What is the difference between 台 and 臺?

台 is both "simplified" and "alternative", 臺 is "traditional".

臺 seems to be the "correct" traditional form for Taiwan, but I've never seen it in reference to Taishan (台山) in Guangdong, even in all references pre-1949, etc.

How is it determined in "traditional" usage when to use the one or the other?

(In simplified usage 台 is just used all the time, correct?)

  • you can see this zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/臺灣 for differences between 臺 and 台 when using on names
    – biubiubiu
    Dec 2, 2014 at 8:56
  • Also, note that the name 台山 was selected for what was (another) place called 新寧 only in 1914, under China's Republican government, and long after 台 and 臺 were considered "acceptable" variants.
    – Michaelyus
    Oct 11, 2018 at 16:14

5 Answers 5


In simplified Chinese, both would be 台, easy peasy. Otherwise, things get a little complicated. Sometimes 台 is just an alternative form for 臺, which is the case for Taiwan: you can write 臺灣 or 台灣, both are acceptable, though the former is considered more formal. In the case of 台山, that is the correct name already, so you can't write 臺山 because 臺 is not an alternative form of 台. Also, for place names like 台州 and 天台山, the pronunciation of 台 is a little different from normal, all the more reason that you can't always choose to substitute 台 with 臺.

Don't be fooled by the Traditional and Simplified Chinese bisection. Only very little Simplified Chinese characters were invented to replace the old ones. Most Simplified Chinese characters were either the archaic but "correct" forms or were simpler variants of the "correct" characters. In fact, many "traditional Chinese" characters are actually much simpler (having fewer strokes) than some of the variants, so 繁體字 is a misnomer, and as for 正體字, what is the "correct" way to write a certain character? Is there a "correct" way to write those characters? Defined by whom? It is not just black and white.

Chinese is hard, and I think the more I learn about Chinese, the harder it gets. I think the best way to learn when to use 臺 and not 台 and vice versa is to just remember each instance and go by the ones most people use even if that usage is not correct semantically. Occasionally, you may want to consult a reference such as the Dictionary of Variants published by the MOE of Taiwan, in which you'll find that 台 and 臺 are originally two different words with similar pronunciation, but 台 has been borrowed as a substitute for 臺 and has therefore acquired the pronunciation and meaning of 臺. One definition of 臺 is "stage", and of 台 is (originally) "delight", interchangeable with 怡. Keep in mind though, that it is just ONE reference, the fact that it's "official" doesn't mean it's always correct or reflects what most people use, even in Taiwan.

  • Thank you, that's what I thought, basically. 台 is the 行/草書 form, correct? That's what makes it a "variant" or "alternative"?
    – Alan Chin
    Dec 2, 2014 at 22:19
  • 3
    I don't think it has much to do with calligraphy. Try googling 台 行/草書 and 臺 行/草書 and see for yourself. They are just different characters (read the last paragraph in my answer). In short, I think they are an example of what you call 通假字 turned 異體字.
    – Gao
    Dec 3, 2014 at 3:51
  • That clears it up! Much appreciated! 通假字 turned 異體字, fascinating...
    – Alan Chin
    Dec 3, 2014 at 4:52

As mentioned elsewhere,「台」and「臺」are different characters; the former is not a simplified derivative of the latter. In proper nouns such as「臺灣」, the first character is just a phonetic transcription character, and doesn't contribute to the meaning.

In orthodox Mandarin usage,「台」as a phonetic character is pronounced tāi, not tái, which is why Taiwan is "correctly" written as「臺灣」. Using「台」as a substitute for「臺」is a later vulgar innovation; they were pronounced differently. Names such as

are all pronounced "correctly" with tāi and written correctly with「台」, not「臺」, although nowadays you may see references to 三台 "incorrectly" pronounced as tái and using「臺」.

PRC totally merged「台」and「臺」with「台」, so there is no further discussion to be made for Simplified Chinese.

「台」and「臺」had different origins.「台」originally represented a word now written as「以」; note that the top of「台」is the same component as the left of「以」.

「以」(Zhengzhang OC: /*lɯʔ/ > MC: /jɨX/, Fanqie: 羊己切) originally depicted a person「人」holding an object.

enter image description here

Much of the time,「人」was actually omitted. This version is now written as「㠯」.

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here


Towards the latter half of the Zhou Dynasty, a distinguishing mark「口」was added to「㠯」to create a synonym「台」, which is a representation of「以」widely seen before Unification by Qin.


enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here


Qin Dynasty forms added「人」back, but in a way disconnected from the object「㠯」. Our current shape of「以」is inherited from this form.

enter image description here

enter image description here


「台」lost the function of「以」and became used for other purposes. Orthodox definitions (inherited from later sources such as Shuowen Jiezi) records two main uses, both phonetic borrowings sounding similar but unrelated in meaning to「以」:

  1. OC: /*lɯ/ > MC: /jɨ/, Fanqie: 與之切 > Pinyin:
    • Original form of「怡」
    • I/me
    • what
  2. OC: /*l̥ʰɯː/ > MC: /tʰʌi/, Fanqie: 土來切 > Pinyin: tāi

The second pronunciation led on to its vulgar usage for tái, now unofficial in Taiwan and official in PRC.

