This question might be weird, but I haven't been able to find an answer to this.

Some characters seem to be used only in combination with other characters. For instance, I believe 儿 cannot be used for a child unless you make expressions such as 奴儿, 儿子, 儿童 etc. But how to know this?

When translating words into Chinese, dictionaries I know only state it's a Kangxi radical or not, but I haven't seen any information explicitly stating "this character is not a stand-alone one". Is there a way to find this information for Mandarin?

  • So I can use 屋,戶 separately as well? Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 12:07

1 Answer 1


Unlike alphabets in English, each Chinese character has its own meaning or meanings. A single character, usually cannot clearly express a specific meaning, therefore two characters would combine into a specific word, and two words may combine into one specific phase,

For example, contains the following meanings:

[1] bright; light; brilliant

[2] clear; understandable; [v] clarify; understand; obvious; evident

[3] intelligent; clever

[4] eyesight; seeing faculty

[5] day; daybreak; dawn

[6] [v] state; show; assert

[7] next (day or year)

[8] the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.)

[9] a Chinese family name

With only one character, it is too general to know which meaning it is referred to, therefore we need to add a second character to form a specific term :

[1] 光(light) + (bright) = 光明(bright)

[2] (clear) + 白(plain) = 明白(understand)

[3] 聰(clever) + (intelligent) = 聰明(intelligent)

[4] 復(recover) + (eyesight) = 復明(regain eyesight)

[5] 天(sky) + (daybreak)= 天明(daybreak)

[6] 聲(voice) + (state)= 聲明(announce)

[7] (next) + 天(day) = 明天(tomorrow)

[8] (Ming) + 朝(dynasty)= 明朝(Ming dynasty)

[9] (Ming) + 先生(Mr.) = 明先生(Mr. Ming)

In some instances, the context would indicate which meaning of a character is referred, therefore using one character is possible; in other instances, a character only contains one single meaning, therefore is possible to be used alone.

  • Okay, this makes sense. Until now I thought that some characters have gone out of usage in their stand-alone meaning and only remained in 2+ character combinations. Your explanation is very nice, thanks! Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 12:31
  • Some noun can stand alone. E.g. 牛,猫, 狗
    – mootmoot
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 13:32
  • @mootmoot I know that -- I just wasn't sure if all chars could be used alone as well =] Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 15:27
  • 1
    The problem here is that dictionaries don't provide enough explanation on whether a character (one syllable) can be used alone or not in a CONVERSATION (not in a written text). I think this is the most difficult issue about Chinese to foreign students, and the experts simply don't give a damn on trying to solve this. Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 14:03
  • 1
    This doesn't answer the question at all. The question is, how can one find out whether a character can be a word by itself? If I'm presented with a particular character, what sources are there that tells me whether I can use it by itself or not.
    – JBentley
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 1:16

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