My question is in the title. Does it mean, if the canal is for boats or ships (transportation), it is called "运河"? If the canal is for watering the land, is it called "渠"? I am confused.

  • ✓ jukuu: irrigation canal: 灌渠 (30 samples), 31. "canal:an artificial waterway or artificially improved river used for travel, shipping, or irrigation." 运河,沟渠:人工水道或人工修缮的河流,用于旅行、航运或灌溉. 92 samples for 沟渠, 运河 bkrs:1) canal 2) the Grand Canal(大运河) canal; ship canal 1) 特指京杭大运河。从春秋时吴国开挖邗沟开始,以后屡加开挖疏浚,至元代形成一条自大都(今北京)直达杭州的南北大运河。 2) 指人工开挖藉以通航的河道。除我国大运河外,最着名的有沟通太平洋和大西洋的巴拿马运河和沟通地中海和红海的苏伊士运河。 渠 ditch, canal, channel, gutter
    – user6065
    Sep 28, 2017 at 17:30
  • instead of single character 渠 users recommend using 2 as in 沟渠、渠道、河渠、灌渠,unless context allows for abbreviation, e.g. 这条渠的最深处是一丈五,or when occurring in 成语: 水到渠成 When conditions are ripe, success is assured.
    – user6065
    Sep 28, 2017 at 17:55
  • @user6065 Explain "郑国渠". You're missing the whole point.
    – Kevman
    Sep 28, 2017 at 20:39
  • bkrs:郑国渠:古代关中平原的人工灌溉渠。Zhengguo canal, a 150 km long irrigation canal in Shaanxi built in 264 BC 灌溉渠 irrigation canal, jukuu has 27 samples, shorter form 灌渠, 8 samples (sometimes translated as irrigation channel/ditch)
    – user6065
    Sep 28, 2017 at 23:01

2 Answers 2


You got the point.

"运河" must refer the human-made channels in a large scale, for water conveyance/transportion. That's what "运" emphasize. Usually, it connects big lake/river/ocean or through the peninsula or isthmus.

In the meantime, "渠" just refer all human-made channels. "渠" is more like a superset of "运河";

But why we don't just call all channel to 渠? Same reason like the water is a superset of the ocean, but you would never call "the Pacific Ocean" to "the Pacific Water".

Now you can tell the difference between "运河" and "渠".

  • What does it mean by "渠" is more like a superset of "运河"?
    – dan
    Sep 29, 2017 at 0:31
  • @dan "运河" is one kind of "渠" logically.
    – Kevman
    Sep 29, 2017 at 2:40
  • @Kevman What confused me is 灵渠. I was told it was built under the command of the 1st emperor of China, for the purpose of transporting food to soldiers in south China. So clearly, "运河" is a better word to name this human-made channel, right?
    – cnwang09
    Sep 29, 2017 at 16:47
  • @cnwang09 I am not sure but I thought there are few reasons: 1. 灵渠 is a canal with "only" 36.4 KM, meanwhile, the Grand Canal is 1000+ KM long. And the Grand Canal consists of various 渠. You could check the wiki. These 渠 plus the main branch become the Grand Canal today.
    – Kevman
    Sep 29, 2017 at 16:53
  • @cnwang09 2nd guess is the word "渠" has a longer history. "运河" is more modern word comparing "渠". Probably at that time, people thought they need a new word to describe the "渠" those in a big scale. Becuase nowadays 渠 seems like an ancient word to describe a canal. Nobody would call a canal "渠" anymore.
    – Kevman
    Sep 29, 2017 at 16:55

You are right!You can distinguish “运河” from “渠” as you think.

  • See above. 灵渠 is built for transportation, but it is called 渠. So my speculation is wrong. So far the only plausible explanation is only the Grand Canal is called 运河, because it is long enough.
    – cnwang09
    Oct 1, 2017 at 1:17
  • @cnwang09 "灵渠,又名湘桂运河、兴安运河,俗称为陡河 .." : from wiki. There is seldom a rule in language that you cannot find an exception.
    – fefe
    Oct 1, 2017 at 15:09

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