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Chinese honorifics and honorific language (敬辞 (jìngcí)谦辞 (qiāncí)婉辞 (wǎncí)客套语 (kètàoyǔ)雅语 (yáyŭ)) are words, word constructs, and expressions in the Chinese language that convey self-deprecation, social respect, politeness, or deference. Once ubiquitously employed in ancient China, a large percent has fallen out of use in the contemporary Chinese lexicon. The promotion of vernacular Chinese during the New Culture Movement (新文化运动 or 五四文化运动) of the 1910s and 1920s in China further hastened the demise of a large body of Chinese honorifics previously preserved in the vocabulary and grammar of Classical Chinese.

Although Chinese honorifics have simplified to a large degree, contemporary Chinese still retains a sizable set of honorifics. Many of the classical constructs are also occasionally employed by contemporary speakers to convey formality, humility, politeness or respect. Usage of classical Chinese honorifics is also found frequently in contemporary Chinese literature and television or cinematic productions that are set in the historical periods. Honorific language in Chinese is achieved by using honorific or beautifying alternatives, prefixing or suffixing a word with a polite complement, or by dropping casual-sounding words. In general, language referring to oneself exhibits self-deprecating humbleness - called 谦语 (qiānyŭ) ("humble language"), while language referring to others shows approval and respect - called 敬语 (jìngyǔ) ("respectful language"). Other types of honorific language include 婉语 (wǎnyŭ) ("indirect language"), 客套语 (kètàoyǔ) ("courteous language"), and 雅语 (yáyŭ) ("elegant language") that are often used to convey a sense of respect, courtesy, or elegance.

Because of its official status as the common language of China, Mandarin Chinese is used herein synonymously with the term "contemporary Chinese". Variations in usage and grammar exist in the numerous modern Chinese dialects.

Contents

IntroductionEdit

The term 知书达礼 (Literally -- one who knows the books and achieves proper mannerism) has been used to praise and characterize those of high academic and moral accomplishments and those of proper manner and conduct. Using the proper honorific or humble forms of address and other parts of speech toward oneself and toward others is an important element or requirement in the proper observation of 礼仪 (lǐyí, etiquette, formality, and mannerism). Honorific parts of speech include pronoun substitutes, modified nouns, proper nouns, and pronouns, modified verbs, honorific adjectives, honorific 成语 (chéngyǔ, "canned phrases/idioms"), and honorific alternatives for other neutral or deprecating words.

In ancient China, myriad humble and respectful forms of address, in lieu of personal pronouns and names, were used for various social relationships and situations. The choice of a pronoun substitute was often in adherence to the concepts of 尊卑 (zūnbēi) (Lit. above-beneath / superior-subordinate, “social hierarchy”), 贵贱 (guìjiàn) (Lit. worthy-worthless, "social class"), and 辈分 (bèifèn) ("seniority") or (bèi) for short.

Social Hierarchy and ClassEdit

In the Confucian philosophical classic of 易传·系辞上 (yìzhuàn xìcí shàng) or "Yizhuan - Xici" -- a latter day commentary on the book of 易经 (yìjīng) or "I Ching" ("Book of Changes"), it is stated "天尊地卑,乾坤定矣。卑高以陈,贵贱位矣。" -- it was believed in ancient China that both the order of nature, i.e., 天尊地卑 (heaven be above, earth be beneath), and from it the derived order of man, were long predetermined and dictated by the heavens, e.g., 君尊臣卑 (king be above/superior, court officials be beneath/subordinate), 男尊女卑 (man superior, woman subordinate), 夫尊婦卑 (husband superior, wife subordinate), and 父尊子卑 (father superior, son subordinate) etc. Every king and their subject, every man and woman, every husband and wife, and every father and son, should naturally follow this predetermined order and practice proper 礼仪 (lǐyí) and conduct. As a large part of 礼仪 (lǐyí), proper speech was of great importance.

Therefore in speech, among other forms of 礼仪 (lǐyí) and social behaviors, the "subordinate" or "inferior" would employ self-deprecating and humble language towards self and respectful language towards the "superior" as a recognition of their relative places in the "natural" hierarchy. On the other hand, the "superiors" would often also use humble language as a display of humility and virtue. Unsurprisingly, the characters 尊~ and 卑~ also became honorific and humble prefixes, respectively. For example, the humble substitute 卑下 (bēixià)(this inferior one below) would be used, among other deprecating substitutes, in place of the pronoun "I", and the honorific substitute 尊上 (zūnshàng) (the superior one above) would replace the pronoun "you" (later also used for "your parents").

Related to 尊卑 (zūnbēi) is the concept of 贵贱 (guìjiàn). Those with power, money and status were 贵 (worthy, honorable), and those without were 贱 (worthless, despised). These two characters also became the honorific and humble prefixes 贵~ and 贱~. Examples: 贵国 (your honorable country), 贵庚 (your honorable age), 贵姓 (your honorable surname), 贵公司 (your honorable company), and 贱姓 (my unworthy surname), 贱民 (the unworthy and despised commoner), 贱妾 (this unworthy wife of yours), 贱内 (my unworthy wife), etc. 贵~ remains a commonly used honorific prefix to this day.

SeniorityEdit

Likewise, those of a junior 辈分 (bèifèn) (i.e., 晚辈 (wǎnbèi) or 后辈 (hòubèi)) would show respect and deference to their 前辈 (qiánbeì) ("senior") , 长辈 (zhǎngbeì) or 先辈 (xiānbeì) ("elder"), and 祖辈 (zŭbeì) ("ancestors"). 辈分 (bèifèn) is not necessarily based on age, for example, a younger person who entered a school or profession before an older person would be considered the 前辈 (qiánbeì). A person who is much younger than his/her nephew in a large extended family would still be a 长辈 (zhǎngbeì) to the nephew. If two people are of the same 辈分 (bèifèn) (i.e., 平辈 (píngbeì) or 同辈 (tóngbeì)), then either experience or age would determine the hierarchy depending on the situation.

Contemporary Chinese mostly abandoned the 尊卑 (zūnbēi) and 贵贱 (guìjiàn) distinctions (especially 卑 and 贱) in its honorific practice, but retains elements of the 辈分 (bèifèn) distinctions. For example, the suffixes ~ (jiĕ) (Lit. elder sister) and ~ () (Lit. elder brother) are commonly used by junior people when addressing their 平辈 (píngbeì) seniors. Those of the next higher 辈分 (bèifèn) (i.e., 长辈 (zhǎngbeì)) acquire the suffixes ~姨,~叔 etc. Those even higher in 辈分 (bèifèn) receive the suffixes ~婆,~公,~伯 etc. When addressing a 平辈 (píngbeì) junior, the suffixes ~妹, ~弟 are used. While these suffixes derived from kinship names, they are commonly used between unrelated people. Example: when addressing a group leader at work whose name is (fāng),the less experienced person in the group might call her 芳姐 Fāng-jiě. Because these suffixes have an age connotation, their use and application are not always appropriate. Variations were created such as ~小哥哥 (Lit. little elder brother), ~小姐姐 (Lit. little elder sister) to soften age connotations. A wrong 辈分 (bèifèn) suffix can also be used intentionally to please or belittle another person. For example, some older women may prefer a ~姨 rather than ~婆 suffix, and a middle age woman may prefer to still be called ~姐 rather than ~姨. When these suffixes are used without a preceding name, or when a name is not complemented by one of these suffixes, the intimacy prefix (ā)~ is often added. (ā) is a functional particle without an actual meaning by itself, but when combined with a name (e.g., 阿芳,阿强) or with one of the 辈分 (bèifèn) related suffixes (e.g., 阿哥,阿姨,阿伯,阿婆), (ā) adds a sense of intimacy (i.e., closeness, affection) with the addressed. (ā) can be used together with a 辈分 (bèifèn) suffix, e.g., 阿芳姐 (ā-Fāng-jiě),阿强哥 (ā-Qiáng-gē). Other related honorific modifiers include 老~,大~,小~,~总,~董, see noun complements section below for more details.

Honorific VerbsEdit

Like nouns and proper nouns, some Chinese verbs can also be complemented with an honorific modifier. For example, the verbs (gào) ("to tell"), (huán) ("to return"), (péi) ("to accompany"), (quàn) ("to urge"), (sòng) ("to gift") can be complemented by the honorific prefix (fèng)~ (Lit. to offer respectfully) to form the more polite versions 奉告 (I respectfully tell you), 奉还 (I respectfully return to you), 奉陪 (I respectfully accompany you), 奉劝 (I respectfully urge you), and 奉送 (I respectfully gift you). Another example is the honorific prefix (gōng)~ (Lit. "look forward to respectfully"), e.g., 恭贺 (I respectfully congratulate you), 恭候 (I respectfully await you), 恭请 (I respectfully invite you),恭迎 (I respectfully welcome you). The addition of the honorific prefix turns these verbs into a politer version. Unlike adverbs, the prefixes are often verbs themselves, and the compounded honorific verb functions as a single language unit (i.e., a single verb). Other common prefixes for verbs and verb examples are summarized in the verb complements section below.

