Cracking the Code: Essential Rules For Chinese Stroke Order

Chinese characters might look like a mess of indecipherable squiggles and dots, but every character employs a set of fundamental strokes and follows defined stroke order rules. Unless you plan on turning your handwriting into a cryptic code incomprehensible to anyone else, you’ll want to follow the basic rules of Chinese stroke order.

A little practice early on will save you time in the future. With a few stroke order rules in your toolkit, you’ll find you can learn Chinese characters more quickly, and your handwriting will improve.

Why should I learn Chinese stroke order?

I know, I know. You don’t expect to be writing Chinese anytime soon. With half your life tied to your cellphone and the rest connected to the computer, you barely write in your native language anymore, let alone in Chinese. Most young people in China today use pinyin to input Chinese characters. So, why does stroke order matter in Chinese?

Even if you mainly use a smartphone or laptop to input Chinese text, handwriting characters is useful for developing muscle memory. Writing characters by hand will enhance your memorization and retention, helping you to learn Chinese characters as soon as possible. And even for students who prefer using pinyin input, it never hurts to have another option.

The easiest way to look up an unfamiliar character in popular digital dictionaries such as Pleco is to draw it with your finger. But if your stroke order is all over the place, the app will struggle to distinguish between similar characters. On the flip side, get the stroke order right, and the app will recognize the character instantly, no matter how terrible your writing is.

child writing chinese characters with a brush

The 12 rules of Chinese stroke order

Remember, the point is not to learn how to write specific characters by hand. Writing characters one by one in a long list is a terrible way to learn Chinese, particularly for non-native learners. Consider these instructions as guidelines for the basic Chinese characters’ stroke order rather than universal rules of Chinese writing.

Use a pen — or, more fun, a brush, and ink — to write the characters along with the videos. When starting, some rules may seem complicated, even contradictory. With a bit of practice, however, they’ll soon become intuitive. After a while, you’ll no longer need to think about the rules — writing Chinese characters this way will seem natural.

Most characters are formed from eight basic strokes, all demonstrated in the Chinese character 永 yǒng, meaning “forever.” Learning these eight fundamental strokes will speed up your Chinese language study and accelerate your reading.

Note that some stroke orders vary depending on the region. There are minor discrepancies in stroke order between the simplified characters, the traditional Chinese characters used in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and the Korean and Japanese forms. Here at Mandarin Blueprint, we prefer the simplified forms taught in mainland China.

practicing chinese calligraphy

1. From top to bottom

Rule #1 is simple: write Chinese characters from top to bottom. For example, in the character 二 èr (“two”), the correct Chinese stroke order requires you to draw the top stroke first.

Write the three characters by hand, following the stroke order shown in the video: 二,工,全. Remember, your handwriting doesn’t have to be beautiful, but using the correct stroke order is important.

Character Stroke Order: Rule 1

2. From left to right

It’s a commonly held Western myth that the Chinese write “backward” or from right to left. In ancient times, when Chinese was written in brush and ink on bamboo scrolls, it was customary for scribes to hold the paper with their left hand while writing from top to bottom and right to left. Even then, they still wrote individual Chinese characters from left to right.

Whatever the history of Chinese writing is, rule number #2 remains unchanged: write from left to right. Modern Chinese is written from left to right, whether we are talking strokes, components, or characters. Check your stroke order by writing the following examples by hand: 一,人,把.

Character Stroke Order: Rule 2

3. Horizontal before vertical strokes

Whenever horizontal and vertical strokes cross, write the horizontal strokes before the vertical. If the vertical stroke crosses the horizontal, draw all the horizontal lines first.

Follow along with the examples in the video, applying rule #3: horizontal before vertical. In the last example, 工 gōng, the vertical stroke does not cross the horizontal. In that case, draw the first horizontal stroke, then the vertical, then the final horizontal stroke.

Character Stroke Order: Rule 3

4. Diagonals right to left, before diagonals left to right

Rule #4 sounds complicated, but it’s pretty straightforward. For strokes slanting downward, write diagonals right to left (丿) before you write left-to-right diagonals (㇏).

Watch the video to see the correct stroke order rule for these Chinese characters (人,又,八), and practice along with your pen or brush. Handwriting the characters will enhance your memory and help you internalize the rule.

Character Stroke Order: Rule 4

5. Outside before inside

Rule #5: Draw the outside before the inside when the characters are partially enclosed. For example, in character 月 yuè, meaning “moon,” first write the outside components from left to right, then draw the two horizontal lines inside.

For the last character, 包 bāo, the top component (勹) is considered the outside, as it partially encloses the bottom component (巳). You’ll quickly recognize these outside enclosures in Chinese characters with some practice.

Character Stroke Order: Rule 5

6. Inside before outside

Rule #6 may seem to contradict rule #5, but it only applies to Chinese characters enclosed from the bottom or the bottom left. You’ll draw the inside strokes before the outside for those Chinese characters. Examples include 凶,建,and 达.

In the Chinese character 凶, draw the diagonals following rule #4 and the surrounding enclosure. Whatever your level, the goal is not to create works of art but to write Chinese characters accurately, following the rules.

Character Stroke Order: Rule 6

7. Inside before bottom enclosing

Rule #7 applies only to the exterior “boxes,” components that completely enclose the rest of the character, such as those in 田,日, and 国.

In these examples, draw the box’s left, top & right sides first, then the strokes in the middle, then close the box with the bottom horizontal stroke. The stroke order may sound complicated, but practice along with the video, and it will soon become clear.

Character Stroke Order: Rule 7

8. Center verticals before outside “wings”

In Chinese characters with “wings,” draw the vertical stroke first before adding the exterior details. For example, in a character such as 小, you’ll draw the vertical hook (亅) first before adding the wings (八).

Following the video, write each Chinese character by hand using the correct character stroke order.

Character Stroke Order: Rule 8

9. Cutting strokes last

Rule #9: cutting strokes come last. Similar to rule #3: horizontal before vertical, for vertically symmetrical characters like 中,半, and 羊, you’ll draw the horizontal strokes and other components before the final “cutting” stroke runs through the character.

Let’s take 羊 as an example. The correct stroke order begins with the little dots 丷 at the top. Next comes the three horizontal strokes 三. Finally, you’ll complete the character with the vertical stroke that cuts through from top to bottom.

Character Stroke Order: Rule 9

10. Left vertical before enclosing

Combining rules #2 (left to right) and #7 (inside before bottom enclosing), we arrive at rule #10: left vertical before enclosing.

This rule applies to most characters that are entirely enclosed, including examples such as 口,日, and 四. Draw the left vertical stroke first, then the enclosing component. After that, draw the strokes in the middle before closing the box with the final horizontal stroke. Practice along with the video to get the idea.

Character Stroke Order: Rule 10

11. Top or upper-left dots first

Even when it breaks rules #1 (top to bottom) and #2 (left to right), you’ll want to draw the dots at the top or upper left before anything else.

While the traditional Chinese stroke order for 門 (“door”) will follow the usual left-to-right rule, in simplified Chinese characters, 丶 replaces a series of other strokes. In the resulting character, 门, you’ll draw the dot first.

Character Stroke Order: Rule 11

12. Inside or upper-right dots last

Best remembered as the counter to rule #11, rule #12 requires that dots on the inside or upper-right are written after every other stroke. In 玉, the Chinese character stroke order begins with two horizontal strokes 二, followed by a vertical 丨. You then draw the horizontal stroke 一 at the base before adding the dot 丶.

Character Stroke Order: Rule 12

Although few people in China today use handwriting input for Chinese characters, typing by stroke order remains the fastest input method for typing Chinese. There are many situations when knowing the stroke order of Chinese characters is essential, even if you rely on your smartphone for most Chinese language tasks. And for those with even the slightest interest in Chinese calligraphy, learning the rules of character stroke order is essential.

Many apps and tools now incorporate animated Chinese stroke order diagrams demonstrating the stroke orders for Chinese characters and guides to the radicals, tones, and pronunciation. Following the stroke order animations will help you internalize the rules, significantly improving your learning of Chinese characters.

Understanding Chinese Characters: the Basics You Need to Know

Chinese characters are the written symbols used to write Chinese and Japanese. Most modern languages employ an alphabet or phonetic script, but Chinese uses logograms — symbols representing words or meanings instead of sounds. In many cases, especially in the oldest characters, these Chinese symbols contain important clues to their meaning.

Let’s learn about the history of Chinese characters, their differences from other languages, and character types that will give you a good understanding of how the Chinese language works.

How old are Chinese characters?

The written Chinese language is among the most ancient forms of writing. While other ancient languages based around pictorial or logographic scripts, such as Egyptian hieroglyphics and the cuneiform of Mesopotamia, have long since disappeared, Chinese characters are used to this day.

Scholars trace the history of Chinese characters back to the Shang Dynasty (1600-1050 BC). Known as the 甲骨文 jiǎgǔwén, or “oracle bone script,” these primordial inscriptions were etched into animal bones and tortoise shells.

Many of these earlier characters are pictograms — simple pictures representing an object or an idea. Scholars now believe that these early Chinese characters were used in divination by fire.

The writing discovered on these oracle bones was already fairly developed, suggesting that Chinese characters may date back even further. Chinese linguists have traditionally traced the Chinese writing system to the age of the Yellow Emperor, a legendary figure who united the tribes of the Yellow River under a single leader and reigned from 2697–2597 BC.

Some archaeologists argue for an even earlier origin of Chinese characters, claiming that inscriptions on five-thousand-year-old artifacts unearthed in China represent more primitive forms of writing.

ancient chinese pictograms

How is Chinese writing different from other languages?

Apart from those languages that lack any written form, Chinese is the only modern language without an alphabet. Mainland China uses simplified characters, while traditional characters predominate in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Chinese characters remain in popular usage in other countries too. The Japanese language uses hanzi (known in Japan as kanji) in combination with two phonetic alphabets called hiragana and katakana where symbols represent syllables.

While Koreans predominantly write in the modern Korean alphabet hangul, they still occasionally use hanzi to demonstrate ideas they find difficult to express in their own language.

Chinese characters are not words or letters but symbols that represent meaning. In linguistic terms, these symbols are called morphemes — the smallest grammatical units of language that carry meaning. Some units of meaning are stand-alone words (like “day” or “sun”), but many others are not.

man writing chinese calligraphy

As an example, let’s take the Chinese word 昨天 zuótiān, meaning “yesterday.” Like the majority of Chinese words, 昨天 is formed from two logograms (昨 and 天). The ancient form of 天 depicts a man with outstretched arms (大) with another mark (一) added to indicate the original meaning, “crown” or “forehead.” The Chinese used this character from ancient times to mean “sky” or “heaven.” In modern Chinese, 天 means both “sky” and “day.”

The initial character (昨) functions as a morpheme or unit of meaning. We can split the English word similarly: [YESTER] + [DAY]. 昨 (“yester-“) is not a word if taken alone but is sufficiently unique to influence the word’s definition. 昨 carries this meaning in other Chinese words and phrases, such as 昨晚 zuówǎn (“yesterday evening”), 昨夜 zuóyè (“last night”), and 昨非 zuófēi — a more literary term meaning “past mistakes.”

Now, let’s invent a word in English and Chinese at the same time: 昨月zuóyuè (“yestermonth”).

Though this isn’t a real word, its meaning is easy to guess. Whether you read “yestermonth” in English or 昨月in Chinese, the combination in this example is very clear.

Morphemes in the Chinese language have one significant advantage over English morphemes: they allow for a visual representation of the meaning.

Chinese and English Example

Chinese strokes, components, and radicals

Chinese text, especially when written in traditional Chinese characters, can get pretty complex. Strokes and components are the fundamental building blocks of all modern Chinese characters. As for radicals — well, more on that in a moment.

Chinese strokes

Every Chinese character is formed from six basic, four combining, and 29 compound strokes. The six basic strokes include vertical and horizontal strokes, left and right sloping strokes, a single dot, and a diagonal tick.

Don’t fret over these too much for now. In the article on Chinese stroke order, we will dive into the stroke order rules and practice writing the forms by hand.

Chinese Strokes

Chinese components

As you study the Chinese language, you’ll notice how certain forms repeatedly recur, appearing in hundreds of different characters. These components are the fundamental building blocks used in writing Chinese. The more time you invest in getting familiar with them early on, the easier you’ll find it to learn to read and write Mandarin Chinese.

Some Chinese components can function as stand-alone words or characters, while others only ever appear as constituent parts. You’ll want to concentrate on those symbols that impart some information about the character, making them easier to memorize.

Chinese components can have two functions:

Semantic: referring to the meaning

Phonetic: referring to the sound

Semantic and Phonetic

The left-side element of 油 is 氵(water), a semantic component indicating that the character has something to do with liquid. Other instances where the 氵appears as a semantic component include 河 (river), 海 hǎi (sea), and 洗 (to wash).

On the right side is 由, a phonetic component that suggests the correct pronunciation.

Note that the pronunciation is not always the same as the phonetic element within it. Often the tones vary (e.g., 羊 yáng and 样 yàng), and sometimes the sound can be quite different (每 měi and 海 hǎi).

Studying related characters and components forms the core of Mandarin Blueprint’s Optimal Character Learning Order.

Even nowadays, tens of thousands of Chinese characters still exist, but you can become fluent in Mandarin with only one or two thousand. By beginning with the most common Chinese characters and components in modern usage, the OCLO ensures that you learn Chinese characters with maximum efficiency.

woman writing chinese characters

Chinese radicals

Chinese radicals are the 214 official components listed in dictionaries. Once upon a time, looking up Chinese vocabulary in the dictionary meant searching under the correct radical. Every character is listed under one (and only one) radical, but the assignment is largely arbitrary.

The process of simplification that produced the simplified Chinese characters used in mainland China today led to the semantic components in many characters being replaced by a simpler radical. These “simple characters” are easier to write but arguably more difficult to read.

While the official radical list includes many semantic components, other radicals impart no information and are of little use to Chinese language students. Any Chinese-English dictionary printed in the last decade or two is more likely to list each character under the pinyin. Unless you plan on using traditional Chinese dictionaries you probably best forget radicals altogether.

chinese dictionary

The 6 types of Chinese characters

One of the more charming legends surrounding the origins of Chinese characters concerns the official historian of the Yellow Emperor, Cāng Jié. Unsatisfied with the ancient method of tying knots in lengths of rope to record information, the Yellow Emperor tasked Cāng Jié with creating a novel writing system.

For the longest time, Cāng Jié made no progress. But then he began to pay more attention to the distinct and individual characteristics of things in the natural world: the prints of animals, the shapes of leaves, the patterns of clouds. Cāng Jié drew his pictures as simplified representations of these characteristics, giving birth to the earliest Chinese characters.

The traditional classification of Chinese characters is known as the 六书 Liùshū, the “Six Writings” or “Six Principles.” It was created during the Han dynasty (202 BC–9 AD, 25–220 AD). According to 六书, every Chinese character can be arranged into six categories

  1. 象形 xiàngxíng – formal representations of things in the world (“pictographs”)
  2. 指事 zhǐshì – symbolic, indicative signs (“ideographs” or “ideograms”)
  3. 会意 huìyì – combinations of two or more semantic components (“compound ideographs”)
  4. 形声 xíngshēng – combinations of formal and phonetic features (“phonetic-semantic compounds”)
  5. 转注 zhuǎnzhù – characters derived from another character with a related meaning (“transfer characters”)
  6. 假借 jiǎjiè – characters borrowed to represent words with similar or identical pronunciations (“loan characters”)

Understanding how each Chinese character is formed will help you create mnemonics, essential memory “tricks,” or “clues” that will help you to learn a new character more quickly and remember those you’ve already learned.

chinese tutor teaching a student

1. 象形字 Xiàngxíngzì – pictographs

Pictographs are stylized or simplified representations of things. Think of the pictorial representations of men and women on the signs over public toilets, the green man walking across the road, or the images of sun, clouds, and rain used on weather charts. Most are simple nouns representing literal objects — rivers, mountains, trees, birds and animals, men and women, body parts, tools and weapons, the sun, and the moon.

Although pictograms account for just 4 to 5% of modern Chinese characters, these easy forms include many common Chinese characters and some of the most essential and foundational semantic components — the building blocks of the Chinese writing system. Other characters that were initially pictographic include 马 (“horse”), 女 (“woman”), and 火 huǒ (“fire”).

6 Types of Chinese Characters - Pictographic forms

2. 指事字 Zhǐshìzì – simple ideographs

Ideographs represent abstract concepts that are difficult to express in simple images. Traffic signs (“turn left,” “no parking,” “no entry,” etc.) are good examples of ideograms used in daily life, intuitively understood, and easy to remember.

Many easy Chinese characters are ideograms, including numbers (一, 二, 三), and commonly used words such as 上 shàng (“up,” “on”), 下 xià (“down,” “under”), and 中 zhōng (“middle,” “center”).

Simple Ideographs

3. 会意字 Huìyìzì – compound ideographs

A compound ideograph combines two or more symbols to create a new Chinese character with a different meaning. Compound ideographs account for around 10% of Chinese characters and include some of the most fascinating and easy Chinese characters to learn.

For example, the pictographic character 亻rén (“man” or “person”) is combined with 木 (“tree”) to create the compound ideogram 休 xiū (“to rest”). Think of a man resting in the shade of a tree or leaning against its trunk.

Some of the most common characters are compound ideographs. With the sun 日 and the moon 月 together, we get 明 míng, meaning “bright.” Combining woman 女 and child 子 gives us 好 hǎo (“good”), and a pig 豕 under a roof 宀 becomes 家 jiā (“home”).

Compound Ideographs

4. 形声字 Xíngshēngzì – phonetic-semantic compounds

All phonetic-semantic compounds follow a standard principle: 

  • One component suggests the meaning (“semantic component”)
  • One component suggests the pronunciation (“phonetic component”)

To see how this works, let’s take a look at two common semantic components: 口 (“mouth”) and 马 (“horse”).

The following examples include 口 as a semantic component:

chī– to eat

zuǐ – mouth

chàng – to sing

The examples below all incorporate 马:

– to ride

– donkey, mule

shǐ – to gallop; to drive

There is no official list of phonetic components, but some of the most common include 包 bāo (抱 bào, 跑 pǎo, 泡 pào) and 青 qīng (請 qǐng, 情 qíng, 靜 jìng). If a character includes the same phonetic component, you can generally assume it sounds similar, but the method is not foolproof!

Over 80% of Chinese characters are phonetic-semantic compounds. Along with the semantic component that provides a clue to the meaning, these characters incorporate a more fundamental character that hints at the correct pronunciation. For example:

pào – firecracker, cannon (火 semantic, 包 phonetic)

qíng – sunny, clear (日 semantic, 青 phonetic)

child practicing pronunciation in front of mirror

5. 转注字 Zhuǎnzhùzì – transfer characters

Transfer characters are sometimes called “reciprocal” or “mutually explanatory” characters. The concept can be challenging to understand, but the basic idea is that an original character is modified in some way to form a new one. What may once have been two forms of the same character then come to hold different meanings.

In the postface to the Shuōwén Jiězì, the ancient Chinese dictionary that first detailed the “Six Principles” of character classification, Xǔ Shèn gives this pair of characters as an example: 考 kǎo (“to verify”) and 老 lǎo (“old”). In ancient Chinese, each character had similar pronunciations and may have shared an etymological root.

6. 假借字 Jiǎjièzì – loan characters

Loan characters are formed when one character is borrowed to stand for another word with a similar pronunciation, either intentionally or by accident. For example, the character 哥 , meaning “older brother,” originally meant “song.” The unrelated character was borrowed as a phonetic loan, and a new character 歌 was created for “song.”

Other examples of phonetic loan characters include 四 (“four”), which was originally a pictorial representation of the nostrils, and 北 běi (“north”), which once referred to the back of the body (now written 背 bèi).

In general, if you improve your knowledge about how characters are formed, you’ll learn new characters more quickly. In contrast, learners with no understanding of the underlying structures will struggle to master the art of reading and writing in Chinese.

Even if your main goal is to speak Mandarin (rather than learning to read or write), you’ll want to learn Chinese characters as soon as possible. Studying new Chinese vocabulary based on tones and pronunciation alone is an arduous, thankless task. Learning the characters will enrich your understanding of the Chinese language and provide a fascinating window into Chinese culture and history.

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FAQs about understanding Chinese characters

How many Chinese characters exist in total?

