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30 Easy Chinese Characters to Jumpstart Your Language Learning
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1. 一 (yī)
The character for “one” in Chinese is simply one horizontal stroke.
Incidentally, the characters for two 二 (èr) and three 三 (sān) are also simple horizontal strokes. One, two and three are quite easy to remember, since one is one stroke, two is two strokes, etc.
One in Chinese is used in references to the singular, such as a single person 一个人(yī gè rén). For example:
我一个人来。(wǒ yī gè rén lái) I came here by myself.
One is also used when ordering or purchasing items, for example:
我要一个。(wǒ yào yī gè) I would like one.
2. 人 (rén)
The Chinese character for “man” is two simple strokes. The character looks like a person with legs apart.
When you put two of these characters together, producing 人人 (rén rén), the meaning is “everyone.” For example:
人人都爱喝可乐。 (rén rén dōu ài hē kě lè) Everyone loves drinking soda.
3. 日 (rì)
The character for “sun” looks like a box with a line in the middle. It’s supposed to approximate the image of the sun. You might have to use a little imagination, but in ancient bronze script, this character was more circular like the sun.
日 not only refers to the Earth’s source of light, but it also means “day.” It’s used when talking about dates, e.g. 7日 is the seventh day of whatever month you’re talking about. If you put two sun characters together 日日 (rì rì) it means “every day.”
4. 月 (yuè)
The character for “moon” originally resembled a crescent. If you look at the oracle bone script you’ll see what I mean.
月 not only refers to the nightly crescent, but it also means “month.” For example, 8月 7日 is how you’d write “August 7.”
You can write all the months in Chinese simply by putting a numeral (or Chinese character if you like—either works) in front of 月. Here are the names of January through March:
Too easy, right?
5. 山 (shān)
Can you tell that this character looks like a mountain range? Check out the ancient script, and you’ll see that it has much closer resemblance.
When combined with other characters, it means even more things related to nature and scenery. For example, when combined with the character for “water,” 水 (shǔi), you get 山水 (shān shǔi), which means “landscape.”
Therefore 山水画 (shān shǔi huà) refers to a landscape painting. Check out how the character for “painting” or “drawing,” 画 (huà), looks like a little picture in a frame!
6. 水 (shǔi)
The character for “water” resembles a drip with some splashes. It was much more watery-looking thousands of years ago.
To make use of another character we already learned (一), “one glass of water” is 一杯水 (yī bēi shǔi). To ask for a glass of water, you could say:
请给我一杯水。(qǐng gěi wǒ yī bēi shǔi) Please give me a glass of water.
7. 大 (dà)
See how the character for “big” looks like a person with arms and legs spread wide?
When we combine 大 with another character we just learned (人) we get 大人 (dà rén) which means “adult,” or literally, “big man.” However, FYI, a child isn’t called “little man.”
You could describe a big mountain as 大山 (dà shān). This, of course, is also the name of famous Chinese-speaking comedian Mark Roswell.
University is called 大学 (dà xué), literally “big school.”
8. 小 (xiǎo)
Since we learned “big,” we have to learn its opposite, 小. Can you guess what “elementary school” is in Chinese? It’s 小学 (xiǎo xué) or “little school.”
Note that 小 (xiǎo) only refers to size. When we talk about small amounts, we say 少 (shǎo).
On another note, 小姐 (xiǎo jiě) means “lady.”
9. 口 (kǒu)
The character for “mouth” looks just like an opening. Here are some common phrases that use this character:
大口 (dà kǒu) big mouthful
出口 (chū kǒu) exit
人口 (rén kǒu) population
山口 (shān kǒu) mountain pass
10. 火 (hǔo)
Check out this flaming character’s evolution from the bone script version. Very cool. Here are some ways to use this character:
大火 (dà hǔo) big flame and 小火 (xiǎo hǔo) small flame, refer to heat levels for cooking; you might see these in recipes
火车 (hǔo chē) train
山火 (shān hǔo) forest fire
11. 男 (nán)
The character for “boy” is actually the combination of 田 (tián) farm and 力 (lì) work, referring to how traditionally men worked the land. You’ll see this character on the door of public washrooms. Here are a couple more instances using this character:
男人 (nán rén) man
男友 (nán yǒu) boyfriend
12. 女 (nǚ)
This character kind of looks like a lady with her legs crossed. Check out its interesting evolution throughout history. Here are two examples of how to use this character:
美女 (měi nǚ) pretty girl
少女 (shào nǚ) young lady
13. 天 (tiān)
Notice how the shape of this character points upwards, towards the sky. Two of these characters together 天天 (tiān tiān) means “every day” as well.
The four seasons are written as:
春天 (chūn tiān) spring
夏天 (xià tiān) summer
秋天 (qīu tiān) fall
冬天 (dōng tiān) winter
今天 (jīn tiān) today
昨天 (zúo tiān) yesterday
明天 (míng tiān) tomorrow
14. 牛 (níu)
This character looks like an animal with horns. Here are a couple ways we use this character:
牛肉 (níu ròu) beef
牛比 (níu bǐ) awesome; we’re not sure what cows have to do with awesomeness, but maybe it’s kind of like “holy cow!” in English.
