He - "harmony" - Chinese character profile

A closer look at the character He ("harmony"), its meanings and usages

Shanghai: HePing Park, April 2008
The character 和 can be seen at the top of the sign for Heping Park. Paul Kretek/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Most characters in Chinese only have one common reading, but the character we're going to look at in this article has many different pronunciations, although some of them aren't common. The character in question is 和, which has the basic meaning of "harmony" or "together" and is pronounced "hé" as in 和平 (hépíng) "peace".

The character consists of two parts: 禾, which gives the character its pronunciation (it's also pronounced "hé" and is a pictograph of standing grain) and the character 口 (kǒu), which means "mouth".

If you're not sure how different character components can influence the pronunciation of a Chinese character, you should read this article: Chinese character type: Semantic-phonetic compounds.

和 (hé or hàn) Means "and"

It's a common character (23rd on Zein's list) and appears in most beginner textbooks as the first and most basic way of expressing "and":

nǐ hé wǒ
You and me.

Note that this is usually used to join nouns together in a sentence, and can't be used to translate sentences like "He opened the door and went in"! Also note that the 和 used here is sometimes pronounced "hàn" in Taiwan, although "hé" is also common.

Other Meanings of 和 (hé)

There are numerous other meanings of the character 和 with the pronunciation "hé", and here are some of the most common words:

和尚 (héshàng) "Buddhist monk"

和平 (hépíng) "peace"

和谐 (héxié) "harmony, harmonious"

平和 (pínghé) "placid, gentle"

This is a clear example of when understanding the individual characters makes learning the words a lot easier.

It shouldn't be too hard to fit the basic meaning of 和 into the meaning of these words!

Additional Meanings with Other Pronunciations

As mentioned in the introduction, the character 和 has numerous pronunciations in addition to the fact that it's sometimes read differently in Taiwan. Let's look at two other common meanings of this word with different pronunciations:

  • 暖和 (nuǎnhuo) "(pleasantly) warm" - This word is the normal way of expressing that something (e.g. the weather) is pleasantly warm and there are no other common cases where the character is read "huo", so instead of bothering about that, just learn this word in its entirety. Example: 今天天气很暖和 (jīntiān tiānqi hěn nuǎnhuo) "The weather is nice/pleasant/warm today."
  • 和了 (le) "(used when completing a set in mahjong)" - This is an unusual reading unless you play mahjong (actually "májiàng" in proper Pinyin) a lot. Since this game is extremely popular in Chinese-speaking societies all over the world, I would still treat this as a common word. You say or shout it when you have combined all your tiles into sets to announce that you have won the game.

Even More Pronunciations

There are actually at least two more readings of this character, but they are less interesting for the purposes of this article. Remember, the key to learning characters with many pronunciations is to focus on context and not to overwhelm yourself! 

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Linge, Olle. "He - "harmony" - Chinese character profile." ThoughtCo, Mar. 5, 2017, thoughtco.com/he-harmony-chinese-character-profile-2278279. Linge, Olle. (2017, March 5). He - "harmony" - Chinese character profile. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/he-harmony-chinese-character-profile-2278279 Linge, Olle. "He - "harmony" - Chinese character profile." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/he-harmony-chinese-character-profile-2278279 (accessed March 23, 2018).