I'm trying to parse this sign I saw at Beijing airport when catching the bus to Tianjin. The sign indicates where to buy the bus ticket.



The hanzi 购 is confusing me. I'm now aware of three ways of saying "to buy":

  • (mǎi), which arises very early when learning Chinese,

  • (gòu), and

  • 购买 (gòumǎi).

Question: Is there a difference between 买 (mǎi), 购 (gòu), and 购买 (gòumǎi) which mean "to buy"?

  • for well known reasons 2-syllable words have become the prevalent form of words in general, i.p. to clearly differentiate between 买 and 卖 these are usually combined with a second character, e.g. 买进,卖出. Suggestion: look up the 2 characters 购,买 to see the compounds formed with them, e.g. 小马词典:49,50, respectively.
    – user6065
    Aug 16, 2017 at 12:24
  • as dictionaries will show 购 should be considered a bound morpheme, i.e. cannot be combined freely with other words, although 购货, 购粮 exist, it would not be understood when combined with just any object
    – user6065
    Aug 16, 2017 at 12:47
  • We use 买 in oral Chinese generally, 购 or 购买 in formal documents. when you talk in a noisy environment, you can use 购买 to avoid confusion (audience possibly cannot differ between 买 and 卖 in a noisy environment). Aug 18, 2017 at 9:44

3 Answers 3


买 is more casual.

购 is formal when forming up with other characters: 购买,购票厅,购物,申购,团购,and etc.. These terms are formal both in written and spoken.

You can also consider 买 is short for 购买. 购买 is official term, so people just say 买... in our daily life instead of 购买. For example, 买菜,买车,买房子.

As this sign is posted in the Beijing airport, they should make it formal by 购票厅, instead of 买票厅.

  • 1
    As an extra note, 购买 is used mostly because 买 (single character) doesn't fit well in some places, e.g. an in-game purchase button.
    – iBug
    Aug 17, 2017 at 11:16

购 and 买 can be roughly translated into purchase and buy, respectively, and 购买 is the full word (more formal) of 买.

In daily Chinese, 买 tends to emphasize the result of the action. For example, 买菜 (buy food), while 购 has a tendency to emphasize the procedure of the action, like 购物 (shopping).

See examples

我们去逛街购物。 (We're going shopping.)
他买了一双鞋。 (He bought a pair of shoes.)

  • I'm a native Chinese. You can view my profile for more info.
    – iBug
    Aug 16, 2017 at 15:28

购 original means you pour a lot of money to get what you what.

买 simply means you buy things with your money.

购 can imply the buyer's status and dignity. "购票厅" have more politeness than "买票厅".


Could be a blame.


Sounds like a confirmation.


That's probably an ordinary vase in super market.


That's maybe an artwork.

我去购菜. (X)

Wrong, because food is so casual.


Right, 食材 usually means food of good taste.

  • Blatantly wrong. Don't take it too literally.
    – iBug
    Aug 17, 2017 at 11:15
  • @iBug Can you give some details to support your critism?
    – sfy
    Aug 17, 2017 at 11:26
  • My answer above?
    – iBug
    Aug 17, 2017 at 12:09

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