Question: What is the difference between 抽烟 (chōu yān) and 吸烟 (xī yān) which both pertain to smoking?

I‘ve ordinarily asked people

你抽烟吗 (nǐ chōu yān ma = "do you smoke?")

for which nobody has acted oddly about (at least, in regards to my Chinese), so I assumed it was correct, but maybe

你吸烟吗 (nǐ xī yān ma = "do you smoke?")

is synonymous.

However, I ordinarily see

禁止吸烟 (jìn zhǐ xī yān = "smoking is forbidden")

on No Smoking signs, e.g.

禁止吸烟 No smoking

which, up until recently, I thought said

禁止抽烟 (jìn zhǐ chōu yān = "smoking is forbidden" [presumably])

but this is incorrect, and it doesn't seem to be commonly used (possibly even an invalid phrase).

2 Answers 2


Basically they have the same meaning and could be used interchangeably.

The subtle difference is, 抽烟 is used in spoken language more than 吸烟. As you said, when asking people we usually say 你抽烟吗; of course 你吸烟吗 is correct too.

On the other hand, 吸烟 is more formal and used in written language more. As you've seen, for a slogon 吸烟 is used usually; 禁止抽烟 is not wrong, but not used in general.


Looks to me like maybe 你抽烟吗 is "Do you smoke in general?" and 你吸烟吗 is "Are you smoking right now?" But I'm often wrong.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.