Bet you don’t know the difference between 签名 and 签字

Today we compare two words that both involve writing things: 签名 (qiānmíng) and 签字 (qiānzì). If you think the difference is that one means to sign your name, while the other means to write anything, then you’re in good company. That’s what many people think. But you would be wrong.

Both 签名 and 签字 mean to sign your name, and your name only.

But 签名 tends to be used in more general contexts. Also, 签名 can be used as a noun while 签字 cannot:

Example 1:


“zhǎo li lián jié qiānmíng de rén páichéng chángduì”

“People looking for Jet Li’s signature form a long line”

Example 2:


“hánguó zǒngtǒng li míng bó zài nǚ zhígōng bèibù qiānmíng rě zhēngyì”

“Korean President Lee Myung-bak signing on a female worker’s back causes controversy”

Example 3:


“yàmǎxùn zhēngjí qiānmíng ,yù jiāng wǎngshāng xiāoshòushuì tíjiāo quánmín gōngjué”

“Amazon collects signatures, wants to submit the internet merchant sales tax to all citizens for a public decision”

On the other hand, 签字 is reserved for more formal occasions. You could say that you feel more of the weight of responsibility when 签字 is used.

Example 4:


“yīshēng dān zé qiānzì jiù le tuìwǔ lǎo bīng”

“Doctor’s assuming of responsibility to sign saves a retired soldier”

Example 5:


“rì xīn fǎxiàng chēng bùyuàn qiānzì”

“New Japanese Justice Minister announces he is unwilling to sign”

Example 6:


“jiē kuàidì hángyè sìdà qiánguīzé ,xiān qiānzì hòu yànhuò 。。。”

“Revealing the express delivery industry’s 4 unspoken rules, sign first and inspect goods later…”


Questions? Comments? Other words you like us to cover? Let us know!

P.S. Like this post? Check out our other Chinese Vocabulary posts!

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4 Responses to Bet you don’t know the difference between 签名 and 签字

  1. SH September 6, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    First time coming across the usage for 签字, thanks for the explanation! :)

  2. Alan September 6, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    Thanks for the feedback! There’s more where that came from!

  3. Brad February 26, 2013 at 10:38 am #

    I’d like to request some help and guidance please. Actually, contrary to the article, I thought that 签字 is less formal and more generally used than 签名. In my experience living in China for 13 yrs, 99.9999% of the time you’ll be asked to 签字, or someone has 签字了, rather than 签名. My job and life are by far mostly in Chinese now, but my Chinese is definately not perfect, so am I’m off track here or is ther something I’m missing??

    My customers 签字 our company contracts, cashiers (all cashiers in fact) ask you to 签字 when you’re paying with a debit card (I was asked 3x today in fact to 签字), the delivery man asks you to 签字 when he delivers a small letter or big package, your 签字 an informal Xmas card. 签名 is hardly ever heard in day-to-day life compared to 签字. My secretary asks me to 签字 that she payed me my gas money that I asked the office to reimburse. So I’m very confused with the statement that 签名 is more general and less formal.

    Please help. Thx

    • Alan March 1, 2013 at 2:09 am #

      Hi Brad,

      Thanks I think that’s a fantastic question! I don’t think I did a good job explaining.

      Basically, 签字 is used when there is some sort of legal responsibility. 签名 just means to sign your name, and it can be used for situations like when celebrities give people their signatures.

      So it seems like in your day to day life, there are a lot of instances when people sign and it carries legal weight.

      Thanks for the question!