Chinese pronouns

Chinese pronouns

Chinese pronouns (known as 代词 dàicí) differ somewhat from their English counterparts. For instance, there is no differentiation between "he", "she" and "it", though a written difference was introduced after contact with the West, and with the exception of the reflexive self, pronouns remain the same whether they are the subject or object of a sentence. Mandarin Chinese further lacks a distinction between the possessive adjective ("my") and possessive pronoun ("mine"); both are formed by appending the particle de. Some honorifics exist in the language, but modern Chinese, especially in the spoken language, lacks the levels of respect of Japanese.


Personal pronouns

Standard Simplified Chinese personal pronouns[1]
Person Singular Plural*
First person

I, me
Exclusive Inclusive
we, us
we, us
Second person Informal Polite 你们


Third person Masculine Feminine Neuter Masculine Feminine Neuter

he, him

she, her

they, them
they, them
they, them
* The character to indicate plurality is 們 (men) in Traditional Chinese characters.
Used to indicate 'you and I' (two people) only; in all other cases wǒmen is used. This form has fallen into disuse outside Beijing.

Originally, Chinese had no distinction for gender or animacy in the second- and third-person pronouns; in the spoken language, they remain undifferentiated. Separate characters were created in response to contact with the West and its gender- and animacy-indicating pronouns.[citation needed] Attempts to introduce audibly different forms for she () and it (tuō) in the first half of the 20th century were unsuccessful.[2]

Traditional Chinese characters maintain several pronouns that in simplified Characters have been merged together. The traditional system has both masculine and feminine forms of "you" ( and ), although this distinction is not always maintained in writing anymore; in the simplified system, only is used (sometimes also use in simplified Chinese in some contexts). 祢 , a second person pronoun, is sometimes used for addressing deities. The traditional system also has three neuter third-person pronouns, () for animals, for deities, and for inanimate objects, but, again, this distinction is sometimes blurred in actual usage; in simplified Chinese, is used in place of .

Third-person pronouns see less use in Chinese than in English, and overuse of by learners of the language is seen as undesirable. This is especially true when discussing inanimate entities, which are usually referred to as 'this' and 'that' instead.[3]

The collective pronouns are formed by simply adding (simplified)/ (traditional) mén to the end of each pronoun; thus, 你们, 我们, 咱们, 他/她/牠/它们 or 你們, 我們, ///它們 would mean "you [plural]", "we" and "they" respectively.

The pronoun nín is used as a formal version of the second person pronoun, but does not have a feminine variant, and is not used in the plural.

The pronouns ǎn and ǒu are often used in Mandarin to mean "I". They are of dialectal origins, once spoken by the stereotypical country-side commoner. However, their usage is gaining popularity among the young, most notably in online communications.

There exist many more pronouns in Classical Chinese and in literary works, including (rǔ) or (ěr) for "you", and (wú) for "I" (see Chinese honorifics). However, they are not encountered in colloquial speech.

There are also various dialectal variants of pronouns, such as Taiwanese Minnan 汝 (pinyin: ; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: lín) for "you", and Written Cantonese 佢哋 (keúih deih) for "they".

The possessive pronoun

To indicate possession (de) is appended to the pronoun. In literature or in some daily phrases (especially ones about family or concepts very close to the owner) this is often omitted, e.g. 我妈/我媽 (wǒ mā); is a synonym for 我的妈妈/我的媽媽 (wǒ de māmā, "my mother"). For old generations, (ling) is the equivalent modern form 您的 (ninde), as in 令尊 (lingzun) "Your father." In literary style, (qí) is sometimes used for "his" or "her"; e.g., 其父 means "his father" or "her father".

In regards to dialectals, in Taiwanese Minnan the character for "your" is 恁 (pinyin: rèn; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: lín); although this would be pronounced the same as the personal pronoun 汝 lín, it is represented by a different character when used as the equivalent of 你的 in Standard Chinese.

The reflexive pronoun

The singular personal pronouns (for humans) may be made reflexive by appending 自己 zìjǐ, "self".

Pronouns in imperial times and self-deprecatory

See also Chinese honorifics.

In imperial times, the pronoun for "I" was commonly omitted when speaking politely or to someone with higher social status.[citation needed] "I" was usually replaced with special pronouns to address specific situations.[citation needed] Examples include 寡人 guǎrén during early Chinese history and zhèn after the Qin dynasty when the Emperor is speaking to his subjects. When the subjects speak to the Emperor, they address themselves as (chén), or "your official". It was extremely impolite and taboo to address the Emperor as "you" or to address oneself as "I".

In modern times, the practice of self-deprecatory terms is still used in specific formal situations. In résumés, the term 贵/貴 (guì; lit. noble) is used for "you" and "your"; e.g., 贵公司/貴公司 refers to "your company". 本人 (běn rén; lit. this person) is used to refer to oneself.

See also



  1. ^ Adapted from Yip, p. 47.
  2. ^ Kane, p. 107.
  3. ^ Sun, pp. 166-167.

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