101 Core Chinese Words – The Most Commonly Used Words in Chinese
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.
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
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.
|I or me
|he/she/it or him/her/it
|we or me
|they or them
The 37 Core 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.
|person or people
|home or family
|car or vehicle
|rice or meal
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!
|generic measure word
|basic monetary unit of China
The 24 Core 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?
|to be in
|to speak or to say
|to look or to watch
|to hit or to play (certain sports)
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.
|both or all
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!
|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!
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!