I was baffled when I first saw my teacher draw vertical lines on the board as she counted the votes for our classroom activity one day. When she had five votes, she added a diagonal line on the board. Then she started drawing vertical lines again. It took me a few seconds before I realized that it was the tally system used in the U.S among other counties. Although it was a brief moment when I realized what it was, the fascination lasted a long time.

Instead of using four lines and a diagonal line to count things, we use the Chinese character (zhèng) to tally. In this article, we are going to explore how 正 works as tally marks and then I’ll give seven additional usages of 正 so you can use 正 in your daily conversation as well.

U.S. tally system

### 正 used for tallying

The Chinese character “正” is made up of five strokes, which is perfect for counting. Each 正 represents five counts [of something]. When you are learning characters, it is important to make sure you have the right stroke order. The stroke order becomes even more important when you are using 正 to count.

The stroke order of 正 (this is how it is used as well):

The top part shows the tally mark system used outside of China.
The bottom part shows the tally mark system used in China.

Example sentences:

 唱票的时候，我们会用 “正” 字来记票数。 Chàngpiào de shíhou, wŏmen huì yòng “zhèng” zì lái jì piàoshù. When we are counting votes, we use the character 正 to keep the count.

 你的国家的计数符号是什么样子的？ Nĭ de guójiā de jìshù fúhào shì shénme yàngzĭ de? What does the tally mark look like in your country?

 中国用 “正” 字来记录票数或者分数，美国用五个一组的线条。 Zhōngguó yòng “zhèng” zì lái jìlù piàoshù huòzhĕ fēnshù, mĕiguó yòng wŭ gè yī zŭ de xiàntiáo. China uses 正 for tallying votes or scores, while the U.S. uses a group of 5 lines.

“正在” as an Emphasis

Besides being used for tallying, 正 can also be used in a sentence to express slightly stronger emphasis that the action is in progress. You will not be able to notice this subtle difference in translation since the translation will be the same. However, if you read the Chinese sentence, then the character 正 gives the action in progress a slightly stronger emphasis. To use 正 this way, we put 正 right before 在 - 正在.

Example sentences:

 嘘，走路小声点，我家的小狗正在睡觉！ Xū, zŏulù xiăo shēng diăn, wŏ jiā de xiăo gŏu zhèngzài shuìjiào! Shh, walk quietly. My dog is sleeping!

 我的妈妈正在回家的路上，大概二十分钟会到。 Wŏ de māma zhèngzài huíjiā de lùshang, dàgài èrshí fēnzhōng huì dào. My mother is on her way back; she will arrive in approximately 20 minutes.

 他正在为明年的汉语水平考试做准备。 Tā zhèngzài wéi mínnián de hànyŭ shuĭpíng kăoshì zuò zhŭnbèi. He is preparing for next year's HSK.

But what if you don’t tally often or don’t usually need to emphasize the action in progress? No worries, I have you covered. I have picked five common words with 正 that have come up in my conversational classes.

### 1. 正好 as Just Right

 这套公寓大小正好，不大不小。 Zhè tào gōngyù dàxiăo zhènghăo, bù dà bù xiăo. This apartment is perfect. It is not too big nor too small.

 我这里正好有一块钱，我们可以去买冰淇淋了！ Wŏ zhèlĭ zhènghăo yŏu yī kuài qián, wŏmen kĕyĭ qù măi bīngqílín le! I just happen to have exactly one dollar, we can buy ice cream with that!

If you are talking about 1 RMB, you are likely not going to get the best quality ice cream. But hey, something is better than nothing, right?

 我们的老师正好生病了，所以今天没有考试！ Wŏmen de lăoshī zhènghăo shēngbìng le, suŏyĭ jīntiān méiyŏu kăoshì! Our teacher just happened to be sick, so no exam today!

### 2. 正常 as in Normal

As you gain more experience, you will notice some common patterns. When something is not right, you will know that it is not 正常.

 他有严重的拖延症，考试30分钟前还没复习是很正常的。 Tā yŏu yánzhòng de tuōyánzhèng, kăoshì 30 fēnzhōng qián háiméi fùxí shì hĕn zhèngcháng de. He is a big time procrastinator, it’s normal to see him cram for a test 30 minutes before the exam.

 学习中文时，遇到不遵循语法的特例是很正常的事情。 Xuéxí zhōngwén shí, yùdào bù zūnxún yŭfă de tèlì shì hĕn zhèngcháng de shì qing. When you are studying Chinese, it is normal to encounter grammar rule exceptions.

 他的行为很不正常。 Tā de xíngwéi hĕn bù zhèngcháng. His behavior is abnormal.

### 3. 正版 as in Genuine

Before streaming became popular, you would see street vendors selling DVDs. As to whether they are legit or not, you can ask the following question (say this at your own risk):

 这是正版光碟吗? Zhè shì zhèngbăn guāngdié ma? Is this disc genuine?

 有些盗版的唱片价格和正版的一模一样。 Yŏu xiē dàobăn de chàngpiàn jiàgé hé zhèngbăn de yīmóyīyàng. Some pirated CDs have the same price as genuine CDs.

 有些正版软件有防伪的标志。 Yŏu xiē zhèngbăn ruănjiàn yŏu fángwèi de biāozhì. Some genuine software discs have anti-counterfeiting labels or stickers.

### 4. 正宗 as in Authentic

The food which you eat in Chinese restaurants in the U.S. are often modified to suit the tastes of locals. It is not as salty nor as spicy as the ones you might taste in China or homemade Chinese food. Some people label those dishes as non-authentic Chinese food. But since I am a foodie so I love both!

 这是正宗的中国菜吗？ Zhè shì zhèngzōng de zhōngguó cài ma? Is this authentic Chinese food?

 正宗的麻婆豆腐是非常辣的。 Zhèngzōng de mápó dòufu shì fēicháng là de. Authentic Mapo Tofu is very spicy.

 她妈妈的家乡菜十分正宗。 Tā māma de jiāxiāng cài shífēn zhèngzōng. Her mom's dishes from her hometown are very authentic.

### 5. 正确 as in Correct

As much as we love to be correct all the time, it is ok if we happen to make mistakes! Sometimes we learn more from those mistakes.

 虽然他算得比较慢，但是答案都是正确的。 Suīrán tā suàn de bĭjiào màn, dànshì dáàn dōu shì zhèngquè de. Although he calculated slowly, his answers were all correct.

 考试不知道正确答案时，选最长的那个。 （这个Amy在开玩笑。。。大家别当真） Kăoshì bù zhīdào zhèngquè dáàn shí, xuăn zuì cháng de nà ge. (zhège Amy zài kāi wán xiào...dàjiā biè dāngzhēn) When you don't know what answer to pick on your exam, pick the longest answer. (I am just kidding...don't take this seriously)

 虽然你的答案是对的，可是你的步骤不正确。 Suīrán nĭ de dáàn shì duì de, kĕshì nĭ de bùzhòu bù zhèngquè. Although your answer is correct, but your steps getting there are incorrect.

### 正 as in Gorgeous

I love adding material that is not presented in traditional textbooks to enrich my students’ cultural awareness. There are a lot of interesting phrases that we use in real life that are often not presented in textbooks.

Another meaning of 正 is gorgeous, usually used to describe women. I usually recommend using 漂亮 to describe someone who is pretty, but 正 is commonly used in real life, so I always want to make sure my students are aware of this term.

 很正 hĕn zhèng gorgeous

Example:

 那个女生很正。 Nà ge nǚshēng hĕn zhèng. That girl is gorgeous.