GrammarEdit

In practice, many of the honorific compound words are used as canned polite word alternatives, rather than being grammatically composed as people speak. There is not a systemic rule in Chinese grammar to alter words (e.g., conjugation or other inflections) for the purpose of increasing speech politeness, though the same effect can often be achieved. However, in letters (书信 (shūxìn)家书 (jiāshū)) and official documents (公文 (gōngwén)), a complex system of honorifics and rule sets exists.

Honorific Speech ExamplesEdit

Example 1:

() (xìng) 什么(shénme)
"What is your family name?"

The sentence above is a perfectly acceptable question when addressing others of equal or lower status (e.g., addressing a junior person or a child). To increase politeness, e.g., if the addressee is of higher status or the person asking the question wants to show more respect, several changes may be employed:

  1. The honorific prefix ~ (Lit. to request) + verb (to ask) (qǐngwèn, "May I please ask..."; lit. [I] request to ask) may be added
  2. The regular second-person pronoun (, "you") may be replaced by the honorific second-person pronoun (nín, "you" [cherished])
  3. The honorific prefix ~ (guì, lit. "worthy", "honorable") may be added before (xìng, "last name"); 姓 is used as a verb (i.e., "to have the family name of").
  4. If the honorific prefix ~ is added, the contemporary interrogative pronoun 什么 (shénme, "what") is usually dropped.

The resulting sentence

(qǐng) (wèn) (nín) 贵姓(guìxìng)
"May I (respectfully) request to ask you, whom I cherish, for your honorable surname?"

is much more polite and more commonly used among people in formal or careful situations.

Example 2:

小姐(xiáojiě)()多大(duōdà)(le)
"Miss, how old are you?"

The above can be changed to a much more polite question by employing the honorific prefix 敢~ (Lit. to dare) + verb 问 (to ask), and honorific prefix 芳~ (Lit. fragrant, beautiful, wonderful) + noun 龄 (age).

敢问(gǎnwèn)小姐(xiáojiě)芳龄(fānglíng)?
"May I dare to ask for this Miss' age of fragrance and beauty?"

The second-person pronoun 你 ("you") is substituted entirely by the honorific title Miss in this case. This latter way of questioning is more of classical usage, but is sometimes still used in contemporary Chinese. It is also an example of elegant speech (雅语 (yáyŭ)).

CategorizationEdit

In general, there are several types of honorifics used in the Chinese language as described below.

Respectful LanguageEdit

敬语 (jìngyǔ) - Respectful Language employs modified words or substitutes called 敬辞 (jìngcí) (Lit. respectful vocabulary) that convey a sense of respect for the addressee. For example:

  • 令爱 (lìng'ài): Lit. the beautiful and beloved -- Your daughter; the honorific prefix 令~ replaces the pronoun "your".
  • 令千金 (lìngqiānjīn): Lit. the beautiful one who is worth a thousand gold -- Your daughter.
  • 贵宝号 (guìbǎohào): Lit. the highly valued precious banner -- Your business; the honorific prefix 贵~ replaces the pronoun "your", and the prefix 宝~ modifies 号 to form an honorific substitute for someone's business.

Humble LanguageEdit

谦语 (qiānyŭ) - Humble Language employs modified words or substitutes called 谦辞 (qiāncí) (Lit. humble vocabulary) that convey a sense of self-deprecation and humility for the speaker. For example:

  • 在下 (zàixià): Lit. this one who is beneath you -- used as pronoun "I"
  • 寒舍 (hánshè): Lit. Humble and Insignificant Residence -- my home
  • 贱内 (jiànnèi): Lit. the worthless despised one inside -- my wife

Indirect LanguageEdit

婉语 (wǎnyŭ) - Indirect Language employs words called 婉辞 (wǎncí) (Lit. indirect vocabulary - e.g., euphemisms) that are used to hide or beautify an otherwise unfortunate event or action. For example:

  • 归天 (guītiān): Lit. return to heaven -- to have died
  • 挂彩 (guàcaǐ): Lit. to hang colorful decorations -- to have been shot
  • 冤家 (yuānjia): Lit. destined/mortal enemies -- often used to mean lovers

Courteous LanguageEdit

客套语 (kètàoyǔ) - Courteous Language employs specific words or phrases that have courteous and praising connotations intended to flatter the addressee. For example:

  • 不敢高攀 (bùgǎn gāopān): Lit. dare not climb up high to you -- I dare not compare myself to you
  • 久仰大名 (jiúyǎng dàmíng): Lit. long admired big name -- I've known and admired you for a long time; used when meeting someone you've heard of (not necessarily admired).
  • 高抬贵手 (gāotái guìshǒu): Lit. lift up high honorable hand -- Please be magnanimous and don't hurt me (i.e., stop doing what you intend to do to me)

Elegant LanguageEdit

雅语 (yáyŭ) - Elegant Language employs elegant or beautiful expressions and words in lieu of everyday casual words and phrases to describe people, objects, actions or concepts. It is often used on occasions where casual language may be inappropriate. It should be noted that due to the lack of equivalent expressions in English, the translated phrases often do not convey the same sense of beauty or elegance. Examples:

  • 红颜知己 (hóngyán zhījǐ): Lit. red face / know self -- beautiful beloved girlfriend ("red" refers to the make up or the natural color on a beautiful young woman's face; "know self" means someone who knows one well as in the close friendship between lovers). Compared to the casual alternative: 情人 or 女朋友 (lover / girlfriend)
  • 请用茶 (qĭng yòngchá): Lit please use tea -- please have some tea. Compared to the casual alternative: 喝茶吧 (Lit. "drink tea")
  • 请慢用 (qǐng mànyòng): Lit. please take your time to use -- please enjoy [your meal]. Compared to the casual alternative: 你们慢慢吃 (Lit. "you guys eat slowly")
  • 请代为美言几句 (qĭng dàiwéi mĕiyán jĭjù): Lit. please on my behalf beautify some of your language -- please say something nice about me/my situation in front of... Compared to the casual alternative: 帮我说几句好话啊 (Lit. "help me say some good words")

Honorific and Humble Forms of AddressEdit

敬辞 (jìngcí) (respectful vocabulary) and 谦辞 (qiāncí) (humble vocabulary) are frequently found in the various forms of address in the Chinese language. Below is a collection of the better known honorific forms of address that have been used at one time or another in the Chinese lexicon. Although many are obsolete in usage, most remain relevant in contemporary literature and in the understanding of the Chinese language. Pronunciations given are those of today's Mandarin Chinese. Because of the vast number and complexity, the list provided is intended for reference rather than completeness.

First-PersonEdit

When referring to oneself in ancient China, people avoided first-person pronouns ("I", "me", "we", and "us"). Instead, a third-person descriptor was used, which varied according to the situation. Referring to oneself in the third-person could be used arrogantly as well, to assert one's superiority or dominance over one's audience. This was most common in the imperial middle management – the imperial consorts, the military, and the imperial bureaucracy (e.g., 本官,本将军,本宫,本大爺), with the emperor instead often describing himself in sorrowful terms out of respect for his deceased father (e.g., 孤王 "This Orphaned King",寡人 "This Lonesome Man").

For the same reasons, and to a much lesser degree, the first-person pronouns are sometimes avoided also in contemporary usage. Often, the generic self-referencing prefix 本~,该~, or a humble / self-deprecating prefix such as 敝~ is used with a third-person descriptor, for example: 本人是来自甲公司的,敝公司想跟您做个访问。-- Literally, "This person is from company A, this unkempt company would like to do an interview with you." translated to "I am from company A, we would like to do an interview with you."

Provided below are some first-person honorific substitutes and usages. Their relevancy (i.e., contemporary vs. classical) and gender association are also indicated. Plurals ("we", "us") in classical Chinese are formed by the suffixes ~等 or ~众人 etc., and in contemporary Chinese by ~们. A "classical usage" designation does not preclude usage in contemporary speech or writing, as contemporary Chinese often incorporates classical elements, though it is much less likely to be seen or used in the contemporary context.

Commoners and the HumbleEdit

The following directly replace the pronoun "I" in usage by commoners or people of low social status. Example: rather than 吾(我)以为此方不可 - "I think this idea will not work" one would say 愚以为此方不可 - "This unintelligent one thinks this idea will not work."

Traditional
Chinese
Old
Chinese
[1]
Simplified
Chinese
Pinyin Literal Meaning Meaning in Usage Gender Contemporary or Classical Usage Notes
在下 *dzˤəʔgˤraʔ 在下 zàixià This one who is beneath you I, me Male Contemporary and Classical Occasionally used in contemporary Chinese.

Also 下走 in classical.

本人 本人 běnrén This person I, me Neutral Contemporary and Classical This is not necessarily a humble substitute, but is sometimes preferred over the pronoun "I" for formality.
This unintelligent one I, me Male Classical 愚~ is also a humble prefix: 愚兄 (this unintelligent senior brother/friend of yours), 愚见 (my unintelligent opinion)

Also 蒙.

