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They both mean I。 But I still can't understand the real difference. Also, I want an example sentence. When I use Google Translate and Bing Translator, the result is same.

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余 is from ancient Chinese, like 予/吾. See wiki 汉语人称代词. And 我 is a modern style. – Stan Jul 27 '13 at 7:35
@Stan But I'm wonder, why 余 pronounce yu with second sound. But the 我 is pronounced wo with third sound – Christian Irwan Hadi Wicaksana Jul 27 '13 at 9:50
@ChristianIrwanHadiWicaksana Simply because they are two different characters. – Yu Hao Jul 27 '13 at 9:57
Yu is right. Just like synonyms in English -- they don't have to be pronounced the same. – Stan Jul 27 '13 at 10:01
@Christian: Compare the normal Indonesian (or at least Malay) word for ‘I’, either aku or saya, or the enclitic possessive form -ku. Those are the modern words, corresponding to 我 ‘I’ and 我的 and ‘my’ in Chinese. 余 would then correspond to the Classical Malay words for ‘I’ and ‘my’, which were apparently kitta and kitta poonea, respectively—something I am guessing is completely incomprehensible to modern Indonesians. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 8 '13 at 16:13

5 Answers 5

up vote 9 down vote accepted

As Stan said 余 is archaic and only found in literature. As in

余既为此志。——明· 归有光《项脊轩志》

我 is what modern-day Chinese use as the first-person pronoun.


I asked some Chinese friends and they only recognized 余 as a surname or meaning surplus or extra.

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In traditional Chinese areas, 餘 is used specially for the meaning meaning surplus or extra. Though, 余 is also a traditional character and was used as an interchangeable character of 餘, today Hong Kong and Taiwan people use these two discriminatively. – Stan Jul 27 '13 at 14:09

English also has ancient words, right? For example, English people used to use the word thou rather than you. It is the same in Chinese. 余 is the ancient word of 我.

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我 is also used in ancient times. For example, in 戰國策 之 鄒忌諷齊王納諫


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Practically, 余 is no long in use unless in poems or classic literature.

It would be more interesting to look at the various characters refer to 'I'.

我 is certainly the most widely used one.
咱 is colloquial.
俺 is more colloquial and vulgar.
阿拉 is commonly used in Shanghainese dialect.
吾 is in Cantonese dialect.

– and the list goes on.

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吾 is seldom heard in modern Cantonese. (Did you mean 唔(not)?) – Stan Jul 31 '13 at 7:41
吾系差人 means I am a police. Isn't it? – user2404894 Jul 31 '13 at 17:12
That's (ngo5), not (ng4). See the links from 香港中文大學粵語審音配詞字庫 above. Now 吾 (as I) is hardly heard, because it sounds like 唔 and this would make people misunderstand a sentence. – Stan Aug 1 '13 at 4:46

Recent researches show that there are differences in grammatical forms of the 2 characters in ancient scripts before or in Qin Dynasty (appr. before 207 B.C.), but in later classical Chinese litterature, they are synonyms.

In today's language, 余 as a pronoun has died and only can be seen when people try to write in classical Chinese.

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