The entire inventory of Chinese characters consists of over 70 thousand characters if obscure, archaic, and variant forms are included. However, understanding Chinese characters doesn’t require learners to know anywhere near this total number. Full literacy in Chinese writing requires knowing between 3 and 4 thousand of the most common characters.

Characters beyond this level are rarely used in everyday written Chinese. According to statistical analysis, being able to understand Chinese characters in the 3 thousand most frequent range will enable you to recognize over 99% of all Chinese text.

Characters are also closely linked to vocabulary, with each newly learned character bringing, on average, six new words. So, the 3 thousand target provides coverage of over 18 thousand vocabulary words.

Do Chinese characters represent sounds like letters in English?

Unlike an alphabetic language like English, where letters represent distinct sounds, Chinese characters represent morphemes, or units of meaning, rather than individual sounds.

However, understanding Chinese characters involves recognizing that the majority do contain phonetic components that provide clues to how the character is pronounced. Over 80% of characters in Chinese writing are semantic-phonetic compounds, consisting of elements that hint at both meaning and pronunciation.

But, these phonetic components don’t always provide an accurate way to understand Chinese characters’ pronunciation. Chinese is not purely a phonetic writing system, as characters evolved over time for logographic meaning rather than phonetic spelling. Still, awareness of phonetic components in characters can aid in memorization and recognition.

What are the benefits of learning Chinese characters early in Mandarin study?

Recognizing Chinese characters provides important benefits for early Mandarin learners beyond just reading ability in Chinese writing. Since each character maps to a unit of meaning, understanding Chinese characters aids in vocabulary acquisition and retention. 

Understanding characters also allows learners to deduce the meaning of new terms and compounds. Additionally, understanding Chinese characters enhances listening comprehension, as a familiar character sequence clarifies associated sounds. Learners who understand Chinese characters outperform those who only learned pinyin for pronunciation.

Finally, characters illuminate the etymology and derivation of words related to the meaning embedded in the glyphs. So, prioritizing character recognition from the start accelerates overall fluency.

How can I start recognizing common Chinese character components?

When beginning to learn Chinese characters, focus first on memorizing key semantic components that convey concrete meaning, as these aid in understanding Chinese characters through their pictographic forms.

For example, components like 木 mù for tree, 口 kǒu for mouth, and 女 nǚ for female appear widely in Chinese writing. Also, observe which phonetic components recur frequently, as these will indicate pronunciation despite some inconsistencies.

Resources like character frequency lists and Spaced Repetition Software can accelerate component recognition through repeated exposure. 

Character decomposition analysis also boosts your ability to understand Chinese characters by increasing awareness of component patterns. Maintaining curiosity about the composition of new characters will drive component learning.

Do I need to be able to handwrite Chinese characters?

Developing the ability to handwrite Chinese characters improves recall and recognition through motor memory and active practice. However, for complete beginners, the priority should be building character recognition first through methods like flashcards and reading practice. 

Oral vocabulary and listening comprehension are also foundational. Once learners accumulate a critical mass of around 200 memorized characters, beginning to practice writing by hand will reinforce existing knowledge. Copying characters following stroke order and focused character writing drills will enable developing handwriting mastery. 

But early and balanced attention across reading, writing, listening, and speaking is key, rather than obsessively writing from the start before other foundations are set.

How do I look up an unfamiliar Chinese character in a dictionary?

In the past, looking up Chinese characters in dictionaries required identifying the radical of an unfamiliar character for efficient search. 

However, this approach is now obsolete. Contemporary Chinese dictionaries are organized alphabetically by pinyin romanization rather than by radical. Pinyin input or handwriting recognition allows rapid look-up of any unknown Chinese character in Chinese writing without the need for radical knowledge.

Some dictionaries may still include radical references, but this is secondary sorting after pinyin. To understand Chinese characters effectively, learners should prioritize pinyin literacy rather than memorizing radicals or stroke count to enable dictionary usage.

How many Chinese characters are needed for basic literacy?

Around 1 thousand of the most common Chinese characters will enable basic recognition and reading abilities for simple texts in Chinese writing. Expanding to 2 thousand characters offers functional literacy for reading newspapers, websites, letters, and basic books. 

Understanding Chinese characters at the expert level requires knowledge of 4-5 thousand characters, but being able to understand Chinese characters within the 3 thousand most common range already allows comprehension of over 99% of modern Chinese text.

A useful milestone is knowing the 500 most common characters, which provides a 20% baseline for reading familiar content. With smartphone OCR apps, occasional unknown Chinese characters can be readily looked up after initial literacy groundwork is set through focused practice to master common glyphs.

“Not Only…, But Also…” In Chinese: Learning Correlative Conjunctions

How’s your Chinese coming along? What’s that? You’ve not only learned to write a thousand characters, but also blitzed the HSK exam, and landed yourself a job in China? Amazing!

Or maybe you are not the best student. You’ve been busy with work. There are meals to cook, kids to feed, and chores to be done. Not only that, but also learning Chinese can be such a daunting task. Whatever your situation, learning how to use correlative conjunctions to say “not only… but also” in Chinese will help you to better express your point, emphasize your reasons, or proffer a handy excuse.

The easy way to say “not only…, but also…” in Chinese

Looking for an easy way to say “not only… but also” in Chinese? The 不但 bùdàn… 而且 érqiě… structure is the one to use. The parts combine something like this:

[Subject] + 不但 bùdàn + [Adjective / Verb], 而且 érqiě + [Adjective / Verb] …

That might look complicated, but it’s actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Let’s look at some examples:


Tā bùdàn shuài érqiě yǒuqián.

He’s not only handsome but also rich.

Imagine a mother trying to convince her daughter about the merits of a potential partner (not uncommon in China). She emphasizes his good qualities using the correlative conjunction. Not only is the man handsome, but also rich.

You can also use the “not only…, but also…” structure in Chinese to underscore something or make it more emphatic. In China, it’s common for business deals to be discussed over a meal, often involving a fair amount of baijiu (a strong Chinese liquor).

If you have no wish to drink, correlative conjunctions may help you to form an excuse. When asked the question 你能喝白酒吗?Nǐ néng hē báijiǔ ma? (“Can you drink bai jiu?”), you can answer:


Bù hǎoyìsi, wǒ bùdàn jiǔliàng chà, érqiě duì jiǔjīng guòmǐn

Sorry, I’m not only a poor drinker but also allergic to alcohol.

On the other hand, if you want to impress your potential client or business partner, use the “not only…, but also…” pattern to emphasize your passion for China’s tipple of choice. In that case, answer:


Wǒ bùdàn néng hē báijiǔ, érqiě néng hē hěnduō 

Not only can I drink bai jiu, I can drink a lot.

Note that although the “but also” in the above example seems redundant in English translation, it sounds emphatic in Chinese.

chinese liqour baijiu

Using 不但 bùdàn… 而且 érqiě… with only one subject

When both clauses refer to a single subject, the subject should precede both 不但 and 而且. Therefore, if your mother is an exceptionally accomplished musician, you might say:


Wǒ māmā bùdàn huì chuī chángdí, érqiě huì tán gāngqín, xiǎotíqín hé jítā 

Not only can my mom play the flute, she also plays the piano, the violin, and the guitar.

When there is only one subject, beginning the sentence with 不但 is incorrect. If you start a sentence with 不但我妈妈会吹长笛… Bùdàn wǒ māmā huì chuī chángdí… (“Not only can my mother play the flute…”), it sounds as though you are going to speak of two different subjects. Perhaps you have a very musical family. Not only does your mom play the flute, but also your dad is a pianist, your sister plays a mean saxophone, and your brother is a prodigy on the drums. 

woman playing flute

Using 不但 bùdàn… 而且 érqiě… with two or more subjects

When using 不但… 而且… to refer to two different subjects, each subject precedes the relative correlative conjunction. The structure looks like this:

不但 bùdàn [Subject 1] + [Adjective / Verb], 而且 érqiě [Subject 1] + [Adjective / Verb]

Here, 不但 and 而且 place emphasis on the subjects rather than their predicates. Imagine you have a popular teacher at your school, the kind of teacher loved by all their students. In that case, you can say:


Bùdàn wǒ xǐhuān luō lǎoshī de kè, érqiě qítā tóngxué dōu rènwéi yǒuyìsi 

Not only I like Mr. Luo’s class, but the other students think it’s interesting too.

Why limit yourself to two subjects when you could have three, or four, or five? For example, many businesses close for at least a day or two during the Spring festival. You might wake up to this picture:


Bùdàn shāngdiàn dōu guānmén, érqiě yínháng, yóujú, hé diànyǐngyuàn yěshì 

Not only are the shops closed, but also the banks, the post office, and the cinema too.

shops in china

Other words for “but also…” in the Chinese language 

Although 不但 bùdàn is most commonly paired with 而且 érqiě, Chinese grammar permits the use of many other words. Whatever the various parts, in the following examples the sentence pattern remains the same.

也 – Yě 

也  is one of the Chinese adverbs commonly used in correlative conjunctions. When used with 不但 to express “not only…, but also…” in Chinese, the “but” is implied. The meaning still remains the same:


Zhè jiā fàndiàn bùdàn hǎochī, yě hěn piányí

[The food at] this restaurant is not only delicious but also very cheap.

还 – Hái

Translations of the Chinese word 还 hái into English include everything from “still” and “yet” to “fairly,” “even,” and “as well.” Use 还 “not only…, but also…” in sentences like this one:


Wǒmen bùdàn yào tígāo chǎnliàng, hái yào bǎozhèng zhìliàng 

We not only want to increase the quantity of products, but also to ensure their quality.

更 – Gèng

Use 更 gèng in place of 而且 érqiě, 还 hái, or 也 yě when you want to emphasize that one clause or situation is more significant or impactful. While the translation into English will commonly render 更 as “but also,” in Chinese it’s more like saying “in addition” or “moreover:”


Xuéxí zhōngwén bùdàn fāngbiàn zài zhōngguó de shēnghuó, gèng bāngzhù nǐ liǎojiě zhōngguó de wénhuà.

Learning Chinese will not only make life in China more convenient, but also help you to understand Chinese culture.

young couple traveling in china

甚至连 – Shènzhì lián

Use 不但… 甚至连 to make a “not only…, but even…” sentence in Chinese. When there is only one subject, the sentences can be quite simple. For example:


Tā bùdàn bù chī ròu, shènzhì lián jīdàn yě bù chī 

Not only she doesn’t eat meat, but she doesn’t even eat eggs.

For multiple subjects, the structure gets a little complicated. It will look something like this:

不但 bùdàn [Subject 1] + [Situation] ,甚至连 shènzhì lián + [Subject 2] + 也  + [Related Situation]

This pattern enables you to make some long and complex sentences in Chinese, such as:


Gāi wǎngzhàn tígōngle gèzhǒng lèixíng de zhòngyào yánjiū de liànjiē, bùdàn yǔyán xuéjiā kěyǐ yòng tā lái tǎolùn hànyǔ de xìjié, shènzhì lián xuéshēng yě kěyǐ yòng tā lái tíwèn hé shōusuǒ dá’àn. 

This website provides a link to various types of important research. Not only can linguists use it to discuss details of the Chinese language, but even students can use it to find answers to their questions.

反而 – Fǎn’ér

反而 is the Chinese equivalent of “but actually” or “on the contrary.” Use it to contrast two clauses in sentences like this:


Yǔ bùdàn méi tíng, fǎn’ér xià dé gèng dà 

Not only did the rain not stop, but it actually rained even harder.

asian woman walking with umbrella

Other words for “not only…” in the Chinese language 

The 不但… 而且 structure may be the most common Chinese grammar pattern for saying “not only…, but also…” but it’s far from the only one. The following Chinese words are roughly the same in terms of usage and formality level. All three examples carry the meaning of “not only” and can be used in combination with 而且 érqiě, 也 yě, 还 hái, or 更 gèng.

不仅 – Bùjǐn

Bùjǐn 不仅 means the same thing as 不但. You’ll notice that you can use the words interchangeably. While 不但 is most commonly paired with 而且, 不仅 is more often found in combination with 也  or 还 hái, as in the following sentence:


Tā bùjǐn huì dú hànzì, hái huì chàng liúxíng gēqǔ 

Not only can she read Chinese characters, but she can also sing popular songs.

不只 – Bùzhǐ

Just like 不但 and 不仅, the word bùzhǐ 不只 also has the meaning of “not only” or “not merely.” The usage is the same for all three phrases:


Nǐ de bàogào bùzhǐ xiě dé luōsuo, érqiě méiyǒu huídá zhǔyào wèntí. 

Your report was not only poorly written, but it also didn’t answer the main question. 

woman writing a report

不光 – Bùguāng

As an adverb, bùguāng 不光 means “not the only,” in sentences like this:


Lái wǎn de bùguāng shì tā yīgè rén 

He was not the only one who arrived late.

You can also use 不光 bùguāng as a conjunction to express a progressive relationship in Chinese. For example:


Tā bùguāng hěn cōngmíng, hái hěn yǒu jīngyàn 

She’s not only smart but also has lots of experience.

You’ve not only gained some experience in using the correlative conjunctions in Chinese, but also have the answers and examples you need to respond in many different situations. So next time you are in China, you’ll not only know how to politely refuse a drink, but also how to emphatically accept one!

22 Good Chinese TV Shows to Learn Mandarin

Is your Chinese already conversational, but you find it hard to break through to a more advanced level? Watching Chinese TV shows is a great way to improve your Chinese listening skills and learn new vocabulary. While you won’t find many Chinese shows with pinyin subtitles, most of the shows come with subtitles in Chinese characters. This will help clarify things you can’t understand and provide excellent reading practice.

Even if you are not in China, you can still find plenty of good Chinese TV shows to learn Mandarin.

Great romance shows to learn Chinese

With relationships as the central theme, the language in romantic dramas and comedies tends to be simpler and easier to understand, making these good Chinese shows for beginners. If you are new to watching Chinese TV shows, romantic dramas can help you to develop the language you need to express your love in Mandarin.

The incredible kitsch and corniness of Asian soap operas and idol dramas attract more of a niche audience, so for now, we’ll stick to romantic dramas with broader appeal.

何以笙箫默 Hé yǐ shēng xiāo mò — My Sunshine (2015)

Based on the novel Silent Separation by Gu Man, this love story highlights the relationship between college sweethearts who reconnect after seven years apartMy Sunshine was a massive success in China, boasting over 10 billion views online.

The show was aimed at a younger audience, making this one of the best Chinese shows to learn Mandarin. The plot is easy to follow, even without subtitles, and the language is both colloquial and easy to understand.

=ENG SUB=電視劇 何以笙簫默 My Sunshine 001 鍾漢良 唐嫣 克頓傳媒官方頻道

The entire Chinese TV series is available on Netflix and YouTube.

咱们结婚吧 Zánmen jiéhūn ba — Let’s Get Married (2013)

After being hurt in love before, 32-year-old Yang Tao has decided to remain single. 36-year-old Guo Ran handles divorces at the marriage registration office and sees enough heartbreak to dissuade him from wanting to tie the knotLet’s Get Married follows the couple’s relationship’s ups and downs after being set up by their friends.

The movie provides a fascinating window into the issue of 剩女shèngnǚ (“leftover woman”) and 剩男 shèngnán (“leftover man”) in modern Chinese culture. This often-hilarious romantic-comedy series is an excellent choice for those who have been learning Chinese for two years or longer.


Both seasons are streaming on YouTube.

情深深雨蒙蒙 Qíng shēnshēn yǔ méngméng — Romance in the Rain (2001)

Okay, so it’s a bit kitsch, a little corny, and probably over-the-top, but this romantic drama was wildly popular in China. Set in 1930s Shanghai, this love story highlights the trials and tribulations of a formerly prestigious military family, focusing on the daughter of the general’s estranged first wife—the first of eight!

The series was adapted from Qiong Yao’s 1964 novel Fire and Rain, along with a Taiwanese version from 1986, with the setting moved from 1960s Taipei. With a period setting and a large cast of characters, this romantic drama is best for advanced learners of Chinese. However, the show is widely available with English subtitles if you want to follow the story.

(ENG/ CHI Sub)《情深深雨濛濛 Romance in the Rain》第01集(趙薇Zhao Wei、古巨基Leo Ku、林心如Ruby Lin、蘇有朋Alec Su)

Originally broadcast on CCTV, the show is now available on YouTube.

The best slice-of-life dramas for learning Chinese

Though they tend to be a little more difficult for language learners than straightforward romances or romcoms, slice-of-life dramas provide a fascinating window into Chinese society that makes them worth persisting with. Though you can always resort to English subtitles when watching Chinese TV series, you’ll learn faster if you look for content you can enjoy without translations.

流星花园 Liúxīng huāyuán — Meteor Garden (2018)

Based on the Japanese manga series Boys Over Flowers, this 2018 Chinese drama centers around Dong Shancai, a young girl from a modest family who is accepted into China’s top university, where the most popular kids are the richest and most spoiled. Once there, she soon falls foul of a popular clique of boys known as F4.

Aimed more at young adults, the dialogue in 流星花园 is more accessible than in many other dramas, making this a good show for intermediate students. Meteor Garden is an extremely popular Chinese show in mainland China and abroad, dealing with themes such as social class, financial wealth, education, and bullying.

Available on Netflix.

蜗居 Wōjū — Dwelling Narrowness (2009)

Known as 蜗居 Wōjū (“Snail House”) in Chinese, this superb drama focuses on two sisters struggling with life in Jiangzhou, a fictional city resembling modern-day Shanghai. Whoever renamed it “Dwelling Narrowness” in English should probably never work in show business again.

Terrible titles aside, the show explores many social issues in China in a very authentic way and features some high-level but practical Mandarin, making it an excellent choice for more advanced learners. Indeed, viewers and critics praised the show for providing commentary on sensitive subjects and contemporary issues, including rising real estate prices, political corruption, and the breakdown of traditional values.

蝸居 第1集(海清、張嘉益、李念、文章等主演)

Watch it on Youtube.

欢乐颂 Huānlè sòng — Ode to Joy (2016-present)

Often compared to Sex and the City, this Chinese drama follows five modern women in their twenties and thirties who all live on the same floor of a Shanghai apartment block. Audiences loved the convincing portrayals of modern Chinese women and realistic storylines, while critics praised the show for exploring taboo subjects and revealing the hardships existing beneath the glitz and glamour of modern-day Shanghai.

The dialogue is generally very sharp and colloquial, making this a great place to pick up some Chinese slang phrases you are unlikely to hear in the classroom. Despite being close neighbors, the main characters come from diverse economic backgrounds, giving viewers a window into the struggles faced by modern Chinese women.

歡樂頌 | Ode to Joy【未刪減版】第1集(劉濤、蔣欣、王凱、靳東等主演)

Available on YouTube.

Fun variety shows for learning Chinese

Some variety shows can be difficult for beginners to follow. Hosts and guests speak quickly, and conversations are often broken or interrupted. That being said, many shows follow formats already familiar to most viewers. Since variety shows tend to be very visual, it’s often quite simple to determine what is going on.

中国达人秀 Zhōngguó dá rén xiù — China’s Got Talent (2010-present)

The Chinese version of this classic variety show follows a format familiar to anyone who has seen America’s Got Talent. Contestants from all over China perform before a panel of judges, hoping to impress them enough to progress to the next round and eventually win the competition.

The short interviews and introductions that precede each performance are quite accessible to students of Chinese, and the feedback that follows is not difficult to understand. The more specialized performances—circus acts, BMX stunts, magic tricks, and so forth—are very visual, meaning you can enjoy the show even if you don’t understand every word.

IMPRESSIVE Balloon Art SHOCKS And STUNS The Judges! | China's Got Talent 2021 中国达人秀

Many great short clips from the show are free on YouTube.

非诚勿扰 Fēichéngwùrǎo — If You Are the One (2010-present)

Loosely based on the Australian show Taken Out, the Chinese version has gained immense popularity in China. Each week, one male contestant attempts to impress a panel of 24 single women, hoping to persuade his favorite to let him take her out on a date. During the show, short video clips are played for the female guests—and the audience—and the hosts chat with the male contestants about their hobbies and preferences, providing lots of excellent listening practice in Chinese.

A modern update of the age-old Chinese tradition of 相亲 xiāng qīn (“matchmaking”), the show provides an interesting glimpse into what attracts young professionals in China. It has occasionally drawn the ire of Chinese regulators, who claim that it asserts the wrong values and promotes materialism in relationships. One viral clip involved a female contestant claiming, 宁在宝马车里哭,也不在自行车上笑 níng zài bǎomǎ chē lǐ kū, yě bùzài zìxíngchē shàng xiào (“I would rather cry in a BMW than smile on a bicycle.”)

