bizarre, I think absorbing these kind of collocations is essential in making the transition to advanced learner. Although all the content here has been checked by different native speakers, I welcome any comments and criticisms.

2 Comments to "Describing Skin Conditions"

  1. 08/01/2015 - 8:13 am | Permalink

    Hi there, You are amazing. I am learning so much from your blog, and having fun sharing with friends. I am wondering how you say ” a burn” in skin conditions? Also I am wondering is there a word for purposeful burning, as in ritualistic burning like they did in ancient Shaolin Temples?

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