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 de. Pronouns in Chinese are often substituted by honorific alternatives.

Personal pronouns

In Mandarin

Personal pronouns[1]
Person Singular Plural*

I, me
Exclusive Inclusive
we, us
Informal Formal 你們


他 / 她 / 它

he/she/it, him/her
他們 / 她們 / 它們
they, them
* The character to indicate plurality is (men) in Traditional Chinese characters, and is in simplified.
** 我們 can be either inclusive or exclusive, depending on the circumstance where it is used.
Used to indicate 'you and I' (two people) only, and can only be used as a subject (not an object);[2] in all other cases wǒmen is used. This form has fallen into disuse outside Beijing, and may be a Manchu influence.[3]

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 without distinction between genders, those that wished to preserve the spoken non-gendered pronoun but introduce a new female pronoun in writing, and those that wished to introduce a differently pronounced female pronoun . The pronoun enjoyed widespread support in the 1920s and 1930s but lost out to after the Chinese Civil War.[4] Currently, written pronouns are divided between the masculine human (he, him), feminine human (she, her), and non-human (it), and similarly in the plural. This distinction does not exist in the spoken language, where moreover is restricted to animate reference; inanimate entities are usually referred to with demonstrative pronouns for 'this' and 'that'.[5]

Other, rarer new written pronouns in the second person are ( "you, a deity"), ( "you, a male"), and ( "you, a female"). In the third person, they are ( "it, an animal"), ( "it, a deity"), and ( "it, an inanimate object"). Among users of traditional Chinese characters, these distinctions are only made in Taiwanese Mandarin; in simplified Chinese, () is the only third-person non-human form and () is the only second person form. The third person distinction between "he" () and "she" () remain in use in all forms of written standard Mandarin.[6]

In the early 21st century, some members of genderfluid and queer Chinese online communities started using X也 and TA to refer to a generic, anonymous, or non-binary third person.[7] As of June 2022, neither have been encoded as a single code point in Unicode,[8] and neither are considered standard usage.

Additional notes

In other Sinitic languages

There are many other pronouns in modern Sinitic languages, such as Taiwanese Minnan (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 (rǔ) or (ěr) for "you", and (wú) for "I" (see Chinese honorifics). They are not routinely encountered in colloquial speech.

Historical Modern
Shang and early Zhou period[9][10] Classical Chinese[11][10] Southern and Northern Dynasties period and Tang Dynasty[12] Standard Chinese (Mandarin Chinese) Shanghainese (Wu Chinese) Hokkien (Min Chinese)[13] Meixian Hakka (Hakka Chinese)[14][15] Cantonese (Yue Chinese)
Singular 1. *la, *laʔ, *lrəmʔ *ŋˤajʔ, *ŋˤa (subjective and possessive only), *la, *laʔ ngaX, ngu ŋu˩˧ gua, ua 𠊎 ŋai11 ŋɔː˩˧
2. 汝/女 *naʔ, *nˤəʔ *neʔ, 汝/女 *naʔ, *nə, *nak nejX, 汝/女 nyoX, nejX noŋ˩˧ li, n11, ŋ11, ɲi11 nei˩˧
3. *kot (possessive), *tə (objective), *gə (possessive),

third person subject pronoun did not exist

*tə (objective), *gə (possessive), third person subject pronoun did not exist gi, gjo; ’jij, tsyi, tha , , ɦi˩˧ i ɡi11, i11 kʰɵy˩˧
Plural 1. *ŋˤajʔ same as singular Singular +
tongX, dzaw, pwojH
Both INCL. and EXCL. 我們 wǒmen
INCL. 咱們 zánmen
阿拉 ɐʔ˧ lɐʔ˦ EXCL. gun, un INCL. 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. *neʔ 你們 nǐmen na˩˧ lin 你兜/你等 ŋ11 deu2411 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, (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, (lìng) is the equivalent to the modern form 您的 (nínde), as in 令尊 (lìngzūn) "your father". In literary style, () is sometimes used for "his" or "her" or as a gender-neutral pronoun; e.g. 其父 means "his father" or "her father".

