In the Chinese book for beginners by Bellassen, it is stated that 国 cannot be used alone: it doesn't have a meaning on its own, and thus the word country/fatherland is 国家 and not 国.

However... I am surprised by the question 你是哪国人? (still in Bellassen's book). Would it be possible to ask 你是哪国家人吗? Are there other uses where 国 can be used alone, while still meaning country?

edit: the word country/fatherland is indeed 国家 as stated in the answer below, and not 家国 as I first wrote.

3 Answers 3


You probably mean 国家 instead of 家国. 家国 doesn't exist.

你是哪国家人吗 is not correct (nor is 你是哪国家人), but you can say 你是哪国家的人 or 你是哪国家的 (meaning: from which country are you).

In 你是哪国人, 国 is not really on its own. You can treat 哪国人 as a unit (which is a short form for 哪国家的人).

In oral Chinese 国 is seldomly used on its own (but every character however has a meaning, and 国 on its own also means country), but is used in for example 国内 (inside this country, typically used to mean within China, 内 means inside) or 国旗 (national flag, 旗 means flag). The list of such examples is long.

  • Did you mean "In oral Chinese 国 is seldomly used on its own?" Commented Aug 14, 2012 at 22:15
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    In linguistics, 国 is what is known as a bound morpheme. It carries grammatical meaning, but does not exist independently as a standalone word. Note that you may still see 国 as a standalone word in written language sometimes. This may be sometimes employed to give the writing a "classical" feel, since 国 in Classical Chinese was not a bound morpheme.
    – Claw
    Commented Aug 14, 2012 at 23:03
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    @Claw, is there a "degree of bound"? Compared to the morphemes that can never be used alone (e.g. 们), 国 doesn't seem completely bound to me, as 国与国之间 sounds valid but not a bit "classical". Another example is in colloquial lines like 天国就是天上的国.
    – NS.X.
    Commented Aug 14, 2012 at 23:18
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    @NS.X.: Concerning your second example, while comprehensible, 天国就是天上的国 seems somewhat incomplete to me when spoken aloud. Various speakers may disagree, but I feel that 天国就是天上的国度 sounds much more natural orally.
    – Claw
    Commented Aug 15, 2012 at 17:48
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    家国 is not so common as 国家, but it does exist. It means home and the country or just country. It often appears on classical Chinese poetries.
    – Fivesheep
    Commented Aug 15, 2012 at 18:03

When used alone (like in a noun phrase), 国家 and are interchangeable, but there is a idiomatic tendency to use a word's multi-character form to make the sentence flow more "stable" (I am sure there is a concept/terminology for this but I don't know).

For example, 一个国家, as a noun phrase, sounds stable and complete. 一个国 is not wrong but doesn't sound stable like something should follow. If you say 一个国,一个家,一个民族 then the rhythm is satisfied and the phrase is now complete. When there are more and more characters in a phrase, the stability requirement of each single word is less important, so 国与国之间 and 国家与国家之间 both sound natural.

In words that contains (e.g. 国旗), you can't replace it with 国家 (i.e. 国家旗 is not a word) simply because words are not free form. 哪国人 can be seen as a word (as opposed to phrase) meaning 哪个国家的人.

  • i really like your explanation. I didn't know the concept of rythmical stability in Chinese. Commented Aug 14, 2012 at 21:03
  • @StephaneRolland, after reading Claw's comment I realized my answer was merely superficial observation and the root explanation should be the 'bound morpheme' concept.
    – NS.X.
    Commented Aug 15, 2012 at 8:20
  • @NS.X.: The word you were looking for is prosody. You're not incorrect; prosody does play a role in whether speakers choose a polysyllabic word over a monosyllabic one, and it probably did play a role in the formation of bound morphemes in modern Mandarin (though the loss of the final consonants -p -t -k -m from Middle Chinese played a much larger role). Chinese: A Comprehensive Grammar by Yip Po-Ching has a full chapter devoted to prosody in modern Mandarin.
    – Claw
    Commented Aug 15, 2012 at 17:57

国 is an abbreviation for 国家. The latter loosely translates to "national family."

If you were talking about a country as a concept, you'd say"一个国家."

But if you were talking about specific countries, you'd use 国as an "abbreviation" after a specifier:

德 国, "Deutschland," or Germany. Or 法国, France.

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