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?

7 Answers 7


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.

  • 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.
    – jsj
    Commented Mar 4, 2012 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
    Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 13:34
  • 1
    In biological books/papers, rat is called 大鼠 and mouse 小鼠
    – user58955
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 21:44

To be quite frank, speaking as a Chinese-Australian, everyone I've met insists that rats and mice are the same creatures

I don't think the chinese know that the two exist...

They just don't differentiate between them :(

Now. I don't mean to start a debate. But there's a lot to differentiate.

Rats are more closely linked to us genetically. Rats are actually cleaner than mice, they self groom themselves more often than cats. Infact it's been proven they're smarter than cats and are able to retain more information.

Oh. And rats have control over their bladders and choose to wee in one corner

Mice don't have any control over their bladder...

And it's a myth that rats carry diseases etc. Any living organism is a potential host for disease under the right conditions Did you know the domestic dog is more likely a carrier of disease than a rat is? And it was proven this year that the bubonic plague in Britain was caused by bad hygiene and mouth plaque in humans

Based on the figures and the distribution of the disease in relation to the rat population, it was impossible for them to pass the disease to so many Oh. And there are such things as domestic rats. They're different. They've been selectively bred by humans since the 1600s. Though that may not seem long, they have a life span of 1-2 years. Domesticated rats are different to wild ones. Just as wolves are different to dogs And lions are different to cats

If you wouldn't compare a chihuahua to a wolf why compare a domesticated rat to its wild counterpart :(

Ps. I'm sorry I went off track haha but it had to be said, I have two pet rats and they are the sweetest things. They're like tiny dogs but more loving. They can do tricks as well and are toilet trained. They answer to their names! They both know how to fetch and bring back balls when I throw them :) they like turning over infront of me so I can scratch their bellies They come to me for hugs all the time One of them use to sneak into my bed to cuddle with me


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, then 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 people 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.


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.

  • 2
    Just a reminder, 袋鼠 the kangaroo really doesn't belong to Muridae.
    – Huang
    Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 12:57

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

  • Linking is OK, only linking is not so OK. :) Could you include those in the answer and perhaps give some explanation?
    – Alenanno
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 16:06
  • I wonder if 家鼠 and 溝鼠 are actually used in common speech though. As when describing ones pet?
    – jsj
    Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 4:20

Just want to add some points to the brilliant answers.

Rats and mice can be both translated to 老鼠 or 鼠. There is no big difference in common daily usage. If you want to talk about its size just say 大鼠 big mouse or 小鼠 small mouse.

Except 袋鼠 Kangaroo, 仓鼠、沙鼠、白老鼠 or mostly other similar types of animals named with 鼠 can be called 鼠 (as in "dogs" for other dog breeds).

If you want to specifically say a type of 鼠, just say it's full name, e.g. 仓鼠, 沟鼠.

仓鼠 hamsters are common pets in China / HK / TW, but I have never heard other types of 鼠 being a common pet.


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.

  • 白老鼠 is an equivalent to guinea pig in english.
    – Fivesheep
    Commented Apr 8, 2012 at 6:02
  • 1
    I have never heard of 白老鼠。People call it 小白鼠。
    – sfy
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 6:28

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