非诚勿扰 完整版 跨越山海,逐梦而去:外卖小哥的“韧性”人生 20220507

You can find full episodes on YouTube.

奔跑吧 Bēnpǎo ba — Keep Running (2014-present)

Formerly known as 奔跑吧兄弟 Bēnpǎo Ba Xiōngdì (“Keep Running, Brother”) and based on the Korean show Running Man, this Chinese game show pits seven celebrity hosts against guests in a race to complete a variety of novelty competitions.

Extremely successful in China, the show is slapstick and cheesy but usually amusing. If you like television with a good dose of chaos and humor, check out the latest season of 奔跑吧.

EP1 | 十季开播!跑男团又又又爆笑相逢 蔡徐坤童年艺术照爆萌爆可爱!周深温暖演唱《光字片》奔奔瞬间破防啦~ #奔跑吧10 KeepRunning S10 FULL 20220513

Available on YouTube.

Good crime dramas for learning Mandarin

A relatively new genre in mainland China, crime and suspense TV shows have recently become very popular. While most of the older crime dramas were made in Hong Kong and dubbed into Mandarin, some gripping, suspenseful shows have recently been produced in mainland China.

Here are three of the best dramas in the crime/thriller genre.

他来了, 请闭眼 Tā lái le, qǐng bì yǎn — Love Me If You Dare (2015)

The original title of this Chinese TV show suggests its darker undertones: 他来了,请闭眼 Tā lái le, qǐng bì yǎn (“If he comes, close your eyes.”) The main character is Jin Yan, a brilliant criminal psychologist who returns to China after a close encounter with a serial killer in the US. He works with his assistant and translator, Jian Yao, to solve puzzling, violent crimes.

While some criticized the unconvincing love story between the main Chinese characters, others praised the show for its gripping storyline and high production values. If you are looking for a challenge and want to practice your listening skills with more engaging, suspenseful drama, Love Me If You Dare might be the Chinese TV show for you.

【《#开端》同款高能烧脑剧】 《他来了 请闭眼》第1集 马思纯做兼职偶遇霍建华 | Caravan中文剧场 #RESET

Watch it on YouTube or Viki.

如果蜗牛有爱情 Rúguǒ wōniú yǒu àiqíng — When a Snail Falls in Love (2016)

Based on a book by Ding Mo, who also wrote Love Me If You Dare如果蜗牛有爱情 Rúguǒ wōniú yǒu àiqíng (“When a snail falls in love”) is considered one of the best dramas of recent years. The show follows an unlikely team — experienced detective Ji Bai and the recruit he is tasked with training, criminal profiler Xu Xu. Throughout the show, Xu Xu draws comics portraying Ji as a lion and herself as a snail.

A love story with the pace of a thriller, When a Snail Falls in Love, had only 21 short episodes, making it one of the best Chinese TV shows to watch twice. Chinese learners might begin by watching the series with English subtitles, then try watching it again with only Chinese subtitles.

Watch it on Youku.

隐秘的角落 Yǐnmì de jiǎoluò — The Bad Kids (2020)

This gripping Chinese drama from 2020 follows what happens after three teenagers accidentally film a murder. The main character is Zhu Chaoyang, a fifteen-year-old who excels at school but is considered cold, detached, and disliked by others.

Dealing with criminals and drug addicts, as well as different sensitive subjects such as divorce and mental health breakdowns, The Bad Kids is darker and more realistic than many Chinese dramas, closer to crime dramas produced in the US.

The best Chinese shows to learn Chinese may be more straightforward romances and slice-of-life dramas. Still, for advanced learners looking to practice their listening skills, The Bad Kids provides a wealth of interesting dialogue between remarkable, compelling Chinese characters.

Available on iQIYI.

Science-fiction TV shows for learning Chinese

There’s a scarcity of good science-fiction TV shows in China, which is strange considering the wealth of excellent science-fiction literature. One or two recent TV shows have made a splash in the genre.

你的孩子不是你的孩子 Nǐ de háizi bùshì nǐ de háizi — On Children (2018-present)

Kind of like a Taiwanese version of Black Mirror, this intriguing show focuses on the conflicts between parents and children and the tragic consequences of social pressures and constraints. Each episode features an individual uncanny tale, usually set in the near future.

Past episodes featured a child who slips into a parallel dimension, a mother who uses experimental technology to explore the mind of her deceased daughter, and a parent who uses a remote control to “rewind” her son’s life so he can right the wrongs she perceives.

On Children is a fascinating TV show introducing audiences to many social issues in modern-day Taiwan and one of the best Mandarin shows on Netflix.

Available on Netflix.

穿越火线 Chuānyuè huǒxiàn — Cross Fire (2020)

This action/science-fiction TV show follows two young gamers, Xiao Feng and Lu Xiaobei, who are addicted to the online game “Cross Fire.” Though separated by eleven years in real life, a cosmic glitch allows them to transcend time and space and work together in the same game.

What the show lacks in philosophical maturity, it makes up for in action and special effects. The show is fast-paced and highly visual, meaning Chinese language learners of all levels can enjoy it.

ENG SUB【穿越火线 | Cross Fire】EP06 鹿晗吴磊青春不服输 LuHan& Leo Wu

Watch it on YouTube.

Great sitcoms and comedies to learn Chinese

Chinese humor doesn’t always translate that well to Western audiences, but learning what makes Chinese people laugh is essential to anyone who wishes to understand Chinese culture.

爱情公寓 Àiqíng gōngyù —  iPartment (2009-2014)

Set in an apartment complex called iPartment, 爱情公寓 ài qíng gōng yù (“Love Apartment”) follows the lives of seven modern women and men in their twenties. Extremely successful in mainland China, this Chinese TV show is sometimes compared to Friends, and is similarly predictable, cheesy, and somehow loveable.

The exaggerated plot lines, puns, and cultural references in iPartment might go over the heads of many Mandarin learners, but even intermediate learners should find something to latch onto. The language is very colloquial, and since following the plot hardly matters, this can be a great Chinese TV show to start with.

Watch it on iQIYI.

家有儿女 Jiā yǒu érnǚ — Home with Kids (2005-2007)

This Chinese TV show is an excellent choice for intermediate and upper-intermediate learners. Home With Kids, as it’s known in English, can help improve your Chinese language and listening skills while providing a rare insight into Chinese society and family life.

The show follows the hectic life of a married couple and their three children. While comedy is at the forefront, this Chinese TV series also has a moral purpose — to guide parents on how to educate their children best.

#杨紫 租”狂野男孩“假扮男友 故意惹夏梅生气《家有儿女》第一季第1集 Home With Kids Season 1 EP. 1【中国电视剧精选】#yangzi #lostyouforever

Available on YouTube.

武林外传 Wǔlín wàizhuàn — My Own Swordsman (2006-present)

The Chinese TV show My Own Swordsman is set in the fictional town of Qixia during the Ming dynasty. Less historical drama than a send-up of the 武俠 Wǔxiá (“martial arts”) genre, this TV series focuses on six very different characters who meet at the Tongfu Inn. 

Unlike the heroes in many imperial or palace period dramas, the characters in My Own Swordsman are only trying to escape from the perils of their age and live a happy peaceful life. Plenty of visual comedy makes this a Chinese TV show that anyone can enjoy. And with 80 episodes to choose from, you’ll have hours of Chinese reading and listening practice.

【ENGSUB】《武林外传》 第一回 郭女侠怒砸同福店 佟掌柜妙点迷路人 (主演:姚晨、闫妮、沙溢)| CCTV电视剧

Available on YouTube.

The best talk shows for learning Chinese

Lacking narrative or visual cues, talk shows may not seem the most accessible way to begin watching Chinese TV. But if you are a more advanced Mandarin learner looking for intensive listening practice and lots of new words and vocabulary, talk shows may be just what you need.

非正式会谈 Fēizhèngshì huìtán — Informal Talks (2015-present)

Informal Talks is a brilliant Chinese talk show for students wanting to improve their Mandarin. The show gathers eleven guests from different cultures to discuss topics and current events in a very authentic way.

Due to the informal nature of the show and the presence of non-native speakers, the language is less stilted and formal than on other debate or discussion panels, allowing you to improve your Chinese listening skills without drowning under a mountain of complex new vocabulary.

非正式会谈 第6季:非正式卧谈 第4期:怀疑人生?外国人体验中国网课

Short segments from this popular Chinese TV show are available on YouTube.

金星秀 Jīn xīng xiù — The Jin Xing Show (2015-present)

Host Jin Xing is not only a famed dancer, actor, and choreographer but one of the few transgender stars on Chinese TV. She has built her considerable fanbase by boldly wading into taboo subjects other hosts prefer to avoid.

Part variety, part talk show, The Jin Xing Show is suitable for elementary and intermediate learners. The speech tends to be a little slower than on other talk shows, and skits and performances break up the discussions and interviews.

You can watch this influential talk show on YouTube.

Historical dramas to help learn Chinese

Period, historical, and imperial dramas in Chinese are a heady mix of music and martial arts, romance and fantasy, choreography and costume. These are the most difficult Chinese TV shows for language learners, with idioms and classical Chinese liberally sprinkled through the dialogue. For those who want to improve their Chinese reading, modern Chinese subtitles can be a great help here.

还珠格格 Huán zhū gége — My Fair Princess (1998-1999)

Quite possibly the most famous imperial drama ever produced in China, My Fair Princess gained immense popularity in the late 1990s for its original blend of period drama, comedy, fantasy, and martial arts. It’s one of those Chinese shows that gathered families around the TV.

Set in ancient Beijing during the Qing dynasty, the story follows 小燕子 Xiao Yanzi (“Little Swallow”), a street urchin and con artist who, through a series of misunderstandings and a case of mistaken identity, ends up being taken into the palace as the emperor’s illegitimate daughter.

The dialogue in My Fair Princess is more informal and accessible than in many other palace period dramas, making it a good TV show for learners to get into the genre.

Watch both seasons on Viki.

琅琊榜 Lángyá bǎng — Nirvana in Fire (2015)

Nirvana in Fire is one of the most successful Chinese TV shows ever produced, generating over 13 billion views online. The story follows Lin Shu, one of the last survivors of a terrible massacre in ancient China. After medical treatment that changes his appearance, he returns under an assumed identity, seeking revenge against the hostile army that eradicated his people.

An exciting blend of martial arts, fantasy, and historical drama, Nirvana in Fire captured viewers with its intense characters and clever storylines. Even if you need to switch on the English subtitles, don’t miss out on one of the best historical dramas broadcast in recent years.

【ENG SUB】《琅琊榜》第1集 琅琊榜首 化名进京 | Nirvana In Fire EP1 #胡歌 #吴磊 #王凯 #琅琊榜 【China Zone 剧乐部】

Available on YouTube.

后宫甄嬛传 Hòugōng zhēnhuán zhuàn — Empresses in the Palace (2011-2012)

This Chinese TV show is considered among the best historical dramas broadcast in China. Set in the Qing dynasty, Empresses in the Palace is a more traditional imperial drama, concentrating on palace intrigue instead of magic swords, demons, or aerial martial arts.

This was an expensive production with a cast worthy of the best historical epics. The costumes and settings are elaborate and beautiful, and you’ll have the chance to see some of China’s most famous actors and actresses fight it out on the screen.

甄嬛传 01 | Empresses in the Palace 01 高清

Watch it on Youtube.

Where can I watch Chinese TV shows?

Many TV shows from mainland China are available on video streaming sites such as Youku and Tudou. These sites offer a wealth of free content, but they can get bogged down by ads and are difficult for non-Chinese users to navigate. Moreover, most dramas from Hong Kong and Taiwan are blocked from outside the country, so unless you are currently based in China, you’ll need to use a VPN to access them.

iQIYI is one of the best sites for watching TV shows and movies in Chinese, offering a fantastic collection of dramas, animation, and variety shows. It’s far easier to navigate than other mainland video streaming sites and more foreigner-friendly. Some Chinese TV shows are only available with a subscription, but there’s plenty of free content.

Rakuten Viki is an American streaming website specializing in Asian dramas. Most Chinese TV shows on Viki have subtitles in English and Chinese, as well as many other languages.

In recent years, more Chinese TV shows have been picked up by Netflix, including On Children and Meteor Garden. Some of the most critically acclaimed dramas, including When a Snail Falls in Love, were streamed on AppleTV and Amazon Prime Video. If you are lucky, you may be able to catch some of your favorite Chinese TV shows on these platforms.

For now, YouTube remains the most accessible place for language learners to begin watching TV shows in Mandarin Chinese. Using the original Chinese names (in Chinese characters) when searching for TV shows will provide better results.

Best Way to Learn Mandarin By Yourself: 15 Essential Tips

Are you wondering how to learn Chinese by yourself but keep running into a brick wall? While those studying in a class will have the advantage of a specific course to follow, if you are going to learn Mandarin by yourself, you’ll need to make your own study plan to stay on track. It’s not always going to be easy, but with the right tips and tools, you can make tremendous progress in a relatively short period.

This guide will help you avoid the pitfalls and mistakes that trip up many language learners. Read on to discover the best way to learn Mandarin by yourself!

Is Chinese hard to learn by yourself?

Mandarin Chinese has an unfortunate reputation for being the most difficult language in the world. Reports from international students studying at Beijing University and elsewhere in China do little to encourage people, and Chinese courses have an absurdly high dropout rate.

But the truth is, learning Mandarin not as hard as you think!

The Chinese language can be intimidating for beginners because it uses an entirely different writing system from European languages. Not just a different alphabet, like Russian or Greek, but no alphabet at all. But if you follow the right approach, learning the Chinese writing system may prove the key to unlocking the language rather than simply overcoming a hindrance.

With all the tools of the modern world and an incredible wealth of learning resources at your fingertips, learning Mandarin Chinese is a more achievable goal than ever before.

young man writing chinese on blackboard

How long does it take to learn Chinese?

You can’t measure how long it takes to learn a new language in months or years. The path to fluency in a foreign language is measured in hours. If you study five hours a day, it’s safe to say you’ll be fluent long before the guy who scans through a Chinese app on his phone for 30 minutes on his daily commute.

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) ranks Mandarin Chinese as among the most challenging languages for a native English speaker to learn. According to the FSI, it takes around 2,200 hours of intensive language courses to master Mandarin Chinese, more than almost any other language.

Even the best classes in the world aren’t going to teach you Chinese in a few months. If you were to study for an hour a day, every day, you’d need over six years to reach fluency in Chinese. By comparison, if you want to learn Spanish or Italian as your second language, the FSI specifies a 600-hour course of study.

The main reason for the discrepancy is the Chinese writing system. Learning characters by rote, as they are still taught in many schools today, requires an incredible investment of time and effort.

If you have ever visited China, you’ve likely seen young kids sitting at makeshift desks outside their homes or parents’ places of work, endlessly writing out reams of Chinese characters into little squares. Whether this is a sensible method for Chinese children (who are fluent in Mandarin long before they learn to read or write) is a matter of debate, but it’s the wrong way for foreign students to learn to read or write Chinese.

By learning characters correctly, you’ll save hours of tedious study and feel like you are on a path to discovery instead of banging your head against a wall.

With its intuitive approach, The Mandarin Blueprint Method offers a path to literacy in approximately 841 hours. For committed students studying two or more hours a day, it’s possible to achieve proficiency in Mandarin Chinese in a little over a year.

little girl writing chinese words

Learning Chinese by yourself: what NOT to do

Before we jump in and look at the right way to learn Chinese by yourself, let’s first mention some common mistakes you’ll want to avoid. Some of these suggestions may seem counter-intuitive initially, but avoiding these common pitfalls will save you time as you advance. Even if you’ve already learned the Chinese basics, it’s never too late to correct the course.

1. Don’t ask a native speaker how to learn the language

Modeling your speech after native speakers is highly advisable, and finding a conversation partner is an excellent idea once you are ready. Still, native Chinese teachers often have no idea how to teach the language to foreigners.

The best way to learn a foreign language is to learn from people who have gone through the same process, that is, from foreigners who have learned Chinese.

2. Don’t avoid learning Chinese characters

The characters are the most unique and fascinating aspect of Mandarin Chinese and are essential to learning the language. Pinyin is an exceptionally useful tool, but if you can’t recognize the characters, you can’t read Chinese. Simple as that.

3. Don’t treat pronunciation lightly

Good pronunciation is essential when learning any foreign language, especially for a tonal language like Chinese, where the proper tones distinguish between hundreds or thousands of homonyms. You’ll want to accustom yourself to the peculiar sounds of Chinese right from day one.

4. Don’t speak before you are ready

Whether studying by yourself or in a Chinese class, you’ll want to begin practicing the sounds of the language early on. But merely producing the sounds is not the same as speaking Mandarin.

While some schools of thought encourage students to speak from day one, this is not the natural way to acquire a language. Before you start speaking in a foreign language, you need plenty of input and practice. For this, you’ll want to get listening to Chinese and read the written language. Speaking will come later.

multinational group of people having a conversation

How to learn Mandarin Chinese by yourself: 15 tips for success

Now that you know what not to do when learning Chinese by yourself, you are ready to take control of your learning journey. So let’s dive in and explore the right way to learn Chinese. Here are our essential tips that will help you along the way.

1Begin with pinyin

For many people beginning to learn Mandarin, the thousands of Chinese characters seem as impenetrable as the Great Wall of China. Before you can start learning and memorizing vocabulary, you’ll need some way of writing it down. And when you first start learning Chinese, pinyin is the only viable option.

As the official phonetic system in mainland China for transcribing Chinese characters in the roman alphabet, pinyin is the bridge that connects English speakers to the Chinese language. Learning pinyin is an essential first step in getting to grips with Mandarin Chinese.

Some old-fashioned aficionados of Chinese scoff at pinyin. They say Chinese isn’t written in pinyin, so why should I learn it?

In fact, contrary to popular belief, pinyin was not invented for foreigners but rather to help raise literacy rates across the country. Today, Chinese school children learn pinyin and the Latin alphabet long before they learn to read or write Chinese characters. And although some older folks still input characters using stroke order or radicals, the vast majority of young people now use pinyin to type Chinese on their laptops and smartphones.

Unlike in English, where the same spelling may have multiple pronunciations (consider, for example, the ough in though, through, bough, oughtand rough), in Chinese, pinyin functions as a perfect guide. Although the letters do not precisely correspond to the sounds they make in English, you can learn every sound in Chinese simply by learning pinyin.

Moreover, with only a little over 400 simple syllables, learning the pronunciation principles for the entire language is an attainable goal—something you can achieve in a relatively short time, giving you a huge advantage.

Fortunately, with our complete pinyin primer, Mandarin Blueprint has you covered. Note that the entire range of Mandarin Chinese syllables fit comfortably onto a single A4 page—that should be encouraging enough that conquering pinyin and learning Chinese pronunciation is an achievable goal.

young woman writing in a notebook studying chinese

2. Take pronunciation seriously

If you want to master Mandarin Chinese, it’s crucial to build a strong foundation in pronunciation. Learning pinyin syllables is only half the battle. Mandarin Chinese is a tonal language; learning Chinese tones is essential if you want to learn Chinese.

Once you’ve got to grips with the pinyin chart, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of believing you’ve mastered the romanization and are ready to move on to learn some “real” Chinese. But ignore the Chinese tones at your peril! Not spending enough time mastering the tones will make it difficult for you to distinguish between similar-sounding words, and if you are not using the proper tones, native Chinese speakers won’t understand you.

The Chinese tones are even more critical than the pinyin initials and finals that make up the syllables. Although Chinese people with regional dialects will mix up many of these initials and finals, the tones remain remarkably consistent in spoken Chinese across the country.

Different tones mean different words, even if the pinyin spelling remains identical, and speaking Chinese without using the proper tones is likely to land you in a world of confusion. If you want to avoid making mistakes like calling someone’s mother (妈 mā – first tone) a horse (马 mǎ – third tone), learning how to distinguish between the various tones is a language skill you’ll want to develop early on.

