You Will be WAY Better at Chinese Knowing About Affixes

Word Structure: Affixes 附加式

This is part 6 of an 8-part series exploring all 7 types of Chinese compound word. Click below for the other parts:

Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5 – Part 6 – Part 7 – Part 8


chinese prefixes, You Will be WAY Better at Chinese Knowing About Affixes

Affixed words divide into Prefixes, Infixes, and Suffixes. Chinese has fewer affixes than other languages. Think of these like how we might say “pretty,” “prettier,” “prettiest,” “prettiness.” You could even invent a word called “prettyism” and most people would understand that “-ism” is the suffix referring to the ideology around “pretty.” 

Chinese Prefixes

chinese prefixes, You Will be WAY Better at Chinese Knowing About Affixes

老- lǎo

Familiarity- Put 老 in front of a surname to form a respectful nickname. Almost like if you said “Brother Wang,” its a term of endearment. Remember, even though “老” can have the meaning of “Old,” when used as a prefix it does not carry this meaning.

老王- lǎowáng

Brother Wang

老陈- lǎochén

Brother Chen

老张- lǎozhāng

Brother Zhang

Numbers with 老

If you put 老 before a number (e.g., 老二,老三)it is indicating some form of seniority, with number one being 老大(dà “big”), not 老一. So, if there were four children in a family, the first born would be 老大, and the last born would be 老四 (sì- “four”). 

小- xiǎo

小 is used in the same way as 老 in front of a Surname. Although it carries a little less respect than 老, it is still a term of endearment, kind of like saying “Buddy Wang.”

小王 xiǎowáng

Buddy Wang

小陈 xiǎochén

Lil’ Chen

小张 xiǎozhāng

Buddy Zhang

第- dì

This character pre-fix is used merely to form counting numbers (or ordinal numbers). In the same way that we would change “three” to “third” to indicate that three is part of a sequence, in Chinese, you take 三 and make it 第三 to indicate it is the “third.”





第一万- wàn


You can also add a measure word (e.g., 个 gè) after the numeral to indicate that its the third “one.”


The first one


The second one


The ten-thousandth one

初- chū

In the interest of completeness, we’ve included 初, and it is used in front of numbers to indicated the year in elementary school or to show the first ten days of the lunar month. No need to worry about this for now, as these two concepts are unlikely applicable to your life.

可- kě

When combined with a verb like 爱 (ài- To Love) or 笑 (xiào- To Laugh), it changes the verb to an adjective in the same way that we use “-able” in English.

可爱 kěài


可笑 kěxiào


可吃 kěchī

Edible (吃- “To Eat”)

可怕 kěpà

Dreadful (怕- “To Dread”)

好 & 难 have opposite meanings, good or easy and hard or difficult respectively. When added in front of a verb like “Look,” “Smell” or “Use,” it turns them into an adjective, indicating the verb is either “easy” or “hard” to do depending on the prefix.

好看- hǎokàn

Easy + Look= Pretty

难看 nánkàn

Difficult + Look= Ugly

好闻- hǎowén

Good + Smell= Fragrant

难闻 nánwén

Difficult + Smell= Smelly

好用- hǎoyòng

Easy + Use= Easy to Use

难用 nányòng

Hard + Use= Hard to Use


chinese prefixes, You Will be WAY Better at Chinese Knowing About Affixes

This word is a little bit less frequent than prefix or suffix, but you guessed it, an “Infix” goes in the middle of a word to form a new word. Mandarin only has two.

得 de & 不 bu

The structure of these is Verb + 得/不 + Adjective. It refers to the possible actions in the Verb-How structure. For example, the word “听懂” (tīngdǒng) is “Listen” (听) and “Understand” (懂) and means “To understand.” If you add 不 or 得 in between, you are either saying “Listen – Not – Understand” OR “Listen- Obtain -Understand”

听不懂 tīngbudǒng

Cannot understand

听得懂 tīngdedǒng

Can understand

儿 er

When used as a suffix, 儿 takes the tone of the previous character and does not have its own syllable. For example, 这儿 (zhè- this) is not “zhè er,” but rather one syllable “zhèr.”

Remember, when it is referring to the actual noun “Son” (e.g., 儿子 ér zi) then it is 2nd tone, but in that case, it is not an Affix.

Many times, adding the “儿” is merely a dialectical suffix and does not change the meaning of the word, but sometimes it will change the meaning, the following are some examples:

这- zhè



那- nà



火- huǒ



这儿- zhèr



那儿- nàr



火儿- huǒr


To be angry

们 men

When placed after human or pronouns this suffix 们 pluralizes the noun. When used after human nouns, except for pronouns it is only used for two-syllable nouns, as such:

朋友们- péngyǒumen


同事们- tóngshìmen


学生们- xuéshēngmen


When used after pronouns, one syllable is acceptable:

我们- wǒmen


你们- nǐmen

You (Plural)

他们- tāmen


学 xué

When you see 学 as a suffix, it is just like “-ology” or “-istry” in English, it is merely referring to the academic discipline that is in front of it.

化学- huàxué

Transform + -ology= Chemistry

社会学- shèhuìxué

Society + -ology= Sociology

动物学- dòngwùxué

Animal + -ology= Zoology

家 jiā

This is the same as -ist in English; it is merely referring to a person who is an expert in the field listed in front of the 家 suffix.

作家- zuòjiā

Create + -ist= Writer

科学家- kēxuéjiā

Science + -ist= Scientist

音乐家- yīnyuèjiā

Music + -ist= Musician

化 huà

This suffix 化 is the same of “-ize” or “-ify” in English in the sense that it turns a noun or adjective into a verb.

美化- měihuà

Beautiful + -ize= Beautify

商业化- shāngyèhuà

Commercial + -ize= Commercialize

同化- tónghuà

Similar + -ize= Assimilate

子 zi & 头 tou

Both of these suffixes do not hold semantic meaning in Chinese anymore. They developed over a long period as Mandarin slowly lost many tonal and consonant distinctions. This change caused the language to have too many homophones, so one of the solutions to this was to add “子” or “头” after many nouns to help distinguish from other homophones.

Both 子 and 头 have the neutral 5th tone when suffixes. When 头 is NOT a suffix, it means “head” and is pronounced with second tone tóu. When 子 is NOT a suffix, it means “Son” or “Child” and is pronounced with third tone zǐ.

There is no shortcut to learning which nouns have 子 or 头,but luckily by following the Mandarin Blueprint Sequence you will come across all the most common ones before finishing the sequence.

When there is a noun that contains 头 or 子 as independent words, it can drop the 头 or 子 when combined with other morphemes. Examples:

木头 mùtou


木桌 mùzhuō

Wooden Table

木勺 mùsháo

Wooden Spoon

木板 mùbǎn

Wooden Board

鞋子 xiézi


皮鞋 píxié

Leather Shoes

布鞋 bùxié

Cloth Shoes

拖鞋 tuōxié


chinese prefixes, You Will be WAY Better at Chinese Knowing About Affixes