So I'm learning some of Confucius' sayings, and one that I came across was 三人行,必有我师. I tried to translate it but I don't understand...

What does it mean?

  • 2
    enter 三人行,必有我师 into jukuu, get 7 translations
    – user6065
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 22:15

7 Answers 7


My ancient Chinese is terrible, but I think I am right about this one.

三: three


行:walk, go, travel


有:have, be

我: I, my, me..

師:master, teacher

Literally it would be "(where) three people walk, (there) must be my teacher (among them)."

I assume Confucius meant to emphasise "there is something to learn from almost anybody."

But I also checked the famous translation by LEGGE. There the complete context is given:


Excerpt From: Legge, James. “The Chinese Classics — Volume 1: Confucian Analects.” iBooks. This material may be protected by copyright.

And LEGGE translates it as:

“CHAP. XXI. The Master said, 'When I walk along with two others, they may serve me as my teachers. I will select their good qualities and follow them, their bad qualities and avoid them.”

Excerpt From: Legge, James. “The Chinese Classics — Volume 1: Confucian Analects.” iBooks. This material may be protected by copyright.

But see Jesse's answer about the "three"!

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    Literally, 三is three, but here it's just mean "More than yourself" @Jesse provide the best answer.
    – Kevman
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 21:42
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    @Kevman I seek not to outshine that answer in any way, I just find it focused very much on the philosophical meaning. I guess, since this is a language forum, we should also approach it from a language learner's perspective - unqualified as I am to provide it!
    – Ludi
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 21:50
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    Actually you might wrong, Three is a special number in Chinese culture. Firstly 三 means everything in the universe, Chinese call it Sky/Heaven/Everything in the sky(like start, the sun...), Earth(Everything on the earth, the ocean, animal....), People (天,地,人). This extends a new usage, to describe Many. (三令五申,三思而后行,三缄其口)
    – Kevman
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 22:10
  • Great examples. Actually I remember a very similar phenomenon in German. "Ein Paar" means 一對/一雙, but gradually came to mean 幾個。To differentiate the two meanings, we write the second one with a small p. " Ein paar".
    – Ludi
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 22:30
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    I know 0 ancient Chinese, but this one is still perfectly understandable :-) Commented Sep 30, 2019 at 16:21

There are two points that you should know:

  • In Chinese culture, 3 does not often mean a exact quantity. That is, there may be 2,3,4 or many persons around you. There are many other phrases,for example, 狡兔三窟, 三思而后行,三番五次.

  • So this sentence means: We should keep modest to find out merit of the people around you and learn from them. There is a idiom in western culture, Stay hungry, Stay foolish, which has the same meaning.

  • I don't think "2" would work here. The meaning of 三人 is many people (三人為眾).
    – dROOOze
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 13:36
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    Yes, technically, 3 means more people. But in this example, even if there are 2 people, you and your friend, you friend may be your teacher in some area too.
    – Jesse
    Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 9:56

In English it means, in a group of three people, there will be someone who I can learn from.


三人行,必有我师 If 3 of us walk together, surely one of the others has something to teach me.

How about: There is always something new to learn.

  • 1
    Wrong. 三 doesn't mean three here.
    – Kevman
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 21:41

If only 3 people here there must be something they can teach me.

There must be some abilities that the 2 people have and I(the 1) do not have.

It means I must be Modest even if I know lots of things.

And If something is not good with them I see it and I must correct it for myself and do not make same mistake.


It means theres so much things u still need to learn from other people,even u pick three people on the road there gotta be something u could learn from them


You don't need to confuse about the numbers here. Three is just an imaginary number, like a thousand (times/people) in English.

This sentence roughly means that there must be something I can learn from others. Learn the good qualities of others; If you see the shortcomings of others, you should reflect on whether you have the same weaknesses and correct them.

This reflects the traditional Chinese ideology of modesty and introspection. If one constantly compares his strong points with the weak points of others, he will not make progress.

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