The Most Common Chinese Characters
Posted by Lilian Li on 2016-05-25 12:06:46 11350

As a Mandarin teacher, students frequently ask me: “If I want to learn Chinese characters to be able to live conveniently in China, how many characters is enough?” Unfortunately, there is no accurate way to count how many Chinese characters one should know. However, depending on how one counts variants, 50,000+ is a good approximation for the current total number. It is generally accepted that one needs to know between 2,000 to 3,500 characters for basic literacy in Chinese (for example, to read a Chinese newspaper), while a well-educated person should know well in excess of 4,000 to 5,000 characters. Don’t be scared by the numbers; if you know a few thousand, you’ll be just fine. Here, I list the most frequently used Chinese characters that can help you survive in China.

1. Verbs to know:

common Chinese verbs

是 shì to be
开 kāi open/hold
在 zài to be in/at/on
用 yòng use
有 yǒu have/there is
会 huì can/to meet; meeting
要 yào want/will/need
见 jiàn to meet
来 lái come
出 chū go out/come out/produce
去 qù go/leave/depart
学 xué study/learn
到 dào arrive/reach/to/until
吃 chī eat
说 shuō speak, say
喝 hē drink
看 kàn look

2. Numbers:

numbers in Chinese

一 yī one/a little
两 liǎng two/50 grams
十 shí ten
百 bǎi hundred

Learn more Chinese characters about numbers here: Numbers in Chinese Characters

3. People related characters:

人 rén person
你 nǐ you/your
我 wǒ I/me/my
他 tā he/him/his
她 tā she/her
我们 wǒmen we
家 jiā home/house/family

4. Adjective and adverb characters you must know:

大 dà big
小 xiǎo small
好 hǎo good/good to/easy to
对 duì correct/to treat/pair
多 duō many/much/more
都 dōu all
也 yě also/as well
还 hái still/plus
只 zhǐ only/just/merely
又 yòu again

5. Location/direction related characters:

上 shàng above/on/over/top/(go) up/last/previous
下 xià below/under/(go) down/next (as opposed to previous/last)
中 zhōng middle/in
里 lǐ neighbourhood/half kilometer
前 qián in front/previous/ago/former/first
后 hòu queen
从 cóng from/through/join/follower/secondary

Learn more direction words in Chinese here: Chinese Direction Vocabulary

6. Other particles

的 de possessive relation/equals to ’s in English
这 zhè this
那 nà that
不 bù not
了 le verb particle marking a new situation or a completed action
个 ge general and non-specific classifier
和 hé together, with
没 méi haven’t/there isn’t

7. Food/Drink


米饭 mǐfàn rice
面 miàn noodle
粉 fěn rice noodle, powder
汤 tāng soup
饺子 jiǎozi dumpling
肉 ròu meat
牛肉 niúròu beef
鸡肉 jīròu chicken
鸭肉 yāròu duck
羊肉 yángròu lamb
鱼肉 yúròu fish
猪肉 zhūròu pork
火腿 huǒtuǐ ham
海鲜 hǎixiān seafood
鸡蛋 jīdàn egg
排/扒 pái /pá cutlet
菜 cài vegetable
土豆 tǔdòu potato
茄子 qiézi eggplant
啤酒 píjiǔ beer
红酒 hóngjiǔ red wine
咖啡 kāfēi coffee
果汁 guǒzhī fruit juice
热 rè warm
冰 bīng iced
辣 là spicy

Learn more Chinese characters about food here: Food and Drink Vocabulary in Chinese

8. Transportation

地铁 dìtiě subway/metro
公共汽车 gōnggòng qìchē bus
站 zhàn station
飞机 fēijī airplain
机场 jī chǎng airport
票 piào ticket
船 chuán boat/ferry
码头 mǎ tóu ferry station
出口 chūkǒu exit
入口 rùkǒu entrance

Learn more transportation Chinese characters here: Transportation Chinese Vocabulary Word List

Still feel difficult to learn the above Chinese characters? Contact us here and let our Chinese teacher help you!

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