Three Simple Uses of the Other “Ma” on a Bag

I recently wrote about my personal experience with the particle (not ), and how a dictionary entry helped me get a feel for how the particle is used. That dictionary entry, again, is from the Oxford Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary (blog post here):

Oxford Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary (2nd Ed.)

> : ma (助) 1 [used at the end of a sentence to show what precedes it is obvious]: 这样做是不对~! Of course it was acting improperly! 孩子总是孩子~! Children are children! 2 [used within a sentence to mark a pause]: 你~,就不用亲自去了。 As for you, I don’t think you have to go in person.

Not too long ago, I encountered this little coin purse/bag, which offers three very concise uses of our particle :

Money is for spending

The text is as follows (broken into three lines to make it easier to discuss):

> 1:

> 2:

> 3:

OK, now clearly, this is the same particle. But what does this actually mean??

First, “” means something like, “it’s money,” as in, “we all know what money is, and what it’s for.” This could also have been expressed more verbosely by: “” or even as: “就是” (“isn’t it just money”??).

Second, “” quite simply means, “it’s (made out of) paper (as we all know).” Duh. “It’s just paper.” This usage is basically the same as the first.

Last, we have “,” which is slightly different because it’s a verb. Still the idea is quite similar. It’s for spending. You might translate this into English as, “so just spend it!” Another way to put it in Chinese would be, “” (if you feel like spending it, just spend it).

The words on this bag strike me as a Shanghainese, female way of looking at money. But maybe that’s because the bag belonged to a girl I know…

Related Grammar Links:

Expressing the Self-Evident with 嘛 (Chinese Grammar Wiki link)


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Interesting how it all makes so much sense once you understand the context and the individual particles.. I love that about Chinese. To the casual observer (read: native Chinese speaker) it probably sounds laughably simplistic.. but I find it utterly fascinating how these totally alien looking/sounding words have so much meaning and implication.. thinking about it now, as I describe my thoughts, it seems laughable and ridiculous.. but the fascination is still there.

  2. Agree with @ligh487. Small little characters but when put together, produces so much meaning – Just like 成语, only four characters and you are introduced to a wealth of wisdom. Thanks for the post, John, which is as usual short, concise and helpful.

  3. 1: 钱嘛

    2: 纸嘛

    3: 花嘛

    That is a purse, a purse that is written these words with a purpose : to spend the money freely, for money is just made by paper, nothing needs to be thrifty about (it is not made of diamond, or Ruby, but just paper)
    Yes, it is an attitude toward money, it is 无拘无束的花钱方式 carefree way of money spending:)

  4. here’s something similiar though on a quite different order:

    i know you like how the chinese manipulate characters artistically and creatively, and i thought this makes for a good example of the same concept applied to our alphabet – which is a quite infrequent sight…

  5. I don’t know where this laconic turn of phrase originally comes from, but I’ve certainly heard similar before, e.g. "酒嘛,喝嘛!"

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