*prəʔniŋ 鄙人 bǐrén This lowly/unlearned one I, me Male Classical 鄙~ is also a humble prefix: 鄙意 (my humble intent), 鄙见 (my humble opinion)
*bet-sniŋ 敝人 bìrén This unkempt/ragged one I, me Male Classical 敝~ is also a humble prefix: 敝校 (this school), 敝公司 (this company), 敝处 (this home/place)
*pegˤraʔ 卑下 bēixià This inferior one I, me Male Classical
*tsʰˤet qiè This humble one I, me Male Classical Employed by one in lower position when providing a suggestion or opinion: 窃以为 (I think)

Also “窃闻”, “窃思”

(人) *bˤok 仆(人) pú (rén) This servant I, me Male Classical Literally, "charioteer"[1]
(女) *beʔ 婢(女) bì (nǚ) This servant I, me Female Classical
(身) *tsʰap 妾(身) qiè (shēn) This consort I, me Female Classical
賤妾 *dzen-stsʰap 贱妾 jiànqiè This worthless consort I, me Female Classical
小人 *sewʔniŋ 小人 xiǎorén This little man I, me Male Classical 小~ (Lit. small, insignificant) is a recurring humble prefix.
小女 *sewʔnraʔ 小女 xiǎonǚ This little woman I, me Female Classical 小~ (Lit. small, insignificant) is a recurring humble prefix.
草民 *tsʰˤuʔmiŋ 草民 cǎomín This worthless commoner I, me Male Classical
民女 *miŋnraʔ 民女 mínnǚ This common woman I, me Female Classical
奴才 *nˤadzˤə 奴才 núcai This slave I, me Male Classical Also used by servants who are not literally slaves, especially in later dynasties
奴婢 *nˤabeʔ 奴婢 núbì This slave I, me Female Classical Also used by servants who are not literally slaves, especially in later dynasties.

奴 and 婢 were sometimes used alone for the same meaning.

奴家 *nˤakˤra 奴家 nújiā This slave of yours I, me Female Classical Can be used with strangers by a woman to show humbleness.

RoyaltyEdit

The following directly replace the first person pronoun "I" in usage by the royalty. For kings and emperors, gender is assumed to be male for simplicity, because the overwhelming majority of Chinese kings and emperors were men, with only a few exceptions. Sometimes the generic self-referencing prefix 本~ was used with the speaker's title. For example, 本贵人。

Traditional
Chinese
Old
Chinese
[1]
Simplified
Chinese
Pinyin Literal Meaning Meaning in Usage Gender Contemporary or Classical Usage Notes
(王)/(家) *kʷˤa 孤(王)/(家) gū(wáng)(jiā) This orphaned one I, me Male Classical Employed by the king out of respect for his father, who usually (though not always) had predeceased him
(人) *kʷˤraʔ(niŋ) 寡(人) guǎ(rén) This lonesome one I, me Male Classical As above
不穀 *pəqˤok 不谷 bùgǔ This grainless one I, me Male Classical Employed by the emperor out of modesty regarding his administration (cf. the importance of the Five Grains), particularly compared to his father's rule
予一人 予一人 yǘyìrén This solitary one I, me Male Classical Employed exclusively by the Pre-Qin kings of China.
*lrəmʔ zhèn I I, me Male Classical The original generic first-person pronoun, arrogated to the emperors during the reign of Shi Huangdi. Comparable to the royal we.
本王 本王 běnwáng This king / This Nobleman I, me Male Classical Originally by pre-imperial kings. Later by royalty and nobleman with the title: 王爷.

本~ ("This") is a recurring prefix.

哀家 *ʔˤəjkˤra 哀家 āijiā This sad house I, me Female Classical Employed by the emperor's mother out of respect for her deceased husband
本宮 本宫 běngōng This one of the palace I, me Female Classical Employed by an empress or a high-ranking consort when speaking to a person or an audience of lower rank or status

本~ ("This") is a recurring prefix.

臣妾 *gintsʰap 臣妾 chénqiè This subject and consort I, me Female Classical Employed by the empress and consorts before the emperor.

妾身 is also used.

兒臣 *ŋegin 儿臣 ěrchén This child and subject I, me Neutral Classical Employed by the emperor before the empress dowager and by the imperial family before their parents or the emperor's other consorts

Government and MilitaryEdit

The following directly replace the first person pronoun "I" in usage by government and military officials.

Traditional
Chinese
Old
Chinese
[1]
Simplified
Chinese
Pinyin Literal Meaning Meaning in Usage Gender Contemporary or Classical Usage Notes
*gin chén This subject I, me Neutral Classical Employed by officials when addressing the emperor, based on a word that originally meant "slave" during the Zhou dynasty.[2]
下官 *gˤraʔkʷˤan 下官 xiàguān This lowly official I, me Neutral Classical Employed by officials when addressing other bureaucrats of higher rank
末官 *mˤatkʷˤan 末官 mòguān This lesser official I, me Neutral Classical As above.
小吏 *sewʔrəʔ‑s 小吏 xiǎolì This little clerk I, me Neutral Classical As above.

小~ (Lit. small, insignificant) is a recurring humble prefix.

卑職 *petək 卑职 bēizhí This inferior office I, me Neutral Classical Employed by officials when addressing their patrons or other bureaucrats of equal rank
末將 *mˤattsaŋ‑s 末将 mòjiàng This lesser commander I, me Neutral Classical Employed by military officers when addressing other officers of higher rank
本府 本府 běnfǔ This office I, me Neutral Classical Employed by officials when addressing other bureaucrats of lower rank. Commonly found in fiction.

本~ ("This") is a recurring prefix.

本官 *pˤənʔkʷˤan 本官 běnguān This Official I, me Neutral Classical Employed by officials when addressing those of lower status

本~ ("This") is a recurring prefix.

本帥 *pˤənʔs‑rut‑s 本帅 běnshuài This Marshal I, me Neutral Classical Employed by general officers when addressing their commanders

本~ ("This") is a recurring prefix.

本將軍 *pˤənʔtsaŋ‑skʷər 本将军 běnjiāngjun This General I, me Neutral Classical Employed by general officers when addressing their commanders

本~ ("This") is a recurring prefix.

ElderlyEdit

The following directly replace the first person pronoun "I" in usage by the elderly.

Traditional
Chinese
Old
Chinese
[1]
Simplified
Chinese
Pinyin Literal Meaning Meaning in Usage Gender Contemporary or Classical Usage Notes
老朽 *rˤuʔqʰuʔ 老朽 lǎoxiǔ This old and rotting one I, me Neutral Classical 老~ ("Old") is a recurring prefix.
老拙 *rˤuʔtot 老拙 lǎozhuó This old and clumsy one I, me Neutral Classical 老~ ("Old") is a recurring prefix.
老身 *rˤuʔn̥iŋ 老身 lǎoshēn This old body I, me Female Classical 老~ ("Old") is a recurring prefix.
老漢 *rˤuʔn̥ˤar-s 老汉 lǎohàn This old man I, me Male Classical 老~ ("Old") is a recurring prefix.
老夫 *rˤuʔpa 老夫 lǎofū This old and respected man I, me Male Classical 老~ ("Old") is a recurring prefix.

Academia and ReligionEdit

The following directly replace the first person pronoun "I" in usage by scholars and monks.

Traditional
Chinese
Old
Chinese
[1]
Simplified
Chinese
Pinyin Literal Meaning Meaning in Usage Gender Contemporary or Classical Usage Notes
小生 *sewʔsreŋ 小生 xiǎoshēng This later-born one I, me Neutral Contemporary and Classical Literally "smaller-born" but Chinese uses the idea of "big" and "small" in reference to age – e.g., 你多大? ("How big are you?") is a question about one's age and not about height or weight.

Occasionally used in contemporary Chinese.

小~ (Lit. small, insignificant) is a recurring humble prefix.

晚輩 晚辈 wǎnbèi This later-born one I, me Neutral Contemporary and Classical Literally "[belonging to a] later generation"

晚~("late") is a recurring humble prefix.

不肖 *pəsew‑s 不肖 búxiào This unequal one I, me Neutral Contemporary and Classical Literally "unlike", but implying the speaker is unequal to the capability and talent of his audience.

Often used as a prefix: 不肖子,不肖女,不肖徒

晚生 *morʔsreŋ 晚生 wǎnshēng This later-born one I, me Neutral Classical 晚~("late") is a recurring humble prefix.

Also 侍生.

晚學 *morʔm‑kˤruk 晚学 wǎnxué This later-taught one I, me Neutral Classical 晚~("late") is a recurring humble prefix.

后学 and 后进 were also used.

