Both 喝 and 饮 seem to mean 'to drink', but is there nuance beyond this?

  • They are interchangeable in modern Chinese, 喝 is used more widely. 饮 is mostly used in written language or official documents, as well as some old sayings such as idioms, while 喝 is mainly used for speaking language. – 賈可 Jacky Mar 12 at 2:16
up vote 4 down vote accepted

饮 is more of a classical term which mostly exists in established words and phrases:

  • As verb: 饮酒, 饮水思源,饮鸩止渴, 饮泣, 饮恨, etc.
  • As (part of) noun: 饮品, 饮料, 饮片, 饮具, 冷饮, 饮食, 饮用水, etc.

Use 喝 in everywhere else.

Usually you don't create words and phrases with 饮. I tried a few and they all sound funny:

  • 饮可乐, 饮咖啡, 饮西北风, 饮汤 -- DON'T EVER USE THESE.
  • For what it's worth, using 喝 in place of 饮 in all those examples actually sounds wrong in Cantonese. Wonder if this regional difference crops up in any other regional off-shoots of Chinese. – user5714 Sep 27 '16 at 9:58
  • 饮可乐, 饮咖啡, , 饮汤 -- DON'T EVER USE THESE these phrases are all correct in Cantonese. In Hong Kong, 喝可乐, 喝咖啡 and 喝汤 are all literal terms, only used in written form. – Tang Ho Sep 28 '16 at 5:39

The clue is in 飲食 and 吃喝

In Mandarin, 吃喝 is more colloquial and 飲食 is more literal, (it is the other way around in Cantonese)

In practical usage:

Both 飲 and 喝 can be a verb for "to drink" for example: 飲湯,飲酒,飲水; 喝湯,喝酒,喝水

But 喝 can also be a verb for "to shout" http://www.cantonese.sheik.co.uk/dictionary/characters/230/ , for example: 呼喝,大喝, 喝止

  • Since 飲 as a verb can only means "to drink" we can easily add adverb to modify it , for example : 狂飲,痛飲, 暢飲,but it would be difficult for 喝, for example: 大喝 can means" freely drink" or " loudly shout"

  • 飲 can be (part of) a noun for "beverage", for example: 冷飲,熱飲, 飲品; 喝 cannot.

In summary:

  • As a verb for " to drink", 飲 and 喝 are interchangeable.
  • 飲 is more colloquial and 喝 is more literal. (Cantonese)
  • 喝 is more colloquial and 飲 is more literal. (Mandarin)
  • 飲 can be part of a noun; 喝 cannot.
  • 1
    I guess this is on Cantonese? In mandarin, as Wang Dingwei said, it's the opposite. 喝 is colloquial and 飲 is classical. – jf328 Sep 27 '16 at 16:23
  • yes, in Cantonese it is as I said 飲 is more colloquial and 喝 is more literal, I will add it to my answer – Tang Ho Sep 27 '16 at 16:47

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