Doing something less with "shao"


The word 少 (shǎo) can mean "few," but when placed before a verb, it takes on the meaning of "less" as in "to do less (of something)." It is often heard when scolding or giving advice (like when parents talk to children). What's not intuitive to learners is that the word 少 should come before the verb.


Just as you can use 多 to talk about doing something more, you can use 少 to talk about doing something less.

少 + Verb

Note that in English, we don't use the word "less" very much. For example, rather than saying "drink less water," we might say "don't drink so much water." In Chinese, though, using 少 is quite natural and common. Avoiding the negative command (telling someone not to do something) is also a subtle way of sounding less bossy and annoying in Chinese.


  • 放 点 盐 。Qǐng shǎo fàng diǎn yán.Use less salt, please.
  • 吃 垃圾 食品 。Shǎo chī lājī shípǐn.Eat less junk food.
  • 买 点 ,吃 不 完 会 坏 的 。Shǎo mǎi diǎn, chī bu wán huì huài de.Don't buy too much. It will go bad if we can't finish eating it all.
  • 你 能 不 能 抽 点 烟 ?Nǐ néng bu néng shǎo chōu diǎn yān?Can you smoke less?
  • 快 期中 考试 了 , 玩 点 游戏 吧 。Kuài qīzhōng kǎoshì le, shǎo wán diǎn yóuxì ba.The mid-term exams are coming up. Go easy on the video games.
  • 喝 点 ,明天 还要 上班 呢 。Shǎo hē diǎn, míngtiān háiyào shàngbān ne.Don't drink so much. You need go to work tomorrow.
  • 看 点 电视 ,多 看书 。Shǎo kàn diǎn diànshì, duō kànshū. Watch less TV. Read more books.
  • 吃 点 肉 ,多 吃 点 蔬菜 。Shǎo chī diǎn ròu, duō chī diǎn shūcài.Eat less meat and eat more vegetables.

Colloquial Sayings

These set phrases are worth special note, because although they follow the grammar pattern, they might not make sense to you without a little extra explanation, just like the meaning of "come on" might not make sense at first to someone learning English.

  • 来 !Lit. "come less"Shǎo lái!Come on!
  • 说 废话 !Lit. "speak less nonsense talk"Shǎo shuō fèihuà!Quit your babbling!
  • 管 闲事 。Lit. "get involved less in others' affairs"Shǎo guǎn xiánshì.Stay out of other people's business.

See also

Sources and further reading