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I know there are two words here: 老鼠 and 鼠. However, the dictionary states that 老鼠 (rat) can also mean mouse; how do you specify rat?

I imagine that 仓鼠 (hamster) and 沙鼠 (gerbil) are often abbreviated to 鼠???

If so how does one specify that you mean mouse, rather than rat, hamster or gerbil?

P.s. maybe someone could also drop in a comment about whether or not these animals are common house pets in China / HK / TW?

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5 Answers 5

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Actually, in ordinary life, Chinese don't distinguish mice and rats(Frankly speaking, when I was a student, studying English and met the two words, I was also wondering why there are two words in English?). We just call that dirty animal that often appears in the houses "老鼠" or "耗子"(oral word,common in dialects).When we see a mouse(rat?) in a field, we may call it "田鼠"(田 means the field).

仓鼠 is a kind of pet(one of my friends raise two). Wiki tells me rat is "大家鼠" and "mouse" is “小鼠", but I and people around me don't care this.

Of course, in scientific circle, academical researchers will adopt the Binomial Nomenclature(in Chinese, 二名法) system to distinguish them.

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Well I guess I'll just have to make a conversation point out of specifying exactly which type of 鼠 I am talking about. @Huang, would the average Chinese native speaker understand 溝鼠? That's the species of rat that is common as a house pet in Western countries. –  trideceth12 Mar 4 '12 at 13:24
@trideceth12 Based on my own knowledge, I don't konw 溝鼠 and I don't know the simplified version 沟鼠 either. Actually,it's the first time I see it. –  Huang Mar 4 '12 at 13:34
@trideceth12: Alternatively you could adapt your thinking to the Chinese way and accept that mice are rats and rats are mice. –  Phil Gan Mar 4 '12 at 16:43
@Huang: My feeling of rats vs mice is that rats are much dirtier. I guess they're known historically for carrying diseases and such. –  Phil Gan Mar 4 '12 at 16:45
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What is the difference between 'rat' and 'mouse' in English? -.-

I have looked up and found a page that says the main difference is that a rat is bigger than a mouse.

It that is so, than in Chinese we do not distinguish between 'rat' and 'mouse'. We just call them 老鼠 or 耗子 (耗子 is more colloquial and dialectal). If you want, you can say 大老鼠 and 小老鼠 to describe them vaguely.

鼠 is seldom used alone. It is a morpheme that should be used together with other morphemes to form words, such as 老鼠, 田鼠, 袋鼠. These words cannot be abbreviated to 鼠. Maybe in scientific literature 鼠 can be used alone, but I think in that case they are more inclined to use precise terms in Binomial Nomenclature.

仓鼠 (hamster) is a common pet in China. Some other rodents are also common pets, but we do not usually call them 'X鼠'. For example, cavia porcellus (豚鼠) is usually called 荷兰猪, and chinchilladale (南美洲栗鼠) is usually called 龙猫.

The little white mice used in science laboratories are called 小白鼠.

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Actually you can see the differences in Wikipedia. I think the word 鼠 includes the whole family of Muridae.

and I think only the hamster is a popular pet in China/HK/TW

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Linking is OK, only linking is not so OK. :) Could you include those in the answer and perhaps give some explanation? –  Alenanno Mar 3 '12 at 16:06
I wonder if 家鼠 and 溝鼠 are actually used in common speech though. As when describing ones pet? –  trideceth12 Mar 4 '12 at 4:20
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I am a chinese .when we say "老鼠" we want to say the animal mouse, a specific animal. when we say "鼠" we always combine some word with it such like “田鼠” “袋鼠” "仓鼠" 沙鼠" . "鼠" just describe the animal which have little head and long tail.

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Just a reminder, 袋鼠 the kangaroo really doesn't belong to Muridae. –  Huang Mar 4 '12 at 12:57
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Google translate suggests "small rodents" for 小老鼠.

I think that when you say "老鼠" most Chinese will think of "rat" first, but perhaps it is just an example of a slight mistranslation? Maybe, like the poster above said, it is really referring to the whole family of small mammals we call rodents, which includes rats, mice, gerbils, etc.

I have heard "白老鼠" used to refer to mice, specifically little white mice like the kind used in science experiments.

I have no idea how to say gerbil.

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白老鼠 is an equivalent to guinea pig in english. –  Fivesheep Apr 8 '12 at 6:02
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