Here’s my favourite one-character adjectives in Mandarin. Big thanks to Bo and Jee for their help with explanations and translations.
1. 牛 niú. Original meaning: cow. New meaning: awesome. Derives from the common online slang expression 牛逼 niúbī (“cow’s vagina”).
2. 土 tǔ. Original meaning: dirt. New meaning: unsophisticated, especially of rednecks, hicks, bogans, etc.
3. 宅 zhái. Original meaning: residence. New meaning: to like staying at home, nerdy. Derives from Japanese.
4. 俗 sú. Original meaning: common, rustic. New meaning: unoriginal, tacky.
5. 贱 jiàn. Original meaning: inexpensive. New meaning: despicable, bitchy, nasty.
6. 红 hóng. Original meaning: red. New meaning: popular or revolutionary.
7. 猛 měng. Original meaning: strong, fierce. New meaning: awesome.
8. 抠 kōu. Original and current meaning as an adjective: stingy (as in cheap, miserly).
9. 黄 huáng. Original meaning: yellow. New meaning: pornographic.
10. 洋 yáng. Original meaning: ocean. Extended meaning: foreign or fashionable.
11. 黑 hēi. Original meaning: black. Extended meanings: dark, illegal, shady or greedy.
12. 火 huǒ. Original meaning: fire. New meaning: popular.
13. 损 sǔn. Original meaning: to damage. New meaning: immoral, wicked [缺德 quēdé].
14. 阴 yīn. Original meaning: the representation of women in Taoism, opposite of 阳 yáng. New meaning: cunning [狡诈 jiǎozhà].
15. 色 sè. Original meaning: colour. Extended meaning: lewd, dirty.
16. 萌 méng. Original meaning: sprout. New meaning: cute, adorable, especially of young boys or girls. Derives from Japanese.
17. 潮 cháo. Original meaning: tide. Extended meaning: fashionable.
18. 灵 líng. Original meaning: clever/spirit. Extended meaning: effective.
19. 二 èr. Original meaning: two. New meaning: stupid. From the slang expression 二百五 èrbǎiwǔ (“two hundred and fifty”).
20. 臭 chòu. Original meaning: stinky. Extended meaning: terrible, to suck at something.
I think all of these are very useful in everyday conversation, especially with younger people. All feedback and additions to the list are welcome!
33 Comments to "Top 20 One-Character Adjectives in Mandarin"
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Oh wait I just remembered I forgot one: 骚 sāo (“slutty”).
Are these all used on the mainland? I had previously presumed some of these were Taiwan specific, such as 萌.
Yes all of those are in use on the mainland. 萌 is especially popular with young people at the moment on both sides of the strait.
萌 (at least among my friends in Shanghai) is pronounced as first tone when being used as “cute”.
I was wondering where the meaning for 萌 came from. Thanks for that. Interesting stuff!
Hen you yisi, Carl;)
I’ve been looking for a word my students would understand when translating Nerdy, thanks, very useful list you’ve made.
Oh, how could I forget 酷 kù as well!
Given the root meaning of 潮 cháo, does anybody else think that a better translation might be trendy or faddish?
Yes, I think you’re onto something. 🙂
would be nice if you had some examples!
Nice list. Here’s a couple of possible additions.
闷 men4 stuffy, boring. Used all the time to describe people, situations
冷 leng3 originally cold. corny, cheesy. Used after hearing a bad joke “好冷”
In Shandong or Dongbei, you need to use this word:
彪 biao1 = 二 er4 stupid or wacky
I’m hoping the rest of China starts using it.
Some great additions there, thanks a lot. 🙂
Do you know where 二百五 comes from? I’ve always wondered about the story behind it.
nice list, and some of the uses are new to me – like 損 i’ve only ever used in words like 損失 or 損害. 棒, 贊 ad 殺 are also a few common ones that could also be added.
“损”also means mean…i.e.你这人也太损了吧(you are so mean)
I think I’ve also heard 猛 in the context of “having a strong sex drive” or “being wild in bed” (我男朋友很猛，西方人太猛了)
Yeah, definitely. I’ve also come across “加油，猛男“ as a translation for “go get ’em, tiger!” which I think is particularly spunky.
haha Carl, nice one.
I introduce a new word to you, 囧 jiong, pronounced same as 窘（窘迫）
囧 means odd, stupid, embarrassment. this word also looks like person’s face, like ‘dafeishi’ display image from your reply list.
This word is very popular these days. 😀
Hey Wenny. Yeah I know 囧, but it’s not used as an adjective is it? 😛
Hi Carl…another excellent post…my compliments. Just by the way…as you probably are aware the precice character for the bi in 牛逼 is 屄 although I would imagine the other variations of bi used are to get around using what some may consider a lewd character. Thanks for your wonderful dissemination of the Chinese language.
Yeah I know what you’re getting at, but 牛逼 is much more common than 牛屄 despite their etymologies. Compare Google hits: 牛逼: 41,900,000; 牛屄: 239,000.
Some more great adjectives I forgot to add:
雷 léi: 雷人 – Shocking.
作 zuō: – 1. 作死 – To have a death wish. 2. 装腔作势;故意做出某种表情、动作、姿态等 – Pretentious; angsty.
粘 nián: 缠住不放,使人难以脱身 – Needy.
滑 huá and 油 yóu: 浮滑，不诚实的 – Smooth; slick; glib.
Oh, and another good one – 凶 xiōng – roughly translated as “agressive”.
贱 is a really useful one, but hard to explain. But according to some explanations I’ve heard, means bitchy and maybe two-faced, especially to do with sex or relationships – for example, grinning lewdly at your ex-girlfriend when you have a new one…was recently called 很贱 by onlookers..
Often used in a joking way, mind.
Thanks for this post – great stuff!
Where do you find this stuff? I feel like most Chinese are extremely reticent to teach foreigners slang terms, instead using extremely proper standard Mandarin that isn’t as natural.
Like any learner, I’m curious, and I ask a lot of questions. 🙂
One of my friends used this one the other day: 翘[翹] qiào. It describes something that sticks out, e.g., an arse. Quite amusing I thought. 🙂
Here’s another I forgot: 阔 kuò. It means “rich” or “wealthy”.
Some more interesting ones I just thought of today:
腻 nì – 1. oily 2. boring (to the point that you’re sick of it)
刁 diāo – fussy; picky
面 miàn – weak
皮 pí – thick-skinned
铁 tiě – strong
乖 guāi – good (as in a child); obedient
Wow! I’ve even got some more that I forgot to add. These in particular are actually quite common:
娘 niāng: girly; effeminate.
嗲 diǎ: always acting like a spoilt child. 发嗲 and 撒娇 are the verbs.
拽 zhuǎi: always showing off.
There’s also a few more which are not terribly common but are still quite interesting nonetheless:
浮 fú: 1. frivolous (轻浮) 2. arrogant (骄傲).
次 cì: low quality, e.g. 这些产品质量很次。(These products are of such low quality.) This expression may be considered a little old-fashioned though.
绝 jué: taking things to extremes, e.g. 话说的太绝了，会得罪人的。(What he says is too extreme, and this will offend others.)
贫 pín: talking too much or saying many useless words that annoy people. Most commonly used in Beijing.
nice to see a OZ guys like chinese, ：）
but，you may have some mistakes
for example: 损, In ancient China , it means 缺德，刻薄 as well (《尚书》：“满招损，谦受益”。)
the new comment like 阴, 贱 ect. have the same issue as well.
：） have a good day
This is so very interesting!
I just would like to add one thing. “黄” can mean more than pornographic. It also means “failed”, as in “他的事估计黄了” (“I think his business is gonna go south.”)