100 Most Common Chinese Words To Master & Become Fluent

It’s often said that the Chinese language is one of the most ancient in the world. However, not enough is said about its beauty and the richness of meaning of Chinese words.

Chinese is estimated to have a total of 500.000 words, the largest monolingual dictionary featuring over 38.000 terms. Though this number might seem a bit frightening to those who are just starting to learn Chinese, the good news is that by learning 5% of the total words that make up the Chinese language, you can understand up to 90% of virtually every Chinese conversation.

 

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The Importance of Knowing the Core Words

To understand how this can be possible, let’s stop to think about how we use our own language. Take English, for example. When was the last time you said words like “oblivion”, “berserk”, or “alliteration”? Though the answer may vary depending on aspects like your profession and your conversational style, most probably you don’t use them as often as you use words like “here”, “what”, “nice”, “get”, etc.

The Chinese language is no different. If the reason why you want to learn Chinese words is to communicate with native speakers, then the best thing you can do is think about how you speak your own language.

Focusing your efforts on learning the most relevant Chinese words will boost your fluency in Chinese in no time. Consider this information: Knowing as few as 100 Chinese words you can understand 50% of the language in a blog or an article.

What if you learned the 1000 core words in the Chinese language, then?

Knowing 1000 Chinese words you get to understand 75% of all texts in Chinese, including fiction and non-fiction books.

But how is this possible? Easy: when you learn Chinese, every new word you acquire helps you to guess the meaning of more than a hundred different words that you have never read or heard before. Learning Chinese doesn’t sound that scary now, right?

100 Most Common Chinese Words

To help you get started, we have compiled a list of the 100 of the most common Chinese words in the Chinese language. Ambitious learners who want to go beyond the basic 100 Chinese words should check our article on Chinese tones and how they can change the meaning of words and phrases.

Grammatical Words

  • 的  de = grammatical particle, of
  • 不 bù = not
  • 了 le = verb particle marking a new situation or a completed action
  • 我 wǒ = I, me, my
  • 在 zài = at, located at
  • 他 tā = he, him
  • 这 zhè = this
  • 中 zhōng = in the middle of
  • 上 shàng = above, on, over, top, (go) up, last
  • 个 gè = measure word
  • 为 wèi = for, for the sake of, in order to
  • 和 hé = and, together, with
  • 你 nǐ = you, your
  • 那 nà = that
  • 下 xià = below, under, (go) down, next (as opposed to previous/last)
  • 自 zì = from, since
  • 着 zhe = verb particle marking a continuing progress/state
  • 之 zhī = subordinator similar to 的 de
  • 可 kě = ~able, (=可以 kěyǐ) may, can
  • 她 tā = she, her
  • 后 hòu = behind, back
  • 么 me = (interrogative suffix) / 什么? shénme? = What?
  • 没 méi (=没有 méiyǒu) = haven’t, there isn’t
  • 于 yú = in, at, for, to, from, by, than
  • 无 wú = without
  • 又 yòu = again, both… and…
  • 如 rú = like, as, as if
  • 前 qián = in front, previous, ago, former, first

Verbs

  • 是 shì = to be
  • 有 yǒu = have, there is
  • 来 lái = come
  • 说 shuō =  speak, say (=说话 shuōhuà)
  • 出 chū = go out, come out, in direction out from something
  • 要 yào = want, will, shall, need
  • 以 yǐ = use, take
  • 以 yǐ = use, take
  • 生 shēng = give birth, life
  • 会 huì = can, meet
  • 去 qù = go, leave, depart
  • 过 guò = pass, cross, go by, exceed
  • 能 néng = can, be able
  • 发 fā = deliver, utter, express, shoot, emit, develop, expand
  • 成 chéng (=成为 chéngwéi) = become
  • 作 zuò = do, make
  • 当 dāng = serve as
  • 想 xiǎng = think, feel, consider, want, remember
  • 看 kàn = see, look at, think
  • 用 yòng = use
  • 见 jiàn = appear to be, meet with, call on
  • 动 dòng = move, change, arouse

Adjectives

  • 大 dà = big
  • 对 duì = correct, mutual
  • 小 xiǎo = small
  • 开 kāi = open
  • 行 xíng = OK
  • 经 jīng = constant, regular
  • 头 tóu = head, top, first
  • 公 gōng = public, official
  • 老 lǎo = old, venerable, outdated
  • 长 cháng = long, lasting

Nouns

  • 人 rén = person
  • 国 guó = country, state, nation
  • 们 men (ex. 我们 | wǒmen | we)
  • 子 zǐ = child, son
  • 地 dì = earth, ground, soil, place, position, distance
  • 道 dào = way, path, channel, way, say, a streak (of light), doctrine
  • 时 shí = period, season
  • 年 nián = year
  • 家 jiā = home, house, family
  • 里 lǐ = neighbourhood, half kilometre
  • 心 xīn = heart
  • 天 tiān = sky, heaven, day
  • 日 rì = sun
  • 事 shì = matter, affair, thing, event, accident, job, responsibility
  • 文 wén = language, literature
  • 手 shǒu = hand, a person skilled in something
  • 主 zhǔ = lord, master, host, god
  • 方 fāng = side, square
  • 所 suǒ = place
  • 本 běn = basis, origin, edition classifier for books, periodicals, files, etc.
  • 面 miàn = face, surface

Adverbs

  • 也 yě = also, as well
  • 多 duō = many, much, more
  • 就 jiù = just, simply, right away
  • 就要 jiùyào = about to (do something)
  • 而 ér = furthermore
  • 都 dōu = all
  • 然 rán = so, like that
  • 只 zhǐ = only, just, merely
  • 已 yǐ = already

As you can see, most of the most common Chinese words in the list are grammatical words. Why? Because these are the terms that help you make connections between content words, and understand how they relate to one another to make meaningful sentences.

Tips to Learn Chinese Vocabulary

1. Start small

The Chinese writing system is based on root elements known as radicals, which are the foundation used in most written words. Dedicate some time to learning the 250 radicals and you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble in the long run.

The great thing about radicals is that they often resemble the object they represent, so they’re quite easy to memorise, which will help you learn Chinese words much faster!

2. Break it down

Now that you know the most common Chinese words you’re ready to start your Chinese character journey. What is the best way to learn Chinese without feeling overwhelmed? Breaking down your characters.

Each Chinese character is made up of essential components that contribute to its meaning. Think of these components as the ‘story’ for that individual character. By breaking down the meaning of the radical and the other components in the character, you create a narrative for it which will make the meaning clear and easy to remember.

3. Stay strong

Organise your learning process so that you can group characters according to similarities, either in radicals or in pronunciation. This will make it easier for you to internalise similar character components and you’ll become aware of how they are pronounced right off the bat.

Now that you know what the most common Chinese words are and what you can do to memorise them, what else can you do to learn the Chinese language?

Easy. With our one-to-one courses taught by native Chinese speakers, you will learn more about common Chinese words from a communicative perspective, i.e, with a focus on how you can use them to communicate with other people. Visit our website now and explore our tailor-made courses.

Learn Chinese with a professional native teacher in your city or online! Flexible courses tailored to your needs.

 

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