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In a few of my entries on, several of my Chinese friends have changed 平常 into 通常 and vice versa without providing additional explanation. It it just a matter of personal taste?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

The two words share the same character "常“(common, usual,eternal), so the meanings overlap somewhat. Both of them can mean "commonly, usually", however, they are not exactly the same.

"平常“ means (notice 平 means "plain,commonplace" here)

[adj]ordinary, casual/informal [adv]ordinarily,in a casual/informal way

"通常" means

[adj]common,usual [adv]in general, generally, in most cases

When something is ordinary, usually you could say it's the most possible case or it's common, that's how the two words have the similar meaning.


我平常坐公交车去上班。 Usually I go to work by bus ( in my ordinary life).

我通常坐公交车去上班。 Usually I go to work by bus ( in most cases).

通常情况下,伤口的血液会自动凝固。 Generally, the blood from the wound coagulates automatically.

平常情况下,伤口的血液会自动凝固。 Sounds weird to me.

真理通常掌握在少数人手中。 The truth are held in few people in general.

真理平常掌握在少数人手中。 Sounds weird to me.

我平常叫他老王,但是在公司里我通常叫他王经理。 I call him Lao Wang ordinarily(casually), but I would usually call him Manager Wang in the company(because this is a serious situation). Not interchangeable in this case.

我只想回到平常的生活。 I just want to return to a common\normal(in a style that average people have) life. Here, 通常 is not acceptable.

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It may serve to include an example that uses 平常 in its adjectival sense. – deutschZuid Jun 17 '12 at 22:53
+1 for good suggestion. I have add a new example to my answer. – Huang Jun 18 '12 at 2:18

sometimes 平常 is used as an adjective,you can say someone is 平常,But you can't say someone is 通常,or you can say some situation is 平常.

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Generally, it is the same in speaking, but 通常 is more formal and better use it in a formal contextual.

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Hello user1377324 and welcome to our site! Could you add more detail? Like adding examples? :) – Alenanno Jun 16 '12 at 0:50
I am not sure where you are pulling this out of, but the two terms have nothing to do with formality. – deutschZuid Jun 17 '12 at 22:51

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