I have only used 浪费 to express waste (time, effort, energy, etc) but recently have come across 白费. It seems to be more a waste on intangible items, but I am having trouble differentiating the two.

  • 1
    白 "in vain, for nothing", 浪,"unrestrained dissipated, extrav." see dict.: bkrs: 浪费 to waste to squander waste (spend) extravagantly làng fèi waste; squander; dissipate; wanton; profusion; be extravagant: 浪费青春 waste one's youth 浪费时间 waste time; fritter away one's time; squander time 浪费无度 lavish profusely without limit 反对浪费 combat waste 不要浪费你的精力。 Don't dissipate your efforts. 白费 to waste (one’s energy etc) labour in vain bái fèi waste; in vain: 你不要白费心思。 You needn't bother your head for nothing. 我们的力气没有白费。 Our efforts were not in vain.; We didn't waste our energy.
    – user6065
    Dec 20 '17 at 9:10

The crux is in the 白.

浪费 is similar to squander.

Here’s a good example from Oxford:


squander natural resources

To understand 白 I think it’s best to look at 白白 check out A Chinese-English Dictionary’s definition:

in vain; to no purpose; for nothing

here are two sample sentences they give:


báibái diūdiào yīcì jīhuì

let a chance slip through one’s fingers; miss an opportunity


Bùyào ràng shíguāng báibái guòqu.

Don’t let time slip aimlessly by.

So here we’ve got words like slip, miss, aimlessly and that is really what 白费 is made up of: slip/miss and squander - giving us: to do something in vain, to do something to no avail.

Here are two more examples from AC-ED:


báifèi lìqi

waste of energy; all for nothing; plough the sand


báifèi xīnsi

bother one’s head for nothing

  • 2
    浪费 = waste/ squander; 白费 = 白白浪费 waste in vain
    – Tang Ho
    Dec 20 '17 at 9:18

白费: you made a lot of efforts but those efforts hadn't take any effect. For example, you have done a lot of work for a project, but in the end the project is cancelled. Those work you have done is 白费了 and no one would use it.

浪费: like the word squander or waste, it conveys that you spend more (time, money, resource, etc) than it's necessary, but those resources might not be fully in vain. For example, you spend 20000 just to buy a small bag, which most of people would think it does not deserve. This is a type of 浪费. Another example is that you spend one hour just to write one word! That's kind of 浪费时间.


浪费: wasteful 白费:wasted (money, resources, effort etc); (all) for nothing;

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.