By Jodi Yim James, Staff Writer
是 shì is a very common character that is used in two ways.
是 shì can mean “Yes!” or “Right!” Another way to understand is to think of 是 shì as a reply to the question, “Is that true?” The reply being, “Yes, it is true.” 是 shì expresses agreement.
Here is a conversation with this use of 是shì:
Nǐ shì Màikè mɑ?
Are you Mike?
是 shì is also the verb, “to be”, a very common verb.
Nǐ shì wǒ de hǎo péng you。
You are my good friend.
是 shì is pronounced with the 4th tone. Unlike English, French or Spanish, Chinese does not have verb conjugations. Therefore, this single word, 是 shì means - is, am, are – all of the words we use for being. It can be translated to mean "is, am, are or be right". 是 shì can be used grammatically to emphasize a point or to indicate certainty of a point.
The written 是 shì has three parts:
(1) 日(ri-4th tone) meaning "sun"
(2) 下(xia-4th tone) meaning down or under
(3) 人 (ren-2nd tone) meaning person, a man standing.
In English, we say, “I think, therefore I am.” In Chinese, being is expressed as a person standing under the sun – alive, existing, (as opposed to not being under the sun or being in the ground, dead and buried). The sun shines on a person and they are alive and well: “I stand under the sun and I am alive!”
A westerner may wonder about learning to write Chinese characters. However, when the character is as simple as placing the sun above the shining down directional arrow, and then placing a man standing, this is quite logical and easy to remember.