I've learned 朋友 as a unit for the word 'friend'. After looking the two characters up, I see that they both mean... friend.

It seems 友 is often used as the latter part of words expressing something with "friend", like 好友 for good friend.

What is the difference between 朋 and 友?

Do they have slightly different meanings when used separately, or are they identical in meaning and just used in different situations?

  • as dictionary entries for 朋 and 友 will show, they are both bound morphemes(粘着语素)(and 朋 possibly to a larger extent) as distinguished from free morphemes (自由语素),bound unlike free morphemes are not words (词).
    – user6065
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 13:27
  • At 小马词典 find 88 compounds with 友 and 23 with 朋, 11 成语 among them
    – user6065
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 23:57

7 Answers 7


As a noun, both 朋 and 友 mean friends. While 朋 is mostly a noun, 友 is often be used as an adjective for 'friendly, ' as in '軍'(friendly force); '方'(friendly side)

can also be a verb for 'befriend' in classical sentences.

To find the subtle difference between two characters with similar meaning in a compound word, like 朋友,you can observe the other compound words they associate with.


朋比為奸 friends collude in criminal acts

朋黨 circle (of friends); alliance (of friends)

The phrases above show emphasis on the 'closeness' and 'alliance' between friends

友善 (friendly), 友好 (friendly), 友愛 (friendship), 友誼 (friendship)

The phrases above, show emphasis on the ' fondness' and 'emotional tie' between friends'

  • Very interesting to read your answer, it really cleared things up. Good suggestion to look at other compound words to get the "feeling" for a character! Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 19:08
  • You could add that foreigners will still find 友谊商店 in some cities, and the 友谊宾馆 is not at all a bad place to stay if your first trip to China includes Beijing. Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 23:38

I don't think anyone would say '他是我的朋。' nowadays.

You might hear 他是我的好友。 or 他是我的好朋友。

Old 孔子 said, 有朋自远方来 不亦乐乎。 but that was a long time ago!

Apparently, 朋 represents the wings of a legendary bird, like a phoenix. Maybe that means it brings luck or joy, like a good friend and 友 represents 2 right hands, like 'he's my right hand, my friend' or 'holding hands'

  • Indeed, 老友 for instance is an expression I hear often (in the South anyway). I don't think anyone says 老朋.
    – dda
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 8:36

“志同为朋,道合为友,” 然而现代正常中国人并不区分朋和友,


In Japanese, just the word "友" means a friend, and "朋" is a additive (or supplemental) character of meaning a friend (not used as a single word, for example"朋友", which is same as Chinese, I think). Perhaps it will help your understanding, and I will hope that will be usefull.


“朋” refers to the those who share a same period of education experience(classmates, schoolmates) 朋->同学 classmate, 朋党 -> the alumni

"友“ refers to those who have the common interests or goals and trust each other 友->同志 comrade, friend

In《论语》, the compound word 朋友 appears “与朋友交而不信乎”. The usage is very similar to what we use nowadays in modern Chinese.


I was taught that 朋 (two moon radicals) implied two equal companions standing side by side, while 友 (left hand holding right hand) implied a more intimate (but not necessarily sexual) relationship.


朋means those who share the same teacher 「同師曰朋」《說文註》 友means those who share the same goal 「同志曰友」


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