Older Chinese folks (古人) love to use 昔人,but they never use 古人 in their poem or lyrics. (OR can someone give me an example where 古人 was actually using 古人 in their writing?) For instance, a favorite poem from the tang dynasty: 昔人已乘黄鹤去,此地空余黄鹤楼。黄鹤一去不复返,白云千载空悠悠。On the other hand, newer Chinese folks now rarely use the word 昔; instead, 古人 (昔人 old folks),去年 (昔年 last year),昨天 (昔日 yesterday),前天 (昔日 the day after yesterday).

Why does the preference of certain word choices shift over time?

And since 昔 means 从前, technically, can we use 昔人 to replace 前妻/前女友? OR does 昔人 have to be a 死人 (an already deceased person)?

  • bkrs:昔人 前人; 古人,从前的人。people of the past e。g。远托异国, 昔人所悲
    – user6065
    Sep 2, 2017 at 22:54
  • 昔日 is not yesterday, it is just past day, generally it refers to a long past day. Sep 4, 2017 at 4:32
  • "the day after yesterday" = "today" (also, there really should just be one question per question)
    – Becky 李蓓
    Jul 8, 2020 at 15:06
  • can we use 昔人 to replace 前妻/前女友?: No.
    – fefe
    Jul 8, 2020 at 15:29

3 Answers 3


never? you're kidding :) the term "古人" is also used in poem.

just a casual search:

in 通典·卷三十二 (end of p73, and start of 74):




next, 杜工部﹒ 吾宗



later, 孟宗獻 wrote



imo, characters are like fashion, "trendy" today, would out-of-date".

have fun :)


昔 becomes 书面语(literary word) nowadays. 昔人 can refer to anyone that has deceased.


昔人 doesn't have to be 死人. Honestly, I've never heard anyone calling his ex 昔人, but I think it's usable. Maybe too poetic for daily life, and so you might need to explain it to people further, unless you use it in a poem.

故人 is a little more common than 昔人 in modern Chinese, but still, quite poetic. If you call your ex 一位故人, than probably you are implying that you two had a subtle past.

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