In the Mandarin language, there are four tones:

  1. The first tone is a flat tone near the top of your range. The voice stays high and flat without rising or falling.
  2. The second tone starts low and rises to a middle or high pitch. You use this rising tone in English when asking questions, clarifying information, or expressing disbelief.
  3. The third tone dips down to the lowest point in your vocal range before rising slightly. Non-native speakers often have trouble correctly distinguishing the second and third tones, so pay particular attention to these two.
  4. The fourth tone starts high and falls rapidly. The tone sounds like a command or assertion in English. Think of the voice you use when telling your dog to “sit,” and you’ll be on the right track.

In addition to these four tones, there is also a fifth “neutral tone.” You don’t need to think about this one too much. It works best when you don’t try too hard; state the syllable without any particular emphasis.

Though it might seem tedious initially, learning to hear the difference between the various tones will help lay a rock-solid foundation for your Chinese skills. The best way to do this is to listen to a native speaker with a standard accent and practice shadowing. Spend time listening to the four Chinese tones and saying them out loud. And remember, be humble. If you think tones are easy, you are probably not hearing your mistakes!

male teacher teaching pronunciation

3. Practice those tone pairs

One last thing related to pronunciation mastery is easily overlooked yet essential: tone pairs.

Once you pronounce each Chinese tone correctly, you still need to learn how to string words and phrases together. Though you can pronounce each of the tones in isolation, your tongue gets tied when you try to tie two tones together. Since most Chinese words are formed from two syllables, learning tone pairs is the secret to pronouncing Chinese correctly.

Since the first syllable in a word or phrase is never a neutral tone, there are 20 tone pairs you need to learn. The best way to learn Chinese tone pairs is to choose words you know as tone pair anchors.

For example, let’s say you’ve decided to use 中国 zhōngguó (“China”) as your anchor for the tone pair formed from the first and third tones. Practice this word over and over until it runs off the tongue perfectly. Then, the next time you need to learn vocabulary that has the same tones, you can use 中国 zhōngguó as an anchor—map the new word onto the one you’ve already mastered. As well as helping you improve your spoken Chinese, this process makes learning and memorizing new vocabulary easier.

4. Don’t speak before you are ready

One aspect of The Mandarin Blueprint Method that flies in the face of conventional wisdom is the advice to refrain from speaking until you are ready.

Of course, even as a beginner, you shouldn’t be afraid to try out a few common phrases and greetings, but speaking Chinese fluently before you have enough input is like trying to run before you’ve learned how to walk.

Think of how many words you recognize in your native language but never actually employ in conversation—this is your passive vocabulary. On the other hand, your active vocabulary consists of the words you use daily.

You’ll need significant passive input to increase your active vocabulary. Speaking comes from imitation. You didn’t learn to speak your native language by inventing your grammar and vocabulary. Similarly, you’ll need to listen to native speakers and read what they write before you can start speaking Chinese.

people speaking chinese during business meeting

5. Start learning characters early

Since you can read, write, and pronounce every Chinese word using pinyin alone, you might wonder why you should learn Chinese characters.

The most immediate reason for learning Chinese characters is that you can’t read Mandarin Chinese without them. Even with the tones to distinguish between homophones, understanding anything but the most basic texts soon becomes impossible with pinyin alone. You may be able to pronounce the words perfectly, but how are you supposed to know what they mean?

Even if we limit ourselves to words with the same tone and spelling, the Chinese dictionary reveals a bewildering list of homophones. Take, for example, the words for “he,” “she,” and “it” (他 , 她 , and 它 )Without learning Chinese characters, there is no way to distinguish these words.

Whether you learn simplified Chinese or the traditional forms will primarily depend on whether you’ll spend more time on the mainland or in Taiwan. Regardless of where you are based, getting to grips with the written language is essential to mastering the language learning process.

Learning a language entails recognizing patterns. In a language like English, you can often recognize patterns and logical structure in the parts of the word: if you know the words “note” and “book,” you can make a pretty good guess at what a “notebook” might be. In the Chinese language, this information is embedded in the structure of the characters, which is why you should start learning them as soon as possible.

Knowing Chinese characters will also increase your understanding of Chinese culture and history.

chinese symbols written on a sheet of paper

6. Learn character components

No one really knows how many characters there are. A modern Chinese dictionary will list around 20,000, while most educated Chinese people recognize around 8,000. As a language learner, you will unlikely need that many, but if you want to reach the level where you read newspapers or novels in Chinese, you’ll need at least 3,000 or so.

While these numbers are intimidating, every unique Chinese character is constructed from a few hundred constituent parts. Learning these building blocks will go a long way toward developing your Chinese reading skills.

Chinese courses and textbooks generally teach a set of 214 components known as “radicals.” For foreign learners of Chinese, the concept of radicals is outdated and unhelpful—even modern Chinese dictionaries rely more on pinyin these days. To improve your reading, you should concentrate on the semantic components that contain clues to the meaning of the character.

Many semantic components are based on the earliest Chinese pictographs, making them some of the easiest characters to memorize. Take, for example, the pictograph 木, which means “tree”—in its earliest form. This was simply a drawing of a tree. Combining two trees, we get 林, which means “woods” or “forest.” Three trees give us 森, which, combined with 林, forms the modern word for forest, 森林 sēnlín. 

木 also functions as a semantic component in characters relating to trees, including 树 (tree), 根 (root), and 果 (fruit), as well as in the words for things originally made from wood, including 桌 (table), 椅 (chair), and 床 (bed).

Another example of a semantic component is 氵, which means “water.” You’ll find it in characters such as 海 (sea), 河 (river), and 湖 (lake).

Learning the semantic components can help to level up your Chinese early on and give you an excellent foundation for the future.

written chinese symbols

7. Use visualization and mnemonics to learn Chinese characters

Chinese children learn characters by rote, writing Chinese characters out over and over in little squares throughout ten years of elementary and middle school. The system is painful, unintuitive, and tortuously inefficient. Yet, in all the years of China’s illustrious history, few Chinese language teachers have questioned this method.

If you’ve spent any time in China, you’ll notice how often young people forget how to write even the most common characters. For a generation brought up on computers and smartphones, without the constant reinforcement that writing Chinese characters by hand provides, the failures of rote learning are embarrassingly obvious.

Most of the advances in this area have come from foreigners who looked at the poor children forced to endure this torture and thought: there’s gotta be a better way. With many characters to commit to memory, rote learning isn’t cut. What you need are visualizations and mnemonics. The most influential resource in this vein is the book Remembering the Simplified Hanzi by James Heisig. Yet, although the Heisig Method represents a massive advance over rote learning, it’s still based on the premise that students must learn the phonetic aspect of the character independently of its structure and meaning.

The Hanzi Movie Method employed at Mandarin Blueprint incorporates everything you need to learn about a character—the meaning, structure, and sound—into a unique visualization. As you learn new characters, you’ll create mnemonics that help you easily recall reading, writing, and pronunciation. With some practice, you can use this method to significantly improve how fast you learn to recognize written Chinese, memorizing 30-60 characters an hour with ease.

woman writing hello in chinese

8. Learn new words alongside the characters

One way to leverage your mental energy and make the best use of your time while learning Chinese is to learn words alongside the characters.

Once you’ve committed a new character to memory using visualization and mnemonics, learning some of the words in which it appears makes sense. 

Not only will this help to build your vocabulary and reinforce the sound and definition of the character, but you’ll be gaining intuitive knowledge of the underlying structures of the Chinese language.

For example, 电 diàn means “lightning” or “electricity.” Some of the common Chinese words it appears in include:

  • 电视 diànshì (“electric vision” — television)
  • 电话 diànhuà (electric speech” — telephone)
  • 电脑 diànnǎo (“electric brain” — computer)
  • 电影 diànyǐng (“electric picture” — movie)
  • 电池 diànchí (“electric reservoir” — battery)
  • 电梯 diàntī (“electric ladder” — elevator)

9. Learn grammar the natural way

First, the good news: the Chinese language is far less grammatically complex than most other languages. There are no plural nouns, no gendered nouns, and no tenses—or at least not in the form of verb conjugation. While some grammar rules exist, Mandarin Chinese allows for much more flexibility than most languages.

The best way to learn Chinese grammar is through exposure to the language. Don’t get bogged down in textbooks. Sentence mining is a much better method. Collect sentences from newspapers and magazines, novels, subtitles, or dictionaries, and use them to create flashcards. Ensure each sentence is comprehensible—if you can’t understand the sentence, you won’t learn anything from it.

The more Chinese sentences you are exposed to, the faster you’ll begin to intuit grammatical rules.

chinese magazines

10. Start reading as soon as possible

Reading is incredibly effective for acquiring vocabulary and building proficiency in any language. The more you read, the more exposure you get to natural Chinese, and passive input eventually leads to active output. If you want to speak Chinese, you first need to read.

There is a lot of buzz around sentence mining and Spaced Repetition Software (SRS) in the language learning community these days, particularly among those learning Mandarin Chinese. But remember, the original SRS system is the old-fashioned paper book.

Even if you are only a beginner in Mandarin Chinese, resources are available to help you get started. The most important thing is finding content appropriate to your level. No matter how much you love science fiction, it’s going to be a while before you tackle Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem in the original Mandarin.

The graded readers from Mandarin Companion, consisting of stories told using just 150, 300, or 450 individual characters (depending on the level), offer superb practice for the beginner. For intermediate learners, Chinese Breeze offers some more advanced readers. These books, aimed at non-native learners, provide a fantastic stepping stone toward reading native content.

Phase Four of The Mandarin Blueprint Method is built around graded reading in Chinese, providing you with carefully curated content to help you learn to read Chinese.

young couple reading chinese book

11. Immerse yourself in Mandarin Chinese

Learning a language to proficiency means immersing yourself in the language and the culture as much as possible. Unless you live in China, the best way to experience full immersion in Mandarin Chinese is to listen to podcasts or watch Chinese films and TV shows.

When you first start learning Chinese, listen to content designed for non-native speakers. Listen to Chinese podcasts, such as Slow Chinese, to level up your listening skills. The original giant in this field, ChinesePod, has over 4,000 lessons, ranging from newbie level to advanced.

Once you become more confident in your listening skills, you can turn to Chinese TV shows for your listening practice.

As well as being a fun way to improve your listening comprehension, watching Chinese movies will give you a window into Chinese culture. Most Chinese films and TV shows include subtitles in Mandarin, meaning you can learn to read simultaneously while working on your listening skills. Even if you resort to English subtitles sometimes, you’ll still get passive listening input if you force yourself to listen to spoken Chinese.

Talk shows and variety shows often contain cultural references that confuse non-native speakers. Until you are more familiar with Chinese culture or current events, you probably prefer romantic comedies or dramas for your listening practice.

12. Find yourself a Chinese language partner

Once you have enough passive input, it’s time to start practicing your speaking skills. You’ll want to find a language partner, either online or in person, preferably a native Chinese speaker.

If you have a friend in China who is willing to help you out, great! After all, you are not looking for a teacher but a native speaker to practice speaking Mandarin with. If you speak with a friend, you’ll feel more comfortable covering topics you don’t study in your Chinese classes and learn more words and phrases.

Conversing with native Chinese speakers will give you a feel for how the language is used. A good language partner will know how to keep the conversation flowing instead of constantly correcting your mistakes.

If you are not lucky enough to live in China, there are plenty of online resources and tools you can use to learn Chinese online. You can connect with Chinese speakers through platforms like italki and HelloTalk.

asian and caucasian friends

13Know why you are learning Chinese

Why are you learning Mandarin Chinese? Are you fascinated with China’s rich culture and Chinese history? Are you teaching English abroad and need to learn Mandarin Chinese for work? Are you learning Chinese for travel?

Maybe you love kung fu.

By knowing what you want to get out of studying Chinese, you can direct your practice toward these goals. If you want to improve your spoken Chinese for travel, concentrate on simple conversations, listen to Chinese audio, and interact with Chinese speakers. If you plan to engage with traditional Chinese literature, read as much as possible, and consider studying traditional Chinese characters.

Whatever your reason for learning Chinese, be clear about your goals. Learning Mandarin takes a long time, and without specific goals in mind, it will be hard for you to stay motivated. By setting your targets and being clear about your motivation, you’ll find it easier to stay on track.

14Make time to review

When learning a new language, it’s easy to fall into the trap of racing through new material, always trying to learn something new.

If you are learning Mandarin Chinese in a class, you’ll follow a textbook introducing a new lesson each week. Chinese classes rarely leave enough time for review, but if you are serious about learning Chinese by yourself, you’ll need to repeat things to ensure you don’t forget what you know. Daily practice is essential.

Language learning apps can be a huge help here. SRS software, such as Anki, is a fantastic tool for reviewing what you’ve already learned. Creating your own simple sentence flashcards or using specially designed decks, such as those from Mandarin Blueprint, will help keep words and phrases fresh in your mind. Make it a daily habit.

Another helpful app to use on your commute or coffee break is Skritter, an excellent tool for practicing writing Chinese.

chinese flashcards

15. Make it fun

If you want to learn anything more than the Chinese basics, you’ll need to find a way to retain your motivation over the long term.

Learning Mandarin Chinese is difficult and time-consuming, and you’ll need to settle in for a long ride. If you are learning Chinese alone, the journey can get lonely sometimes.

Studying Chinese can also be incredibly rewarding, even fun. It all comes down to finding ways to improve your language skills by doing what you enjoy.

Here are just a few ideas. If you enjoy music, listen to Chinese music. Study Chinese songs and lyrics. Maybe even try to write your own. Have fun with it.

If you like to read, explore some Chinese novels or short stories. If you’re a movie fan, watch Chinese films and TV shows. For gamers, try playing your favorite computer games in Chinese.

Connect with people in China through online forums, where you can discuss your hobbies and interests.

Be sincere about learning Chinese without being overly serious. If learning the language feels like work, you’ll likely lose motivation long before reaching proficiency. Make it fun!

3 Mistakes I Made Learning Chinese *Painful Lessons*

15 Chinese Jokes to Crack to Your Friends

Did you hear about the party at the Chinese zoo?  It was a Panda-monium! We sincerely apologize for making you read that with your own eyes.

We’ve prepared a selection of some of the best Chinese jokes that will make you laugh, cry, cringe, roll your eyes, and groan in agony. Continue reading at your own risk and with an open mind!

Chinglish jokes

What better way to break down language barriers than humor and laughter? However, Chinese humor takes some getting used to. Unlike Western sarcasm, irony, and self-deprecating jokes, Chinese humor mostly relies on linguistics and deadpan comedy. Many foreigners don’t find Chinese jokes hilarious, but learning jokes is the way to go if you want to speak other languages besides English.

Chinglish jokes combine Mandarin Chinese and English to deliver a very silly (yet clever!) pun. 

These types of jokes in Chinese are perfect for beginners who are learning Chinese as they are pretty simple and usually don’t require a lot of explanation. Chinglish jokes are also a good way to practice pinyin and Chinese pronunciation!


问:谁比较高?A还是C?wèn: shéi bǐ jiào gāo? A hái shi C? 

答:C,因为, A比C低。dá: C, yīn wei A bǐ C dī.

Question: Who is taller? A or C?

Answer: C because A is lower than C.

Need some help with the alphabet? The ABCD joke is probably one of the easiest Mandarin Chinese jokes on this list, but it still requires at least an essential understanding of Chinese characters.

Still don’t get it? No worries, we got you! All you need to know is how to pronounce 比 and 低 . Put it all together, and you got yourself a very punny a-b-c-d!

The best part is that the joke makes perfect sense in Mandarin. The 比 character is used to make comparisons in the Chinese language. It’s placed between the two things being compared (A and C in this case.) 低 dī, which means “low.” So the answer to the original question is pretty much “A compared to C is lower.” When you think about it, not only is the joke funny, but it’s pretty smart too!

abcd written on a blackboard

2. How are you?

A: How are you?

B: 好。

A: Yes, how?

B: 好。

A: $!#@$%$@%

The first thing that pops to mind when reading this “How are you” Chinese joke is that legendary scene from Rush Hour — YU know the one! Maybe it’s the overall simplicity or the fact that it’s so relatable, but this joke always lightens the mood.

The key to this funny Chinese joke lies in the character 好 hăo, meaning “good” or “well.” And since hăo sounds eerily similar to the English “how,” the rest is self-explanatory. If you are trying to learn Chinese, easy jokes that don’t require much explanation and are simple to understand are the obvious choice. Fortunately, Chinese jokes are often a great starting point and can help you learn the language in a fun and effective way. Having friends in China with whom you can speak and have a conversation can make a world of difference.

3. Blood

A: 吸血鬼喜欢吃辣吗?A: Xīxuèguǐ xǐhuan chī là ma? 

B: 不喜欢。B: Bù xǐhuan。

A: 为什么? A: Wèishénme? 

B: 因为他们喜欢不辣的。B: Yīnwèi tāmen xǐhuan bù là de.

A: Do vampires like spicy food?

B: No, they don’t.

A: Why?

B: Because they like blood.

If you have ever wondered why vampires avoid Sichuan cuisine like the plague, this is your chance to find out!

Although most of these Mandarin Chinese jokes feature basic vocabulary, there are a few terms you might not encounter in everyday conversation. For instance, the word for a vampire in Chinese is 吸血鬼 xīxuèguǐ, which translates to “blood-sucking spirit” in English. But the gist of the joke lies in the word 辣 là, meaning “spicy.” 

And how do we say “not spicy” in Chinese? That’s right—不辣的 bú là de, which kinda sounds like the word “blood” in English. Some might call it a stretch, but we like to think of it as peak comedy.


Homophone jokes in Chinese (puns)

As a tonal language, it shouldn’t be surprising that Chinese humor is rooted in homophones and homonyms. To put it in another way, Chinese people love puns!

In Mandarin, the word for a pun is 谐音梗 xié yīn gěng, which translates to “homophonic stem.” Wordplay and puns have a special place in Chinese culture and are used not only as comic relief but are also associated with many beliefs and superstitions.

A funny pun is a good place to start if you want to impress your Chinese friends. Following jokes in Chinese, especially puns, is much easier with a deep comprehension of Chinese pinyin and an accompanying English translation.

4. Spider-Man

问:谁最知道猪?wèn: shéi zuì zhīdao zhū? 

答:蜘蛛人! dá: zhī zhū rén!

Question: Who knows pigs very well?

Answer: Spider-Man!

Possibly some of the most famous puns in the Chinese language, the Spider-man chronicles continue to entertain the masses with their witty wordplay. Although there are several different versions of Spider-man puns, we’ve decided to feature only the most famous two.

You are off to a good start if you are a Marvel fan who learns Chinese by reading comic books. If not, no biggie. We are here to lend a helping hand! The only thing you need to know is that in China, Spider-Man is called 蜘蛛人 zhī zhū rén.

Like every pun, the joke is in the pronunciation. 蜘蛛人 sounds the same as 知猪人 zhī zhū rén, which, roughly translated, means “I know the pig-man.” Anybody else has “Spider-pig?” stuck in their head?


5. Superhero

问:谁是最坏的超级英雄?wèn: shéi shì zuì huài de chāojí yīngxíong? 

答:失败的人!dá: shībài de rén!

“Question: who’s the worst superhero?”

Answer: “A loser!”

The adventures of Spider-Man continue! Or do they? At first glance, this short Chinese joke has nothing to do with the beloved superhero. So, what’s the catch?

The answer lies in the Chinese transliteration of the words 失败的 shībài de (loser) or, more specifically—in the sound they make. If you focus really hard, you might notice that shībàide bears some similarities with the English spider. Add 人 rén to it, and you’ll get a very sketchy Spider-Man. The transliteration of 失败的 shībài de, combined with its double meaning, results in a somewhat confusing but very effective pun. Although fun, it’s easy to miss a joke like this when you hear it for the first time. An English translation helps, but if you want to learn Mandarin, the best option is to speak with Chinese friends! And if puns don’t do it for you, there are a bunch of other categories you can focus on instead.

6. The class orangutan

快考试了,老师在课堂上帮同学们做重点提示。老师说:“这一题很重要,在前面画星星。” 小志回答说:“老师…可不可以用打勾的啊,猩猩好难画哦…” kuài kǎoshì le, lǎo shī zài kètáng shàng bāng tóngxué men zuò zhòng diǎn tíshì. lǎo shī shuō: “zhè yī tí hěn zhòngyào, zài qiánmian huà xīngxīng. Xiǎo Zhì huídá shuō: “lǎo shī… kě bù kěyǐ yòng dǎ gōu de a, xīngxing hǎo nán huà ó….”

Before the test, the teacher was helping the student by focusing on the key topics of the lesson. The teacher said, “This topic is very important. Mark this section with a star.” Xiao Zhi replied, “Teacher, may I use a checkmark? An orangutan is too hard to draw.”

