I see both 禁止 (jìnzhǐ) and 严禁 (yánjìn) being used to mean "forbid", and I don't really understand what the difference is between them.

Question: Is there a distinction between 禁止 (jìnzhǐ) and 严禁 (yánjìn)?

Online definitions give: (a) 禁止 = ban; forbid; prohibit (Bing dictionary) and (b) 严禁 = strictly forbid [prohibit] (Bing dictionary). So it maybe that's all there is to it (严禁 is stricter than 禁止), in which case this question is asking for confirmation.

(Or maybe that's what it says in dictionaries, but in everyday use there's almost no distinction. Or maybe there's some distinction in usage.)

Here are some examples I've come across. This is from some elevator instructions:

Elevator instructions

This Contains both:

  • 严禁撞击 = yánjìn zhuàngjī = no fighting

  • 禁止吸烟 = jìnzhǐ xīyān = no smoking

Another example:

Stone bollard instruction


  • 严禁挪动石墩 = yánjìn nuódòng shídūn = no moving the stone bollard
  • 100 more examples and confirmation at jukuu for both 严禁 and 禁止 – user6065 Feb 1 '17 at 4:43
  • dictionaries suggest 禁 is a bound morpheme: e.g."汉语水平考试词典";[义1]不允许(forbid;prohibit;ban):~毒|~忌|~戒|~令|~区|~书|查~|情不自~|~不住|学校严~赌博|现在有一个~烟运动。[义2]关起来;拘押(imprison):软~|团长命令把他~闭三天。此外禁止、严禁 具有一种正式或官方(official)的内涵或风味(当然"严禁"比"禁止"还要官方),比方说当讲家长或老师的时候与其说"禁止、严禁"不如说"不(允)许"。 In a familiar/intimate context E/C may be more likely to use,"forbid/不(允)许", confirmed by dictionary lookup:"英汉小词典(1977): forbid 禁止;不许;阻止:to ~ sb. to leave 不许某人离开,to ~ sb. his departure 不许某人离去, prohibit v.t. 禁止:Smoking ~ 禁止吸烟 – user6065 Feb 1 '17 at 14:09
up vote 10 down vote accepted

严禁 is short for 严格禁止,which means strictly forbid. 禁止 is kinda suggestive,严禁 indicates something is obliged not to do by the rules or law. Actually in everyday use, there is no obvious distinction between them.

  • "禁止" is NOT suggestive. "請勿" or "切勿" is suggestive. – Henry HO Feb 3 '17 at 2:53

The definitions given by the dictionary are correct.

严禁 sounds more serious, but you can use them interchangeably.

By the way, 撞击 means to hit or to strike.

It is quite simple,

  • 禁止 = forbid - a formal pronouncement; (a warning)

  • 严禁 = strictly forbid - implies there is a heavy punishment for violation, and it is being enforced earnestly-- (a stern warning)

Notice: 禁止 or 严禁 something just means there is a rule in place. It may or may not be a formal, written law.

The difference between 禁止 and 严禁 is like the difference between 不准(not allowed) and 绝对不准(absolutely not allowed)

as being a Chinese,we use 禁止 to prevent somebody doing something.And when we use 严禁,that means if you don't follow the warning there will be some very bad things happen.

There are four common words telling people not to do something: 請勿, 切勿, 禁止 and 嚴禁. For civilized audience,

  • "請勿" - a polite request or suggestion (violation punishment is possible)
  • "切勿" - a request or urge, usually for the audience's own sake (violation punishment is also possible)
  • "禁止" - forbid
  • "嚴禁" - forbid (with stress on enforcement or punishment)

In places with better social behavior, you will see "請勿" or "切勿" used more frequently.

Generally speaking: 严禁 is more strict / serious than 禁止.

However sometimes means the opposite way.

Similar situation in English words:

eg1. This is a good dog.
eg2. This is a better dog.

Which is better from above 2 dogs?

Generally speaking eg2 will be better, however in some situations, eg1 is actually better.

more examples:

eg3. No smoking -- 禁止吸烟
eg4. Seriously no smoking -- 严禁吸烟

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