Chinese pronouns (Chinese: 代词/代詞; pinyin: dàicí or Chinese: 代名詞; pinyin: dàimíngcí) differ somewhat from pronouns in English and other Indo-European languages. For instance, there is no differentiation in the spoken language between "he", "she" and "it" (though a written difference was introduced after contact with the West), and pronouns are not inflected to indicate whether they are the subject or object of a sentence. Mandarin Chinese further lacks a distinction between the possessive adjective ("my") and possessive pronoun ("mine"); both are formed by appending the particle 的 de. Pronouns in Chinese are often substituted by honorific alternatives.
|他 / 她 / 它
|他們 / 她們 / 它們|
Following the iconoclastic May Fourth Movement in 1919, and to accommodate the translation of Western literature, written vernacular Chinese developed separate pronouns for gender-differentiated speech, and to address animals, deities, and inanimate objects.
Throughout the 1920s, a debate continued between three camps: those that preferred to preserve the preexisting use of 他 without distinction between genders, those that wished to preserve the spoken non-gendered pronoun but introduce a new female pronoun 她 in writing, and those that wished to introduce a differently pronounced female pronoun 伊. The pronoun 伊 enjoyed widespread support in the 1920s and 1930s but lost out to 她 after the Chinese Civil War. Currently, written pronouns are divided between the masculine human 他 (he, him), feminine human 她 (she, her), and non-human 它 (it), and similarly in the plural. This distinction does not exist in the spoken language, where moreover tā is restricted to animate reference; inanimate entities are usually referred to with demonstrative pronouns for 'this' and 'that'.
Other, rarer new written pronouns in the second person are nǐ (祢 "you, a deity"), nǐ (你 "you, a male"), and nǐ (妳 "you, a female"). In the third person, they are tā (牠 "it, an animal"), tā (祂 "it, a deity"), and tā (它 "it, an inanimate object"). Among users of traditional Chinese characters, these distinctions are only made in Taiwanese Mandarin; in simplified Chinese, tā (它) is the only third-person non-human form and nǐ (你) is the only second person form. The third person distinction between "he" (他) and "she" (她) remain in use in all forms of written standard Mandarin.
There are many other pronouns in modern Sinitic languages, such as Taiwanese Minnan 恁 (pinyin: nín; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: lín) "you" and Written Cantonese 佢哋 (keúih deih) "they." There exist many more pronouns in Classical Chinese and in literary works, including 汝 (rǔ) or 爾 (ěr) for "you", and 吾 (wú) for "I" (see Chinese honorifics). They are not routinely encountered in colloquial speech.
|Shang and early Zhou period||Classical Chinese||Southern and Northern Dynasties period and Tang Dynasty||Standard Chinese (Mandarin Chinese)||Shanghainese (Wu Chinese)||Hokkien (Min Chinese)||Meixian Hakka (Hakka Chinese)||Cantonese (Yue Chinese)|
|Singular||1.||余 *la, 予 *laʔ, 朕 *lrəmʔ||我 *ŋˤajʔ, 吾 *ŋˤa (subjective and possessive only), 余 *la, 予 *laʔ||我 ngaX, 吾 ngu||我 wǒ||吾 ŋu˩˧||我 gua, ua||𠊎 ŋai11||我 ŋɔː˩˧|
|2.||汝/女 *naʔ, 乃 *nˤəʔ||爾 *neʔ, 汝/女 *naʔ, 而 *nə, 若 *nak||爾 nejX, 汝/女 nyoX, 你 nejX||你 nǐ||儂 noŋ˩˧||你 li, 汝 lɯ||你 n11, ŋ11, ɲi11||你 nei˩˧|
|3.||厥 *kot (possessive), 之 *tə (objective), 其 *gə (possessive),
third person subject pronoun did not exist
|之 *tə (objective), 其 *gə (possessive), third person subject pronoun did not exist||其 gi, 渠 gjo; 伊 ’jij, 之 tsyi, 他 tha||他, 她, 它 tā||伊 ɦi˩˧||伊 i||佢 ɡi11, i11||佢 kʰɵy˩˧|
|Plural||1.||我 *ŋˤajʔ||same as singular||Singular +
等 tongX, 曹 dzaw, 輩 pwojH
|Both INCL. and EXCL. 我們 wǒmen
INCL. 咱們 zánmen
|阿拉 ɐʔ˧ lɐʔ˦||EXCL. 阮 gun, un INCL. 咱 lan||EXCL. 𠊎兜/𠊎等 ŋai11 deu24/ŋai11 nen24
INCL. 這兜/大家 en24 ia31 deu24/en24 tai55 ga24
|我哋 ŋɔː˩˧ tei˨|
|2.||爾 *neʔ||你們 nǐmen||㑚 na˩˧||恁 lin||你兜/你等 ŋ11 deu24/ŋ11 nen24||你哋 nei˩˧ tei˨|
|3.||(not used)||他們, 她們, 它們 tāmen||伊拉 ɦi˩ lɐʔ˧||𪜶 in||佢兜/佢等 ɡi11 deu24/i11 nen24||佢哋 kʰɵy˩˧ tei˨|
To indicate alienable possession, 的 (de) is appended to the pronoun. For inalienable possession, such as family and entities very close to the owner, this may be omitted, e.g. 我妈/我媽 (wǒ mā) "my mother". For older generations, 令 (lìng) is the equivalent to the modern form 您的 (nínde), as in 令尊 (lìngzūn) "your father". In literary style, 其 (qí) is sometimes used for "his" or "her"; e.g. 其父 means "his father" or "her father".
In Cantonese, for possessive, 嘅 (ge3) is appended to the pronoun. It is used in the same way as 的 in Mandarin.
In Taiwanese Minnan the character for "your" is 恁 (pinyin: rèn; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: lín); although this would be pronounced the same as the personal pronoun 汝 lín, it is represented by a different character when used as the equivalent of 你的 in Standard Chinese.
The demonstrative pronouns work the same as in English.
|Proximal||这个 / 這個
|这些 / 這些|
|Distal||那个 / 那個
The distinction between singular and plural are made by the classifier 个/個 (gè) and 些 (xiē), and the following nouns remain the same. Usually inanimate objects are referred using these pronouns rather than the personal pronouns 它 (tā) and 它們 (tāmen). Traditional forms of these pronouns are: 這個 (zhège), 這些 (zhèxiē), 那個 (nàge), 那些 (nàxiē), and 它們 tāmen.
|何 / 何物
hé / héwù
|哪里 or 哪儿
nǎlǐ or nǎr
|何處 / 何地
héchù / hédì
(what to follow)
|多少 or 几
duōshǎo or jǐ
(what the amount)
|谁都不 shéidōubù||no one|
In imperial times, the pronoun for "I" was commonly omitted when speaking politely or to someone with higher social status. "I" was usually replaced with special pronouns to address specific situations. Examples include guǎrén (寡人) during early Chinese history and zhèn (朕) after the Qin dynasty when the Emperor is speaking to his subjects. When the subjects speak to the Emperor, they address themselves as chén (臣), or "your official". It was extremely impolite and taboo to address the Emperor as "you" or to address oneself as "I".
In modern times, the practice of self-deprecatory terms is still used in specific formal situations. In résumés, the term guì (贵/貴; lit. noble) is used for "you" and "your"; e.g., gùi gōngsī (贵公司/貴公司) refers to "your company". Běnrén (本人; lit. this person) is used to refer to oneself.