Another one in line with homophonic Chinese jokes, this pun is ideal for more advanced learners. Its length and vocabulary allow you to practice new sounds, Chinese pinyin, and different words.

The main point of interest in The Class Orangutan are 星星 xīng xīng (star) and 猩猩 xīng xīng (orangutan.) As you might have noticed, while the words share the same pronunciation, they have different meanings. With that in mind, we can’t blame the little kid for misinterpreting what his teacher was saying, can we?


Cold jokes in Chinese

You know those jokes that are so bad that they are actually funny? Well, the Chinese have invented those. Cold jokes, or 冷笑话 lěng xiào huà in Mandarin, are intended to be bad, corny, or just downright lame. Think dad joke, but somehow worse.

Most of the time, cold jokes don’t have a punchline or a logical ending; they’re nonsensical and stupid, and that’s their appeal! Legend says that cold jokes are called that way because, once read, they send shivers down your spine.

Truth or myth? You be the judge!

7. Toothpick and hedgehog

有根牙签正在路上走着。他看到一只刺猬经过, 然后大喊:“等等我!公交车!” yǒu gēn yáqiān zhèngzài lù shàng zǒu zhe. tā kàn dào yī zhī cìwei jīngguò, ránhòu dà hǎn: “děng děng wǒ! gōngjiāochē! ”

A toothpick was walking down the street. He saw a hedgehog pass by and shouted, “Wait for me, bus!”

Your soul just left your body, right? Well, you can’t say we didn’t warn you!

The good thing about cold jokes (and yes, believe it or not, there’s a bright side to it) is that they make for great learning practice. Many Chinese jokes are usually short stories and can help build vocabulary and reading comprehension.

If you want to impress Chinese people by telling a cold joke, pay attention to your body language, or lack thereof. Lack of facial expressions, especially when telling cold jokes, is considered top-tier humor in China. 


8. Fish

一条鱼在海里游泳,它越游越深,突然就哭了起来。另一条鱼经过问它:“你为什么哭呀?”那条鱼说: “我感觉压力好大哦。” yìtiáo yú zài hǎilǐ yóuyǒng, tā yuè yóu yuè shēn, tūrán jiù kū le qǐlái. lìng yìtiáo yú jīngguò wèn tā: “nǐ wèishénme kū ya?”. nà tiáo yú shuō: “ wǒ gǎnjué yālì hǎo dà ó.”

A fish was swimming in the sea. It went deeper and deeper, and suddenly began to cry. Another fish passed by and asked him, “Why are you crying?” That fish said, “I feel so much pressure.”

If you are staring blankly at the screen and waiting for that lightbulb moment when you promptly “get” the joke, stop. That moment will never come. This is a prime example of a cold joke 一 no punchline, no logic, and no sense. Just two fish having a friendly conversation.

Most Westerners don’t see the appeal of these so-called non-jokes. But share this with native speakers, and they’ll probably laugh their heads off. So, why is that? Well, the short answer is cultural differences. To fully grasp the intricacies of humor in Chinese society, we’d have to delve deep into Confucianism and its teachings. The belief system strongly advocated against humor as a concept, as it was believed that it “sets no standards for proper behavior.”

Does this mean that Chinese people are utterly devoid of humor? Absolutely not. But it does mean we should consider cultural references and differences even when discussing something as simple as jokes.

9. Married couple

一对夫妻出去吃饭。妻子突然大叫:“啊!我忘了关瓦斯,可能会发生火灾!” 丈夫却安慰她说:“没关系, 反正我也忘了关洗手檯的水。” yīduì fūqī chūqù chīfàn. qīzi túrán dà jiào: “a! wǒ wàng le guān wǎsī, kěnéng huì fāshēng huǒzāi!”  zhàngfū què ān wèi tā shuō: “méi guānxì. fǎnzheng wǒ yě wàng le guān xǐshǒu tái de shuǐ.”

A married couple went out for dinner. Suddenly, the wife shouted: “Oh! I forgot to turn off the gas. There could be a fire!” To comfort her, the husband said: “It’s okay. Anyway, I also forgot to turn off the water faucet.”

Relationship jokes, specifically marriage jokes, seem to do quite well in Chinese society. However, most Chinese jokes are usually lighthearted, tame, and almost respectful to a certain degree. Personal topics are often taboo in China, so people avoid joking about them not to lose face.

In the West, it’s not uncommon to see people in relationships engage in casual banter. However, while laughing at each other seems to be a sign of a healthy relationship in the West, in China, these types of things could have the opposite effect. It all comes back to what’s culturally appropriate. For a society with such deep family reverence, it would be unacceptable to poke fun at loved ones. Could you ever imagine a Chinese person saying a yo-mama joke? Yeah, exactly.

a couple of chinese seniors walking in a park

10. How much does it cost to get married?

一个小孩儿问他的爸爸:“爸爸,结婚需要花多少钱?” 爸爸说: “儿子,我不知道。我 还在付款!” yī gè xiǎo hái ér wèn tāde bàba: “bàba, jiéhūn xūyào huā duōshǎo qián?” bà ba shuō: “ér zi, wǒ bù zhīdào. wǒ hái zài fù kuǎn!”

A little kid asked his father: “Dad, how much does it cost to get married?” The father said: “Son, I don’t know. I’m still paying!”

What do you get when you mix marriage and money? Another Chinese non-joke!

Now, you would expect that a culture so concerned with reputation and saving face would steer away from tricky subjects like finances. Well, think again! Chinese millennials are fighting against rising prices, the daily grind, the 996 working hour system, and the overall economic, political, and societal pressures with dark humor.

Thus, the 丧 sàng culture was born. Dark, depressing, moody, and pessimistic, 丧 sàng represents the desperate cries of millions of Chinese urban youths yearning for something more. Although life in China might seem like the upside down from Stranger Things to a foreigner, the truth is that everybody in the world lives in a parallel reality. Especially young people. It doesn’t matter if you are a student, teacher, doctor, or just some guy trying to get by, life can often be gloomy, and there’s nothing like a bit of humor to brighten the day.

11. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today

妈妈说: “今天能完成的事,不要留到明天。” 儿子回答:“好吧,把全蛋糕给我,我今天都吃光了吧。” māma shuō: “jīn tiān néng wán chéng de shì, bù yào liú dào míngtiān.” érzi huí dá: “hǎo ba, ba quán dàngāo gěi wǒ, wǒ dōu chī guāng le ba.”

Mom says: “Do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” The son responds: “Okay, then give me the cake. I will eat the whole thing today.”

Ah, the classic kid-outsmarts-adult act never gets old. Whether you find it humorous, this type of comic dialogue is extremely popular in China. One of the most popular elements of Chinese culture is called 相声 xiàngsheng, or crosstalk in English. The performance will often feature a comedian telling a funny story or conversing with another performer. Most of the time, no facial expression, a deadpan look, and witty wordplay are essential for these Chinese jokes.

Although solo and multi-performances exist, the act is usually performed as a duet. Think Abbott and Costello, but with lots of funny puns, allusions, and an occasional musical act. How’s that for stand-up comedy?

standup comedian performing on stage

Chinese character jokes

Like puns take advantage of the different sounds and homophones in the Chinese language, Chinese character jokes do the same thing with various characters.

While some Chinese jokes require a deeper understanding of Chinese radicals, many are easily understood from the context alone. They are a great way to expand your vocabulary and improve your Chinese proficiency in a fun way!

These Chinese jokes follow the age-old rule of “Show, don’t tell.”

12. Boating

了先生有天去划船,于是…孑孓孑孓孑孓孑孓… Le xiānsheng yǒutiān qù huá chuán, yúshì …jié jué jié jué jié jué jié jué.

Mr. Le went boating one day, and he…

Unlike Chinese puns that rely on sounds and tones to get their point across, Chinese character humor is all about the written word. Most of the time, many Chinese jokes are pretty easy to understand, but sometimes, you’ll need to look for clues. In the case of “Boating,” the joke is right there in front of you. The sound and meaning are irrelevant here; all that matters is what the characters look like, and they look like Mr. Le is rowing a boat!

13. Handsome me

A: “我好帅”繁体字怎么写?A: “Wǒ hǎo shuài” fántǐ zì zěnme xiě? 

B: 为什么是繁体字?B: Wèishénme shì fántǐ zì? 

A: 因为我不是简单的帅。A: Yīnwèi wǒ búshì jiǎndān de shuài.

A: How do you write “I am so handsome” in traditional Chinese characters?

B: Why traditional Chinese?

A: Because I am not simply handsome.

Some would argue that this joke belongs in the wordplay category, and they wouldn’t be wrong! However, we thought it deserved a place here, especially since it references traditional and simplified Mandarin characters.

Don’t worry; you don’t need to know any characters to understand this joke. But, learning traditional Chinese characters could help you better understand semantic and phonetic components if you are looking to improve your proficiency.

handsome chinese man

14. Cup

美国人:你见过木头做的杯子吗?Měiguó rén: Nǐ jiàn guò mùtou zuò de bēizi ma? 

中国人:没有。Zhōngguó rén: Méiyǒu. 

美国人:那为什么你们中国字的“杯”是木字旁?Měiguó rén: Nà wèishénme nǐmen Zhōngguó zì de “bēi ” shì mù zì páng? 

中国人:你没看到“木”旁边有个“不”吗?也就是说它不是木头做的。Zhōngguó rén:  Nǐ méi kàn dào “mù ” pángbiān yǒu gè “bù ” ma? Yě jiù shì shuō tā búshì mùtou zuò de.

American person: Have you ever seen a cup made of wood?

Chinese person: Nope.

American person: Then how come the Chinese character “杯” (cup) has the wood radical (木) in it?

Chinese person: Can’t you see there is a “不” (not) next to the “木” (wood)? It says cups are not made of wood.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by Chinese radicals. Those who have spent hours upon hours studying Mandarin characters and how they are formed will enjoy this joke. I think we can all relate to the American in this joke. So, let’s get down to brass tacks: Why does the character for cup have 不 (not) next to 木 (wood)? Is it even a negation? Does it have some hidden meaning?

No, nothing like that. The explanation is quite simple: 杯 bēi is a pictophonetic character, which means that conveys the meaning, while 不 indicates the sound. Cool, isn’t it?

15. Steaks


答:因 为 都 不 熟!

wèn: yī gè qī fēn shú de niú pái hé yī gè wǔ fēn shú de niú pái xiāng yù le. kě tā men què méi yǒu dǎ zhāo hū, wèi shén me? 

dá: yīn wèi dōu bù shú!

Question: A seven-minute (medium-well) steak and a five-minute (medium) steak meet on the street, but they don’t say hello to each other. Why?

Answer: Because they aren’t familiar with each other!

“Steaks” hilariously and effectively showcase Chinese words with double meanings. Depending on the context, the character 熟 shú can mean one of two things: cooked/done (in terms of food) or familiar/well-acquainted (in terms of personal relationships.)

With that in mind, it’s not difficult to ascertain why these two slabs of meat ignored each other. But if they did decide to acknowledge one another, we bet they would say: “Nice to MEAT you!” We’ll let ourselves out.

two steaks on a grill

Chinese vs. Western jokes

A lot of us grew up listening to jokes, rhymes, and tongue twisters that were often crude and inappropriate to some extent. Cultural themes, personal anecdotes, and taboo topics were considered the foundations of a good, classic joke. Can you imagine a night out with your friends without a spell of casual banter? Being able to laugh at yourself (and others) is pretty much what Western comedy is all about.

However, if you are learning Chinese, disparagement humor won’t take you very far, and you might have better luck engaging in meaningful conversation with native speakers. In a collectivist culture like China, jokes about social influence, authority, and the government are a big no-no. Topics about personal life and anything that could cause a person to “lose face” should also be avoided. Instead, play it safe by sticking to linguistics, homophones, and an occasional cold joke.

Having fun yet? Or groaning in agony?

Well, one thing is certain 一 you are learning something new! Cracking jokes in Chinese is a surefire way to improve your language proficiency. You are more likely to make friends and converse with native speakers, but you are also one step closer to understanding the context and cultural nuances behind the language.

They say that humor is universal, but it can be quite diverse. Telling jokes is one of the best ways to master the intricacies of a foreign language. So, the next time your Chinese friend cracks a cold joke, try to MEAT them halfway instead of rolling your eyes.

chinese jokes with jenny & brian

7 Ways to Tell Someone to Shut Up In Chinese

Have you ever been in a situation where you just wanted to scream the words “SHUT UP!” at the top of your lungs? Whether it’s that nosy relative inquiring about your love life or a pesky salesman trying to sell you something, it’s a good idea to know how to fend off unwanted comments.

Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t take subtle hints. Sometimes, you need to take a deep breath and say the words: shut up. On the bright side, Chinese people have perfected the craft of telling others to shut their pie holes in various ways.

So, if you’re interested in learning how to tell someone to shut up in Chinese, we’ve prepared a list of phrases that will come in handy in just about any situation.

1. 住口 – Zhùkǒu

The phrase 住口 zhùkǒu is a textbook example of the English “Shut up.” It consists of two Chinese characters: 住 zhù, which means “to cease,” and 口 kǒu, which means “mouth.” Put the two together and get a very effective “Shut your mouth.”

As you might have guessed, telling someone to hold their tongue in such a snippy way isn’t exactly appropriate in every situation. Although not rude per se, 住口 zhùkǒu certainly falls into one of those “use with caution” Chinese words.

For instance, if two of your Chinese friends keep bickering about something ridiculous, you’d be within your right to interject with the words: 你们两个能不能都住口?! nǐmen liǎnggè néng bù néng dōu zhùkǒu?!

There are two possible outcomes: either they will shut up because you told them so, or they will shut up because they’ll be shocked by your Mandarin Chinese pronunciation. Either way—you win!

woman covering her ears while two people are arguing

2. 住嘴 – Zhùzuǐ

Trivia time! How many variations of the English “shut up” can you come up with off the top of your head? Go ahead. We’ll wait!

Done? Be quiet, stop talking, shut the hell up, and button your lips. Good job! Now, let’s try the same thing in Mandarin Chinese! Believe it or not, Chinese is just as versatile as English, especially when it comes to slightly inappropriate language.

The perfect example of this is 住嘴 zhùzuǐ which is the copy-paste version of 住口 zhùkǒu. These expressions have the same meaning and share the same characters (and no, we’re not just talking about 住 zhù.)

But how can this be? 口 kǒu and 嘴 zuǐ look nothing alike, right? Correct, but both words hold the same meaning—mouth. If you look closely, you’ll notice that 口 kǒu appears as a component character in 嘴 zuǐ.

That’s why 住口 zhùkǒu and 住嘴 zhùzuǐ can be used interchangeably to express the same sentiment. In other words, you could say that these two Chinese expressions are synonyms.

woman covering her mouth

3. 闭嘴 – Bìzuǐ

Quite possibly, the most common way to tell someone to shut up in Chinese is to use 闭 嘴 bìzuǐ. Once again, we encounter the character 嘴 zuǐ, only this time paired with 闭 , which means to shut. If you put two and two together, you’ll get the purest form of “shut up” in the Chinese language.

You’ll encounter this in everyday situations, especially in spoken Chinese. It’s the classic “zip it” we’ve all needed at one point.

Word of caution: 闭 嘴 bìzuǐ is undeniably considered rude in China, so we would recommend using it prudently. It’s best to play it safe when using sensitive language, especially if you are still unfamiliar with the culture and its people.

While you could probably get away with most of these terms with close friends, it’s important to read the room and shut up when needed. In English, it is easy to slip up and say something stupid, even if you are kidding. Likewise, when using words in a foreign language like Chinese, it’s essential to be extra careful to avoid accidentally offending someone.

A good rule of thumb is to avoid using potentially sensitive words in other languages you are not as familiar with. The best move would be to search for words you are interested in and to ask your Chinese friends to correct you if needed. Don’t be afraid to ask questions—that’s one of the best ways to learn languages!

guy covering his ears with pillow

4. 闭上嘴巴 – Bìshangzuǐbā

Want to take things to the next level? You can easily do that with 闭上嘴巴 bìshangzuǐbā. This expression is pretty much just 闭 嘴 bìzuǐ with extra steps. It’s just as rude, but since it’s a bit longer, you’ll sound more threatening while yelling it at some unsuspecting loudmouths.

It’s not as offensive as some other phrases on this list, but 闭上嘴巴 bìshangzuǐbā isn’t exactly considered tame either. It falls in the golden middle of shut-up expressions and should be used cautiously.

On the plus side, using this instead of the basic 闭 嘴 bìzuǐ will surely earn you some brownie points for language proficiency. If you are trying to learn Chinese words and improve your vocabulary, starting with some basic sentences like this would be best.

The next step is to jump on your computer, open YouTube, and watch a video about Chinese words, letters, and pinyin. Another good idea is to write down these words and sentences in Chinese and English so you can have a handy little guide to help you search for the ultimate shut-up comeback.

businessman arguing with colleagues

5. 不要吵 – Bùyào chǎo

If you are looking for a more sensible way to tell someone to shut up in Chinese, then you’d be wise to consider this sentence. 不要吵 bùyào chǎo or 别吵 bié chǎo are common ways to tell someone to keep the noise down. The expressions are civil and appropriate in just about any setting.

You’ll often hear one of these variants used by parents trying to shush their children or a teacher trying to maintain order in the class. If you are teaching Chinese, English, or any other language, you’ll find that these sentences will be of tremendous help.

Interestingly, the Chinese word 吵 chǎo has a dual meaning: it can either stand for noise or refer to a quarrel. With that in mind, you can freely use this in multiple situations to tell someone to keep quiet or to break up an argument.

child screaming in the supermarket

6. 请安静 – Qǐnɡ ānjìnɡ

Another one in line of polite shut-up expressions, 请安静 qǐnɡ ānjìnɡ is ideal for classroom settings, busy meetings, and family gatherings. As an adjective 安静 ānjìnɡ means quiet, peaceful, silent, and calm; however, when used as a verb, 安静 ānjìnɡ takes on the role of “Quiet down!”

The preceding 请 qǐnɡ, meaning please, acts as another buffer to maintain politeness. But, of course, there are ways to make this a bit more strict. So, if you are looking to get your point across, ditch the 请 qǐnɡ and add 保持 bǎochí (keep, maintain) instead.

The newly-formed phrase would look something like this: 保持安静 bǎochí ānjìng and would translate to a very sharp and effective “Silence!” Using these Chinese words might make you seem a bit angry to others, but you’ll find that many of these things depend on the context and the way you express yourself.

This is true for other languages as well and not just Chinese. The key here is to understand the context behind the sentence first and then choose an appropriate delivery. If you choose a light tone while saying these sentences, many people might get the impression that you’re kidding instead of scolding them. It’s not just about choosing the correct words; it depends on how you use them.

teacher disciplining students

7. 少废话 – Shǎo fèihuà

We’ve prepared a special treat for those who don’t like to beat around the bush. This one is reserved only for those extreme situations when you need the other person to shut up or else. 少废话 shǎo fèihuà is not one of those things you’d hear in civilized conversation. Instead, you would use it in a heated argument or with someone you feel comfortable around.

The reason for this is quite simple—废话 fèihuà in the Chinese language translates to “rubbish” or “nonsense.” So, paired with 少 shǎo (less, stop, quit), you get a pretty basic “Cut the crap!”

This phrase isn’t child-friendly, elderly-friendly, or people-friendly for obvious reasons. But, on the other hand, it is pretty effective and will surely get the other person to, you know, stop talking nonsense. For your safety, though, use it sparingly and only when you have no other choice.

There you have it—seven distinct ways to tell someone to shut up in Chinese. Isn’t learning a new language a beautiful thing? Now you are well-equipped to tell people to shut up, keep quiet, stop talking, pipe down, clam up, and put a sock in it in Mandarin Chinese.

Before using any of these phrases, it would be wise to read the room, know your audience, and assess your surroundings. It would NOT be wise to use 少废话 shǎo fèihuà with your boss, for example. Unless you want to be on the first train to Unemployment Town, that is.

Are you ready to go out in the world and tell people to shut up?

Chinese Prefixes and Suffixes

As you progress to fluency, you’ll want to begin building up your vocabulary and learning more advanced terms in Chinese, such as the various ideologies, academic disciplines, and professions. The good news is that if you already know how to say “science” in Chinese, it’s pretty straightforward to create the terms for “scientist” or “scientific.” All you need to do is attach a prefix or suffix.