不才 *pədzˤə 不才 bùcái This inept one I, me Neutral Classical 不~("not") is a recurring humble prefix, usually used to negate a desired quality to self-deprecate.
不佞 不佞 búnìng This incapable one I, me Neutral Classical 不~("not") is a recurring humble prefix, usually used to negate a desired quality to self-deprecate.
老衲 老衲 lǎonà This old and patched one I, me Male Classical Employed by monks, in reference to their tattered robes. Used by senior/older monks.
貧僧 贫僧 pínsēng This pennyless monk I, me Male Classical 贫~("poor") is a recurring humble prefix.
貧尼 贫尼 pínní This pennyless nun I, me Female Classical 贫~("poor") is a recurring humble prefix.
貧道 *brənkə.lˤuʔ 贫道 píndào This pennyless priest/priestess I, me Neutral Classical Employed by Taoist adepts

贫~("poor") is a recurring humble prefix.

Pejorative slangEdit

In some parts of China, the following are used in place of "I" to indicate contempt for the listener, to assert the superiority of oneself, or when teasing:

  • 老子 (Lǎozi, not to be confused with Laozi the philosopher, written the same way): I, your dad (referring to oneself as superior)
  • 爺·爷 (): I, your lord. Used in parts of Northern China
  • 恁父 (Hokkien: lín-pē): I, your dad (referring to oneself as superior).

When used towards a person less well known or on formal occasions, both terms are considered to be incredibly rude, and are usually used to purposely disgrace the addressee; however, it is less of an issue when spoken among close friends, though even some friends might still be offended by their use.

First-Person PossessiveEdit

Similarly, the possessive case "my" and "our" are avoided by virtue of being associated to the humble self. This is often achieved by a humble or self-deprecating prefix, while in other cases by an honorific substitute as described below.

Referring to Own FamilyEdit

Humble substitutes are used by people when referring to their own family or family members, and replace terms such as my/our family, my wife, my husband, my/our father, my/our mother, my/our son, my/our daughter etc.

Traditional
Chinese
Old
Chinese
[1]
Simplified
Chinese
Pinyin Literal Meaning Meaning in Usage Gender Contemporary or Classical Usage Notes
~ *kˤra 家~ jiā Home My/Our Neutral Contemporary and Classical A prefix used when referring to living elder family members: my father (家父), my elder brother (家兄), &c.
~ *r̥ak-s 舍~ shě House / Residence My/Our Neutral Contemporary and Classical Literally "my lodging-house's", a prefix used when referring to younger family members: my younger brother (舍弟), my younger sister (舍妹), my family or relative (舍親) &c.
~ 愚~ Unintelligent My/Our Neutral Classical A prefix used when referring to oneself and another family member: this unintelligent couple (愚夫婦), this unintelligent father and son (愚父子), these unintelligent brothers (愚兄弟), this unintelligent brother (愚兄)
~ / 亡~ *sˤər 先~ / 亡~ xiān / wáng Deceased... My/Our Neutral Classical Literally "first", a prefix used when referring to deceased elder family members: my late father (先父), my late elder brother (先兄). Others include 先考, 先慈, 先妣, 先贤. The 亡~ prefix is used in a similar manner.
~ *nˤəp 内~ nèi Inside My Female Classical A prefix used when referring to one's wife (内人, 内子, &c.)
寒舍 *ə.gˤanr̥ak-s 寒舍 hánshè Humble Insignificant Residence My/Our house Contemporary and Classical Literally "cold lodging-house"; could be used as a metonym for the family itself

Also 舍間、舍下

拙荊 *totkreŋ 拙荆 zhuōjīng Clumsy thorn My wife Female Classical Employed by men to refer to their wives

Also 山荊、荊屋、山妻.

賤內 *dzen-snˤəp 贱内 jiànnèi Worthless one inside My wife Female Classical Employed by men to refer to their wives
賤息 贱息 jiànxí Worthless son My son Male Classical Also 息男
拙夫 *totpa 拙夫 zhuōfū Clumsy man My husband Male Classical Employed by wives to refer to their husbands
犬子 *kʷʰˤenʔtsəʔ 犬子 quǎnzǐ Dog son/child My son Male Classical Employed by parents to refer to their sons
小兒 *sewʔŋe 小儿 xiǎo'ér Young child/son My son Neutral Classical Employed by parents to refer to their sons
小女 *sewʔnraʔ 小女 xiǎonǚ Young girl/daughter My daughter Female Classical Employed by parents to refer to their daughters

Also 息女

Referring to Own AffiliationsEdit

The generic self-referencing prefix 本~ or humble prefix 敝~ is prepended to the speaker's affiliated organization to form an honorific. For example, 敝校 ("our school"), 敝公司 ("our company"), and 本单位("our unit") are used instead 我们学校,我们公司,and 我们单位.

CeremonialEdit

The following are commonly found in spiritual tablets and gravestones for family members.

Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Pinyin Meaning Notes
顯考 显考 xiǎnkǎo (My) honorable late father
顯妣 显妣 xiǎnbǐ (My) honorable late mother
祖考 祖考 zǔkǎo Ancestral father
祖妣 祖妣 zǔbǐ Ancestral mother

Second-Person and Third-PersonEdit

The same concept of hierarchical speech and etiquette affects terms of address towards others. Often, the same honorific substitutes can be used for both second-person and third-person.

In contemporary Chinese (both spoken and written), the second-person singular pronoun (, "you") can be substituted with its polite form (nǐn, "you" [cherished]) to express politeness. In some cases, the addressee's profession or title can be used. In others, specific honorific substitutes are used, e.g., 阁下 (Lit. beneath your pavilion) is used instead of the pronoun "you" to show respect. Historically, many other honorific usages existed.

In contemporary usage, the pronouns 你/您,你们,他/她,and 他/她们 are sometimes appended redundantly to the honorific substitute. For example, 请阁下您慢走 - 您 is optionally inserted after 阁下. This is likely out of a contemporary habit to use actual pronouns in speech.

Provided below are some of the better known second-person or third-person honorific substitutes and usages.

RoyaltyEdit

The following were honorifics used when people addressed the Royalty in ancient China. Often, imperial titles were also used as pronoun substitutes. For example, the emperor may address the empress by her title 皇后. A royal servant may address a princess as 公主. Not all royal titles are listed.

Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Pinyin Literal Meaning Meaning in Usage Gender Contemporary or Classical Usage Notes
陛下 陛下 bìxià Beneath the ceremonial ramp Your/His Majesty Male Classical The implied context is "Your Majesty, beneath whose ceremonial ramp [I am standing]". It was used by officials when they addressed the emperor directly.
聖上 圣上 shèngshàng The Holy and Exalted One Your/His Majesty Male Classical May be used when addressing the emperor directly or when referring to the emperor in the third person. Also 君上, 皇上,王上,大王,九重天,萬乘, 聖主, 王, 上, 君

可汗、單于 used for some minority rulers of China.

聖駕 圣驾 shèngjià Holy procession His Majesty Male Classical Used when referring to the emperor in the third person, especially when the emperor was on the move.
天子 天子 tiānzǐ The Son of Heaven His Majesty Male Classical One of the titles of the emperor.
萬歲 万岁 wànsuì Of Ten Thousand Years. Your/His Majesty Male Classical "Ten thousand" is often used for an unspecified large number, analogous to "myriad" in English. "Years" here refers specifically to years of age. It may be roughly translated as "Long live the Emperor!".
萬歲爺 万岁爷 wànsuìyé Lord of Ten Thousand Years Your/His Majesty Male Classical An informal way of addressing the emperor. Usually used by the emperor's personal attendants.
皇帝 皇帝 huángdì Emperor You Male Classical Used by the emperor's parents or grandparents.
父皇 / 父王 / 父君 / 父帝 父皇 / 父王 / 父君 / 父帝 fùhuáng / fùwáng / fùjūn / fùdì Imperial Father / Royal Father Your Majesty / My Imperial or Royal Father Male Classical Used by descendants of the emperor/king in pre-Qing dynasties.

In the Qing Dynasty, the Manchurian variant 皇阿玛 is used.

母后 母后 mŭhòu Queen Mother Your Royal Highness / My Imperial or Royal Mother Female Classical Used by descendants of the empress/queen pre-Qing dynasties.

In the Qing Dynasty, the Manchurian variant 皇额娘 is used.

Similar honorifics include 母妃, 母嫔

太后 太后 tàihòu Empress Dowager Your Royal Highness / My Imperial or Royal Grandmother Female Classical Also 皇太后,皇祖母 by her royal descendants.
娘娘 娘娘 niángniang Lady Your/Her Royal Highness,My Lady Female Classical Can be used alone or as a suffix ~娘娘 after an imperial title, for example: 皇后娘娘

("Empress Your Highness")

殿下 殿下 diànxià Beneath your palace Your Royal Highness Neutral Classical Used when addressing members of the imperial family, such as princes and princesses.

