Do you think we can avoid learning language rules? Memorising grammar rules can be difficult, but it gives us a better understanding of the language. So today, instead of focusing on the literal meaning of 子, we’re going to learn how to use 子 grammatically as a noun suffix.
The literal meaning of 子 is ‘son/child’, but in today’s examples, 子 doesn’t carry its original meaning; instead, 子 is used as a noun suffix which makes the word/phrase a noun.
If you’re learning English, you probably know all about noun suffixes, such as –ness, -ity, –ment, etc… When we see an English word ending with any of the previous three noun suffixes (in most cases) we know that word is a noun.
Besides the three examples, can you think of any other phrases in which 子 is a noun suffix?
拍子 can mean both “sports racket” and “musical beat” depending on the context. These two things seem totally different, but I hope that after we break apart the phrase a little, you’ll be able to see why both meanings are associated with 拍子.
You should already recognise both of the characters here; first we have the compound 拍 (to clap, to take [a picture]), and then our building block 子 (son, small thing, [noun suffix]). In this phrase, 子 is a noun suffix, so we don’t need to worry about its definition. Instead, let’s focus on the compound character 拍.
拍 is a combination of the characters 扌 (Hand) and 白 (white). 白 is just there for pronunciation, so it’s really 扌 that is the focus of the compound character (and our entire phrase). In this case, 扌 is all about the physical act of hitting or pressing something with one’s hand. When we use a camera or swing a tennis racquet, we are using our hands to physically engage with another object, which is why 拍 can also mean “racquet” and “to take a picture”.
So, that just about explains our phrase, but what about the definition we haven’t discussed yet? 拍子 means “musical beat” for the same reason we use the word “beat” in the English phrase “musical beat”. In both of our cultures, the beat of music is apparently a very physical experience. If you’ve ever been to a concert or a football stadium for that matter, I think you’ll understand completely! Also consider that drumming is an important part of Asian culture! You’ll often see drumming performances during celebrations and festivals.
I hope that helped you gain an understanding of the phrase! Here’s our Chineasy math to help keep you organised:
拍子 = 拍 (To Clap, Sports Racket, Musical Beat) + 子 (Noun Suffix) = (Sports Racket, Musical Beat)
拍 as verb: to clap, to shoot, to take
拍 as noun: sports racket, musical beat, bat
子 as noun: baby, infant, child, son, descendant, person, man, master, the first of the twelve Earthly Branches, Viscount, 11:00 PM – 1:00 AM
子 as adjective: small, tender, young
子 as verb: love
子 as pronoun: you (men only)
子 as noun suffix: ex: 呆子 (idiot), 本子 (notebook), 桌子 (table), 廚子 (chef); it does not change the meaning of the noun
拍子 as noun: sports racket, bat (another way to say is 球拍, pinyin: qiu2pai1, qiúpāi); musical beat (another way to say is 節拍, pinyin: jie2pai1, jiépāi)