If you’ve watched S01E03 of Peppa Pig, the very first episode I wrote about, you probably noticed 玩 is often pronounced as wan-er. Why is there an “er” sound at the end of the word? When do you add the 儿 or er in Chinese words and when do you not? Are there any rules for adding er-coloring?
It’s surely confusing while you’re just getting started with learning the Chinese language! I’m happy it got asked. Let’s talk about it.
What is Erhua in Chinese?
The er-coloring or the practice of adding “er” to the end of a word is officially known as 儿化, erhua, erization, or 儿化音, the sound of erization or er-coloring.
Erhua in Chinese usually doesn’t change the meaning of the word. It is often, but not always, associated things that are small or diminutive.
Let me break down what “儿化音” is: 儿 is pronounced as er, and it also means children. 化 is often associated with state change, for example, in the word 碳化, 碳 means carbon, and 碳化 means carbonization. Together, 儿话音 literally means er-coloring sound.
Interestingly, I’ve also seen Ér huà yīn written as 儿话音 where 话 conveniently has the same pronunciation as 化 and means speech, so 儿话 could make sense too.
Usage of er in Chinese varies from region to region and sometimes person to person
Erhua rules in Chinese are not standardized. Perhaps I should say there are no rules, just some generalizations.
I can only claim that what I discuss in this post applies to the standard Mandarin I spoke as I grew up in Beijing. The Chinese language has many regional variations throughout China and I don’t know them all nor can easy generalization be made. In fact, I only know one “dialect” which is 普通话 (Pǔtōnghuà), the standard Mandarin.
The standard Mandarin, even the kind commonly spoken in the city of Beijing, is slightly different from the Beijing dialect (北京话). The Beijing dialect has many more usages of “er” throughout the dialect. My impression is that the Beijing dialect is mostly spoken by older people from Beijing and people who are at least third generation Beijing-er. (My grandparents and ancestors are not from Beijing so I don’t speak the dialect.)
I want to point out that you don’t have to care too much about er-coloring or erhua rules if you’re just starting out learning the Chinese language. If you don’t want to bother with it, please feel free to always speak all the words without 儿, unless 儿 is explicitly part of the word. You would still be very comprehensible. However, as you get more fluent, you may care more about it if you want to speak like a local.
Learn to use 儿 in Chinese with Peppa Pig examples!
In my transcripts, I try to write “儿” out explicitly, but I may not have done that consistently. If you come across a case where you hear the er-coloring but I didn’t write it out in the transcript, please let me know either via comments or discussion threads on the community forum!
In written Chinese, as a general rule, you don’t need to write the “儿” out explicitly in unless 儿 is a standard part of word (i.e. if you remove 儿, it wouldn’t make sense, or it would mean something different.) If you’re writing about a conversation, you may. It depends!
Use er for short periods or small amounts
快点儿，一点儿，一会儿，有点儿 are all expressions that are related to a short period of time, or a little bit of something. It’s common to use 儿 at the end of 会 or 点.
There are plenty of examples from Peppa Pig:
It is not absolutely necessary. In S01E03 Part 4 there are a couple examples where 儿 isn’t used. However I’d say in casual settings more often than not 儿 is added to these words.
Use er for generic locations: here, there, where
It’s also very common to use 儿 when you’re referring to a generic location such as here （这儿）, there （那儿）and where （哪儿）. 这儿，那儿，哪儿 are colloquial versions of 这里，那里，哪里 indicating locations. Note that if you’re using 这，那，哪 to refer to objects, you can’t use 儿 versions of them. Erization only applies to generic locations.
S01E09 is a really great episode to learn how to talk about locations in Chinese.
In day-to-day life, some other generic location words can have er-coloring, but it is more region or speaker-dependent. However, these words don’t have the er-coloring in the Peppa Pig Chinese dub so I’d say these are perhaps less standard. For example,
- 后门, backdoor, can be pronounced as 后门儿.
- 海边, the beach or by the sea, can be pronounced as 海边儿. 边 in general often has the er-coloring, such as in 这边儿, 那边儿, etc.
- 院 is often pronounced with 院儿里, it could mean a yard or an apartment complex.
Use er for generic references to children
There are many variations to refer to children in Chinese such as 孩子 and 小孩. It’s common to add 儿 to 小孩 (children), 男孩 (boys) and 女孩 (girls) in spoken Chinese as in 小孩儿，男孩儿，女孩儿.
