What i know:

  • 甲 is used for enumeration of items or persons in a dialogue, it corresponds to western 1. , a) , I. , X.
  • 桂林山水 = Landscape of Guilin
  • 天下 = literary expression for whole china or whole world.

What i do not know:

  • 甲天下
  • 桂林山水甲天下
  • 桂林山水天下 (would it make sense without 甲 ?)
  • 2
    Note 甲 as a verb to mean 'being top/first' is a usage from ancient Chinese and in modern Chinese it's only in particular set phrases like the one in your question. You cannot use it to make sentences on your own or it won't be understood.
    – NS.X.
    Nov 24, 2014 at 21:22

6 Answers 6


In ancient China, sometimes the part of speech of a word will change according to the usage in the sentence or in some special condition. It is called 詞性活用.

桂林山水甲天下, 甲 originally is used as an adjective,means the first or the best. For example, 甲級(first class). However, in here, 甲 is used a a verb which means 桂林山水is named as the best or the no.1 landscape in the world.

桂林山水天下 doesn't make sense as it just mean 'landscape of Guilin in the world'. This sentence miss a verb so it can't be a sentence and it doesn't mean anything.

Another example of 詞性活用 is 孟嘗君客我. 客 is a noun, but in here, the writer used it as a verb. That means 孟嘗君把我當作客人 (孟嘗君 looks me as a visitor.)

Of course, in nowadays, Chinese rarely use 詞性活用 in daily life.

I hope it can help you.

  • Yes, "甲" is a verb here.
    – Henry HO
    Dec 12, 2014 at 9:11

甲is the first stem of Celestial or Heavenly Stems. We use 甲 as 第一(NO.1) or 顶级(top). Hence, 桂林山水甲天下 means 桂林山水天下第一。

甲天下 means best in the world or No.1 in the world

Anohter example, Lega Serie A is the top football league in Italy, which is translated as 意大利甲级联赛。

  • +1 for the Chinese translation for Italian Serie A.
    – user382
    Nov 25, 2014 at 19:10

comes from a Chinese system of ordinals called the ten Celestial can be tracked back to 3000 years ago. it's just a counting system, in the Celestial likes A in the Alphabet.


Here is the explanation from about the celestial stem. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celestial_stem 甲in桂林山水甲天下means the finest,because 甲 is the fisrt of the ten Heavenly stem(same as celestial stem),so first means the finest.


There is something called 天干 (Celestial Stems) in China, namely 甲乙丙丁戊己庚辛壬癸. They are just used for literary or terminological alternatives for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

For example,

Italian Serie A     意大利甲级联赛
Italian Serie B     意大利乙级联赛

Hepatitis A         甲型肝炎
Hepatitis B         乙型肝炎 (usually 乙肝 for short)
Hepatitis C         丙型肝炎
Hepatitis D         丁型肝炎
Hepatitis E         戊型肝炎

methane             甲烷
ethane              乙烷
propane             丙烷
butane              丁烷
pentane             戊烷
hexane              己烷
heptane             庚烷
octane              辛烷
nonane              壬烷
decane              癸烷

As a result, 甲 stands for "number one" or "top one", extended meaning, "the best one" or "the best".

Therefore 甲天下 stands for 天下第一 (No.1 in the world).


The word 甲 means people think something is the best, so the whole sentence means people think the landscape of Guilin is the best of the world, as same as it, also have 洛阳牡丹甲天下.

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