15. 马 (mǎ)
The horse character resembles an animal with running legs and a long neck. It went through several iterations throughout history. Here are two more common uses of this character:
马上 (mǎ shàng) immediately
人马 (rén mǎ) troops, literally “men and horses”
16. 羊 (yáng)
Do you think this character looks like an animal with antlers? Here’s how we use this character:
山羊 (shān yáng) mountain sheep / goat
羊毛 (yáng máo) fleece
17. 木 (mù)
This nature-associated character resembles a tree. Here are two examples of associated vocabulary:
木瓜 (mù guā) papaya
木琴 (mù qín) xylophone
18. 工 (gōng)
This I-beam character appears in many work-related terms as well. Here’s where you might see it:
工作 (gōng zùo) job
工人 (gōng rén) worker
木工 (mù gōng) woodwork / carpentry
19. 开 (kāi)
This word can also mean “to start.” We use this character in these ways:
开刀 (kāi dāo) surgery
开工 (kāi gōng) start work
开口 (kāi kǒu) speak up
20. 心 (xīn)
We’re not totally sure, but perhaps this character looks a little like the organ it refers to. What do you think? Here’s how to use this character:
小心 (xiǎo xīn) be careful
开心 (kāi xīn) happy
21. 门 (mén)
This character does bear a striking resemblance to a doorway, doesn’t it? Here are a couple more uses of this character:
门口 (mén kǒu) doorway
开门 (kāi mén) open the door
22. 不 (bù)
Although this character means “no,” we don’t usually use it by itself. We usually say 不是 (bù shì) for “no” and “not correct” or 不好 (bù hǎo) for “no” or “not good.”
不少 (bù shǎo) literally translates to “not few,” and so in other words means “a lot.”
23. 十 (shí)
Ten in Chinese is a very versatile word. For example, 十分 (shí fēn) means “very much.”
In counting, all the teen digits use ten as the base, that is:
十一 (shí yī) eleven
十二 (shí èr) twelve
十三 (shí sān) thirteen
十四 (shí sì) fourteen
十五 (shí wǔ) fifteen
Furthermore, 20 is 二十 (èr shí) or “two tens,” 30 is 三十 (sān shí) “three tens,” 50 is 五十 (wǔ shí) and the pattern continues like this until you reach 90, which is 九十 (jǐu shí).
But just so you know, 100 is not “ten-tens,” it’s just 一百 (yī bǎi).
24. 手 (shǒu)
Can you guess how this character resembles its meaning? Check out the lines in the palm of your hand! Here are more ways to use this character:
手工 (shǒu gōng) handicraft
一手 (yī shǒu) single-handedly / by oneself
水手 (shǔi shǒu) sailor
25. 王 (wáng)
Wang 王 (wáng) is a popular last name; for example 王力宏 (wáng lì hóng) Leehom Wang is the name of a popular singer and actor.
There’s also 王子 (wáng zǐ), which means “prince.”
26. 米 (mǐ)
Now for the word that refers to the food staple and the Chinese cultural icon! Here are more cases of the character for “rice”:
玉米 (yù mǐ) corn
白米 (bái mǐ) white rice or refined rice for eating
27. 生 (shēng)
The word “birth” also refers to life and the start of something. Here are some of the many ways to use it:
生日 (shēng rì) birthday
一生 (yī shēng) one’s whole life
先生 (xiān shēng) mister; e.g. 王先生 (wáng xiān shēng) Mr. Wang
出生 (chū shēng) be born
生气 (shēng qì) get angry
28. 中 (zhōng)
This is an important character because it’s part of China’s name. It also looks like what it means: a line through the center of something. You’ll see this character used in these ways, among others:
中国 (zhōng gúo) China; literally meaning “Middle Kingdom”
中文 (zhōng wén) Chinese
中午 (zhōng wǔ) noon
中学 (zhōng xué) high school
29. 上 (shàng)
Three strokes make up this character that looks like it’s pointing up. This character also refers to attending something or going somewhere. Here’s how we use it:
上课 (shàng kè) go to class
上班 (shàng bān) go to work
晚上 (wǎn shàng) in the evening
早上 (zǎo shàng) in the morning
爱上 (ài shàng) fall in love; note that in Chinese, we don’t “fall” in love with someone, we love “upon” someone!
上车 (shàng chē) get in the car
30. 下 (xià)
This simple character looks like a downward arrow. It also refers to leaving or getting off someplace.
下班 (xià bān) get off work
下课 (xià kè) get off class
下车 (xià chē) get out of the car
This solid list of easy Chinese characters should get you well on your way to becoming a language superstar!
We wish you the best of luck on your Chinese studying journey.
And One More Thing…
Ready to put these Chinese characters to use in real-life settings?
FluentU lets you learn real Chinese from music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks. It naturally eases you into learning Chinese language, and you’ll learn Chinese as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos—like dramas, TV shows, commercials and music videos. In fact, below you’ll even see the song “Let It Go” from the hit movie “Frozen”:
FluentU brings these native Chinese videos within reach via interactive captions. You can tap on any word to instantly look it up. All Chinese words have carefully written definitions and examples that will help you understand how a word is used. Tap to add words you’d like to review to a vocab list.
From the description page, you can access interactive transcripts under the Dialogue tab, or review Chinese words and phrases under Vocab.
FluentU’s Learn Mode turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your vocabulary. It suggests content and examples based on the Chinese words you’re learning. You have a 100% personalized experience.
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