Note that you wouldn’t add 儿 anywhere if you use 孩子, 女孩子, 男孩子. Also 男生, 女生 (as seen in S01E43 Part 3) refer to older typically school-aged children.
宝贝儿 is a common name to call babies or young children that are near and dear to you.
Granny Pig called Peppa and George 小宝贝儿们 in S01E04 Part 1. 宝贝儿 is also how my mom and myself call my kids. Literally someone precious, usually used to refer to children.
宝贝 is a valid word by itself and 宝贝 can also be used to refer to objects. However, you would not add 儿 if you’re talking about objects.
婴儿 is a noun for infant. 儿 is explicitly part of the word. So 婴儿 is not a case of er-coloring. Similarly, 托儿所 means daycare, 儿 means children and is part of the word.
Use er for activities that are often associated with children
You could say 玩儿 (to play), 画画儿 (to draw a picture), and sometimes 唱歌儿 (to sing a song) with the er-coloring.
玩儿 probably shows up with much higher frequency in Peppa Pig than daily speech as Peppa Pig is a children’s show after all!! I’ll save my effort of listing all the examples from Peppa Pig. There are a lot.
I’ve noticed that sometimes 玩 is not pronounced with 儿 even in Peppa Pig, such as in the title of S01E46 去海边玩 (S01E46 Part 1). I would have personally added 儿 there, but in a way since it’s the title of the episode and thus more formal, I can see why they chose to drop the 儿.
With that said, I recall a couple other instances where 玩 as a verb didn’t have the 儿 sound such as in S01E03 Part 3! Again, I personally would always say 玩儿 when I’m using the verb 玩, but it is not absolutely necessary.
Even for an adult you can use “玩儿” for example, 他去酒吧玩儿了. He went to (play at) the pub.
Also important to note, 玩 as part of a word such as 玩具 (S01E51 Part 1) or 玩偶 (S01E43 Part 1) would not have the er-coloring. I only use the er-coloring if it’s used by itself as a verb. There are other cases like 游玩, to sightseeing where 儿 can be used but not necessarily common. It really depends on the habits of the speaker.
画画儿 means to draw or paint a picture. Note the 儿 is attached to the second 画 which is the colloquial noun for picture. But 画画 as whole can be interpreted as a verb similar to 吃饭, where 吃 is to eat and 饭 is food.
画画儿 is usually used in the context of children’s painting so it makes sense it has the diminutive 儿. If you’re describing renowned painters you probably wouldn’t use 画画儿 to describe what they do.
画画儿 did show up in Peppa Pig (S01E20 “The School Fete”) but it has not in an episode I’ve written about yet.
唱歌 sometimes is pronounced as 唱歌儿, usually in the context of younger people singing or casual singing. This is an example that came to my mind when I tried to think of cases where I’d use 儿. Again it’s a case where er-coloring can be used but not necessarily always used depending on the context or the speaker.
Other usages of Er in colloquial Chinese
I like to use er-coloring after 事 to describe a generic event in Chinese ”事儿”. For example,
- 出什么事儿了？ What happened?
- 这事儿不好办。This thing is not easy to handle
I went back to check two instances where 事 came up in Peppa Pig. They are all pronounced without “儿” . But don’t be surprised if in other shows you hear 事儿!
This kinda illustrates my earlier point that the use of 儿 varies from region to region and person to person, don’t try to get too accurate. If you’re surrounded by Chinese speakers, listen for what they say!
Sometimes Er could change the meaning of a word in Chinese
Some times adding 儿 could change the meaning of the word. In that case, it is important to know when to add 儿 and when not to. Unless you know for sure, don’t add 儿 to random words.
In S01E46 Part 5, Peppa explained 把水桶翻个个儿. The 儿 here is part of the colloquial word for size or height 个儿. 个 by itself doesn’t mean that.
A similar situation is turning 托 to 托儿. 托 by itself means to hold in hand or to entrust. 托儿所 is daycare, literally means an institution you can entrust your children with.
托儿, on the other hand, means something totally different. Say if a scammer is trying to sell you something, and the scammer paid an assistant to show up and pump up the product to you while pretending he is totally neutral. The assistant would be called a 托儿. I am sure there is an English word for it but I don’t know it.
Do you have a question about how to use er in Chinese? Just ask.