Can be used as a suffix ~殿下, for example: 公主殿下, 王子殿下

千歲 千岁 qiānsùi Of One Thousand Years Your Royal Highness Neutral Classical Literally "one thousand years", used to address Empresses, Dowagers, Crown Princes and other high-ranking imperials. The Taiping Rebellion also had a particular rank system based on how many "thousand years" a lord is entitled to.
先帝 先帝 xiāndì Late emperor The late emperor Male Classical Referring to the deceased former emperor.

Government and MilitaryEdit

The following were used when addressing government and military officials. Often, their title (e.g., 丞相,将军) can be used alone or as a suffix after their family name to form an honorific.

Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Pinyin Literal Meaning Meaning in Usage Gender Contemporary or Classical Usage Notes
麾下 麾下 huīxià Beneath your flag You, Sir Neutral Classical Used when addressing generals and military officers. 节下 was also used.
qīng Official You, My subject Neutral Classical Used by the emperor and members of the imperial family when they address officials. Examples: 愛卿 (my dear subject) etc.
大人 大人 dàren Significant Person You, Sir Neutral Classical A honorific used for an official or a person in authority.

Can be used as an honorific suffix ~大人 after a title or a name. Examples: 知府大人,张大人

Acquaintances and FriendsEdit

The following honorifics are used to address acquaintances or friends.

Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Pinyin Literal Meaning Meaning in Usage Gender Contemporary or Classical Usage Notes
閣下 阁下 géxià Beneath your pavilion Your Excellency Neutral Contemporary and Classical Used when addressing important people, or to show respect to the person. Equivalent to Excellency.

Can be used as a suffix ~阁下 after a title or a name.

前輩 前辈 qiánbèi Of an older generation. You Neutral Contemporary and Classical Used when addressing an elder or someone in the same profession who is more senior than the speaker.

Can be used as a suffix ~前辈 after a title or a name.

台端 台端 táiduān (See notes) You Neutral Contemporary and Classical "台" refers to the Three Ducal Ministers, the three highest-ranked officials in the Zhou Dynasty. "端" is the honorific for assisting and advisory officials in the Six Dynasties. It is usually used in formal writing when addressing a person of similar social status.
仁兄 仁兄 rénxiōng Kind elder friend You Male Contemporary and Classical Used when addressing an older male friend.
尊駕 尊驾 zūnjià The respected procession You Neutral Contemporary and Classical Used when referring to a guest or a person of higher social status.
同志 同志 tóngzhì Same ambition/goal Comrade Neutral Contemporary Literally means "you, who share the same ambition with me". Used by members of the Nationalist and Communist parties to address fellow members of the same conviction, thus it can translate to "comrade". It is also used by some older citizens in China to address strangers. However, now among the younger and more urban Chinese, "同志" has definite implications of homosexuality (not necessarily in a pejorative way, however, as it has been adopted by the gay community, and thus is more analogous to the English term queer as compared to faggot).
節下 节下 jiéxià Beneath your ceremonial banner Your Excellency Neutral Classical Used when addressing ambassadors from foreign lands.
賢家 贤家 xiánjiā The virtuous house You Neutral Classical 贤~ prefix
賢郎 贤郎 xiánláng Virtuous young man You Male Classical Referring to one's son.

贤~ prefix

賢弟 贤弟 xiándì Virtuous younger brother You Male Classical Could be either addressing one's own younger brother or referring to the addressee's younger brother.

贤~ prefix

仁公 仁公 réngōng Kind lord You Male Classical Used when addressing a person more senior than the speaker.

Family MembersEdit

The following are used between family members. Also see Familial Honorifics section below.

Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Pinyin Literal Meaning Meaning in Usage Gender Contemporary or Classical Usage Notes
愛~ 爱~ ài Beloved Beloved Neutral Contemporary and Classical A prefix to show affection for lovers. Examples: 愛妻 (my beloved wife); 愛姬 (my beloved concubine); 愛妾 (my beloved concubine); 愛郎 (my beloved man/husband) etc.

愛人 (my beloved person) is a contemporary usage as another name for wife. It's not used as 2nd person pronoun.

夫人 夫人 fūrén Wife / Lady You Male Contemporary and Classical Means "you" when talking directly to wife. When introducing her to others it means "my wife".

Contemporary in 3rd person only.

~ 家~ jiā Home~ You, my~ Neutral Contemporary and Classical A prefix used when addressing elder family members in some contemporary dialects: 家姐,家嫂

Sometimes 长~ is used: 长兄,长姐

賢妻 贤妻 xiánqī Virtuous wife You Female Classical 贤~ prefix
賢弟 贤弟 xiándì Virtuous younger brother You Male Classical "Xiandi" (贤棣; 賢棣; xiándì) is another less commonly used form.

贤~ prefix.

賢侄 贤侄 xiánzhì Virtuous nephew You Male Classical 贤~ prefix
夫君 夫君 fūjūn Husband You Male Classical
郎君 郎君 lángjūn Husband You Male Classical
官人 官人 guānrén Husband / Man You Male Classical
相公 相公 xiànggōng Husband You Male Classical It now refers to a male prostitute in some circles.
仁兄 仁兄 rénxiōng Kind elder brother You Male Classical Contemporary use not as second person pronoun, but more as a respectful honorific for an older friend.

Also 兄长

Second and Third Person PossessiveEdit

Similarly, the possessive case "your" is avoided. This is often achieved by the honorific prefixes 令~, 尊~, 贤~, 贵~ as described below.

Referring to Addressee's FamilyEdit

The following honorifics are used to show respect when referencing the addressee's family members.

Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Pinyin Literal Meaning Meaning in Usage Gender Contemporary or Classical Usage Notes
令尊 令尊 lìngzūn The beautiful and respected one Your father Male Contemporary and Classical "Lingzunweng" (令尊翁; lìngzūnwēng) is sometimes used.

Also 令严.

令堂 令堂 lìngtáng The beautiful and dignified hall. Your mother Female Contemporary and Classical "Lingshoutang" (令寿堂; 令壽堂; lìngshòutáng) is sometimes used.

Also 令慈.

令閫 令阃 lìngkǔn The beautiful door to the woman's room Your wife Female Contemporary and Classical
令兄 令兄 lìngxiōng The beautiful door to the woman's room Your elder brother Male Contemporary and Classical
令郎 令郎 lìngláng The beautiful young man Your son Male Contemporary and Classical "Linggongzi" (令公子; lìnggōngzǐ) is sometimes used.
令愛 令爱 lìng'ài The beautiful and beloved one Your daughter Female Contemporary and Classical Another form of "ling'ai" (令嫒; 令嬡; lìng'ài) is sometimes used.
令千金 令千金 lìngqiānjīn The beautiful one who is worth a thousand gold Your daughter Female Contemporary and Classical
高堂 高堂 gāotáng The highly respected hall. Your parents Neutral Contemporary and Classical
尊上 尊上 zūnshàng The respected one above Your parents Male Classical
尊公 尊公 zūngōng The respected lord Your father Male Classical "Zunjun" (尊君; zūnjūn) and "zunfu" (尊府; zūnfǔ) are sometimes used.
尊堂 尊堂 zūntáng The respected and dignified one Your mother Female Classical
尊親 尊亲 zūnqīn The respected and loved ones Your parents Neutral Classical
尊夫人 尊夫人 zūnfūrén The respected wife Your wife Female Contemporary and Classical
賢喬梓 贤乔梓 xiánqiáozǐ The virtuous father and son (archaic) You (father and son) Male Classical
賢伉儷 贤伉俪 xiánkànglì The virtuous husband and wife (archaic) You (husband and wife) Neutral Classical
賢昆仲 贤昆仲 xiánkūnzhòng The virtuous brothers (archaic) You (brothers) Male Classical
賢昆玉 贤昆玉 xiánkūnyù The virtuous Mt. Kunlun jade You (brothers) Male Classical
冰翁 冰翁 bīngwēng Ice old man Wife's father Male Classical Sometimes 泰山 is used.
貴子弟 贵子弟 guìzǐdì Honorable sons Your son(s) Male Contemporary and Classical Usually when addressing strangers or less known people
貴子女 贵子女 guìzǐnǚ Honorable children Your children Neutral Contemporary and Classical Usually when addressing strangers or less known people
貴家長 贵家长 guìjiāzhǎng Honorable parents Your parent(s) Neutral Contemporary Usually when addressing strangers or less known people
貴夫人 贵夫人 guìfūrén Honorable wife Your wife Female Contemporary and Classical Usually when addressing strangers or less known people
貴丈夫 贵丈夫 guìzhàngfū Honorable husband Your husband Male Contemporary and Classical Usually when addressing strangers or less known people

Social RelationshipsEdit

The honorific prefixes 贵~ and 宝~ are often used.

Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Pinyin Literal Meaning Meaning in Usage Gender Contemporary or Classical Usage Notes
貴~ 贵~ guì Honorable ~ Neutral Contemporary and Classical A prefix for persons and others things affiliated to the addressee. It is used for the purposes of courtesy and formality. Other examples: 貴體 (your body/health), 貴恙 (your sickness), 貴幹 (your concern/business)
貴公司 贵公司 guìgōngsī Honorable company Your company Contemporary
貴國 贵国 guìguó Honorable country Your country Contemporary and Classical
貴姓 贵姓 guìxìng Honorable surname Your surname / family name Contemporary Used when asking for the addressee's surname or family name.
貴庚 贵庚 guìgēng Honorable age Your age Contemporary and Classical Used when asking for the addressee's age.
寶~ 宝~ bǎo Valuable ~ Neutral Contemporary and Classical A prefix that means "valuable" or "precious".
貴寶號 贵宝号 guìbǎohào Valuable Banner Your valuable business Contemporary and Classical
貴府 贵府 guìfǔ Noble residence Your home Classical
府上 府上 fǔshàng Stately residence Your home Classical
先賢 先贤 xiānxián The late virtuous The late virtuous Neutral Classical Referring to a deceased person who was highly regarded.

Honorific TitlesEdit

Often, the addressee's profession or title (or as a suffix after their name) is used as an honorific form of address. Below are some common titles.

Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Pinyin Meaning Gender Contemporary or Classical Usage Notes
先生 先生 xiānshēng Mr. Male Contemporary and Classical
小姐 / 姑娘 小姐 / 姑娘 xiǎojiě / gūniang Ms. Female Contemporary and Classical The use of "xiaojie" is taboo in some parts of China as it may refer to prostitutes. In Suzhou, "xiaojie" is substituted with "yatou" (丫头; 丫頭; yātou), which in turn may be considered offensive in other parts of China because "yatou" also means "dumb girl".
女士 女士 nǚshì Madam Female Contemporary
夫人 夫人 fūrén Mrs. Female Contemporary and Classical Traditionally, the honorific of the consort of a Pre-Qin state ruler. During the imperial era, it was appropriated for vassals. In modern use, it is appropriate for most females. When a surname is used, the husband's surname precedes this honorific.
孺人 孺人 rúrén Madam Female Classical An old title for wives of some government officials or important people.
公子 公子 gōngzǐ Mr. Male Classical Old title for young males.
博士 博士 bóshì Dr. Neutral Contemporary Originally a court scholar. Refers to a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) holder.
醫生 医生 yīshēng Dr. Neutral Contemporary Refers to a medical doctor. "Daifu" (大夫; dàifū) "Yishi" (醫師; yīshī) are sometimes used, usually in mainland China and in Taiwan respectively.
經理 经理 jīnglǐ Manager Neutral Contemporary
老師 老师 lǎoshī Teacher Neutral Contemporary and Classical "Laoshi" may sometimes be used as a polite reference to a more highly educated person, who may not necessarily be a teacher.
師父 师父 shīfù Master Neutral Contemporary and Classical See Sifu for further information.
師傅 师傅 shīfù Master Neutral Contemporary and Classical See Sifu for further information.
修士 修士 xiūshì Monk (Catholic) Male Contemporary
神父 神父 shénfù Priest (Catholic); Father Male Contemporary
教宗 教宗 jiàozōng The Pope (Catholic) Male Contemporary
執士 执士 zhíshì Deacon (Christian) Male Contemporary
牧師 牧师 mùshī Pastor (Christian) Neutral Contemporary
主教 主教 zhǔjiào Bishop (Christian) Neutral Contemporary
法師 法师 fǎshī Monk / Nun (Buddhist) Neutral Contemporary and Classical "Heshang" (和尚; héshàng) is also used, either to denote seniority or hierarchy in the monastery.
居士 居士 jūshì Layman (Buddhist) Neutral Contemporary and Classical
道長 道长 dàozhǎng Priest / Priestess (Taoist) Neutral Contemporary and Classical
爵士 爵士 juéshì Sir (Knighthood) Male Contemporary
仙姑 仙姑 xiāngū Priestess (Taoist) Female Classical "Daogu" (道姑; dàogū) is also used sometimes.
大夫 大夫 dàifu Dr. Neutral Classical

Honorific ModifiersEdit

Noun and Proper Noun ComplementsEdit

Below is a list of common honorific prefixes and suffixes used with nouns and proper nouns to show intimacy, humility, honor, or respect. Some may have shown up in pronoun discussions. While noun modifiers are technically adjectives, honorific prefixes/suffixes are different from normal adjectives in that they become part of the noun in usage, and the meaning of the modifying prefix/suffix is usually not taken literally - only added functionally to show respect or humility. Because Chinese words are usually formed also by combining multiple root characters (each with a literal meaning), it is not always immediately apparent when using a polite version of a word that an honorific modifier is in use.

Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Pinyin Literal Meaning Contemporary or Classical Usage Notes
阿~ 阿~ ā (see notes) Contemporary and Classical A prefix that shows affection or intimacy. Examples: 阿伯 (uncle); 阿妹 (sister); 阿哥 (brother); 阿爸 (father) etc. It may also be attached to the last character of a person's given name to address him/her intimately. Examples: 阿莲. More common in southern parts of China.
本~ 本~ běn This / Our Contemporary and Classical A prefix for things affiliated to oneself. Examples: 本公司 (this company / our company); 本校 (this school / our school) etc.
敝~ 敝~ Unkempt/ragged Contemporary and Classical A prefix for things affiliated to oneself. Examples: 敝公司 (this company / our company); 敝校 (this school / our school) etc.
為~ 为~ wéi As (your) Classical Examples: 為父 (I, your father); 為母 (I, your mother); 為兄 (I, your elder brother), 為師 (I, your teacher) etc.
愚~ 愚~ Unintelligent Classical Humble prefix: 愚兄 (this unintelligent senior brother/friend of yours), 愚见 (my unintelligent opinion)
鄙~ 鄙~ bǐrén Lowly/unlearned Classical Humble prefix: 鄙意 (my humble intent), 鄙见 (my humble opinion)
奴~ 奴~ Slave Classical Prefix for servants and slaves. Examples: 奴才,奴婢,奴家
~君 ~君 jūn Man Classical A suffix used for a male friend or a respected person.
~姬 ~姬 Woman Classical A suffix used for a female friend, maiden. "Guniang" (姑娘; gūniang) is sometimes used.
~郎 ~郎 láng Man Contemporary and Classical A suffix used for an intimate male friend or one's husband.
~子 ~子 Learned man Classical A suffix used for a wise or learned man. "Fuzi" (夫子; fūzǐ) is sometimes used.
小~ 小~ xiǎo Small, insignifican Contemporary and Classical Minimizes significance of oneself. Examples: 小人,小生,小女,小妾, 小店

Used often with personal surnames in contemporary Chinese: 小张,小明 as a diminutive.

Related to usage of ~儿 in classical usage.

大~ 大~ big Contemporary and Classical Maximizes significance of something. Examples: 大名, 大庆, 大作, 大札
~兄 ~兄 xiōng Brother Contemporary and Classical A suffix used for an older male friend. Also ~兄弟
~公 ~公 gōng Lord Contemporary and Classical A suffix used for a respected person.
~足下 ~足下 zúxià Beneath the feet Classical A suffix for a friend in writing a letter.
~先生 ~先生 xiānshēng Mr. Contemporary and Classical A suffix used for a person in a profession.
~前輩 ~前辈 qiánbeì Earlier Generation Contemporary and Classical A suffix used for an elder or a more senior person in the same profession as the speaker.
~大人 ~大人 dàrén Sir / Madam Classical A suffix used for an official or a person in authority.
~氏 ~氏 shì Surnamed Classical A suffix used after a surname to address someone not of personal acquaintance.
~兒 ~儿 ér Son / child Classical A suffix used for a young person.
~哥 ~哥 Elder brother Contemporary and Classical A suffix used for an older male friend or relative who is the same 辈分beìfèn (i.e., 平辈). Also ~大哥, ~大哥哥,~小哥哥
~弟 ~弟 Younger brother Contemporary and Classical A suffix used for a younger male friend or relative who is the same 辈分beìfèn (i.e., 平辈). Also ~小弟,~小弟弟,~小老弟
~姐 ~姐 jiě Elder sister Contemporary and Classical A suffix used for an older female friend or relative who is the same 辈分beìfèn (i.e., 平辈). Also ~大姐,大姐姐,~小姐姐
~妹 ~妹 mèi Younger sister Contemporary and Classical A suffix used for a younger female friend or relative who is the same 辈分beìfèn (i.e., 平辈). Also ~小妹,~小妹妹,~妹子,~小妹子
~姨 ~姨 aunt Contemporary and Classical A suffix used for an older female or relative +1 辈分beìfèn above self (i.e., 长辈). Also ~阿姨,~姑姑,~姑
~叔 ~叔 shū uncle Contemporary and Classical A suffix used for an older male or relative +1 辈分beìfèn above self (i.e., 长辈). Also ~叔叔, ~大叔
~伯 ~伯 grandpa Contemporary and Classical A suffix used for an older male or relative 2+ 辈分beìfèn above self or much older than self (i.e., 长辈). Also ~阿伯,~伯伯, ~阿公
~婆 ~婆 grandma Contemporary and Classical A suffix used for an older female or relative 2+ 辈分beìfèn above self or much older than self (i.e., 长辈). Also ~阿婆, ~婆婆,~嬷嬷,~奶奶
老~ 老~ lǎo old Contemporary and Classical An honorific prefix for people one respects. Examples: 老总,老张,老兄,老弟,老婆,老公. Sometimes used as a suffix.
~總 ~总 zǒng chief Contemporary An honorific suffix for people who lead an important position. Examples: 周总,张总。

Also: ~董 (from 董事长) 周董,张董

聖~ 圣~ shèng St. / Sage / Emperor Contemporary and Classical Used as a prefix to indicate holiness. May not necessarily be applied to only Catholic saints as a prefix, for example "孔圣" (Kongsheng) (孔聖; kǒngshèng), literally means "Saint Confucius" or "Sage Confucius".