Since Mandarin Chinese has no alphabet, prefixes and suffixes take the form of additional characters affixed to the front or end of a word. For example, they are the -ology in “theology,” the -istry in “chemistry,” and the re- in “repeat or “rebuild.” Knowing a few prefixes and suffixes is a great way to learn more Chinese vocabulary without grinding your way through long lists of characters.

Chinese Prefixes

Prefixes in Chinese appear as additional characters affixed to the front of a word. Many Mandarin prefixes are special markers or honorifics used to describe family relationships. Some prefixes turn numbers into ordinals, while others distinguish between homonyms or make Chinese words easier to pronounce.

Most Mandarin prefixes have no direct equivalent in English, but the grammatical structure is straightforward. For example, learning the following prefixes will help you turn numbers into sequences, translate words for qualities and properties, and mark the difference between “start” and “restart,” “build” and “rebuild,” and so on.

老 – Lǎo

The ancient form of the Chinese character 老 was a picture of an older person hunched over and walking with the aid of a stick. The primary meaning of 老 lǎo is “old” (as in the opposite of “young.”)

When used as a prefix, 老 no longer means “old;” instead, it’s a term of respect. For example, you may have heard of the Dao De Jing (“Tao Te Ching”), the ancient Chinese wisdom text. The author is known as 老子 Lǎo Zǐ in China, which we frequently translate as Lao Tzu in the West.

Place 老 in front of a family name to form a respectful term of address for men you are familiar with. It’s difficult to translate into English but is often rendered as “Brother,” as in 老王 Lǎo Wáng (“Brother Wang”) or 老陈 Lǎo Chén (“Brother Chen”).

Sometimes, the 老 prefix is used as a term of respect in Chinese words like 老师 lǎoshī (“teacher”) and 老板 lǎobǎn (“boss”). Husbands and wives also refer to each other as 老公 lǎogōng (“husband”) and 老婆 lǎopó (“wife”), where 老 suggests intimacy or pleasant feeling.

Finally, you’ll find 老 in words for some animals, including 老虎 lǎohǔ (“tiger”), 老鹰 lǎoyīng (“eagle”), and 老鼠 lǎoshǔ (“mouse”). Here, the prefix carries no meaning but is used to help separate the word from other homonyms.

小 – Xiǎo

As an adjective, 小 means “little” or “young.” In China, it’s often combined with a family name to create nicknames for both men and women, generally for those younger than you are. Again, prefixes such as 小 have no proper equivalent in English, but you might translate 小李 Xiǎo Lǐ as “little Li” or “Miss Li,” depending on the context and relationship.

When added to a family name, 小姐 Xiǎojie means “lady” or “miss,” as in the phrase 张小姐 Zhǎng Xiǎojie (“Miss Zhang”). However, use this word with caution, as in some regions of China, 小姐 is slang for “prostitute.”

小 also functions as a meaningless prefix in Chinese words such as 小心 xiǎoxin (“careful,” “take care”), 小说 xiǎoshuō (“novel”), and 小偷 xiǎotōu (“thief”).

阿 – Ā

The Chinese prefix, 阿, is attached to characters for pet names, kinship terms, and family names, much like 小. The only difference between the two suffixes is that you use 小 to refer to those who are younger and 阿 to refer to your elders and seniors. Examples include 阿爸 ābà (“dad,” “daddy”) and 阿姨 āyí (“auntie,” “nursemaid”).

You can also use 阿 in the same way as 老 to denote the order of seniority within the family, as in 阿大 ā dà (“eldest child”) and 阿三 āsān (“third son or daughter”).

第 – Dì

Use the Chinese prefix 第 to rank things in a sequence and to turn numbers into ordinals: 第一 dì yī (“first”), 第二 dì èr (“second”), 第三 dì sān (“third”), and so on.

You can also use 弟 in combination with a measure word in phrases such as 第一个 dì yī gè (“the first one“), 第三次 dì sān cì (“the third time“), or 第四张 dì sì zhāng (“Chapter Four”).

初 – Chū

The original meaning of 初 chū was “beginning” or “early part of,” as in 夏初 xiàchū (“early summer”) or 十九世纪初 shíjiǔ shìjì chū (“the beginning of the 19th century”). You’ll most often hear it in 初中 chūzhōng, an abbreviation for 初级中学 chūjízhōngxué (“junior middle school”)

While both the 第 and 初 chū prefixes are used to rank things in sequence, 初 is far less versatile. As a prefix, 初 is used mainly to mark the days of the lunar year, such as 正月初一 Zhēngyuè chūyī, which is New Year’s Day (on the Chinese lunar calendar).

初 also describes years in middle school, so 初一 chūyī means “first-year,” 初二 chū’èr means “second-year,” and so on.

可 –

可 means “can” or “able to,” as in 可以 kěyǐ (“can”).

Combine this versatile prefix with verbs to form new adjectives like you use the English suffixes “-able” and “-ible.” The only difference is that, in Chinese, 可 is a prefix rather than a suffix.

Examples include 爱 kěài (“cute,” “adorable”), 可靠 kěkào (“reliable”), and 可笑 kěxiào (“ridiculous,” “laughable.”)

好 – Hǎo

好 preserves its original meaning (“good”) when used as a prefix to form adjectives from verbs, in Chinese words such as 好看 hǎokàn (“good-looking”), 好吃 hǎochī (“tasty”), 好玩 hǎowán (“fun), and 好香 hǎoxiāng (“fragrant”).

In some cases, the meaning is closer to “easy” than “good,” as in the phrase 好用 hǎoyòng (“easy-to-use” or “convenient”).

难 – Nán

The prefixes 好 and 难 carry opposite meanings but are used similarly. When added before a verb, 难 means “difficult” or “bad.” Examples include 难 nánkàn (“ugly”), 难用 nányòng (“difficult-to-use”), and 难受 nánshòu (“uncomfortable,” “difficult to endure”).

Some of the Chinese words have no corresponding adjective in English. 难听 nántīng, for example, would have to be rendered as “bad” or “terrible,” as in 这首歌真难听 Zhè shǒu gē zhēn nántīng (“This song is terrible”).

重 – Chóng

重 means “to repeat” or “to duplicate.” When attached to other Chinese characters, 重 functions like “re-” in English, acting as the prefixes in terms like 重复chóngfù (“repeat”), 重建 chóngjiàn (“rebuild”), and 重启 chóngqǐ (“restart”).

Chinese prefixes

Chinese Suffixes

Although most Chinese suffixes are words in their own right, some are bound morphemes, which have meaning only in combination with other characters. Aside from forming many of our -ists and -isms, suffixes are the special markers used to complete a partial noun, distinguish between homonyms, or convert an adjective or verb into a noun.

Suffixes are much more widely used than prefixes in Chinese, and you are likely to have come across the majority of them already. These handy characters have a wide range of functions in Mandarin: use them to convert adjectives into adverbs, describe properties and qualities, and form the terms for various ideologies, academic disciplines, and generic job titles.

子 – Zi

The Chinese use 子 as an honorific to show respect to ancient philosophers and sages, including 老子 Lǎo Zǐ (Lao Tzu), 孔子 Kǒng Zǐ (Confucius), and 孙子 Sūn Zǐ (Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War).

In modern Chinese, 子 zi (pronounced with a neutral tone) is the most widely used of the nominal suffixes, providing the second syllable in many everyday Chinese words, such as 房子 fángzi (“house”), 袜子 wàzi (“socks”), and 猴子 hóuzi (“monkey”).

You can affix 子 to certain verbs to create a new noun, like the –er in “computer” or “cooker.” The primary meaning of the verb 夹 jiā is “to press” or “to pinch,” while 夹子 jiāzi is a noun meaning “peg” or “clip.” The verb 骗 piàn means “to cheat” or “to swindle,” and a 骗子 piànzi is, you guessed it, a “cheater” or “swindler.”

In everyday use, 子 converts adjectives into nouns, in which case it is usually pejorative. Examples include 傻子 shǎzi (“idiot”), 秃子 tūzi (“baldy”), and 胖子 pàngzi (“fatty”). Reserve these for use among close friends with a sense of humor!

头 – Tou

The Chinese character 头 tóu (second tone) means “head.”

As a nominal suffix, 头 tou (neutral tone) functions much the same way as 子 zi, turning a partial noun into a complete noun. Although 子 is the more familiar of the two suffixes, you’ll still hear 头 tou in many everyday Chinese words. Examples include 枕头 zhěntou (“pillow”), 馒头 mántou (“steamed bun”), and 骨头 gǔtou (“bone”).

Less commonly, 头 can affix to a verb or adjective, turning them into nouns. For example, adding 头 to the verb 念 niàn (“to think”), you get 念头 niàntou (“idea” or “thought”), while 甜头 tiántou (“sweet taste” or “benefit”) is formed from the adjective 甜 tián (“sweet”) combined with the suffix 头.

儿 – ‘r

According to the dictionary, 儿 is a “non-syllabic diminutive suffix.” Sounds complicated, right? In practice, the 儿 suffix carries no meaning and attaches to a (monosyllabic) noun or verb to form a noun.

It’s used mainly in the northern regions of China (such as Beijing), where a car is a 车儿 chē’r, a stick is a 棍儿 gun’r, and a painting is a 画儿 huà’r.

When 儿 is a noun—and not a suffix—it’s pronounced ér and means “son” or “child.” You’ll find it in such words as 儿子 érzi (“son”), 女儿 nǚ’ér (“daughter”), and 婴儿 yīng’ér (“baby.”)

边 – Bian

biān (first tone) usually means “side,” as in 她坐在我旁边 Tā zuò zài wǒ pángbiān (“She sat by my side”).

When pronounced with a neutral tone, 边 bian attaches to nouns of a locality to indicate a direction or side, as in 左边 zuǒbian (“left”), 右边 yòubian (“right”), or 南边 nánbian (“south”).

们 – Men

Regarding plurals, the Chinese language tends to be pretty straightforward. Since Chinese nouns can represent singular and plural nouns, there’s no direct equivalent to the English plural suffix “-s.” It also means that there are no irregular plurals in Chinese.

Although most plurals do not require suffixes, a Chinese character is commonly used in certain regular and irregular plurals. Therefore, when searching for a way to translate the English plural suffix or irregular plurals, you’ll frequently find 们 used in combination with other characters.

As a morpheme, 们 men has no meaning except when combined with another word. It’s mainly used to form Chinese pronouns, such as 我们 wǒmen (“we,” “us”), 你们 nǐmen (“you” [plural]), and 他们 tāmen (“they”).

Aside from the standard pronouns, you can use 们 to pluralize specific human nouns. 们 stands in for the English suffixes “-s” and “-es,” as well as forming irregular plurals such as “men,” “women,” and “children.” Use 们 to turn 朋友 péngyou (“friend”) into 朋友们 péngyoumen (“friends”), 孩子 (“child”) into 孩子们 háizimen (“children”), and 同志 tóngzhì into 同志们tóngzhìmen (“comrades.”)

Remember that the suffixes in the Chinese examples are not required. Although 们 stands for the English plural suffix, in some cases, you cannot use it with numbers. 我们有三个孩子们 Wǒmen yǒu sān gè háizimen (“We have three children”), therefore, is grammatically incorrect. Instead, use 们 when you want to speak about a general group, as in 孩子们在做作业 Háizimen zài zuò zuòyè (“The children are doing their homework.”)

From time to time, you’ll hear people use 们 to form the plurals of non-human animals or other animate nouns, replacing the English plural suffix “-s” in words like “ducks,” “pigs,” and “bears” and forming the Chinese for irregular plurals such as “sheep,” “geese,” and “mice.”

It’s not standard usage, but you’ll often see 们 used with animate nouns in children’s stories and fairy tales where animals are personified. For example, in the Chinese translation of Richard Adams’s classic novel Watership Down—known, somewhat hilariously, as 兔子共和国 Tùzi gònghéguó (“Rabbit Republic”) in Chinese—the rabbits are referred to as 兔子们 tùzimen. Chapter Five opens with the line:


Tùzimen líkāi yuányě, zǒu rù yīpiàn shùlín shí, yǐjīng kuài dào yuè luò shífēn le.

It was getting on toward moonset when they [the rabbits] left the fields and entered the wood.

学 – Xué

When used as a suffix, 学 stands for “-ology” or “-istry” in English. In Mandarin, you frequently translate terms for academic disciplines by adding 学 to the subject of study.

In Chinese, 生物学 shēngwùxué (“biology”) is the study of 生物 shēngwù (“living things”), 数学 shùxué is the study of 数字 shūzì (“numbers”), and 神学 shénxué (“theology”) is the study of 神 shén (“god,” “spirit,” “divinity”).

主义 – Zhǔyì

You can use 主义 when referring to various ideologies and doctrines of thought. In Mandarin, you frequently translate the English phrases for various ideologies marked with the “-ism” suffix by adding the characters 主 zhǔ and 义 .

Some examples include 社会主义 shèhuìzhǔyì (“socialism”), 女性主义 nǚxìngzhǔyì (“feminism”), and 共产主义 gòngchǎnzhǔyì (“communism”).


What’s the Chinese particle of possession doing here, you might ask, in our list of Chinese suffixes? Well, although it’s not technically a suffix, 的 does have the ability to describe properties by marking something as “possessing” a particular characteristic.

For that reason, you can frequently translate the English suffixes “-ific” and “-atic” using 的, in terms like 了不起的 liǎobuqǐ de (“terrific”), 系统的 xìtǒng de (“systematic”), and 自动的 zìdòng de (“automatic”).

Chinese suffixes

家 – Jiā

As a stand-alone noun, the primary meaning of 家 jiā is “home” or “family.”

家 is also one of the nominal suffixes used to describe a specialist in a particular field, such as a 科学家 kēxuéjiā (“scientist”) or 作家 zuòjiā (“writer”).

者 – Zhě

The versatile Chinese suffix 者 is affixed to many adjectives, verbs, and noun phrases. It’s another one of the suffixes used to describe jobs and professions.

者 is most commonly attached to verbs to indicate those engaged in a particular activity and is used in many generic job titles. For example, translators in Chinese are known as 译者 yìzhě, journalists are called 记者 jìzhě, and volunteers are 自愿者 zìyuànzhě.

When attached to an adjective, 者 describes properties or characteristics of a person or group, such as 拼着 pínzhě (“the poor”), 伤者 shāngzhě (“the wounded”), or 死者 sǐzhě (“the dead”).

Finally, you can affix 者 to noun phrases ending with 注意 zhǔyì (-ism) to describe someone who adheres to a particular belief or doctrine, such as a 马克思主义者 mǎkèsīzhǔyìzhě (“Marxist”), a 环境保护这 huánjìng bǎohùzhě (“environmentalist”), or a 素食主义者 sùshízhǔyìzhě (“vegetarian”).

员 – Yuán

You use 员 to describe people who are engaged in an activity or members of a group or organization in a phrase like 社会的一员 shèhuì de yī yuán (“a member of society.”)

You can also use 员 yuán as a nominal suffix to form new nouns, most commonly relating to group members or team players. Common examples include 会员 huìyuán (“member”), 队员 duìyuán (“teammate”), and 党员 dǎngyuán (“party member”).

Some nouns relating to jobs and professions are also formed using the 员 suffix, including 演员 yǎnyuán (“actor”), 球员 qiúyuán (“player” – on a sports team), and 教员 jiàoyuán (“instructor”).

性 – Xìng

The primary meaning of 性 is “nature” or “quality,” When used as a suffix, 性 functions like the English suffixes “-ness,” “-ity,” or “-ability.” This versatile suffix converts adjectives into nouns and transforms nouns into adjectives. Let’s begin by learning how to transmute an adjective into a noun:

  • 可能 (“possible”) + 性 = 可能性 kěnéngxìng (“possibility”)
  • 可靠 (“reliable”) + 性 = 可靠性 kěkàoxìng (“reliability”)
  • 实用 (“useful”) + 性 = 实用性 shíyòngxìng (“utility,” “usability”)
  • 硬 (“hard”) + 性 = 硬性 yìngxìng (“hardness”)
  • 毒 (“poisonous”) + 性 = 毒性 dúxìng (“toxicity,” “poisonousness”)

Working in reverse, let’s learn how to wave our alchemical wand over a noun and transform it into an adjective. In this case, 性 will usually stand for the English suffix “-al:”

  • 教育 (“education”) + 性 = 教育性 jiàoyùxìng (“educational”)
  • 季节 (“season”) + 性 = 结节性 jìjiéxìng (“seasonal”)
  • 技术 (“technology”) + 性 = 技术性 jìshùxìng (“technological”)

The magic 性 has one more trick: turning verbs into nouns that describe qualities. Examples include:

  • 开放 (“to open”) + 性 = 开放性 kāifàngxìng (“openness”)
  • 创造 (“to create”) + 性 = 创造性 chuàngzàoxìng (“creativity”)
  • 传染 (“to infect”) + 性 = 传染性 chuánrǎnzìng (“infectiousness”)

度 – Dù

度 means “degree” or “extent” and is found in Chinese words such as 温度 wēndù (“temperature”), 角度 jiǎodù (“angle”), and 幅度 fúdù (“range”).

While a Mandarin Chinese dictionary may not specify 度 as one of the suffixes, it often acts like one. For example, use 度 to transform an adjective into a noun, forming nouns such as 力度 lìdù (“strength”), 高度 gāodù (“height”), or 速度 sùdù (“speed”).

化 – Huà

The original meaning of 化 is “to change” or “to transform.” As a suffix, 化 refers to the process of doing something and converts adjectives and nouns into verbs. You can think of it as replacing the English suffixes “-ize,” “-ify,” and “-en.”

If you need to make something a little more [noun], or a bit more [adjective], the suffix 化 might be just what you’re looking for:

  • 深化 shēnhuà (“deepen”)
  • 恶化 èhuà (“worsen”)
  • 简化 jiǎnhuà (“simplify”)
  • 净化 jìnghuà (“purify”)
  • 氧化 yǎnghuà (“oxidize”)
  • 现代化 xiàndàihuà (“modernize”)

– De

地 is an adverb marker in Mandarin and the simplest way to create Chinese adverbs from adjectives.

Adding 地 onto the end converts adjectives into adverbs, just like the adverb marker “-ly” in English. Examples include 耐心地 nàixīn de (“patiently”), 开心地 kāixīn de (“happily”), and 伤心地 shāngxīn de (“sadly”).

Usually, you’ll need to double-up monosyllabic adjectives before adding the adverb marker to create adverbs like 慢慢地 mànmàn de (“slowly”) and 悄悄地 qiāoqiāo de (“quietly”).

然 – Rán

然 is not nearly as common as 地, but it also functions as an adverb marker in Mandarin and is used to form both adverbs and adjectives. The most common examples are 忽然 hūrán and 突然 tūrán, both of which mean “suddenly,” 居然 jūrán, meaning “unexpectedly,” and 显然 xiǎnrán, meaning “obvious” or “obviously.”

You’ll more often encounter 然 rán as a morpheme in many Chinese conjunctions, such as 虽然 suīrán (“although”), 既然 jìrán (“since,” “as”), and 不然 bùrán (“otherwise”).

兮兮 – Xīxī

A fun and colloquial phrase, 兮兮 has no meaning in itself, but you can use it to exaggerate certain adjectives, including 脏 zāng (“dirty”), 神秘 shénmì (“mysterious”), and 可怜 kělián (“pitiful”).

In China, it’s used to poke fun, and you’ll also encounter it in fiction and movies, in lines like 可这些脏兮兮的工作总要有人做的 Kě zhèxiē zāngxīxī de gōngzuò zǒngyào yǒurén zuò de (“It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.”)

You’ll also hear Chinese people say 神经兮兮 shénjīng-xīxī (“nervy,” “neurotic”), although 神经 (“nerve”) is technically a noun:


Yào wǒ shuō, nǐ de nányǒu yǒudiǎn’r shénjīngxīxī de.

If you ask me, your boyfriend seems kind of a nutjob.

If you’ve read this far, you’ve not only learned some useful new vocabulary but increased your understanding of prefixes and suffixes in Mandarin and their equivalent terms in English. Hopefully, you’ll have more of a clue about separating your characters from your characteristics, turning numbers into ordinals, and differentiating the doctrines and qualities from the various ideologies. You’ll be able to express your -ologies, -ists, and -isms, and understand the difference between “science,” “scientist,” and “scientism” in Chinese.

