Confusing Chinese Characters – How to Distinguish 更 and 便


Chinese characters can sometimes be confusing. In this post, we take a look at four similar looking characters and examine some ways to remember and distinguish them.

Character Pinyin Definition
gèng more / even more
gēng part of 更改 (gēnggǎi) change
便 biàn convenient
便 pián part of 便宜 (piányi) cheap

I chose these two characters with four meanings because they’re relatively common and I myself have been having problems remembering how to write them down due to the similarity of the forms and two of them having multiple readings. They also happen to be on the HSK vocabulary lists from level 3 onwards.

Let’s look at each of them in context to make it easier to remember, then devise some memory aids to easily distinguish them from each other.

More fun with 更 (gèng)!


Here’s the definition.

更 (gèng)
{A} adv. more; still/even more further; furthermore

And some sample sentences.

Tā méiyǒu fàngmàn sùdù, fǎn’ér bǎ chē kāi de gèng kuài le.
He didn’t slow down. On the contrary, he drove faster.

Wǒmen bìxū zhēngmù gèng duō shìbīng.
We must enlist more men.

It’s time for 更改 (gēnggǎi)


Here’s the same character but with another meaning.

更 (gēng)
part of the word 更改 gēnggǎi – change or alter

Fēijī gēnggǎi le hángxiàn.
The plane altered course.

Shíkèbiǎo yǒu kěnéng gēnggǎi.
The timetable is subject to alteration.

Ironically, the tone for this meaning (gēng) doesn’t change since it’s just a high tone. There you go, two pronunciations and meanings for the character 更. Up next is a character that looks quite similar, but with a twist.

More Convenient


This next character actually contains the previous character. We just add a component 亻(人 rén) on the left side. That’s why my memory aid for this character is “more convenient for people.”

便 (biàn), typically as part of 方便
adj. convenient
phrase. to go to the lavatory

Some sample sentences.

Yǒu le tā zhēn shì fāngbiàn.
It really comes in handy.

Nǐ shénmeshíhou zuì fāngbiàn?
When is the most convenient time for you?

It’s Cheaper! For People


Same character as convenient. Well, cheaper is indeed more convenient for people.

便 (pián)
adj. cheap, typically as part of 便宜 (piányi)

Some sample sentences.

Tā de nà shuāng xié kàn shàngqu hěn piányi.
Her shoes look cheap.

Xiànzài de qín ròu xiāngdāng piányi.
Poultry is rather cheap now.

In the next part, I’ll tackle 使 (shǐ) – make or cause to happen, and 史 (also shǐ) – history.