儿 [Er] child

儿子 [Érzi] son
女儿 [Nǚ'ér] daughter

So, why is 儿 in different positions in each word but they are both valid?

  • 2
    What kind of explanation do you want? Do you want an historic explanation of how the terms have appeared over time? Do you want a grammar rule to subsume it under? Say, 子 forms noun phrases by following other nouns, while 女 serves an an adjective modifying 儿? The problem with that grammar rule is that I just made up the analysis of 女儿, and no doubt other analyses could work too, say as a compound noun. – Colin McLarty Mar 8 '16 at 20:41

This is an interesting question, because it allows us to look at how words are formed in modern Chinese.

The Characters

Both 兒 and 子 meant "child" or "son" in ancient Chinese. 兒 was more specific, while 子 had a variety of other uses, like "master" (as in 孔子 - master Kong/Confucius). When 子 meant child, it was somewhat inclusive of female children, although it can also refer to males only, as in the sentence 无子,有女二人 [he had] no sons, but two daughters.

兒 can sometimes be used for "children" in general, as in the modern 兒童, but in ancient Chinese, it tended to be male-specific. The Qin dynasty proto-dictionary 倉頡篇 Cangjiepian gives the definition:
男曰儿,女曰婴 male [young children] are called 兒, female [ones] are called 嬰.
When 兒 refers to the child of someone, it means son.

女 means daughter, but has always also meant "woman" or "female (human)".

Forming Two-Syllable Words

As the pronunciation of the Chinese language changed over the centuries, many one-syllable words became homophones. In order to clarify which word they meant, people formed two-syllable words that were less likely to be confused. Three very common ways to do this are:

  • putting two words with very similar meaning together, as in 房屋 (house-house), 幫助 (help-help) or 美麗 (pretty-pretty)
  • adding a more general word that clarifies the type of thing being described: 偉大 (grand-big) or 月亮 (moon-light)
  • only for nouns, adding 子: 桌子 (table), 梨子 (pear) and 褲子 (pants) all mean the exact same thing with or without the 子

It’s easy to see how 兒子 follows all three of these rules. I suspect it was formed by the third rule, because the 子 is pronounced in the fifth / neutral tone, which suggests it does not carry the meaning of the word.

So why 女兒 instead of 女子? Firstly, 女子 can mean daughter or "female child". But it can also refer to "women" in general. So 女兒 is more specific.
And why not 兒女? The word "daughter" would not be formed this way, because 女 is more specific than 兒, which can be gender-neutral. Therefore, 兒女 reads as "sons and daughters", which is indeed what it means.

  • Exactly, this shows the process of Chinese words transforming from one-syllable to two-syllable. Two-syllable words are dominant in modern Chinese but ancient Chinese are all about one-syllable words. – Archeosudoerus Mar 9 '16 at 16:21

儿(=兒) is optional. 子 already means "son", and 女 (used to) mean "daughter". E.g. 育有一子一女 means "feed one son and one daughter".

In Old Chinese, most words were monosyllabic. While in modern Chinese, most words consist of two or more characters, so 儿 is added. Why is 儿 in different positions in 儿子 (son), 女儿 (daughter)? Mainly because other candidate two character words have had meanings.

儿女 means "sons and daughters" or "(young) people".
男儿 is the same meaning as "man" in phrases "be a man", "man enough".
In fact, 女儿 also has other meanings. It could mean "unmarried girls" or "(young) women".


I see the above answer can not say wrong, but I feel a little strange. "儿" You can understand the children of parents. 儿子的"子" Represents men: the child is a boy. 女儿的"女" represents a woman: the child is a girl. In Chinese, parents said a son is "儿子" or "小儿" (xiao er), and a girl is "妮儿" (nin er).

The above mentioned is limited to "儿子", "女儿". If you have to connect to (桌子) the table, this is without any meaning. Do you understand?

  • "said his girl is "妮儿(nin er)" ", I don't think it's a common usage. Dialect? – user4072 Mar 15 '16 at 3:39
  • no! This is a common language, almost all of the Chinese parents are saying “妮儿”。Expressing the love of their parents to their daughter! What I mean here is to explain the common life,。if you want hard, very professional, please refer to the dictionary! – tgzmos Mar 15 '16 at 3:58
  • 1
    ......Okay, I can't represent all the Chinese parents, but at least I don't. – user4072 Mar 15 '16 at 4:02
  • Sometimes it is too formal, too written. I prefer my parents to call me “小儿”。I enjoy the feeling of love. – tgzmos Mar 15 '16 at 4:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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