101 Core Chinese Words – The Most Commonly Used Words in Chinese

most common Chinese words

Ready to understand half of all Chinese words?

Yes, you read it right. With only about 100 words under your belt, you can understand about 50% of all Chinese you hear or read – if you pick the right words!

Starting off by learning the most common, core Chinese words can be an incredibly efficient way to reach fluency faster. Based on the study carried by Brigham Young University, the core 100 words in a language can make up between 50% and 60% of what you hear or read!

Think about it. With only 100 words, you could understand 50% of written Chinese. Learn the most common 1,000 words and you will understand 76% of the texts in Chinese, and 87% of all vocabulary in spoken Chinese.

When you know the core 101 Chinese words
You will understand 50%

And it gets better…

Each of the core words you learn will familiarize you with up to 185 words you have never seen before. This means that focusing your efforts on learning the most common Chinese words you will be fluent in Chinese in no time.

How awesome is that?

Why do these words show up so often? Some of these 100 words are constantly used. For example, 了, 过, 的, 呢, etc., appear all the time in Chinese, in the same way that “a”, “the”, “of” are used in most English sentences.

These words are called particles (or function words). Chinese particles are the most popular Chinese words by frequency because they’re used together with all other words to play the grammatical role in a sentence. Without particles, it will be hard to get your meaning across, therefore, they are crucial to learn and understand.

While Chinese particles are good to know, they’re not the focus of this article. Truth is, they are not very helpful as “core words” because they’re more about grammar than the actual content of the sentence, and you have to use them with other words.

Instead, we are going to start you off with the real core words that’ll capture the most value when you get started on Chinese from scratch. These core words are simple Chinese words that are easy to remember, because you’ll see them and hear them everywhere, in all contexts.

Most Common Chinese Words – 101 Core Words

101 core Chinese words

Let me clarify, this is not meant to be the “generic word list for beginners”, or for HSK 1 test-takers, but rather the most common Chinese words to start with if you are studying by the word frequency method. You can combine what you learn in this article with basic Chinese words and phrases (e.g. greetings, survival phrases), and basic Chinese grammar for beginners.

The beginner’s trio will help you make sure you know all the words and phrases you’ll hear most often, all the words you want to say, and how to put together a complete Chinese sentence with them. You would be able to form a proper conversation naturally with this combination!

With that in mind, these 101 core Chinese words are the words you should learn now, whether you’re a beginner or intermediate Mandarin Chinese learner. They include the most common pronouns, nouns, measure words, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions. Once you master these first 101, you can work on building up to 1,000 or even 10,000! 加油 Jia you! (Go! Go! Go!)

One more tip: If you haven’t yet, learn how to read Pinyin (Mandarin romanization) first. It will help you learn how to pronounce Chinese words properly and will make reading easier.

For ambitious learners looking to go beyond the most common 101 Chinese words, we’ve compiled a list of resources you can take advantage of. 

The 10 Core Chinese Pronouns

Chinese pronouns are important to know. They don’t change form according to whether they are the subject (doer of the action, e.g. “I”) or object (undergoer of the action, e.g. “me”).

Note while “he”, “she”, “it” (or “him”, “her”, “it”) are represented by different Chinese characters, they are pronounced in exactly the same way.

Chinese Pinyin English
I or me
you
他/她/它 he/she/it or him/her/it
我们 wǒmen we or me
你们 nǐmen you (plural)
他们 tāmen they or them
zhè this
that
这里 zhèli here
那里 nàli there

The 37 Core Chinese Nouns

most common Chinese nouns

What are the most useful Chinese nouns to learn? Obviously everyone has different words they say the most based on daily life. You should definitely take time to create your own list of words you often say, so you can memorize them. But, based on frequency lists, the following are the words you’ll most likely hear or use. Of course, nouns for people, place, and time top the list for usefulness in getting by.

Chinese Pinyin English
中国 Zhōngguó China
中文 Zhōngwén Chinese (language)
rén person or people
名字 míngzì name
妈妈 māma mom
爸爸 bàba dad
朋友 péngyǒu friend
孩子 háizi child
地方 dìfang place
家    jiā home or family
店    diàn shop
东西  dōngxi thing
qián money
工作  gōngzuò work
房子 fángzi house
房间 fángjiān room
chē car or vehicle
road
shuǐ water
茶  chá tea
饭  fàn rice or meal
电  diàn electricity
手机 shǒujī mobile phone
shū book
现在  xiànzài now
今天 jīntiān today
明天 míngtiān tomorrow
昨天 zuótiān yesterday
时间 shíjiān time
小时  xiǎoshí hour
分钟 fēnzhōng minute
nián year
yuè month
day
星期  xīngqī week
里面 lǐmiàn inside
外面  wàimiàn outside

The 2 Core Chinese Measure Words

The use of measure words is unique to the Chinese language. Simply put, they are the type of words you put between the number and the noun to count or quantify that noun (similar to “a cup of tea”, “two pieces of news”, three slices of bread”).

