i know that a few hanzis cannot be used alone, on their own, in Chinese.

i am looking for a list where i can find them.

someone can help ? just for the most frequent :-)

is it allowed to use 爸 alone or only in 爸爸 ?what about 把 with handle meaning : is it allowed to use alone for that meaning ? confusing with measure word and preposition used in 把字句 baziju structures...

there is also the case 白 :is it allowed to use alone for " white " ? or white can only be translated by 白色 ? a list of characters not used on their own should be welcome, a great help for learners :-)

  • What you are looking for is mostly a subset of 连绵词/联绵词. There're too many.
    – Stan
    May 12, 2016 at 21:02

8 Answers 8


To understand this problem, you need to understand the linguistic concepts of 'bound' and 'free'. To understand the concepts of bound and free, you have to understand the idea of a morpheme. A morpheme is an abstract linguistic unit that everyone knows how to use, but no one really knows how to define: 'dog' is an English morpheme; so is un-, or -ly. Dog can be used in a wide variety of places in a sentence; un- and -ly cannot. These two types of morphemes are thus called 'free' and 'bound'. Chinese morphology is similar to English in this basic sense. Of course there are important differences too. There are a number of books that discuss this, I recommend Jerry Norman's 1988 book, Chinese.

Here are two examples that illustrate the properties of bound and free in Chinese. First is the character 椅. This is a typical Chinese bound morpheme. Any Chinese-English dictionary will tell you it means 'chair'; what they usually don't tell you is that you can't just say 買一張椅. 椅 is bound; to use it as an independent word you have to at least use the compound form 椅子. Note it does not require the suffix 子. It can be used in other compounds perfectly well without this, both on the right side: 躺椅, 藤椅, 電椅, and on the left side 椅墊, 椅背, 椅套. This means 椅 is not like English affixes, such as un- and -ly.

Compare this with 床 'bed'. Unlike 椅, 床 is used by itself: 買一張床 is a perfectly good sentence. It can also be used in compounds: 吊床, 單人床, 床墊, 床頭, etc. 床 is free; it can be used as an independent word.

How do you know which characters (morphemes) are free and which are bound? This is what I think the OP really wants to know. I don't completely agree that the difference between free and bound is a continuous spectrum. In different dialects, a morpheme may have a different status: a bound morpheme in dialect A may be a free morpheme in dialect B. A morpheme's status may also change; many morphemes that were free in early texts are now bound in modern Chinese. But the Mandarin dialects are largely consistent in what is free and what is bound, so free and bound are well worth learning for a foreign student.

Absurdly, there is NO modern dictionary that marks characters (morphemes) as bound and free. There WAS one which you might be able to find if you are near a large library: The Dictionary of Spoken Chinese, published by Yale University's Institute of Far Eastern Languages in 1966. This was based on an earlier work by Chao Yuen-ren and several colleagues, compiled during WWII. Although very old, for the common words that bother every student, it is a great resource for serious students.

I agree that sometimes the free-bound distinction can be tricky. Going back to the question, 爸 can be used by itself, but mostly as a vocative form (when you are talking to Dad); otherwise it can be odd: 他是我的爸 is odd for many people, 他是我的爸爸 is normal for everyone. The status of 爸 as a free morpheme is limited; you are best treating it as a bound form, except in talking to Dad.

白 is free, but only with the meaning of 'white'. In the adverbial sense of 'without paying' or 'in vain', it is like all Chinese adverbs: bound.

把 bǎ has several meanings. As a structural particle it is bound, but a special kind of bound.

As a morpheme meaning 'handle' it is emphatically bound. Be careful, there are actually two morphemes meaning 'handle': bǎ, as in 把手, and bà as in 刀把. This is probably a historical change, there are some forms where there are two pronunciations: eg 把子 can be bǎzi, or it can be bàzi. I've heard both. What I haven't heard is 買一個把. So for standard Mandarin, 把 is bound.


蝴(蝶), (葡)萄, 琵(琶), 玻(璃), 怂恿 are some examples of characters that occur only in di- or polysyllabic compounds, never alone.

  • can be used to say someone not dare to do something.
    – zzy
    May 16, 2016 at 10:45
  • 怂 is a bound form. It occurs alone in classical Chinese, and in more informal speech.
    – user4452
    May 16, 2016 at 15:46
  • Yes, it is informal usage, but is used very often nowadays on Internet.
    – zzy
    May 17, 2016 at 1:07

Judging from the examples in your question, I suppose you are not asking about 联绵词 as other users have mentioned.