In Cantonese, for possessive, (ge3) is appended to the pronoun. It is used in the same way as in Mandarin.

In Taiwanese Minnan the character for "your" is (pinyin: rèn; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: lín); although this would be pronounced the same as the personal pronoun lín, it is represented by a different character when used as the equivalent of 你的 in Standard Chinese.

Demonstrative pronouns

The demonstrative pronouns work the same as in English.

  Singular Plural
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 (xiē), and the following nouns remain the same. Usually inanimate objects are referred using these pronouns rather than the personal pronouns (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.

Interrogative pronouns

Pronoun Alternative HE-system English

(what person)
(what one)
which one
/ 何物
/ héwù
哪里 or 哪儿
nǎlǐ or nǎr
何處 / 何地
héchù / hédì
(what location)
shénme shíhou
(what time)
wèi shénme
(for what)
(what to follow)
多少 or
duōshǎo or
(what the amount)
how much

Indefinite pronouns

Pronoun English
大家 dàjiā
谁都 shéidōu
everyone 谁也 shéiyě anybody
谁都不 shéidōubù no one
谁也不 shéiyěbù nobody

Pronouns in imperial times

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See also Chinese honorifics.

In imperial times, the pronoun for "I" was commonly omitted when speaking politely or to someone with higher social status.[citation needed] "I" was usually replaced with special pronouns to address specific situations.[citation needed] Examples include guǎrén (寡人) during early Chinese history and zhèn () after the Qin dynasty when the Emperor is speaking to his subjects. When the subjects speak to the Emperor, they address themselves as chén (), or "your official". It was extremely impolite and taboo to address the Emperor as "you" or to refer to 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.

See also


  1. ^ Adapted from Yip, p. 47.
  2. ^ Ross, Claudia; Sheng Ma, Jing-heng (2006). Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide. Psychology Press. p. 25.
  3. ^ Matthews, 2010. "Language Contact and Chinese". In Hickey, ed., The Handbook of Language Contact, p 760. doi:10.1002/9781444318159.ch37.
  4. ^ Zhang, Yun. "A Cultural History of the Chinese Character "Ta (She)"—On the invention and identification of a new female pronoun | Harvard-Yenching Institute". Harvard-Yenching Institute. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  5. ^ Sun, pp. 166-167.
  6. ^ Shei, Chris (2019). The Routledge Handbook of Chinese Discourse Analysis. Routledge. p. 200.
  7. ^ "他/TA/X也: What Pronouns Do Chinese Queer People Use?". RADII | Stories from the center of China’s youth culture. 2021-06-25. Retrieved 2022-06-06.
  8. ^ "Unicode 14.0.0". Retrieved 2022-06-06.
  9. ^ Laurent Sagart: The Roots of Old Chinese. (Amsterdam Studies in the Theory and History of Linguistic Science, Series IV, Volume 184) John Benjamins, Amsterdam/Philadelphia 1999. ISBN 90-272-3690-9, S. 142–147; W. A. C. H. Dobson: Early Archaic Chinese. A Descriptive Grammar. University of Toronto Press, Toronto 1962, S. 112–114.
  10. ^ a b Ancient Chinese reconstructions according to Baxter and Sagart Archived September 27, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ Note: The specified forms represent only a small selection.
  12. ^ Note: Middle Chinese pronunciations given in Baxter's notation.
  13. ^ Shi, Q.-S. (2016). Personal Pronouns in Southern Min Dialect. In P.-H. Ting et al. (Eds.). New Horizons in the Study of Chinese: Dialectology, Grammar, and Philology (pp. 181-190). Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press.
  14. ^ Mataro J. Hashimoto: The Hakka Dialect. A linguistic study of Its Phonology, Syntax and Lexicon. University Press, Cambridge 1973. ISBN 0-521-20037-7
  15. ^ Hakka Affairs Council. (2017). Vocabulary Words for the Hakka Proficiency Test: Elementary (Sixian Dialect) [客語能力認證基本辭彙-初級(四縣腔)]. Retrieved from