18 Chinese Tongue Twisters to Test Your Pronunciation

Before you continue reading this blog post, you’ll need to answer one question: How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Now, let’s try something similar, only this time in Mandarin Chinese. If you can’t wrap your head around the sheer idea of Chinese tongue twisters, don’t worry — you are not alone. We are here to guide you through the marvelous world of tongue twisters, ranging from easy and silly to educational and downright impossible.

Up for a challenge? Let’s learn a few Mandarin tongue twisters that will test your wits and patience!

Easy Chinese tongue twisters

Practicing Chinese tongue twisters is a great way to improve your vocabulary and Chinese pronunciation. Now, if Peter Piper still gives you trouble, perhaps it’s best to start with something less challenging. So we’ve chosen a few simple tongue twisters that are perfect for beginners and second language learners.

If you are new to learning Chinese tongue twisters, romanized and simplified versions can help you pronounce, understand, and memorize various tones. We’ve included Chinese tongue twisters with pinyin and an English translation.

1. 四是四 – Sì shì sì

四 是 四,十是十,十 四 是 十四,四十是四十,四十 四 是 四十四。

sì shì sì, shí shì shí, shí sì shì shí sì, sì shí shì sì shí, sì shí sì shì sì shí sì.

Four is four, ten is ten, fourteen is fourteen, forty is forty, forty-four is forty-four.

“Four is four” is one of China’s most common beginner-friendly tongue twisters. Short and sweet, this tongue twister allows you to practice the s and sh sounds and the second and fourth tones.

If your head hurts just by looking at the pinyin—don’t worry. That’s a sign that you’re only human. For twisters like this, it would be better to focus on the meaning and translation first. You could also try to record yourself to hear how you speak and pronounce certain words.

womans hand holding number four

2. 妈妈骑马 – Māma qí mǎ


māma qí mǎ. mǎ màn, māma mà mǎ.

Mother rides a horse. The horse is slow, and the mother scolds the horse.

Another popular one, “Mother rides a horse,” is probably the first tongue twister Mandarin learners learn once they start studying Chinese. It’s simple and easy even for the students at the beginning of their studies.

This tongue twister tests your pronunciation of the m consonant and helps you pick up the different tones. It also helps you distinguish between your mom and a horse, so you wouldn’t accidentally mix up the two.

chinese woman riding horse with child

3. 红凤凰,粉凤凰 – Hóng fèng huáng, fěn fèng huáng


hóng fèng huáng, fěn fèng huáng, fěn hóng fèng huáng

Red phoenix, pink phoenix, pink-red phoenix.

If those pesky vowels eng, ong, uang have been giving you trouble, then “Red phoenix, pink phoenix” is the perfect Chinese tongue twister for you! Not only will you master those vowels in no time, but you’ll also learn a couple of different color names!

red phoenix

4. 老师是不是四十四的? – Lǎo shī shì bú shì sì shí sì de?


lǎo shī shì bú shì sì shí sì de?

Is the teacher 44 years old?

Want to offend your obviously-young-fresh-from-grad-school teacher? We got just the thing! This question-turned-twister is an ideal choice for practicing your sh sounds and making unsuspecting teachers feel uncomfortable.

chinese teacher in classroom with students

5. 西施 – Xī shī


Xī Shī sǐ shí sì shí sì.

Xi Shi died at 44.

Although quite morbid at first glance, this Mandarin Chinese tongue twister has an interesting backstory. Xi Shi was one of the “Four Great Beauties” of China and was responsible for the downfall of the Kingdom of Wu. According to legend, her beauty was so enthralling that fish, upon seeing her, would forget how to swim.

It seems that Xi Shi continues to befuddle the masses centuries later. However, this time her weapon of choice is the dreaded shi sound.

fierce asian woman

6. 吃葡萄 – Chī pú táo


chī pú táo bù tǔ pú táo pí, bù chī pú táo dào tǔ pú táo pí

Eat grapes but don’t spit out the grape skin, don’t eat grapes but spit out the grape skin.

Some tongue twisters tell a story, others try to impart some wisdom, and then there are those whose sole purpose is to confuse you. In other words, “Some tongue twisters just want to watch the world burn.” We’ll let you guess in which category “Eat grapes” belongs.

This one tackles a few different things, such as the consonants ch, p, and b, as well as all four tones. “Eat grapes” is a bit more challenging but also extremely fun!

young couple eating grapes

7. 天津和北京 – Tiānjīn hé Běijīng


Tiānjīn hé Běijīng, jīn jīng liǎng gè yīn yī shì qián bí yīn, yī shì hòu bí yīn rú guǒ fèn bú qīng, qǐng nǐ rèn zhēn tīng

Tianjin and Beijing, jin and jing, are two different sounds. One is the sound from the front nasal, and the other is from the back nasal. So if you can’t distinguish them, please listen carefully.

What makes “Tianjin and Beijing” so special is that the text explains how to pronounce the words! The jin sound is produced in the front nasal, while the jing sound comes from the back nasal. Now you try! Notice the difference between the two?

How cool is that?

mother teaching daughter pronunciation

Tricky Chinese tongue twisters

Let’s step it up a notch, shall we? Tongue twisters in Chinese are pretty much the same as tongue twisters in English, only…much harder. If you want to up your game, you should try your hand at some of these tricky Chinese tongue twisters.

These Chinese tongue twisters in English and Mandarin will allow you to take your studies to higher levels. So, up for a challenge? Buckle up!

8. 扁担 – Biǎn dan


biǎn dan cháng, bǎn dèng kuān, biǎn dan yào bǎng zài bǎn dèng shàng, bǎn dèng bù ràng biǎn dan bǎng zài bǎn dèng shàng, biǎn dan fēi yào bǎng zài bǎn dèng shàng

A bamboo pole is long, and the bench is wide. The bamboo pole was bound to the bench. The bench did not allow the pole to be bound to it, but the pole insisted on being bound to the bench.

If you want to play around with your an, ang, eng sounds, then “Bamboo poles” is a good tongue twister. It also allows you to get familiar with the d and b consonants fun and engaging.

bamboo pole tied with a knot

9. 颜圆眼和颜眼圆 – Yán Yuányǎn hé Yán Yǎnyuán


cūn qián yǒu gè Yán Yuányǎn cūn hòu yǒu gè Yán Yǎnyuán. bù zhī Yán Yuányǎn de yǎn yuán hái shì Yán Yǎnyuán de yǎn yuán?

In front of the village is Yan Yuanyan. Behind the village is Yan Yanyuan. Don’t know if Yan Yuanyan’s eyes are rounder or Yan Yanyuan’s eyes are rounder?

Don’t let yourself be confused by this sneaky tongue twister. The best way to understand the meaning behind this short story is to focus on the translation and the pinyin. After you practice saying it a couple of times, you’ll discover that it’s not as difficult as it first seems.

The biggest challenge is getting the hang of all yan and yuan words, but you’ll finally be in the clear once you figure that out.

eyes of asian child

10. 鸟岛 – Niǎo dǎo


niǎo dǎo shì dǎo, niǎo dǎo yǒu niǎo. niǎo dǎo de niǎo duō de shǔ bù qīng le. yào xiǎng dào niǎo dǎo, yī dìng yào ài niǎo. nǐ bú ài xiǎo niǎo jiù bié dào niǎo dǎo

Bird Island is an island; Bird Island has birds. The birds on Bird Island are countless. If you wish to go to Bird Island, you must love birds. If you don’t love small birds, don’t go to Bird Island.

Although this tongue twister won’t be winning any poetry competitions any time soon, there are a few things we can learn from it.

For instance, this Chinese tongue twister puts the biggest focus on the vowels and the sounds ao, iao, and ou. But, aside from that, it teaches us that it would be best to avoid Bird Island if we don’t like the winged creatures. And who can argue with that logic?

birds by the sea

11. 牛郎恋刘娘 – Niú láng liàn Liú niáng

牛郎恋 刘 娘,刘 娘 念牛郎,牛郎牛年恋 刘 娘,刘娘年年念牛郎,郎恋娘来娘恋郎,念娘恋郎念郎恋娘,念恋娘郎,绕不晕你算我白忙。

niú láng liàn Liú niáng, Liú niáng niàn niú láng, niú láng niú nián liàn Liú niáng, Liú niáng nián nián niàn niú láng, láng liàn niáng lái niáng liàn láng, niàn niáng liàn láng niàn láng liàn nián, niàn liàn niáng láng rào bù yūn nǐ suàn wǒ bái máng

Ox herder boy loves Lady Liu, Lady Liu obsesses over the ox herder boy; Ox herder boy loves Lady Liu in the year of the ox, Lady Liu obsesses over the ox herder boy in the year of the ox; Boy loves the lady, and the lady obsesses over the boy; Obsessing lady loves the boy, and an obsessing boy loves the lady; Obsessing, loving, lady, boy. If you aren’t dizzy by now, I’ve wasted my effort.

A gripping tale of love, passion, obsession, and…oxen? This beautiful story about the Ox herder boy and his love for Lady Liu is among the more popular Chinese tongue twisters. Its length and the use of various nian, lian, niang, lang words certainly earned it its place in the “tricky” category.

ox in the mountains

12. 白庙白猫 – Bái miào bái māo


shān shàng yǒu zuò bái miào dì shàng yǒu zhǐ bái māo bái fà lǎo gōng gōng diào le yī dǐng bái mào bái māo diāo zhe bái mào pǎo jìn yī bái miào。

There is a white temple on the mountain. There is a white cat on the ground. The white-haired old man lost his white hat. The white cat ran into a white temple with the white hat in its mouth.

Another fun Mandarin twister to challenge your speaking speed and skills. In just one sentence, this tongue twister allows you to practice the consonants zh and sh and learn the difference between a cat, a hat, and a temple.

white pagoda in the mountains

Hardest Chinese tongue twisters

Still not giving up? Impressive. Well, do we have a treat for you!

Welcome to the final boss of Chinese tongue twisters. These are some of the most challenging Chinese tongue twisters known to man. They are so tricky that even native Mandarin speakers dread them. They will hurt your eyes, brain, jaw, and pride. Moreover, these tongue twisters are pure evil in written form.

Continue reading at your own risk. You’ve been warned.

13. 知道就说知道 – Zhī dào jiù shuō zhī dào

知道就说知道,不知道就说不知道,不要 知道 说 不知道,也 不要 不知道 说 知道,你 知道 不知道?

zhī dào jiù shuō zhī dào, bù zhī dào jiù shuō bù zhī dào, bù yào zhī dào shuō bù zhī dào, yě bù yào bù zhī dào shuō zhī dào, nǐ zhī dào bù zhī dào?

If you know, just say you know. If you don’t know, just say you don’t know. You shouldn’t know and say you don’t know. And you shouldn’t know and say you do know. You know?

“If you know, say you know” is one of those things you’d expect to hear from an old kung-fu master as he teaches you his ancient techniques so you could set out into the world and avenge your family. Or, you know, something you’d read in a fortune cookie.

That aside, this tongue twister is not beginner-friendly and will require plenty of practice and patience. However, once you grasp the meaning behind the twister, it’ll only be a matter of time before you get the hang of the pronunciation.

hands breaking fortune cookie

14. 八百标兵 – Bābǎi biāobīng


bābǎi biāobīng bēn běi, pō pàobīng bìngpái běibian pǎo. pàobīng pà bǎ biāobīng pèng, biāobīng pà pèng pàobīng pào

Eight hundred spearmen rush towards the north hill slope. Artillery soldiers abreast in rows run towards the north. Artillery soldiers are afraid to bump into the spearmen. Whereas the spearmen are scared to bump into the artillery’s bomb.

Another one in the line of expert-level Chinese tongue twisters, “800 soldiers,” uses advanced vocabulary and a lot of p and b sounds paired with different tones. This one is perfect for those looking for something challenging yet not overly long.

Also, this Chinese tongue twister is a great choice if you’re a history buff and want to practice vocabulary.

ancient chinese spears

15. 是十石狮子 – Shì shí shí shīzi

石室诗 士 施 氏 嗜 狮,誓食十狮。氏时时适市视狮。十时,适十狮适市。是时,适施氏适市。氏视是十狮,恃矢势,使是十狮逝世。氏 拾 是 十 狮 尸,适石室。石室湿,氏 使 侍 拭 石室。石室拭,氏始试食是十狮。食时,始识 是 十 狮 尸,实十石狮尸。试释是事。

Shí shì shī shì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī. Shì shí shí shì shì shì shī. Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì. Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì. Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shì shì. Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shí shì. Shí shì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shí shì. Shí shì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī. Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī shī, shí shí shí shī shī. Shì shì shì shì.

In a stone den, a poet called Shi Shi, a lion addict had resolved to eat ten lions. He often went to the market to look for lions. At ten o’clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market. At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market. He saw those ten lions and, using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die. He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den. The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it. After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions. When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were, in fact, ten stone lion corpses. Try to explain this matter.

Considered one of the most challenging Chinese tongue twisters, the “Ten stone lions” is basically the bigger, much meaner cousin of “Four is four.” The author of the poem is Zhào Yuán Rèn 趙元任, a famous Chinese linguist, scholar, and poet.

This poem, also called “Lion-eating poet in the stone den,” is an exceptional example of constrained writing. It is a literary technique bound by certain limitations—in this case, the one-syllable article. The poem uses 92 characters, all of which are different forms of the word shi.

Mind-boggling and extraordinary, the “Ten stone lions” is nothing short of a masterpiece. To this day, the tongue twister manages to befuddle and challenge even the most experienced Mandarin Chinese speakers.

lion and cub

16. 喇嘛和哑巴 – Lǎma hé yǎbā

打南边来了个哑巴,腰里别了个喇叭;打北边来了个喇嘛,手里 提了个獭 犸。提着獭犸的喇嘛要拿獭犸换别着喇叭的哑巴的喇叭;别着喇叭的哑巴不愿拿喇叭换提着獭犸的喇嘛的獭犸。不知是别着喇叭的哑巴打了提着獭犸的喇嘛一喇叭;还是提着獭犸的喇嘛打了别着喇叭的哑巴一獭犸。喇嘛回家炖獭犸,哑巴嘀嘀哒哒吹喇叭。

dǎ nán biān lái le gè yǎ bɑ, yāo lǐ bié le gè lǎ bɑ;dǎ běi bian lái le gè lǎ mɑ, shǒu lǐ tí le gè tǎ mǎ. tí zhe tǎ mǎ de lǎ mɑ yào ná tǎ mǎ huàn bié zhe lǎ bɑ de yǎ bɑ de lǎ bɑ;bié zhe lǎ bɑ de yǎ bɑ bù yuàn ná lǎ bɑ huàn tí zhe tǎ mǎ de lǎ mɑ de tǎ mǎ. bù zhī shì bié zhe lǎ bɑ de yǎ bɑ dǎ le tí zhe tǎ mǎ de lǎ mɑ yī lǎ bɑ;hái shì tí zhe tǎ mǎ de lǎ mɑ dǎ le bié zhe lǎ bɑ de yǎ bɑ yī tǎ mǎ. lǎ mɑ huí jiā dùn tǎ mǎ ,yǎ bɑ dī dī dā dā chuī lǎ bɑ

From the north comes a mute, carrying a trumpet at his waist. From the south comes a monk, holding a fish in his hand. The monk holding a fish wants to trade his fish for a trumpet, with the mute carrying a trumpet. The mute carrying a trumpet doesn’t want to trade his trumpet with the monk holding the fish. Not only does the mute who is carrying a trumpet hit the monk who is holding a fish with his trumpet, but the monk who is carrying a fish also hits the mute who is carrying a trumpet. The monk goes home and stews his fish. The mute plays his trumpet.

Contrary to what you might think, this Chinese tongue twister has nothing to do with llamas! In fact, it’s a very intriguing story about a quarrel between a monk and a mute.

“The monk and the mute” has everything—an interesting plot, action, conflict, and of course, a peaceful resolution. Besides that, the tongue twister is riddled with some heavy vocabulary and is quite long, making it fairly difficult.

We advise you to consult the translation before pronouncing the whole thing in Chinese. Unlike English, where the pronunciation is pretty straightforward, Mandarin Chinese will challenge your ability to balance tones, consonants, and mouth shapes.

buddhist monk meditating in the valley

17. 老六放牛 – Lǎo liù fàng niú


Liǔlín zhèn yǒu gè liù hào lóu, Liú Lǎoliù zhù zài liù hào lóu yǒu yītiān, láile Niú Lǎoliù, qiānle liù zhǐ hóu, láile Hóu Lǎoliù, lāle liù tóu niú, láile Chóu Lǎoliù, tíle liù lǒu yóu, láile Yóu Lǎoliù, bèile liù pǐ chóu Niú Lǎoliù, Hóu Lǎoliù, Chóu Lǎoliù, Yóu Lǎoliù, zhù shàng liú lǎo liù de liù hào lóu bànyè lǐ, niú dǐ hóu, hóu dòuniú, zhuàng dǎo le Chóu Lǎoliù de yóu yóu huàile Yóu Lǎoliù de chóu Niú Lǎoliù bāng Chóu Lǎoliù shōu qǐ yóu, Hóu Lǎoliù bāng Yóu Lǎoliù xǐ diào chóu shàng yóu shuān hǎo niú, kànhǎo hóu, yītóng shàng lóu qù hējiǔ

Liulin Town has Building No. 6. Liu Laoliu lives in Building No. 6. One day, Niu Laoliu came to Liulin Town with six monkeys, Hou Laoliu came to Liulin Town with six cows, Chou Laoliu came to Liulin Town and brought six baskets of oil, You Laoliu came to Liulin Town and carried six silks. Niu Laoliu, Hou Laoliu, Chou Laoliu, and You Laoliu lived in Building No.6 of Liulin Town. In the middle of the night, the bull hit the monkey, and the monkey fought the bull and knocked down Chou Laoliu’s oil. The oil damaged You Laoliu’s silk. Niu Laoliu helped Qiu Laoliu put away the oil, and Hou Laoliu helped You Laoliu wash off the silk and oil it. He tied up the bull, looked after the monkey, and went upstairs for a drink together.

Fun, smart, and challenging? This is our type of tongue twister!

The story follows the escapades of five men living in Liulin Town. It’s basically “Friends” with extra steps. The challenging part of this tongue twister lies in its length and the frequent use of similar-sounding words and syllables.

What’s interesting is that many Chinese tongue twisters rely on silly stories, which makes them much more appealing to English speakers. Practicing tongue twisters through interesting narration can help beginners, and advanced speakers learn more Chinese words, phrases, characters, and tones. It also improves speaking skills and pronunciation, which many Mandarin students struggle with.

The story of Liu Laoliu is just one of many tongue twisters in the Chinese language aimed at more experienced learners looking for a new challenge.

house number six tile

18. 司小四和史小世 – Sī Xiǎosì hé Shǐ Xiǎoshì


Sī Xiǎo sì hé Shǐ Xiǎoshì, sì yuè shísì rì shísìshísì shí shàng jí shì Sī Xiǎosì mǎile sìshísì jīn sì liǎng xīhóngshì, Shǐ Xiǎoshì mǎile sìshí jīn sì liǎng xì cánsī Sī Xiǎosì yào ná sìshísì jīn sì liǎng xīhóngshì huàn Shǐ Xiǎoshì shísì jīn sì liǎng xì cánsī Shǐ Xiǎoshì shísì jīn sì liǎng xì cánsī bù huàn Sī Xiǎosì sìshísì jīn sì liǎng xīhóngshì Sī Xiǎosì shuō wǒ sìshísì jīn sì liǎng xīhóngshì kěyǐ zēngjiā yíngyǎng fáng jìnshì, Shǐ Xiǎoshì shuō wǒ shí sì jīn sì liǎng xì cánsī kěyǐ zhī chóu zhī duàn yòu chōu sī

Si Xiaosi and Shi Xiaoshi went to the market at 14:40 on April 14th. Si Xiaosi bought forty-four catties and four taels of tomatoes, and Shi Xiaoshi bought fourteen catties and four taels of fine silk. Si Xiaosi wanted to exchange forty-four catties and four taels of tomatoes for Shi Xiaoshi’s fourteen catties and four taels of fine silk. Shi Xiaoshi didn’t exchange forty-four catties and four taels of tomatoes with Si Xiaosi. Si Xiaosi said my forty-four catties and four taels of tomatoes can increase nutrition and prevent myopia. Shi Xiaoshi said my fourteen catties and four taels of fine silk can weave satin and silk.

