Chinese Four Character Idiom: 死灰复燃 (Sǐ huī fù rán)


A very nice four character phrase in Chinese is 死灰复燃 (Sǐ huī fù rán), which is roughly translated to describe a “resurgence”, it describes a situation where something that previously “died” or “disappeared” has for whatever reason come back. It could also be more directly translated to “ashes burn once more” or more roughly that (something has) “come back to haunt you” (I think it could be useful for those people in romantic relationships who always seem to be going backwards and forwards :-))

Here is an explanation of the phrase, character by character along with an example or two:

死 (Sǐ) is an adjective, meaning “dead”
灰 (huī) is a noun, meaning “ashes”
复 (fù) is a verb, meaning “to return” or “to repeat”
燃 (rán) is a verb, meaning “to burn” or “to ignite”

So literally it means that “dead ashes reignite” — or describes a situation where something that was previously thought to be dead and gone has resurfaced.

How about this example for the melodramatic cases:

我以为我已经把她放下来了,但有时候死灰会复燃 — (Wǒ yǐwéi wǒ yǐjīng bǎ tā fàng xiàláile, dàn yǒu shíhou sǐhuī huì fù rán) which could be translated to “I thought I had already gotten over her, but sometimes dead ashes do reignite” — note that I placed a 会 (huì) in the middle of the phrase, even though four character phrases are normally quite static, if you understand the grammar of them you can manipulate them as the ordinary words that they are 🙂

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