Mandarin Love: Breaking Up (In Chinese)

A girl looking at her cell phone and looking sad over a breakup
(photo from Ed Yourdon’s Flickr)

Blame it on moving.

One day, just before my husband and I hit the road — and left Idaho in our rearview mirror — I joked with him, “Finally, we’re breaking up with Idaho.”

Then I got to thinking about breaking up, and the idioms people use in Chinese to talk about it. Sure, I’m happily married, but I’ve had my share of breakups on the road to my own “double happiness” (including two other guys in China before John) and chances are, so have you — perhaps even at the moment you read this.

Here are some of my favorite Chinese idioms to use when talking about breaking up.

一刀两断 [yìdāo liǎngduàn]
(To make a clean break)

When you cut yourself away from someone entirely and start anew, this is the idiom you want to turn you.

She decided not to return her former boyfriend’s phone calls, she made a clean break with him.
tā juédìng bùhuí qián nánpéngyou de diànhuà, gēn tā yìdāo liǎngduàn.

各奔东西 [gèbēn dōngxī]/分道扬镳 [fēndào yángbiāo]/劳燕分飞 [láoyàn fēnfēi]
(To go in separate directions)

Three different idioms, but pretty much the same meeting — to go your own ways. It could be a matter of life choices (maybe one of you decided to go halfway across the world to study and it destroyed your relationship in the process) or even just that the two of you are just completely on different wavelengths which led to the breakup.

Steve doesn’t live with his girlfriend, he moved out to another house; they used to be in love but now they’ve already gone in separate directions.
Steve不跟女朋友住在一起, 他已搬到另一栋房子去了;他们曾经相爱,但现在已经各奔东西/分道扬镳/劳燕分飞。
Steve bù gēn nǚpéngyou zhù zài yìqǐ, tā yǐ bān dào lìng yí dòng fángzi qùle; tāmen céngjīng xiāng’ài, dàn xiànzài yǐjing gèbēn dōngxī/fēndào yángbiāo/láoyàn fēnfēi.

不欢而散 [bùhuān ‘érsàn]
(To break up badly)

Awful breakup? This one’s for you.

Xiao Wang cried for an entire afternoon because she broke up horribly with her boyfriend.
xiǎo wáng kūle yígè xiàwǔ, yīnwèi gēn nánpéngyou bùhuān ‘érsànle.

What are your favorite idioms for talking about breaking up in Chinese?

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13 thoughts on “Mandarin Love: Breaking Up (In Chinese)

  • July 13, 2012 at 6:42 am

    Glad to read these are phrases about breaking up … I was worried you had bad news to share at first.

  • July 13, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Parting is always a sad thing. But it is better to 一刀两断(literally , one knife two cuts or breaks or something like that) i.e to make a clean break than to part on bad terms or in discord 不欢而散.

  • July 13, 2012 at 11:06 am

    How about the related 拿得起放得下 nadeqi fangdexia (literally if you are able to lift up something you should be able to put it down) i.e learn to let go and let bygones be bygones between lovers instead of forcing the issue rather than parting amicably.

  • July 13, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    I had similar ideas to Taiwanxifu’s. Glad to see it was the phrases instead. Its interesting that the phrases are short and to the point, while love phrases are long…anybody notice that but me?

  • July 13, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    In cantonese, ” cut grass, remove the roots or one knife , two pieces/ends”. It sounds mean and cold but sometimes we have no choice because she is like from Venus and he is from Mars now. Things just change and w/o compromise! It’s good to be cold sometimes is that that ex gf/bf won’t come back again and everything goes wrong again and again. This is my experience. I might sound mean and cold but I’m the nicest person you’ve ever met.


  • July 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    来生再续 - we will continue in another life; love again after this life.

    This phrase can used in Chinese tragic love stories – “Butterfly Lovers”, “Peony Pavilion” and “Dream Over Red Mansion” as examples.

  • July 13, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    Don’t have a Chinese phrase yet, but in my culture–“I’m done with you.” A phrase that is short, sweet, and to the point.

  • July 14, 2012 at 10:55 am

    [State]…every non-white person should get the hell out of there, not just those engaged in relationship with white people. I would put almost all of the US South plus Arizona in that same category.

  • July 13, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    I really like your blog and your dedication of learning Chinese! The examples above are interesting and accurate. I do have another one similar to “to go in separate directions”. 各走各路 gè zǒu gè lù, , it sounds more common in daily conversation (though still appropriate for writing). Keep up the good work!

  • July 13, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    A nicer way to put it 分手 (seperate hands).
    Things don’t always work out, but keeping friendship is possible.

  • July 14, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    David, im guessing you’ve been to none of these places and that you’re a liberal who still supports Obama.
    The Idaho I grew up in loves foreigners and minorities, but if your an overweight white person you’re a fish during shark week. In Arizona we don’t have white people, so get off your high horse.

    I love your idioms jocelyn, now if I could convey some of these to my friend from Chinese class who’s intent on following me to China even though I’m going to meet all my online friends and a boy. Lol.

  • July 15, 2012 at 2:33 am

    天长地久、至死不渝 (tiān cháng dì jiǔ zhì sǐ bù yú ).
    LOVE=爱 your a very long time, your never change until death

  • July 16, 2012 at 4:31 am

    Just remembered another one: 吹了(blown away)
    我们吹了. (we broke up)


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