You can definitely use 爸 and 白 alone, but not in all circumstances. As for 把 in the sense of "handle", I'd say it is seldom used this way. 把儿 and 把手 are more common.

For the general question, I don't think one can find a good list of characters that can't be used alone. You see, this is not a black or white situation. The independence of each Chinese character is rather a continuous spectrum. In fact, the distinction between "word" and "phrase" itself is not so clear. I'm afraid this won't be a case where one can memorise a list and be ready to go. In stead, you may have to learn the collocations gradually.


Almost all characters are words on their own. The question you asked is the problem of raising spoken Mandarin in China. Its phonetic structure does not fit well with Chinese characters ( losing part of tones and rime-endings ) forcing it to use redundant characters to differentiate the meaning of words.

In written Chinese and some other branches of Chinese languages, it can stand alone. Say in Cantonese, [亞爸 / 去咗 / 街], [面 / 青 / 口唇 / 白]

Even in spoken Mandarin, 爸 and 白 are allowed alone, joining with other character.

For example

[我/爸/是/李剛], [爸,我 / 結婚 / 了].

[白的] [白開水]

What you heard is not universal in Chinese languages. From the beginning of Chinese writing, the written script is mostly not of spoken langauges. The original Chinese writing presses writers to remove redundant words and to keep it easy to read out.


I think there are really two questions here: one about bound and free morphemes, which has already been answered comprehensively, and the other about where to put the tone mark in pinyin.

Here’s an answer for that. The rules seem to be as follows:

  1. If there is only one vowel, it takes the diacritic.
  2. If there is more than one vowel, then the vowels {a}, {e}, or {o} take the diacritic.
  3. If the vowel cluster is {ao}, then {a} takes the diacritic.
  4. If the vowel cluster is {iu} or {ui}, the last letter takes the diacritic.

This is a straight copy from this page.

Another page put the rules differently. It’s also worth a look as it has a summary table that may be helpful.

A simple web search for “pinyin which vowel has accent” will give more pages on the topic.

  • i do not understand why my question about tones couldn't be posted in a new window ! i added space at the end, i removed accents for tones, tried half an our to post ! impossible, then i asked in my question, maybe i will do again if i get no explications... thank you for your clear answer and the weblink :-)
    – faure
    Jun 2, 2016 at 12:27

The vowel priority rule is as follows:

1 - a
2 - e/o (they neve appear together)
3 - i/u (if they appear together, the last one takes the diacritic)

Note that the vowel that takes the diacritic is also the stressed vowel. We must say haaaaaaaao (好), but not haooooooo. Huooooooo (火), but not huuuuuuuo.



After 20 years I still remember my primary school teacher told me these rules to determine which vowel to put accent on in dipthongs:

  1. 有a不放过 (If there is a "a", put the accent on it.)
  2. 没a找o,e (When there's no "a", put the accent on "o" or "e" if there's it.)
  3. i,u并列放在后 (If there are both "i" and "u" then put the vowel on the second one.)

Take first tone as example, all possible combinations of vowels are:

ā,ō,ē,ī,ū,ü(bar on it) āo,āi (有a不放过) ōu,ēi (没a找o,e) uī,iū (i,u并列放在前)


  1. is it allowed to use 爸 alone or only in 爸爸 ?

    Both are okay.

  2. what about 把 with handle meaning : is it allowed to use alone for that meaning ?

    It's very confusing to use it alone when it means handle.

  3. confusing with measure word and preposition used in 把字句 baziju structures...

    The ancient character of 把 looks like two hands together holding something. So this character means holding (verb). Then it extends to mean "a handful of" when it's a measure word. In modern Chinese, the preposition 把 means "take/make/let" somebody/something to ...

  4. there is also the case 白 :is it allowed to use alone for " white " ? or white can only be translated by 白色 ?

    It's okay to use it alone for white.

  • 1
    take care of i and u, i also think the last deserve accent like in qiū, autumn !
    – faure
    Jun 4, 2016 at 10:50
  • @faure Yes you're right. I checked my answer again and there's a typo.
    – Lucius Hu
    Jun 4, 2016 at 11:14

给你说些汉字记法。 艹字为偏旁很多(radical)与植物(botang)有关 例如(such as):草,花,藤蔓,药,菜,茶 氵字为偏旁很多与水(water)有关 例如:渴,河,海,江,没,汹涌,沫,浅 扌字为偏旁很多与手(hand)部动作有关 例如:打,拉,撕,撤,扔,提,捏,推 火字为偏旁很多与火(fire)有关 例如:炎,焰,烧,灼,烫,燃 按偏旁归类的,有很多 而且一些是象形字(glyph) 例如:火,目,日,山,水


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