Most Common 同音词 (Word-Homophones) in Mandarin

The following is a list I’ve compiled of the most common word-homophones* in Chinese.

This may be useful for your general study, since there are so many homophones in Mandarin.

*I say “word-homophones” deliberately, since I’m referring specifically to 同音词 (homophones made up of multi-character words), not 同音字 (“character-homophones”, when two characters have the same pronunciation).

 

Most Common 同音词 (Word-Homophones) in Mandarin

 

yóuyú: 由于 (“because of; due to”) and 鱿鱼 (“squid”)

chénmò: 沉默 (“silent; taciturn”) and 沉没 (“to sink”)

jìyì: 记忆 (“remember”) and 技艺 (“skill; art”)

jiāodài: 交代 or 交待 (“to hand over; to explain; to make clear; et al”) and 胶带 (“tape”)

yuányīn: 原因 (“cause; origin; reason”) and 元音 (“vowel”)

bēijù: 悲剧 (“tragedy”) and 杯具 (“cups; tragedy, as a euphemism”)

wángguó: 王国 (“kingdom”) and 亡国 (“country/kingdom heading for destruction or that has vanished”)

quánlì: 权利 (“power; right; privilege”) and 权力 (“power; authority”)

yìyì: 意义 (“sense; meaning; significance”) and 异议 (“objection; dissent”), plus 意译 (“meaning-based translation”)

mílù: 迷路 (“to get lost”) and 麋鹿 (“Père David’s deer; milu”)

bǐshì: 鄙视 (“despise; disdain; look down upon”) and 笔试 (“written examination”)

lìzi(zǐ): 例子 (“example”) and 粒子 (“grain; particle”)

shǒushì: 手势 (“gesture; signal”) and 首饰 (“jewellery”), plus 守势 (“defensive position”)

gōngshì: 公式 (“formula”) and 攻势 (“military offensive”)

xiāngjiāo: 香蕉 (“banana”) and 相交 (“to cross over; to intersect; to make friends”)

xíngli(lǐ): 行李 (“luggage”) and 行礼 (“to salute”)

lìhai(hài): 厉害 (“ferocious; awesome; et al”) and 利害 (“pros and cons”)

dǔzhù: 堵住 (“to block up”) and 赌注 (“stake (in a gamble)”)

qǐngkè: 请客 (“to entertain guests”) and 顷刻 (“instantly”)

zhìfú: 制服 (“to subdue; to check; uniform; et al”) and 制伏 (“to overpower; to control; et al”)

pípa: 枇杷 (“loquat”) and 琵琶 (“pipa, the Chinese lute”)

róngyì: 容易 (“easy”) and 溶液 (“solution, in chemistry” – this homophone exists in Taiwan only, in mainland China it is pronounced róngyè)

shèngshì: 盛世 (“prosperous period”) and 盛事 (“grand occasion”)

bàofù: 报复 (“revenge”) and 抱负 (“aspiration; ambition”)

jùbiàn: 巨变 (“massive changes”) and 剧变 (“fast change”)

xīnsuān: 心酸 (“sad”) and 辛酸 (“spicy and sour” – can also be used as a metaphor for sadness)

pǐnwèi: 品味 (“to sample; to taste”) and 品位 (“rank; grade; aesthetic taste”)

zhēnchá: 侦查 (“to detect; to investigate”) and 侦察 (“to investigate a crime; to scout; et al”)

guǎnzhì: 管制 (“to control; to supervise”) and 管治 (“to govern”)

yǐnqíng: 隐情 (“facts one wishes to keep secret; ulterior motive”) and 引擎 (“engine”)

guòdù: 过度 (“excessive”) and 过渡 (“to cross over; et al”)

mùdì: 目的 (“goal”) and 墓地 (“graveyard; burial ground; cemetery”)

 

In addition, any word with “shi” or “li” in Mandarin can be a gamble. There are two particular utterances which may represent the worst homophony in Putonghua:

shìlì, which can stand for:

  • 势力: power; ability to influence
  • 视力: vision; eyesight
  • 示例: example; typical case
  • 事例: to illustrate; typical case
  • 势利: selfishly concerned with gaining advantages for oneself; favourable

and gōnglì, which can refer to:

  • 公历: Gregorian calendar
  • 公立: public (facility, institution, etc)
  • 功力: merit; efficacy; et al
  • 功利: utility
  • 工力: skill and force; manpower

Hope there are some readers out there who find this post helpful. If you have any additions please leave a comment.

