This is interesting!

How would you say “This is interesting!” in Chinese?
「這個很有趣!」… No, no!

In most cases, we would rather say:

「(這)有意思!」

意思 /yì si/ is a very frequently used word. The most basic meaning of 意思 is “meaning”. Such as:

  • 你這是甚麼意思? What do you mean by that?
  • 這是甚麼意思? What does this mean?

The word 意思 can also be used in many other situations. Some common examples might surprise you.

Excuse me! (Please let me pass.) 不好意思。(請讓一讓。)
Sorry (that I’m busy right now. / that I’m late.) 不好意思 (我現在沒空。 / 我來晚了。)
He fancies her! 他對她有意思。
He is not interested in her. 他對她沒有意思。
Are you shameless! 你還好意思!
It’s so embarrassing! 太不好意思了!
I want to go to the beach this weekend. What do you think? 這個周未我想去海灘。你的意思呢?
This is for you. I hope you like it. (When you give someone a present.) 小小意思,不成敬意。
If you insist (accepting a present or an offer). 那我就不好意思了。
This is so boring / pointless / such a waste of effort! 真沒意思!
That’s OK. (when someone thanked you or apologise to you) 小意思。
This is nothing! (when boasting one’s own skills) 小意思!
This is very meaningful. 這事很有意思。
This is thought provoking. (a speech, a writing, etc) (你的話 / 你說得 / 文章寫得) 很有意思。
It’s about to rain. 天有要下雨的意思。

When two 意思 are put together

疊詞 (die-ci, replication – when a same character is used twice in a word) is a distinctive characteristic of Chinese. The word 意思 can also be used as a die-ci. The expression 意思意思 can mean “just a little something” “a gesture”. For example:

  • There is no need to give something expensive. It’s the thought that counts. 不必送貴重的東西,意思意思就好。
  • It’s just a formality. 就意思意思。

In summary, the word 意思 carries the following meanings:

意思
  1. meaning (noun)
  2. an opinion, a wish (noun)
  3. the thought or good wishes carried by a present (noun)
  4. to express a thought or an emotion (verb)
  5. an indication, a tendency (noun)
  6. interest, fun (noun)

How  would you interpret each of the 意思 below?

Below is the adaptation of a very popular joke, reflecting the multiple meanings of 意思, and subtlety in Chinese style. Are you able to understand what each of the 意思 mean in the dialogue below?

A staff presents a gift to the CEO.

CEO: 你這是甚麼意思?
Staff: 沒甚麼意思。就意思意思。
CEO: 你這就不夠意思了。
Staff: 小意思,小意思。
CEO: 你這人真有意思。
Staff: 其實也沒有別的意思。
CEO: 那我就不好意思了。
Staff: 是我不好意思。

Here is a loose translation of the conversation:

CEO: What do you mean by this?
Staff: Nothing. Just a little something.
CEO: How very “cunning” of you.
Staff: It’s really nothing. Nothing at all.
CEO: You are very interesting.
Staff: I really don’t have any other intentions.
CEO: Then I’ll say “Thank you”.
Staff: The pleasure is all mine.


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