These four words all express (get it, because they all mean express ha ha ha) similar meanings: to express/show/display/manifest/demonstrate/convey/indicate etc. I'm sure there are subtle differences between these form words in terms of formality, usage, and semantics, but I'm not sure what they are. Perhaps some place more emphasis on "expressing" (ideas, for example) while others place more emphasis on "showing/displaying" (displaying one's wealth, for example)?

I would greatly appreciate you could express your opinions and knowledge (I am so sorry) on this issue, assuming you didn't already uninstall your browser after reading this.

  • cf. "汉语水平考试词典" 表[义2]把思想感情显示出来,让别人了解(show;express):~白|~决|我只是~~心意|不必马上~态,可以再考虑一下。 表示(动/名)[联合][义2](动)用言语行为显示出某种思想、感情、态度等(show;express;indicate):我向大家~了一定要学好汉语的决心。(名)显示出思想、感情、态度的言语、动作或神情(expression;indication):老师心里很欣赏他,但脸上没有什么~。表达 (动)[联合][义2]表示(思想、感情)(express;show;convey):她的意思~得十分清楚|他用这幅画来~对你们真诚的谢意。表现(动/名)[联合][表,义2]显示出来(show;display;manifest):奥运会上运动员~得很出色|这件事~出群众的道德水平已有很大提高。(名)在生活、学习、工作中显示出来的行为、作风(behavior;conduct;expression):他在抗洪斗争中的~很出色|根据他的~予以奖励。显(动)[义2]露出;表现出(才能等)(show):大~身手|八仙过海,个~神通|大学毕业后找了对口的工作,可以~~身手了|你要谦虚点儿,别老是~着你有本事。显示(动)[联合][义2]明明白白的表现出或表示出(show):学了三年武术,很想~~功夫|画家在这张得奖作品中充分地~了他的才华。
    – user6065
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 6:56
  • I would add 给(人)看看, which also means to show something to someone and doesn't even use a specific verb for that. Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 11:45
  • 给某人看某事:show s.th. to s.o.;某事显示、表现某事:s.th. shows s.th.
    – user6065
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 21:56
  • see web(1)有谁知道,表达,表示,表现有什么不同 (2)表白,表示,和表达有什么差别?(3)(italki)表示和显示有什么区别?
    – user6065
    Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 7:19

5 Answers 5


表达, to express 他表达了他的爱意。to express something, used for expressions 表现, verb: to show, to perform. noun: behavior verb 他表现出了他的才华。he has shown his talents. noun 他的表现不是很好。 his behavior is not very good. 表示 means ... 这表示他喜欢你。this means that he likes you. 显示 to display or show. 手机能显示图片。phones can display/show pictures. hope this helps.

  • This does--before I never knew you used 表示 in something like 这表示他喜欢你. My biggest confusion was between 表达 and 表示 but this clears things up a bit. @wolfrevo explained that 达 implies "clear" so 表达 is associate with expressing or conveying something (making something clear). Meanwhile, 示 means show/reveal so 表示 would mean more like "indicate" (he "indicated" that he likes you). Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 19:22

for my understanding below are how these words are used:

表达 to express your feelings or emotions

表现 to showcase like your wealth, your talent or your belongings

表示 to express your thanks by presents or gifts

显示 to display, like the number or message displayed on the monitor

  • 表示 is used in C-C dictionaries and grammars for what certain words or grammatical constructions "express"
    – user6065
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 21:22
  • 表示 used regularly in news reports for officials stating s.th. or voicing opinions
    – user6065
    Commented Mar 27, 2016 at 14:02
  • 表达 is more subjective and 表示 is more objective. Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 11:49

I can only guess the difference in connotation between some of words based on the HanZi involved.

表 - is a depiction of a surface, a face part of some object. So the meaning is close to to show a surface = to demonstrate

表达 - to demonstrate + to reach = to express an idea AND thus reaching minds of listeners.

表现 - to demonstrate + to become visible = to show so others will see. So it's meaning is basicly to show.

表示 - to demonstrate + an altar to gods = ??? Maybe to express as something coming from "inner you"? I don't know, looks like it's 99% has the same meaning as 表现. We need to wait for a native speaker here.

P.S. I'm not a native speaker. My level of chinese is low. So don't trust me on my words :) too much.

P.S.S. Read this article: "How to express "experss"?"

  • see dictionary e。g。comment #1, 表示,表达:express by word or action,表现,显示:show;display;manifest(by action, behavior)
    – user6065
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 16:13
  • It seems like 表示 means something along the lines of "indicating". For example, 这表示他喜欢你 means "this means he likes you". In this case, 表示 sort of means "indicate". You would not use 表达 in a situation like that. Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 19:27
  • Good comment. 示 can indeed add "indicating" i.e. "revealing" reading to 表示 but all this without stressing "seeing" since 表现 already stresses "eyes".
    – coobit
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 19:33

The best way to get the ideas about Chinese words is to analyze the individual characters's meaning. So, let us begin.

表达 vs. 表现 vs. 表示 vs. 显示

As the first 3 words have common character 表, we can only focus on the different one.

The original meaning is 'a clear road', then it became a adjective, verb, preposition. No matter what it's meanings grow, it still wanders around 'clear' and 'road'.


到达(reach): 达 reference 'road' .

豁达(generous;open-minded):达 reference 'clear, open'.


达 reference clear, you speak or write to make others know your ideas.

I did not realize this answer would get long.


  • That was an excellent and extremely insightful explanation! Thank you! Sorry for the late late response. I AFK'd. Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 19:15

Here's what I can gather from looking at example sentences from Pleco and Ichacha. I'll only be considering the use of these words as verbs, not as nouns. See the headings for a tl;dr.

表达: to convey

表达: to convey or voice (a feeling or one's thoughts), such as wishes, aspirations, or excitement. This is generally followed by an object, not a clause. Compared to 表示, there's more of a focus of getting your message across.

表示: to show a "social" feeling, to indicate

表示: to show (a feeling), such as friendliness, affection, concern, remorse, or agreement. The emphasis here seems to be more on the outward expression, and seems to be more about feelings that are just socially expected.

This can also mean "to indicate":

发烧表示有病。A high fever indicates sickness.

It can also mean showing non-feelings:

图中表示出顶部的斜度。The slopes of the roofs are shown in the figure.

Unlike 表达 and 表现, which apparently can only be followed by an object, 表示 can be followed by a clause:

她未表示打算做何回应。She has not indicated how she proposes to react.

表现: to demonstrate a quality, to present oneself

表现(出): to demonstrate or display (a quality), such as interest, a sensible attitude, the enthusiasm of youth, or a mistaken belief. 表现 can mean "to present oneself + adv.", "to perform + adv.", or "to behave oneself (well/poorly)", and so it's often followed with a 得. Some example sentences:

他在公司里表现得卑鄙专横。 At the office he was mean and overbearing.

难度表现在许多方面。 Difficulties arise in a number of ways.

她想表现人生的“亲切感”。 She hoped to convey the "immediacy" of existence.

显示: to demonstrate a quality, to display

显示(出): to demonstrate or display (a quality), such as strength, intelligence, beauty, a finite lifespan, many bacteria, or one's heritage.

It can also mean displaying something more literal, such as a speedometer showing 95 mph:

速度计显示95英里每小时。The speedometer showed a speed of 95 mph.

Note that 显示 can be followed by a clause:

他脸上显示出他对演讲感到满意。His face told that he was satisfied with the speech.

调查显示75%的人赞成新法规。Surveys show that 75% of people approve of the new law.

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