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10 Frequently Used Chinese Characters

written by: Makoto • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 9/11/2012

An introduction to 10 frequently used Chinese characters along with explanations and sample sentences.

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    Where to Begin?

    With thousands of Chinese characters to learn and memorize, new learners of Chinese might have a hard figuring out where to start.

    In this article, I will introduce 10 frequently used Chinese characters as well as a short description about how each one is used. If a single character has more than one pronunciation or meaning, I will introduce what I consider is the most frequently used meaning of that character. Keep in mind that this merely serves as a general introduction to the characters themselves as a lot more could be said about each one of them.

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    的 indicates possession and it is similar to the Japanese のor the English ’s. Let’s look at the following sample sentence:


    “My girlfriend”

    我:wo3: I, me

    的:marker of possession

    女朋友:nv3 peng2 you3: girlfriend

    What comes directly before the 的 indicates the “possessor”, the subject which “owns” someone or something (in this case, “我/I, me”). What comes after the 的 is what is owned by the possessor (in this case, “女朋友/girlfriend”). Take a look at the following sentence to better understand how this works:

    你:ni3: you

    苹果: ping2 guo3: apple


    Can you understand the meaning of this sentence? That’s right, it means “Your apple”.

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    These three characters are not only useful; they’re also very easy to remember! One horizontal stroke for one, two strokes two and three for… three!

    一:yi1: one

    二:er4: two

    三: san1: three

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    是(shi4) means “to be”. Let’s take our first sentence and add “是” to it to show how it works.

    她:ta1: She, her.


    She is my girlfriend.

    中国人:a Chinese


    You are Chinese.

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    不(bu4) introduces a negation. Once again, let us simply use it in our previous examples to show how to use it into context.


    She isn’t my girlfriend.


    You aren’t Chinese.

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    有(you3) means “to have”. It is used to indicate that someone “has” something just like in the following sentences:


    I have a girlfriend.

    钱:qian2: money


    You have money.

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    个(ge4) is a tricky one as it is a counter word. In Chinese (much like in Japanese), counter words are used before nouns. This is something which is not present in English.

    Counter words vary depending on the nature of the noun which the counter word defines. They come after the numeral but before the actual noun.

    Let’s us look at a few sample sentences to demonstrate how to use 个.

    苹果:on apple.

    苹果:three apples.

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    两(liang3) also means “two” (just like 二) but it is used in different context. 二 is used when counting such as “one, two, three, four…” and so on. 两, on the other hand, is used when counting objects (just like in the previous example).

    Once again, a quick example to demonstrate:


    Two apples.

    There are some exceptions to this。

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    只(zhi1) is also a counter word but it is used with different nouns than 个. 只 is used for many animals. Here are a few examples to demonstrate :

    狗:gou3: dog


    Two dogs

    猫:mao1: cat


    Three cats

The Most Useful Chinese Characters

Compilation of the most useful Chinese characters.
  1. 10 Very Useful Chinese Symbols
  2. 10 Frequently Used Chinese Characters