Also used for things related to the emperor, for example: 圣宠 (emperor's love), 圣

龍~ 龙~ lóng Dragon Classical Prefix for things related to the emperor, for example: 龙体 (Lit. The Dragon's Body -- His majesty's health), 龍體欠安 (the Emperor is not feeling well), 龍體無恙 (the Emperor is well) etc. 龙颜 (Lit. The Dragon's Face -- His majesty's mood/feeling), 龍顏大悅 (the Emperor is very pleased); 龍顏大怒 (the Emperor is furious) etc.
鳳~ 凤~ fèng Phoenix Classical Similar to 龍, used for queens and empresses etc.
丈~ 丈~ zhàng Elder Contemporary and Classical Examples: 丈人,丈母娘
太~ / 大~ 太~ / 大~ tài / dà Elder Contemporary and Classical Examples: 太后 (Empress Dowager),太父(grandfather),太母/大母(grandmother)
薄~ 薄~ thin / insignificant Contemporary and Classical Humble prefix used in reference to items belong to self. Examples: 薄技, 薄酒, 薄礼, 薄面
拙~ 拙~ zhuō clumsy Contemporary and Classical Humble prefix used in reference to one's skill and idea. Examples: 拙笔, 拙见, 拙著, 拙荆
浅~ 浅~ qiǎn shallow Contemporary and Classical Example: 浅见,浅识,浅学,浅职,浅知,浅说,浅闻
屈~ 屈~ to bend Contemporary and Classical Examples: 屈驾、屈尊、屈身、屈己、屈膝
雅~ 雅~ elegant Contemporary and Classical Examples: 雅教、雅量、雅兴、雅意、雅致
芳~ 芳~ fāng fragrant, beautiful, wonderful Contemporary and Classical Examples: 芳邻, 芳龄, 芳名, 芳华
華~ 华~ huá beautiful Contemporary and Classical Examples: 华诞、华翰、华堂、华宗
令~ 令~ lìng beautiful Contemporary and Classical Examples: 令尊、令堂、令郎、令爱、令嫒、令兄、令弟、令婿、令侄
玉~ 玉~ jade Contemporary and Classical Beautifying prefix for one's body to one's pictures. Examples: 玉成、玉音、玉体、玉照
高~ 高~ gāo tall / high Contemporary and Classical Prefix that adds a "highly regarded", "highly above" connotation. Examples: 高见、高就、高龄、高论、高寿、高足
~下 ~下 xià beneath Contemporary and Classical Example: 殿下、阁下、麾下、膝下、足下。
台~ 台~ tái (derived from constellations) Contemporary and Classical Derived from Chinese constellation 三台星官. Examples: 台驾, 台甫, 台鉴, 台端

related to 兄台

Verb ComplementsEdit

Similar to nouns, verbs can be complemented with honorific prefixes to form more polite versions. Below are some examples.

Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Pinyin Literal Meaning Contemporary or Classical Usage Notes
請~ 请~ qǐng to request Contemporary and Classical An honorific prefix when inviting another person to do something. Examples: 请教,请问
惠~ 惠~ huì to gift Contemporary and Classical An honorific prefix when requesting a gifting action from another person. Examples: 惠存, 惠临,惠顾,惠赠,惠允
拜~ 拜~ bài to bow Contemporary and Classical An honorific prefix when one's action may involve or impact the other person. Examples: 拜访,拜读,拜服,拜贺,拜托,拜望
賜~ 赐~ to bestow Contemporary and Classical An honorific prefix when requesting a gifting action from another person. Examples: 赐教,赐恩,赐复,赐见
奉~ 奉~ fèng to offer Contemporary and Classical An honorific prefix when one's action may impact the other person. Examples: 奉告, 奉还, 奉陪, 奉劝, 奉送
恭~ 恭~ gōng to look forward Contemporary and Classical An honorific prefix when one's action is out of due respect. Examples: 恭贺, 恭候, 恭请,恭迎
垂~ 垂~ chuí to hang down Contemporary and Classical An honorific prefix when one's receiving an honorable action from another person. Examples: 垂爱,垂青,垂问,垂念
敢~ 敢~ gǎn to dare Contemporary and Classical An honorific prefix when one's making a potentially inappropriate request. Examples: 敢问,敢请,敢劳,敢烦
劳~ 劳~ láo to labor Contemporary and Classical An honorific prefix when one's requesting an action that could trouble the other person. Examples: 劳驾,劳烦,劳步,劳神
謹~ 谨~ jǐn to use care Contemporary and Classical An honorific prefix when one's requesting an action be performed with care, often used in letters. Examples: 谨启,,谨复,谨言,谨肃,谨禀
見~ 见~ jiàn to see Contemporary and Classical An honorific prefix when inviting someone to do something to oneself. Examples: 见谅,见笑,见教
榮~ 荣~ róng gloriously Contemporary and Classical An honorific prefix for an achieving action. Examples: 荣升,荣获,荣立,荣任
忝~ 忝~ tiǎn to shame Classical Humble prefix used to indicate shamefulness or feeling of undeserving. Examples: 忝列, 忝在, 忝任
敬~ 敬~ jìng to respect Contemporary and Classical Adds a sense of respect. Examples: 敬告、敬贺、敬候、敬请、敬佩、敬谢
屈~ 屈~ to bend Contemporary and Classical Implies feeling bad about making or seeing someone endure some hardship or difficult situation. Examples: 屈就、屈居
俯~ 俯~ to look down Classical Often used in letters to request someone to do something to oneself -- implies a self-deprecating lower position. Example: 俯察, 俯就, 俯念, 俯允
光~ 光~ guāng to lighten Contemporary and Classical Implies someone's action brings honor to oneself. Examples: 光顾、光临
過~ 过~ guò to surpass Contemporary and Classical Implies one is not worthy of a praising action. Examples: 过奖、过誉
叨~ 叨~ tāo to benefit from Classical Examples: 叨光、叨教、叨扰
鈞~ 钧~ jūn (a weight unit) Classical Prefix for when requesting actions from a superior, often in writing. Examples: 鈞座, 鈞裁, 鈞簽, 鈞啟
呈~ 呈~ chéng to show Classical Examples: 呈正,呈报,呈请
進~ 进~ jìn to advance Contemporary and Classical Examples: 进见,进言 -- honorifics for going to see someone and going to present something

Other HonorificsEdit

There are innumerable words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs) in the Chinese language with specific humble, respectful, or beautifying honorific connotations, in addition to the base meaning of the word. It is not possible to catalog them all, but some additional examples are provided in this section. These words are often used in lieu of a bland, neutral, or deprecating alternative to show deference, respect, or elegance. Just like with Chinese 成语 (chéngyǔ, "canned phrases/idioms"), it is often difficult to translate these words into English or another language, because it would require an elaborate explanation of the meaning, metaphors, and nuances captured succinctly in the Chinese honorific equivalent.