In Chinese, the system is more developed. Every single noun, regardless of whether it’s countable or uncountable, requires a measure word. This means you can’t simply say “a bank”, “two books” or “five cats”, you have to add a measure word in between.

There are more than one hundred measure words in Chinese used for different kinds of things, according to their shape, feature, or the category to which they belong (e.g. measure words for “bank”, “books”, “cats” are all different).

But don’t be intimidated by this system now. The good news is that you can get by just using the most common, general-purpose measure word 个 (gè). It may not be strictly correct (works about 1/3 of the time), but you’ll be understood.

Another important measure word you need to know now is 元 yuán (or 块 kuài in colloquial Chinese), the Chinese monetary unit, after all, money matters!

Chinese Pinyin English
generic measure word
元/块 yuán/kuài basic monetary unit of China

The 24 Core Chinese Verbs

most common Chinese verbs

With as little as 24 Chinese verbs, you can get by saying a lot. These most common, core verbs are versatile and super useful. Take the first word 做 (zuò) for example, this verb means “to do” on its own, but you can combine it with nouns like 饭 (fàn) – “meal” to create 做饭 (zuò fàn) – “cook meal”.

And the best part:

Chinese verbs don’t change form in any context. You simply learn the word as it is, without any need for extra memorization, as the notion of “conjugation” doesn’t exist in Chinese. Learn the verb 吃 (chī) – “eat”, and you’ll instantly know how to say “eat” in all contexts for all speakers: I 吃, you 吃, he 吃, she 吃, we 吃, you all 吃, and they 吃. 

Do you see how easy this is?

Chinese Pinyin English
zuò to do
shì to be
zài to be in
yǒu to have
lái to come
to go
huí to return
xiǎng to think
yào to want
chī to eat
to drink
shuō to speak or to say
kàn to look or to watch
tīng to listen
jiàn to meet
jiào to call
gěi to give
to hit or to play (certain sports)
mǎi to buy
dào to arrive
děng to wait
xué to learn
喜欢 xǐhuan to like
ài to love

The 20 Core Chinese Adjectives and Adverbs

Here are the most common Chinese adjectives and adverbs to add more description and color to your Chinese.

Take note of the first word, 好 (hǎo) – “good”. It’s probably the most versatile words you can find in Chinese. You’ll be surprised to find out that there are altogether 11 ways you can use 好 (hǎo) in everyday life, from greeting (you can combine it with the pronoun 你 nǐ – “you” to form 你好 nǐhǎo – “hello”) to describing tasty food (好吃 hǎochī), a melodious song (好听 hǎotīng) or an interesting movie (好看 hǎokàn), etc.

Chinese Pinyin English
好   hǎo good
坏  huài bad
big
xiǎo small
duō many
shǎo few
yuǎn far
jìn near
hot
lěng cold
nán male
female
漂亮 piàoliang pretty
高兴 gāoxìng happy
有趣 yǒuqù interesting
hěn very
tài too…
also
dōu both or all
不/没 bù/méi not

The 8 Core Chinese Conjunctions

It’s always helpful to know how to connect your words or sentences with conjunctions. Just as in English, there are hundreds of conjunctions and transitional words in Chinese you can use to make your speech flow, but the following eight are the most common.

Don’t be shocked when you hear the last word 那个 (it can be both pronounced “nèige” and “nàge”, but “nèige” is more common). Trust me, this word has nothing to do with racism in Chinese – it’s just the most common filler word native speakers use when they find themselves at a loss for words or needing time to gather their thoughts. You’ll hear it all the time!

Chinese Pinyin English
and
但是 dànshì but
因为 yīnwèi because
所以 suǒyǐ so
如果 rúguǒ if
比如 bǐrú for example
然后 ránhòu and then
那个 nèige/nàge ummm… or weellll…

Master the Most Common Chinese Words and Improve Your Vocabulary

Congratulations! With the 101 core Chinese words under your belt, you can now understand about half of all Chinese words! Now you just need to get out there and speak! Force yourself to use these new words with native Chinese speakers and master them!

You could also level up your Chinese by learning about basic Chinese grammar rules, basic phrases and sentences, and Chinese numbers!

level up your Chinese

There are endless directions you can take for learning Chinese. Now that you’ve got the most common words, you can figure out what’s best for you and start applying it. From here, start learning vocabulary words that are most relevant to your own personal daily speech. Also, don’t forget to check out our Chinese Learning Channel for beginners, where there are tons of resources waiting for you!