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Under the stress of time limit during PSLE Chinese composition, students make spelling mistakes very frequently. It is due to the confusion of words that have similar pronunciation, or words that have similar appearance. It results in the loss of marks due to the wrong application of words on Paper One.

Some common words students misuse:

  1. vs vs vs

These four words are formed with the same radical (部首/偏旁), ‘戈 (gē)’. They may seem confusing in terms of appearance and pronunciation, but the meaning of the four words are quite distinctive.

     栽 (zāi) means “grow”

     裁 (cái) means “cut”

     载 (zài) means “ride”

     戴 (dài) means “wear”

 To avoid misusing these words, it is crucial to look closer into these words.

     ‘木 (wood)’ is hidden inside ‘栽’. The ‘木’ relates to ‘plant or grow’.

     ‘衣 (clothes)’ is hidden inside ‘裁’. The ‘衣’ relates to ‘cut or tailor’.

     ‘车 (car)’ is hidden inside ‘载’. The ‘车’ relates to ‘transport or carry’.

     ‘田&共 (actually infers to a person wearing mask)’ is hidden inside ‘戴’. The ‘田&共’ relates to ‘put on’.

Looking closer into words can help students to decide exactly which word they are attempting to use in the composition. This greatly improves accuracy and speed as of word choice. Not just composition, this skill can be used to tackle questions in the language use (Pape 2), for example.


Q1. 政府___培许多优秀的人才。…………………………… (    )
(1) 栽
(2) 裁
(3) 载
(4) 戴
  1. vs

No matter students are in their Primary 4, 5 or 6, they are always confused with these two words. They fail to distinguish these two words even after intensive practices, compositions after compositions.

     ‘买 (mǎi)’ means “buy”, while ‘卖 (mài)’ means “sell”.

To learn how to distinguish them, I tell the students the idea of magic crown ‘十’.

     买: If the word does not have the crown ‘十’ on the head, it will need to BUY.

     卖: If the word already has the crown ‘十’ on the head, it will need to SELL.

Simple as it is! When students remember the magic crown, they immediately are able to avoid misusing words and to use these two words correctly.

        Let’s practice:

Q2. 回家的路上,爸爸顺便从餐馆___了烧鸡回家。

Q3. 这瘦弱的男孩坐在路边,___自己制作的卡片。

  1. vs vs vs

‘皮 (pí)’ is the root radical that forms four distinctive words. Although the four words have similar appearance, yet the pronunciation is different.

     波 (bō) means “wave”

     披 (pī) means “drape over something”

     被 (bèi) means “quilt (or used in passive voice)”

     破 (pò) means “break”

Let’s remove ‘皮 (pí)’ in each word, and dig deeper to the remaining parts:

     氵/水 for 波 (bō) relates to “water”

     扌/手 for 披 (pī) relates to “hand action”

     衤/衣 for 被 (bèi) relates to “cloth”

     石   for 破 (pò) relates to “stone break”

When students are trained to be more mindful and aware to the small parts of a word, it will help them avoid using wrong words. Besides, this kind of ‘radical’ knowledge will help them infer possible meanings of words, and to form various words more correctly.

Strategies to tackle misused words in composition:

1) Compile Misused Words

Students are encouraged to keep a record of all the words that they misused before, and very frequently revise this compilation. This habit of revision is helpful and efficient because they are the real misused words from their past writing experiences.

When students keep up this habit, they will be more aware during the exam. When writing compositions, students have to read back their writings and locate whether some of the commonly misused words can be spotted. Checking during the exam is therefore extremely important.

2) Build Up the Power of 部首(bù shǒu)/偏旁 

部首, the smaller component of the Chinese word, is the DNA hidden inside words. Some simple 部首can directly form one word, for example, 土 (dirt)、日 (sun)、木 (wood) etc.

These one-radical word can form more complicated words, for example, 培、晴、棒etc. The 部首 hidden inside the words becomes very crucial in order to infer the meanings and even pronunciation of words.

Some部首can transfer meaning to different words, such as 辶transferring ‘movement’ to words like 进 (enter)、逃 (escape)、达 (arrive) etc.

Some部首can transfer sound to different words, such as 包 (bāo) transferring sounds to words like 饱 (bǎo)、跑 (pǎo)、炮 (pào) etc.

At ISUN Education, we specifically compile the knowledge of 部首 into different power sheets. When students are writing together with us, their memory will last longer. And when they take exams, their response will be faster and better.