Mandarin Chinese Pronouns vocabulary
Chinese had no distinction for gender in the second- and third-person pronouns (daici). The plural pronouns are formed by simply adding 们 mén to the end of each pronoun. To indicate possession 的 (de) is appended to the pronoun.
Originally, Chinese had no distinction for gender in the second- and third-person pronouns, and no distinction for animacy in the third-person either. In fact, in the spoken language, they remain undifferentiated. These characters were created in response to contact with the West and its gender- and animacy-indicating pronouns. (It is not unusual for native Chinese speakers to fail to differentiate between “he” and “she” in English.)
The difference between 你 and 妳 is not always maintained in writing, but the distinction between 他 and 她 is. 牠 is supposed to be used for nouns referring to animals (note the 牛 radical, which means ox) and 它 for inanimate objects, but this distinction is sometimes blurred. In Simplified Chinese, 妳 and 牠 are both antiquated.
The collective pronouns are formed by simply adding 们 / 們 mén to the end of each pronoun; thus, 你们, 我们, 咱们, 他/她/牠/它们 or 你們, 我們, 他/她/牠/它們 would mean “you [plural]”, “we” and “they” respectively.
The pronoun 您 nín is used as a formal version of the second person pronoun, but does not have a feminine variant, and is not used in the plural.
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 the Chinese honorifics article for more information). The pronouns listed above are the most common in colloquial speech.
Person Characters Pronunciation Notes
First 我 Pronounced wǒ Expresses “I”, “me”, etc.
Second 你, 妳, 您 nǐ， nĭ, and nín Expresses “you”, etc., masculine, feminine, and you addressed with respect, respectively
Third 他, 她, 牠, 它 All pronounced tā Expresses “he” / “she” / “it [animate]” / “it [inanimate]”, respectively. (To indicate the God of Abrahamic religions or classical Chinese religious figures in writing, 祂 is also used.)
The possessive pronoun
To indicate possession 的 (de) is appended to the pronoun. In literature or in some daily phrases (especially ones about family or concepts very close to the owner) this is often omitted, e.g. 我妈/我媽 (wǒ mā); is a synonym for 我的妈妈/我的媽媽 (wǒ de māmā, “my mother”). In writing, 其(qí) is often used for “his” or “her”; e.g., 其父 means “his father” or “her father”.
The reflexive pronoun
The singular personal pronouns (for humans) may be made reflexive by appending 自己 zìjǐ, “self”.
Pronouns in imperial times and self-deprecatory
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 寡人 guǎrén during early Chinese history and 朕 zhèn after the Qin dynasty when the Emperor is speaking to his subjects. When the subjects speak to the Emperor, they address themselves as 臣(chén), or “your official”. It is 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 résumés, the term 贵/貴(guì; lit. noble) is used for “you” and “your”; e.g., 贵公司/貴公司 refers to “your company”. 本人 (běn rén; lit. this person) is used to refer to oneself.
Inclusive and exclusive first-person plural
In Chinese, for the first-person plural there are usually two forms, the inclusive and exclusive we:
* 咱们 / 咱們 zánmen — the inclusive (i.e. “you and I”, “we, including you”)
* 我们 / 我們 wǒmen — the exclusive (i.e. “we, without you”).
This distinction is not rigorously maintained by many speakers outside of the Beijing region, the tendency being to generalize the use of 我们 / 我們.