Because of one of the languages I grew up with, I have a strong desire to avoid using 我, especially when something follows that could constitute praise.

I am always conscious that my language skill and brush writing are terrible, but everyone seems to expect that I have some skill. Especially in such context I want to use a word that indicates I am aware of my shortcoming. Until now I usually chose 不才。

Furthermore, in a lot of set phrases I use 在下。




I know that there are many alternatives. My 茶友 used 鄙人, my Cantonese friend always uses 某人 and I have seen 本人。

Could you please elaborate on which one I should use, ideally with examples? I don't care if these all sound extremely old fashioned, as long as they don't sound 虛偽。But my low skill is apparent, so 虛偽 should not be a problem.

If there are differences for men and women, please teach me those, too. I especially want to know about the men, because most of my friends are ladies.

  • 1
    dictionaries e.g. iciba have examples
    – user6065
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 8:23
  • cf. Wikipedia on "Chinese honorifics" 2 Referring to oneself
    – user6065
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 8:30
  • 奴才 is a personal favorite
    – Mou某
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 9:39
  • 1
    As a native Hong Konger, I don't see the need to avoid using "我". Anyway male can also use "小弟" as self reference in causal conversation.
    – leesei
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 9:40
  • "奴才" would only be used jokingly, 'cause that would imply the party listening is "主子", which is not appropriate.
    – leesei
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 9:41

1 Answer 1


If you want to use 謙稱 with accuracy, you'll have to learn how to use 尊稱 too! You can't have the yin with the yang. Learning all this is a big job, with not much payoff, except a reputation for nice writing.

If you're determined to try, be wary of all internet stuff; I found one sort of okay thing from Hong Kong's Civil Service Bureau here

There are also books on 應用文 in Taiwan; these focus on various types of 'applied writing': letters, invitations, minutes, notices, etc. They include a lot you probably don't want to mess with. There are a few old handbooks of letter writing I've seen around, look for titles like '尺牘大全'. I know of ONE book in English: "Business and correspondence Chinese : an introduction", by Liang, Haft, and Mulder. Good luck on finding it. There is also a technical study by 曹湘洪: 当代汉语私人书信称谓, 起始及结束语社会语言学硏究 alas, for sociolinguists, not epistolarians.

Generally, most modern writing that tries to use 謙稱/尊稱 winds up sounding like an American actor in a British costume period piece. If you just want to have fun, go ahead, just be aware you might wind up sounding even funnier than you want to.

I also feel that in this case, Wikipedia is not a reliable source. The article on Chinese Honorifics mushes together generic terms with highly specific terms, all taken from dynasties randomly scattered across Chinese history, throws up etymologies without any sources, and ends by explaining that to use 老子, meaning "I, your dad" is a way of "referring to oneself as superior"; hence, "when used towards a person less well known or on formal occasions, both terms are considered to be incredibly rude." Yep, Chinese are pretty subtle people...

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