If you’ve attempted 四是四 sì shì sì and found it too easy, then perhaps you should give this Chinese tongue twister a try. Although it works on a similar principle, focusing on si and shi sounds, this tongue twister takes it to the next level by introducing many new vocabulary words. It also naturally incorporates all four Chinese tones and uses combinations of the same phonetic sounds but with different tones.

This makes it not only one of the most challenging Chinese tongue twisters in China but also an excellent choice for mastering your Mandarin pronunciation skills. If you want to impress your friends, then learning Chinese tongue twisters such as this will help you pronounce certain words and tones.

The more you practice and speak, the easier it will be to master even the trickiest tongue twisters on this list. Practicing popular tongue twisters will improve your speed, intonation, pronunciation, and vocabulary and help you form words and sentences. This is true for all languages, not just Mandarin Chinese.

Learn Chinese tongue twister - The Monk and the Mute

Chinese Adverbs: Moving Beyond the Subject-Verb-Object Structure

Adverbs are words or phrases that qualify an adjective, verb, or entire clause, telling you when something happens, how often it occurs, in what way, or to what degree.

Think of the adverb as that secret ingredient, that sprinkle of spice, the little word that provides additional information, helping your sentence along. So let’s take a look at the main types of Chinese adverbs.

Chinese adverbs of time

Chinese adverbs of time tell when something happens.

Any expression of time can function as an adverb, meaning that such words as 明天 míngtiān (“tomorrow”), 昨天 zuótiān (“yesterday”), and 后天 hòutiān (“the day after tomorrow”) are all technically adverbs of time.

But let’s focus on adverbs in the traditional sense- words that modify verbs.

Chinese adverbs of time

马上 – Mǎshàng

Chinese expression 马上 mǎshàng, if translated literally, means “on the horse.” In Ancient China, if a friend or messenger (or an invading Mongolian army) was already mounted and riding forth, their arrival was considered imminent.

Nowadays, the phrase 马上 is used more broadly and means “right away,” “immediately,” or “very soon.” So if you hear somebody saying 演出马上就要开始了 Yǎnchū mǎshàng jiùyào kāishǐ le, it means that the performance is about to begin.

已经 – Yǐjīng

已经 Yǐjīng is another Chinese adverb of time that is used exactly like the word “already” in English.

You can use 已经 both to express statements of fact, like 这种样子的包已经卖完了 Zhè zhǒng yàngzi de bāo yǐjīng mài wán le (“This type of bag is already sold out”), or to convey a degree of surprise: 我不敢相信他们已经分手了 Wǒ bùgǎn xiāngxìn tāmen yǐjīng fēnshǒule (“I can’t believe they already broke up”).

suprised chinese kid

还没 / 还没有 – Hái méi / Hái méiyǒu

The opposite expression to 已经 yǐjīng is 还没 hái méi, which is usually best translated as “yet,” “not yet,” or “haven’t yet.” For example:


XiǎoWǎn yǐjīng sānshí duō suì le, dàn hái méi jiéhūn

Xiao Wan is already in her thirties, but she isn’t married yet.

还 – Hái

The word 还 hái means “still.” You can use it to emphasize that an action is continuing:


Suīrán hěn wǎn le, dàn tā hái zài xuéxí

Even though it’s late, he’s still studying.

才 – Cái

Adding 才 cái before a verb emphasizes that something happened just a moment ago. If your friend only just arrived but looks like he’s getting ready to leave, you might say:


Nǐ zěnme cái lái jiù yào zǒu?

You just got here, and you’re going already?

Adverbs of TIME in Mandarin Chinese

Chinese adverbs of frequency

In contrast to adverbs of time, which describe when an event occurs, Chinese adverbs of frequency give details relating to how often something happens.

Chinese adverbs of frequency

从不 / 从来不 – Cóngbù / Cóngláibù

Both words 从不 cóngbù and 从来不 cóngláibù mean “never” in Chinese, as illustrated in these sentences:


Wǒ cóngláibù shuō jiǎhuà

I never tell lies.


Tā cóngbù fāhuǒ

He never loses his temper.

There is no difference between 从不 and 从来不; you can use the two phrases interchangeably.

很少 – Hěn shǎo

Moving slightly up the scale of the Chinese adverbs of frequency, we have 很少 hěn shǎo, meaning “rarely.” For example:


Wǒ hěn shǎo yǒu shíjiān kàn diànyǐng

I rarely have time to watch a movie.

friends in cinema eating popcorn

偶尔 – Oǔ’ěr

The phrase 偶尔 oǔ’ěr is a bit harder to translate into English, as it is used very generally in China, in sentences like 我们偶尔见面 Wǒmen ǒu’ěr jiànmiàn (“We see each other once in a while”).

You might find 偶尔 in the dictionary under “occasionally” or “sometimes,” but in daily life, the phrase may mean anything from once or twice a month to once every few years.

有(的)时候 – Yǒu (de) shíhòu

The phrase 有的时候 yǒudeshíhòu means “sometimes,” and it is as vague as it is in English. For example:


Yǒudeshíhòu, wǒmen xuéxiào huì zài zhōuliù zǎoshang kāishè éwài de yǔyán kè

Sometimes, our school opens for extra language lessons on Saturday mornings.

It’s perfectly fine to drop the 的 de, in which case you pronounce 候 hòu with a neutral tone (“hou”).

chinese student in classroom raising hand

经常 / 常常 – Jīngcháng / Chángcháng

The words 经常 jīngcháng and 常常 chángcháng both mean “often” in Chinese, and you can use them interchangeably. It’s OK to say either 我常常想起来她说过的话 Wǒ chángcháng xiǎngqilái tā shuōguo de huà or 我经常想起来她说过的话 Wǒ jīngcháng xiǎngqilái tā shuōguo de huà. Both sentences translate into English as “I often think of what she said.”

通常 / 平常 – Tōngcháng / Píngcháng

There are many different Chinese adverbs you can use to describe frequency between “often” and “always,” but 通常 tōngcháng (“normally”) and 平常 píngcháng (“generally”) are two of the easiest to remember.

You can use these adverbs to describe a regular occurrence. For example, 我平常四点半放学 Wǒ píngcháng sì diǎn bàn fàngxué and 我通常四点半放学 Wǒ tōngcháng sì diǎn bàn fàngxué both mean, “I usually finish school at half-past four.”

student carrying notebooks

总是 / 老是 – Zǒngshì / Lǎoshi

The adverbs 总是 zǒngshì, and 老是 lǎoshi mean “always” in Chinese.

The word 总是 is a more neutral phrase:


Xiàngrìkuí zǒngshì cháoxiàng tàiyáng

Sunflowers always turn towards the sun.

In contrast, the word 老是 usually carries a negative connotation:


Wǒ gēgē shàngxué lǎoshi chídào

My brother is always late for school.

FREQUENCY in Chinese - How to Express How Often

Chinese adverbs of manner

Adverbs of manner are used to explain how you do an action. You can form many Chinese adverbs from the original adjectives by adding the particle 地 de after the adjective.

Chinese adverbs of manner

开心地 / 幸福地 – Kāixīn de / Xìngfú de

Adding 地 de to the word 开心 kāixīn, we get 开心地 kāixīn de, meaning “happily.”


Tā kànzhe nánrénmen wéizhe zhuōzi kāixīn de chīfàn

She watched the men eating happily around the table.

You can use 幸福 xìngfú to convey a more profound, more long-lasting happiness, for example:


Cóngcǐ tāmen xìngfú dì shēnghuózhe

They lived happily ever after.

伤心地 – Shāngxīn de

The word 伤心 shāngxīn means “sad” in Chinese. Adding the character 地 de transforms the adjective into an adverb, meaning “sadly.”

Imagine the heroine of a romantic novel or play whose lover is killed on the field of battle:

读完他的最后一封信 她伤心地哭了

Dú wán tāde zuìhòu yī fēng xìn tā shāngxīn de kū le

After reading his final letter she wept sadly.

耐心地 – Nàixīn de

The adverb 耐心地 nàixīn de translates to “patientlyin English. Perhaps, until our heroine received her lover’s final letter, she waited for him:


Tā nàixīn de děngdài zhàngfū cóng shànghǎi guīlái.

She waited patiently for her husband to return from Shanghai.

woman holding love letter

生气地 – Shēngqì de

Did you ever make your teacher angry at school? If you pushed them too far, they probably shouted angrily at you: 生气地大喊了 shēngqì de dà hǎn le.

Monosyllabic adjectives are usually duplicated before adding the 地 de particle.

慢慢地 – Mànmàn de

If you come rushing home, chattering excitedly about an incident that happened at work, your wife or husband might request that you lower your voice and speak slowly: 放低声音慢慢地说 Fàng dī shēngyīn mànmàn de shuō.

偷偷地 – Tōutōu de

Chinese adverb 偷偷地 tōutōu de means secretly” or “stealthily.” Unfortunately, it’s still common in China for teenage schoolboys to smoke. Since smoking is not allowed at school, they have to 偷偷地抽烟 tōutōu de chōuyān (“smoke secretly”).

man smoking

悄悄地 – Qiāoqiāo de

The word 悄悄地 qiāoqiāo de is one of the few Chinese adverbs not formed from an adjective. It translates to “quietly” and implies an element of stealth or secrecy. Imagine Zorro moving like a thief in the night as he quietly closes the door and leaves the room: 悄悄地关上门,离开房间 qiāoqiāo de guānshàng mén, líkāi fángjiān.

As in the following examples, some disyllabic adjectives are also duplicated for emphasis in an “AABB” pattern before adding the 地 de particle.

舒舒服服地 – Shūshūfúfú de

The word 舒舒服服地 shūshūfúfú de sounds a little cutesy in Chinese, and it means “comfortably.” You can use it to describe how your pet dog is curled up under the table, sleeping comfortably: 蜷缩在桌子底下,舒舒服服地睡觉 quánsuō zài zhuōzi dǐxia, shūshūfúfú de shuìjiào.

认认真真地 – Rènrènzhēnzhēn de

The adjective 认真 rènzhēn means “serious,” but in its adverbial form, it more often translates into English as “carefully” or “diligently,” as in this sentence:


Lǎoshī rènrènzhēnzhēn de zhǔnbèi kèchéng

The teacher prepares the lessons diligently.

chinese teacher and pupil

高高兴兴地 – Gāogāoxìngxìng de

As an adjective, 高兴 gāoxìng means “happy” or “glad.” However, when you use it to modify a verb, it more naturally translates as “cheerfully.” For example:


Xiǎo Hóng gāogāoxìngxìng de dēngshàng fēi wǎng shànghǎi de fēijī

Xiao Hong cheerfully boarded the plane to Shanghai.

Not all Mandarin adverbs and adjectives can be doubled up in this way. There are no hard-and-fast rules for Chinese adverbs, and the various categories can confuse beginners. But try not to get discouraged; the longer you learn Chinese, the more familiar you’ll become with these patterns.

Chinese adverbs of mood or attitude

Besides Chinese adverbs of manner, time, and frequency, other adverbs convey the attitude or sentiments of the person speaking. These are “sentence adverbs” in English, as they do not modify verbs. Instead, they modify the tone of the entire sentence or clause.

In the Chinese language, sentence adverbs that convey the speaker’s attitude are called 语气副词 yǔqì fùcí, meaning “tone adverbs.” Take a look at the following examples to get a sense of using these adverbs when speaking Mandarin.

Chinese adverbs of mood or attitude

明明 – Míngmíng

By using the adverb 明明 míngmíng, the speaker implies that a particular situation or fact is plain to see or easy to understand. The direct translation of 明明 is “obviously,” and here is an example of using it in a sentence:

你明明不会做 为什么还要装样子

Nǐ míngmíng bùhuì zuò wèishénme hái yào zhuāngyàngzi?

You obviously don’t know how to do it, so why bother pretending?

到底 – Dàodǐ

One of those Chinese adverbs that are very difficult to translate into English is 到底 dàodǐ which means “to get to the bottom.”

Though you can use 到底 dàodǐ to mean “after all” or “in the end,” this adverb is often a sign of the speaker’s frustration or annoyance:


Nǐ nàyàng gàn dàodǐ shì wèishénme?

What the hell did you do that for?

angry boss scolding employee

最好 – Zuìhǎo

You are likely already familiar with how to use the phrase 最好 zuìhǎo as an adjective from the very beginning of your Mandarin studies. But did you know this phrase can also function as an adverb? In that case, it means “you’d better do something.”

You can use 最好 zuìhǎo to express your opinion or to give advice, as in 你最好坐车吧 Nǐ zuì hǎo zuòchē ba (“You’d better go by bus/train”).

Sometimes the tone can be a little condescending. For example, if someone tells you, 你最好今天把它搞完 Nǐ zuì hǎo jīntiān bǎ tā gǎo wán, it’s as though the speaker is wagging their finger at you, telling you “It would be best if you finished it today” (or else).

简直 – Jiǎnzhí

Adding the adverb 简直 jiǎnzhí to a sentence places more emphasis on what is said. It would be the equivalent of “simply” or “absolutely” in English. Here is an example of the adverb 简直 in the sentence:


Wǒ jiǎnzhí bùnéng xiǎngxiàng yǒu zhèzhǒng shì.

I simply can’t imagine such a thing.

shocked young woman in front of computer

难怪 – Nánguài

The adverb 难怪 nánguài, which translates to “no wonder,” expresses the speaker’s sentiment that the situation is not surprising.

If you’ve been walking for hours, no wonder you’re tired: 难怪你累了 nánguài nǐ lèi le. And of course, if you eat so much, it’s no wonder you’re gaining weight: 你吃得这么多 难怪你长胖了 Nǐ chīde zhème duō nánguài nǐ zhǎng pàng le.

Chinese adverbs of degree

Adverbs of degree indicate the intensity of an action or condition. Known as 程度副词 chéngdù fùcí in Mandarin Chinese, adverbs of degree can modify verbs, adjectives, or even other adverbs.

In Mandarin, like in English, the degree depends on the speaker’s tone as much as on their choice of words.

Chinese adverbs of degree

有点 / 一点 – Yǒudiǎn / Yīdiǎn

Both words 有点 yǒudiǎn and yīdiǎn mean “a little” or “a little bit,” but there are essential differences in how you use them as adverbs.

When you place 有点 before an adjective, even though you can use 有点 for describing a situation, it often carries a connotation of complaining. For example:


Wǒ báitiān dùzi yǒudiǎn téng

My stomach was hurting a bit during the day.

In contrast, when you place 一点 after adjectives, you can use it to make comparisons or requests, such as:


Lǎobǎn, zhège bāo kěyǐ piányí diǎn ma?

Boss, can you make this bag a little cheaper?

In this case, you shorten 一点 yīdiǎn to simply 点 diǎn.

比较 – Bǐjiào

You can use the phrase 比较 bǐjiào as a verb to compare two or more nouns. It also functions as an adverb meaning “relatively,” “rather,” or “fairly.” Here are some examples in the sentences:


Tā xué wàiyǔ bǐjiào kuài

She learns foreign languages relatively quickly.


Wǒ jīntiān gǎnjué bǐjiào lèi

I feel rather tired today.

挺 – Tǐng

The adverb 庭 tǐng is used in everyday Mandarin speech and means “quite” or “pretty.” You can find it in such sentences as:


Luō lǎoshī de kè shì tǐng hǎowán de

Mr. Luo’s lessons are pretty fun.

children at school doing chemistry experiments

很 – Hěn

When connecting a noun and adjective, 很 hěn can mean either “is very” or simply “is.” For example, 我的嘴很干 Wǒde zuǐ hěn gàn could mean either “My mouth is dry” or “My mouth is very dry). The degree is neutral and will depend on the speaker’s tone:

If you use 很 hěn before a verb related to emotions, like 爱 ài (“to love”), it always intensifies the verb, so while 我爱你 Wǒ ài nǐ means “I love you,” 我很爱你 Wǒ hěn ài nǐ means “I love you very much.”

非常 – Fēicháng

The literal meaning of 非常 fēicháng is “not-ordinary,” but it translates more naturally into English as “very” or “really.” For example:


Zhōngguócài fēicháng hǎochī

Chinese food is really delicious.

特别 – Tèbié

As an adjective, 特别 tèbié means “special” or “unusual.” You can also use 特别 as an adverb. For example, if you say 中国菜特别好吃 Zhōngguó cài tèbié hǎochī, it means “Chinese food is especially good.”

asian couple eating chinese street food

太… 了– Tài… le

Chinese character 太 tài means “too-“ and is used to intensify an adjective, to say something like 今天太热了,什么都不想做 Jīntiān tài rè le, shénme dōu bùxiǎng zuò (“It’s too hot to do anything today”).

You can also use the 太… 了 structure in a more positive sense, such as 她今天看起来太漂亮了 Tā jīntiān kànqǐlái tài piàoliang le. The literal translation of this sentence would be, “She looks too pretty today.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that the woman is too beautiful. In this case, 太 tài translates into English as “so” or “really,” implying that the woman is really pretty.

极了– Jíle

The character 极 means “the utmost point,” or “extreme,” for example, 北极 běijí (“the North Pole”), the northernmost point on the earth.

When used as an adverb, 极了 jíle (“extremely”) always comes after the adjective.

Just like 太, the word 极了 also intensifies the adjectives. Here are two examples:


Wǒ zuìjìn máng jíle

I’ve been extremely busy recently.


Zhèsuǒ xuéxiào de hànyǔ kè nán jíle

The Mandarin language lessons at this school are extremely difficult.

Very? Extremely? Not At All? - Chinese Adverbs of DEGREE

Chinese adverbs of range

Whenever you think about how an adverb works, remember there’s always a simpler sentence that exists without it. Adverbs are not required to make a sentence grammatically correct, but they sure can change the meaning.

Adverbs of range suggest the scope of action and the circumstances under which it applies. So, while “I care about my son” is a complete sentence, adding the word “only” to it changes the scope of the verb “to care,” implying that you only care about your son and no one or nothing else.

Chinese adverbs of range

只 / 只是 – Zhǐ / Zhǐshì

Adding the character 只 zhǐ before a verb limits the scope (scope of what?) to one particular noun or one specific situation, much like the word “only” or “just” in English. For example:


Wǒ shēntǐ méi shénme dà wèntí, zhǐshì yǒudiǎn lèi

I’ve got no major health problems, just tired.

Using 只 in this sentence emphasizes that you don’t have any health issues apart from tiredness.

仅仅 – Jǐnjǐn

Many adverbs in Chinese carry the meaning of “only” or “just.”

仅仅 jǐnjǐn is another common adverb, meaning “only” in the sense of “not that much,” as in this sentence:


Zhèbù diànyǐng shícháng jǐnjǐn 75 fēnzhōng

The movie was only 75 minutes long.

woman watching tv

完全 – Wánquán

The word 完全 wánquán is one of the most useful Chinese adverbs of range that translates to “completely” or “absolutely.” You can use it to broaden the scope of the subject you are talking about or emphasize what you are saying.

If someone tells you 你完全做错了 Nǐ wánquán zuòcuò le, it means either that you did everything wrong (not just one thing) or you did something totally wrong (not just a little wrong).

都 – Dōu

dōu is one of those words that can be tricky for English speakers to conceptualize. In instances like this, 他每天都在学习中文 Tā měitiān dōu zài xuéxí zhōngwén (“He is learning Chinese every day”), 都 dōu seems unnecessary or redundant.

Here, the words 都 dōu and 每 měi both mean “every.” While unnecessary in English, adding 都 here emphasizes that he is learning Chinese every day or that learning Chinese is all he does.

The adverb 都 is also used to specify the range more literally. If someone asks you 对你来说,周一到周五都方便,是吧? Duì nǐ lái shuō, zhōuyī dào zhōuwǔ dōu fāngbiàn, shì ba? (“As for you, any day from Monday to Friday is convenient, right?”), 都 indicates that any day in the range from Monday to Friday is convenient.

Chinese ADVERBS - How to Say Only, All, Precisely & More in Mandarin Chinese

What about Chinese adverbs of negation?

If you search for Chinese adverbs online, you may find another whole class of adverbs, known as 否定副词 fǒudìng fùcí, or “negative adverbs.”

Whether you can truly think of these words as adverbs or not remains a subject of debate, but technically almost any word you use to say no in Chinese may be considered a negative adverb.

And that’s a wrap! Hopefully, you’ve learned how to construct sentences with a little more flavor using Chinese adverbs. Now that you’ve grasped the basics, it’s time to practice using them in real life!