Respectful LanguageEdit

Additional 敬辞 (jìngcí) examples:

  • 衛冕 verb: honorific to describe when someone is able to retain first ranking in a competition
  • 駕臨 verb: honorific that describes someone's visit, e.g., 恭候大驾光临
  • 名諱 noun: respectful version of the word "name", used with names of respected people
  • 璧謝 verb: honorific for returning a gift and offering thanks
  • 斧正 verb: used to ask someone to correct one's writing
  • 借重 verb: leverage someone else's ability to help oneself
  • 鼻祖 noun: honorific for pioneers in a field
  • 高足 noun: honorific for someone's disciple
  • 鼎力 adverb: indicate to someone they have your full support

Humble LanguageEdit

Additional 谦辞 (qiāncí) examples:

  • 承乏 verb: humble word indicating you took a position only because it hasn't been filled by someone more qualified yet
  • 綿薄 adjective: humble word to describe the help you offer someone
  • 陋见, 浅见 noun: humble way to describe one's opinion
  • 错爱 noun: humble way to describe how someone has been taking care of oneself. e.g., 承蒙错爱
  • 刍议 noun: self-deprecating description of one's words
  • 斗胆 adjective: self-deprecating descriptor used as a warning when someone is about to do or say something out of line/expectation, unreasonable, or out of the norm
  • 聊供补壁: Lit. offer a painting that's only worthy of being used to patch your walls -- humble way to gift a painting
  • 涂鸦 verb: humble way to describe one's painting skill. (Lit. like a child's spilled ink looking like a crow “忽来案上翻墨汁,涂抹诗书如老鸦")
  • 急就章 noun: humble way to describe one-self's work was completed in haste and lacks thought

Indirect LanguageEdit

Additional 婉辞 (wǎncí) examples:

  • 作古、歸天、歸西、魂游地府、永眠、長眠、含笑九泉、無常、仙逝: Lit. became ancient, returned to heaven, soul wandered to the underworld, eternal sleep, entered Nine Springs with a smile, heavenly exit, etc. -- various expressions to describe someone's passing
  • 掛花、掛彩: Lit. hang the flowers / hang the decors -- gun shot wound
  • 升遐、驾崩、崩殂、大行: Lit. risen to faraway land / procession broken etc. -- various expressions for a king or emperor's death (classical usage)
  • 坐化、圓寂、涅盤: Lit. changed/ascended while seated, attained perfection eliminated impurity, Nirvāṇa, etc -- death of a monk/nun
  • 氣骸骨: Lit. air the skeleton -- retirement request for old government officials (classical usage)
  • 見背: Lit. see back --- death of family elders (classical usage)
  • 頓首: Lit. to stamp the ground with head -- kowtow (used in letters; classical usage)
  • 千古: Lit. lasts a thousand years -- in remembrance of the dead
  • 冤家: Lit. destined/mortal enemies -- lovers
  • 棄養: Lit. given up to raise -- parents passed away (classical usage)
  • 抱恙: Lit. holding ailments -- sick
  • 龙体违和: Lit. dragon's body broke harmony -- the king is sick (classical usage)
  • 薄命: Lit. thin life -- died young
  • 百年归老: Lit. return to old place at 100 years -- used when talking about people's eventual death through aging

Courteous LanguageEdit

Additional 客套语 (kètàoyǔ) examples:

  • 勞駕:Lit. to labor your procession - used when asking someone for a favor / trouble someone for something
  • 包涵:Lit. to contain [my mistakes] - used when asking someone for forgiveness.
  • 借光:Lit. borrow light - used to mean benefited by association to another person; now it can mean excuse me.
  • 賜教:Lit. bestow teaching upon - when asking someone to teach you something (from the other's perspective)
  • 领教: Lit. receive teaching - when asking someone to teach you something (from own perspective)
  • 久違:Lit. long time apart - said courteously when you haven't seen someone in a long time
  • 久仰:Lit. admired for a long time - said courteously when meeting someone you've heard of
  • 托福:Lit. by your fortune - a thankful expression indicating one's attainment/accomplishment of something is due to another person
  • 赏脸:Lit. give face - used when asking someone to be a guest
  • 关照: Lit. port / gate visa - when asking someone to look after you / your business
  • 不吝指教:Lit. not be stingy about passing knowledge - used when asking someone to teach something
  • 恕不遠送:Lit. forgive me for not walking/accompanying you far - used when the host is sending their guests away
  • 洗耳恭聽:Lit. cleaned ears to listen - prepared to listen attentively to you
  • 不足掛齒:Lit. not enough to hang on your teeth - often used to humbly minimize the significance of one's help towards others
  • 借花獻佛:Lit. borrow flower to gift to Buddha - often used to describe one's merely re-gifting a gift; implies no need to put too much significance on the gift

Elegant LanguageEdit

Additional 雅语 (yáyŭ) examples:

  • 金蘭: Lit. gold orchid - used to describe sworn/god-brothers and sworn/god-sisters; metaphor implies the tight bond between sworn brothers/sisters is like a sharp sword able to break gold, and their aligned speech/opinion is fragrant to the senses like orchid.
  • 芳名: Lit. fragrant / beautiful name - elegant alternative for the word "name" for a young female
  • 千秋: Lit. thousand Autumns - elegant word for birthday
  • 请留步: Lit. please stay your steps - used to tell someone they don't need to accompany you further (e.g., guests tell host upon leaving)
  • 请用膳: Lit. please use meal - used to tell patrons or guests to eat
  • 小便: Lit. little convenience - to take a leak
  • 大便: Lit. big convenience - to take a dump
  • 耳目一新: Lit. ears and eyes refreshed - describes encountering something new and interesting

(bié) "to separate": elegant ways to describe various types of separations (i.e., bidding farewell) using the word 别. The sense of elegance / beauty for these words is not translatable, so they are not translated here.

  • 告别, 握别, 揖别, 挥别, 吻别, 拜别, 饯别, 谢别, 赠别, 留别, 送别, 抛别, 惜别, 恋别, 阔别, 长别, 永别, 诀别

() "brush / pen": elegant ways to describe various situations related to writing/painting, literature and work of art using the word 笔 as a metaphor.

  • 动笔, 命笔, 逸笔, 辍笔, 赘笔, 亲笔, 谨笔, 代笔, 草笔, 文笔, 御笔, 随笔, 闲笔, 余笔, 工笔, 润笔, 歪笔, 执笔, 妙笔, 练笔, 伏笔

Familial HonorificsEdit

Some familial honorifics and examples were described in the sections above. This section consolidates the common contemporary familial prefixes and suffixes; some usages may be regional. Also see article on Chinese Kinship.

Addressing own family members:

(lǎo)~: elders / intimacy

  • Elderly: 老爷, 老爷子, 老奶奶; these are less used
  • Parents: 老爸, 老妈, 老头(儿); the suffix ~子 is used in some regions of China: 老头子,老妈子
  • Husband and wife: 老公, 老婆

(ā)~: intimacy

  • Grandparents: 阿公,阿婆,阿嫲
  • Parents: 阿爸,阿妈
  • Siblings: 阿哥,阿姐,阿妹; note: 阿弟 is less used

()~: usually reserved for the eldest sibling and eldest uncle/aunt; In classical Chinese (zhăng)~ was also used: 长兄,长嫂,长姐 etc.

  • Uncles and aunts: 大伯(父),大姨(妈),大姑母(妈)
  • Wife of elder brother: 大嫂
  • Elder siblings: 大哥,大姐

(xiăo)~: diminutive for youngsters

  • Youngsters in the family: 小明,小芳; In classical Chinese the ~ (ér) suffix was used: 明儿,芳儿
  • Younger sister: 小妹; note: 小弟 is usually not used towards own family member

(jiā)~: regional usage

Referring to own family members in front of others:

(jiā)~: less used in contemporary speech; used more in formal writing.

  • My grandfather: 家祖父
  • My grandmother: 家祖母
  • My father: 家父,家严
  • My mother: 家母,家慈
  • My uncle: 家叔, 家舅
  • My elder brother: 家兄
  • My elder sister: 家姐

(shè)~: mostly only used in formal writing now.

  • My relative: 舍亲
  • My younger brother: 舍弟
  • My younger sister: 舍妹
  • My nephew: 舍侄; rare

Referring to another person's family members:

(lìng)~: less used in contemporary speech; used more in formal writing

  • Your relative: 令亲
  • Your father: 令尊(翁) (still popular),令严
  • Your mother: 令(寿)堂 (still popular),令慈
  • Your siblings: 令兄,令弟,令妹; 令姐 is not used
  • Your wife: 令夫人
  • Your son: 令郎,令公子 (still popular)
  • Your daughter: 令爱/嫒,令千金 (still popular)

(guì)~: used in social correspondence; sometimes in speech for formality

  • Your children: 贵子弟,贵子女
  • Your parents: 贵家长
  • Your wife: 贵夫人
  • Your husband: 贵丈夫;rare

(zūn)~: mostly obsolete in speech as a familial honorific prefix

  • Your wife: 尊夫人; sometimes in speech for formality

SalutationsEdit

Salutation is used at the beginning of a speech or a letter to address the audience or recipient(s). Below are a few examples in contemporary Chinese:

  • 親愛的 (qīn'aìde) / 亲爱的 (qīn'aìde): Dear (beloved)
  • 尊敬的 (zūnjìngde): Revered
  • 敬愛的 (jìng'aìde) / 敬爱的 (jìng'aìde): Dear esteemed
  • 尊貴的 (zūnguìde) / 尊贵的 (zūnguìde): Dear exalted / dignified

Honorifics in Letters and Official DocumentsEdit

Reserved

Chinese letter writing, especially in Classical Chinese, employs a highly complex system of unique honorifics and honorific rule sets.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Baxter, Wm. H. & Sagart, Laurent. Baxter–Sagart Old Chinese Reconstruction Archived September 27, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. 2011. Accessed 21 August 2013.
  2. ^ Tschang, Yinpo. "Shih and Zong: Social Organization in Bronze Age China, p. 14. Sino-Platonic Papers, #140. June 2004. Accessed 21 August 2013.