You may also be interested in reading 74 Switch-Around Words in Mandarin to complement your studies.

7 Comments to "Most Common 同音词 (Word-Homophones) in Mandarin"

  1. 郝先生's Gravatar 郝先生
    30/11/2011 - 1:58 pm | Permalink

    In Taichung about 20 years ago, I saw an advertising mural on the front door of an optician’s clinic, depicting in cartoon style various kinds of professionals and scholars wearing eyeglasses, with a caption below reading:

    近世
    進士
    盡是
    近視

    • Steve(n)'s Gravatar Steve(n)
      31/03/2012 - 10:46 pm | Permalink

      These were written in the traditional script. Written in simplified characters, they read:
      近世进士尽是近视: “Jìnshì jìnshì jìnshì jìnshì”!!
      “These days, a successful candidate to the highest functions is without exception myopic”.

  2. Bathrobe's Gravatar Bathrobe
    01/12/2011 - 4:22 am | Permalink

    Of course, 胶袋 in the south (Guangdong and perhaps other areas) means ‘plastic bag’.

  3. Steve(n)'s Gravatar Steve(n)
    25/03/2012 - 8:06 pm | Permalink

    I’ve found some more:
    – xùnqíng: 1) “flood situation” and 2) “be swayed by personal considerations”
    – zhōngqíng: 1) (V.) “to be/fall in love” 钟 情 :eg. 一 见 钟 情 fall in love at first sight
    and 2) (N.) “emotion” 衷 情
    and even more interesting:
    rénshì (4 different homophones) =
    1. 人 士 : public figure
    o 知 名 人 士 famous figure
    2. 人 世 : the world
    o 他 离 开 人 世 已 经 5 年 了 。
    It’s already five years since he passed away.
    3. 人 事 : human affairs
    a. (指 人 员 安 排) personnel
    b. (指 人 际 关 系) personal relations
    c. (指 人 情 事 理) the ways of the world
    他 这 么 大 了 , 应 该 懂 点 人 事 了 。
    At his age, he ought to know the ways of the world.
    d. (指 人 的 意 识) consciousness (of the outside world)
    等 我 赶 到 时 , 他 已 人 事 不 知 。
    By the time I got there, he’d already lost consciousness
    4. 人 氏 : people native to a place, native-born

    not to be confounded with (different tones)
    – rènshí 认 识 1)to know; 2) knowledge, understanding
    – rènshì 任 事 1) to have a job; 2) to take up a task

    • Steve(n)'s Gravatar Steve(n)
      31/03/2012 - 9:49 pm | Permalink

      And here’s some more with the “terrible two”: “li” and “shi”:

      – lìshí which can refer to:
      立 时 (immediately-time) : same as 立刻 : lì-kè = immediately, right away
      历 时 (calendar-time): to last [a period of time]; to take [a period of time]
      砾 石 (debris-stone): gravel; (formal): whetstone

      NOTE: 立 (lì) can mean 1) stand up; upright; 2) immediately

      – lìshì which can refer to:
      力 士 (strength-soldier) : a man of great strength, strong man
      市 利 (market-interest/profit) : (formal): profits; (dialect): a good market
      But also: 惟 利 是 图 wéi lì shì tú “only interested in profit”
      立 式 (upright-style/pattern) : vertical, upright
      立 誓 (upright-vow/pledge) : take an oath, vow

      • Steve(n)'s Gravatar Steve(n)
        28/05/2012 - 11:44 pm | Permalink

        I’ve found two more:
        – kăoshì: (N. & V.) 考试 “exam, test, quiz” and (V.) 考释 “make philological studies of ancient texts”
        – shūyè: (N.) 书 页 “book page, printed page” and (N.) 输 液 “infusion” (medicine)

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