「臺」originally represented a word that meant look-out tower/platform/terrace, and still retains this meaning today.

「臺」(OC: /*dɯː/ > MC: /dʌi/, Fanqie: 徒哀切 > Pinyin: tái) was originally comprised of semantic「宀」(building) and phonetic「之」(OC: /*tjɯ/ > MC: /t͡ɕɨ/, Fanqie: 止而切 > Pinyin: zhī).

enter image description here

The semantic component「宀」was later transformed into a combination of「高」and「室」, leading on to the modern form「臺」.


enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here


Following the Zhengzhang reconstructions, what is now Pinyin [y] (OC: /*l/) of「台」was connected to [t] (OC: /*d/) of「臺」through an aspirated voiceless alveolar lateral approximant /*l̥ʰ/; without tracing their evolution, Pinyin [yi] and [tai] do not really resemble each other.


  • 季旭昇《說文新證》
  • 何琳儀《戰國古文字典》
  • 黃德寬《古文字譜系疏證》
  • 姚萱《花園莊東地甲骨卜辭的初步研究》
  • 小學堂
  • 國學大師
  • 1
    "三台" contained six stars ^ o ^, i added an answer, it's too long to explain it in comment. have fun :) Oct 12, 2018 at 13:23

"三台" should be translated as "three groups of stars in ursa major".

there're totally six stars, in three pairs.

in 靈臺秘苑 卷一, a picture showing 太微垣 contained "三台" (上台 中台 下台):

enter image description here

the corresponding text is:


then, in 開元占經 卷一百七



  • 1
    don't worry :) the term 三台 is very tricky. i always appreciate your effort to answer "old" questions. carry on :) Oct 12, 2018 at 13:35

In Traditional Chinese, 台 and 臺 are two different characters with different meanings, but which have the same pronunciation in Mandarin and other dialects.

In Simplified Chinese, there is only the character 台, and no 臺.

The mapping from Traditional to Simplified is (essentially) many-to-one. Both the Traditional Chinese characters 台 and 臺 are mapped to the Simplified Chinese character 台.

Do not confuse the Traditional Chinese 台 with the Simplified Chinese 台. Although it is the same glyph, they have different meanings, because the Simplified Chinese 台 could mean Traditional Chinese 台 or Traditional Chinese 臺.

In Traditional Chinese, Taiwan is written as either 臺灣 or 台灣 (hence in Simplified Chinese it is written as 台湾). However, in Traditional Chinese, Taishan is only written as 台山 (in Simplified Chinese as 台山). From looking at Simplified Chinese, it is impossible to tell that the "Tai" in Taiwan and Taishan have different treatment in Traditional Chinese.

  • 1
    I disagree with the 台山 in Guandong is written as 臺山 in Traditional Chinese. If you go to the Wikipedia page, try converting the page to Traditional Chinese (TW or HK) and it is still 台山. Another example: 云 is 雲 in Simplified Chinese, but have you ever seen 古人雲 in Traditional Chinese?
    – Gao
    Dec 3, 2014 at 3:57
  • 1
    台山 is always 台山 , never 臺山。In both traditional AND simplified usage, always. It was to understand this better that I asked the question.
    – Alan Chin
    Dec 3, 2014 at 4:45
  • @GaoWeiwei: fixed
    – user102008
    Dec 3, 2014 at 11:01
  • @AlanChin: fixed
    – user102008
    Dec 3, 2014 at 11:02

The difference between 台 and 臺 is that 台 is a 简体字, 臺 is a 繁体字. The meaning of 台 and 臺 is the same.

There are two kinds of Chinese characters, Traditional Chinese (繁體字) and Simplified Chinese (简体字).

In Taiwan, people use Traditional Chinese, but in the mainland, people use Simplified Chinese.

In ancient China, people used Traditional Chinese. Around 1910, the Simplified Chinese appeared. Then the Chinese mainland use Simplified Chinese, Taiwan kept using Traditional Chinese.

Simplified Chinese is used more often, which is the official language of China. And it is written more easily.

If you want to determine, people from Taiwan use Traditional Chinese, people from the mainland use Simplified Chinese.

In my opinion, you can study Simplified Chinese first, because both of them can understand Simplified Chinese.

(In simplified usage 台 is just used all the time, correct?) yes

  • 1
    This doesn't provide an answer to the question. It's better to read the question carefully before answering it.
    – Stan
    Dec 2, 2014 at 9:13
  • 2
    Considering that 台 was in the 康熙字典, it's plain wrong to say that 台 is a 簡體字...
    – dda
    Dec 2, 2014 at 10:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.