Chinese Language Blog

The Chinese Words for Cube Posted by on Sep 27, 2021 in Vocabulary

Photo by Greyerbaby from Pixabay, CCO

The Beijing’s Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube, which are actually called The Beijing National Stadium and The Beijing National Aquatics Center, were originally designed and constructed to host the 2008 Olympic Games. Their great architectures and impressive appearances made them attractive tourist sites to visit, even more than a decade after the Beijing Games.

The Water Cube’s Chinese nickname  ̶  水立方 shuǐ lì fang  ̶  is literally translated as water cube, as well. (shuǐ) is a noun meaning water, and 立方 (lì fāng) is a noun that means cube. With Beijing being awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics, both structures will be used again to host the games. Part of the Water Cube was renovated to allow the hosting of curling events. As a result the structure recently acquired a new nickname, since people started to call it the Ice Cube (冰立方 bīng lì fāng).

The word 立方 that appears in the above nicknames, and the word 立方体 (lì fāng tǐ), both mean cube. Both belong to the semantic field of geometry; they are mainly used to describe bodies and structures. For example:


Zhèng fang xíng yǒu sì gè jiǎo er, lì fang tǐ yǒu bā gè jiǎo er.

A square has four corners and a cube has eight corners. 


Wèi le chǔlǐ zhè ge jì suàn xiǎng xiàng jù dà de sān wéi lì fang tǐ.

Imagine a huge three-dimensional cube to handle this calculation.


Don’t use 立方, or 立方体, when talking about food. The Chinese words for ice cube or sugar cube to use in a drink, use a totally different character: (kuài). means chunk, a piece. For example:


Wǒ yào yī bēi jiā bīng kuài de qì shuǐ.

I want a glass of soda with ice cubes.


Tā xǐ huān hē jiā xiǎo bīng kuài de kě lè.

She likes to drink cola with small ice cubes.


Táng kuài shì yòu kuài yòu hǎo de néng liàng lái yuán.

Sugar cubes are a fast and good source of energy.


Tā tōu tōu de bǎ táng kuài fàng jìn zuǐ lǐ.

He secretly put a sugar cube into his mouth.


One other character that describes small pieces in a shape of cube is (dīng). is used to describe meat or dough in a shape of small cubes. Like in the famous dish of 宫保鸡丁 (gōng bǎo jī dīng), known in English as the Kung Pao chicken. 宫保鸡丁 is a spicy, stir-fried Chinese dish made with cubes of chicken, peanuts, and vegetables. Another stir-fried diced meat dish, for example, is 毛豆炒肉丁 (máo dòu chǎo ròu dīng) made with beans.


For dice, Chinese has different characters: 色子 (shǎi zi) and 骰子 (tóu zi). For example:


Wéi le hăo shŏu qì qīn yī xià shăi zi ba.

Kiss the dice for good luck.


Zhí shǎi zǐ wán yóu xì.

Roll the dice to play the game.


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