On our campus (Nankai University, Jinnan campus), we have this building:

实验动物中心 Experimental animal center[1]

Shíyàn dòngwù zhōngxīn
Experimental animal center

The English is ambiguous, and it could mean:

  1. experimenting on animals, such as testing medicines on laboratory mice (although technically this is not what it says); or

  2. creating "experimental animals", such as through genetic engineering, cloning, and so on.

Perhaps pedantically, in English it could also mean that the "animal center" is experimental. (If you ignore context, this would be the correct meaning.)

The translation from Chinese to English is direct and literal (实验 = to experiment; 动物 = animals; 中心 = center), which makes me think the same ambiguity could occur in Chinese also. However, maybe the Chinese grammar excludes one of these possibilities.

Question: Is 实验动物中心 (experimental animal center) ambiguous in that it could mean either "experimenting on animals" or "experimentally creating animals"?

Update: It seems the English name on this building has changed:

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5 Answers 5


实验动物中心 sounds more like a place where they raise and offer animals for experiments, the keyword here is 动物.

If this is where animal experiments take place, then 动物实验中心 would be a better name, I think, because the keyword is 实验.

As for the meaning "experimentally creating animals" you mentioned, no, I will never think that way, nothing in this name suggests "creating".

  • just as a supplyment, stress is also on different syllables to emphesis the keyword
    – user19549
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 3:30


My first impression is that it's a center where they do some experiments on animals in order to get some scientific result, such as medicine. This is like your first interpretation.

But I would not be surprised if they create "experimental animals" in this center, like your second definition.

The scope should be defined by the founder and we can't figure it all out only by the name.

  • No, it doesn't mean do experiments on animals, it would be "动物实验中心" which matches your description.
    – thinwa
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 8:50

Reading the English, I first thought of horses with 6 legs or cows that lay eggs!

A friend told me what Jason Swift, above, wrote, 动物实验中心 might be better, but it seems the Chinese is totally unambiguous for a Chinese person: "What? Why is that funny in English?"

Here we take cute little animals and perform cruel and darstardly experiments on them in the name of a pointless pursuit in order to justify a research grant.


  • 1
    动物实验中心 is where experiments are done on animals. 实验动物中心 is where such animals are raised.
    – fefe
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 12:43

I think you are confused by the word "实验". You may think it's a verb. Actually it's a noun used as adjective here, although it could be used as a verb. To me, it's very clearly expressing the meaning that "this is the place where we raise animals for (medical) experiments".


Yeah, it is an ambiguous title, what the heck is 实验动物?

At the end, it means animals for experimenting, but why not make it clear by 实验用动物中心

  • because that doesn't sound like a name
    – user19549
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 3:26

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