One of my most painful memories about math was learning how to use fractions. I actually learned them well. In fact, a bit too well. Once I was introduced to fractions, I started using them for everything, even for situations where I shouldn’t have. As a result, I ended up with an awful score on my next exam.


Thus, as someone who has not had good experiences with math, I generally avoid anything math-related, unless it truly helps my students learn Chinese Mandarin. Today, we are going to look at Chinese character riddles. Unfortunately, some of these riddles do involve a little math. However, I feel that it is warranted because these riddles will really help you to better understand the mechanics of these characters.


So, our challenge for the day is to imagine a character being broken up into individual strokes and pieces, and placed among other non-relevant components. Your goal will be to piece them together and to create one single character out of all those clues. This can be quite tricky, being that one “wrong step” will derail you from the correct answer. However, I am sure that you can do it. So, are you ready to take on this challenge?


Character Riddles 猜字谜语


The game that we are going to play is called 猜字谜语 (cāi zì mí yŭ). A riddle is called 字谜 (zì mí) and the answer is called 谜底 (mí dĭ). Our objective is to 猜一个字 (cāi yī gè zì), or to guess one single character. Thus, the answer to the riddles that we are going to look at in this game should only be one character. If you are thinking of more than one character, you are on the wrong track.


Vocabulary List:



cāi zì mí yŭ

character riddles


to guess



mí yŭ



zì mí

character riddle


mí dĭ

the answer to a puzzle/riddle


cāi yī gè zì

to guess a character


One of the most common solutions is to arrange all the given characters in a way that forms a new character. This new character often does not have anything to do with the meaning of the riddle.


For example:


  • 字谜: 一人
  • 谜底: 大


In this riddle, we are given the individual parts of the answer, and . If we put the character on top of , then we have an invalid character. However, if we put somewhere in the middle of , then we have created the character . For this type of riddle, it is all about positioning the given components. We just have to place the in the correct location on to create the character .



yī rén

one person






When you see these kind of riddles, you just have to figure out the correct placement of the character components. However, there are times when only some of the riddle characters are used.


For example:


  • 字谜: 一月七日
  • 谜底: 脂


Vocabulary List:




month, moon


day, sun




For this riddle, we are only going to use three out of the four characters given to form the riddle’s answer. The is used to indicate how many of a particular character there are, such that 一月 means that we only have one character in the riddle answer. As for the other characters, we are going to be using all of them as part of the solution. And just so you know, 七日 does not mean that the answer character will be written with seven s!


So, the new character consists of a 月, 七 and component. Putting these components together, we get .


If we look at 一月七日 as a standalone phrase, what date does it represent? If you need a refresher, check out my time article here.


So, here are a few more riddles for you to figure out. The answers will be right below the last question. However, you should try to solve the riddles first before having a look at the answers.


Your Turn




问题一 (wèn tí yī) Question one


  • 字谜: 一加一
  • zì mí : yī jiā yī
  • Riddle: one plus one


问题二 (wèn tí èr) Question two


  • 字谜:一百减一
  • zì mí : yī băi jiăn yī
  • Riddle: One hundred minus one




问题一 (Question one)


  • 字谜:一加一
  • 谜底:王


This is just good old “what’s one plus one?” but in Chinese! And nope, the answer is not eleven.


Vocabulary List:









For this one, we are going to think of our (jiā) as the plus sign, so it will look like a + (or , the Chinese character for the number ten). Therefore, the components of the riddle’s answer are , , and . Rearranging the components, we get by placing one on the top and one on the bottom.


问题二: (Question two)


  • 字谜:一百减一
  • 谜底:白


Vocabulary List:






less, minus





Let’s look at 一百 first. The indicates how many we have. is not part of the new character. So, we start out with one character, and then we add something to it.


After , we have a . The is not a component of the riddle’s answer. Instead, it is telling you to subtract something from the character . After , we have . So, we need to remove the character from the character . Once we remove that component, we get .


Using 加 and 减




and are frequently used in math classes. They mean “to add” and “to subtract” respectively. The word order is exactly the same as in English.


  • 五减一等于多少?
  • wŭ jiăn yī dĕng yú duō shao ?
  • What is 5 - 1?


  • 五加一等于多少?
  • wŭ jiā yī dĕng yú duō shao ?
  • What is 5 + 1?


In Daily Life


Aside from math classes, you can also use these in daily life. We tend to pair them with another character (the meaning remains the same though).


Vocabulary List:



duō jiā

add more


zài jiā

add more


jiăn shăo

subtract, cut back


Example sentences:


  • 可以再加两个苹果吗?
  • kĕ yĭ zài jiā liăng gè píng guŏ ma ?
  • Can you add two more apples?


  • 可以多加两个苹果吗?
  • kĕ yĭ duō jiā liăng gè píng guŏ ma ?
  • Can you add two more apples?


  • 我不需要十个苹果,请减少两个。
  • wŏ bù xū yào shí gè píng guŏ , qĭng jiăn shăo liăng gè 。
  • I don't need ten apples, please remove two apples.


How did you do with this challenge? Were you able to place the correct components in the correct locations? Or are you itching for more? If you are, then you do not want to miss the next article. The next article brings back our good old friend Chengyu and additional techniques. As TV heroes are often told, “great power comes with great responsibility.” With these additional tools, the difficulty of this challenge increases three-fold! So, stay tuned for the next article if you are looking to challenge yourself even more.


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