Pleco has the example:

碗掉地下就碎了。 enter image description here

Why not 地上? I have been corrected many times for similar sentences, with the explanation that 地下 means „subterranean“?

  • 6
    Google Hits: 掉地上 1.53 million; 掉地下 147,000. – Michaelyus Jun 28 '18 at 9:48
  • 2
    bkrs 地下 dì xia (地面上) on the ground: 从地下拣起 pick up from the ground 掉在地下 fall on the ground 2) (in) the grave dì xià I attr. 1) underground 2) secret activity II p.w. underground 地上 dì shang 地面上。 如:「请把地上的纸屑捡起来。」 1) on the floor/ground 2) coll. land; fields overground 1) 陆地上。 2) 指人间,阳世。 dìshàng above the ground – user6065 Jun 28 '18 at 11:09
  • 1
    When one is full, say 吃不下了 vs 吃不上了 – Fantix King Jun 29 '18 at 2:31
  • 2
    @fantix How is your comment related to this particular question other than the common characters 下 and 上? – Frenzy Li Jun 29 '18 at 8:33
  • 1
    @FrenzyLi Looks like it is an uncommon Shandong dialect according to this and this. – Fantix King Jun 30 '18 at 6:10

13 Answers 13


If you look for »地下« in the PLC dictionary (where you found your example), you’ll find that it can also mean »on the ground«: »从地下捡起« – »pick up from the ground«. ABC also says 地下 means »(on) the ground«, Guifan says it means »地面上«. And so forth… Nine of the dictionaries I have installed in Plecodict offer this meaning. Two of these nine dictionaries add a dialect tag and two refer to its alternative 地上:

PLC: dialect
KEY: »regional, e.g. Beijing«
Guifan: »也叫地上(dìshang)«
LMA: 另見地下

However, this is about the pronunciation dìxia (轻声) of 地下. If you look for the pronunciation dìxià (四声) of the same characters, you’ll find underground etc. as its translation.

  • Is this a dialectal usage? In writing I repeatedly lost points for using 地下 like that. Also pleco writes “dialect” above di4xia5. – Ludi Jun 28 '18 at 9:48
  • 1
    @Ludi I don’t know how PLC decides to mark an entry as dialect. Also, they don’t mention which dialect, nor whether it is widely accepted. – Philipp Jun 28 '18 at 9:52
  • This also make sense. It could be a dialect and widely/mixed used by us. – Bruce Huang Jun 28 '18 at 19:04
  • 1
    @Philipp From "KEY: »regional, e.g. Beijing«" I would assume that this is a dialect widely used in, and sometimes around, Beijing. – Frenzy Li Jun 29 '18 at 4:00

I live in Hong Kong, and '地下' for us means ground. In buildings, the ground floor is called '地下'. I almost never use the term '地上', however, both sentences are actually fine to use.

碗子掉在地下 means the bowl fell on the floor, whereas 碗子掉在地上 means it's on top or on the floor. I interpret 掉在地下 as something fell to the ground, while I interpret 在地上 when the thing is already on the ground.

  • 2
    地下 is ambiguous in Cantonese: depending on the tone of 下, it could mean either ground or underground. To say "onto the floor" in Cantonese, I would say 掉落地. – 200_success Jun 29 '18 at 2:04

The referring prospective is different between 地上 and 地下.

地上 is referring from the prospective of the ground or the current position of the object. The object is above the ground (without describing the direction). E.g. 碗在地上/ 地上有個碗

地下 is referring from the prospective of the original position of the object along with it's direction/movement. The direction of "碗掉地下" is towards to the ground and the ground is below the referring object (碗).

 掉(drops on)
地下(the ground)

"地下" applies to the situation that you drop something on the ground. E.g. 碗掉地下/往地下掉了個碗


Are you being corrected by Cantonese-speaking people? In Mandarin, I would say 碗掉地上. I rarely hear people say 碗掉地下, although it's correct. The difference between 地上 and 地下 is prospective, like the other answer has mentioned. In Cantonese, people usually say 碗掉地下 or 碗跌落地下 in speaking, 地上 sounds formal. In conclusion, I'd suggest sticking with 掉地上(writing and speaking) because nowadays 掉地上 is used way more often than 掉地下, unless you are speaking Cantonese.

  • 1
    I was corrected for 地下,not 地上, which agrees with your opinion! – Ludi Jun 28 '18 at 17:17
  • 1
    Oh that's good. I was confused why people wanted you to say 地下. – NicF Jun 28 '18 at 17:31

I think the reference is different when we say 地上 or 地下.

Reference to a person, you can say 地下有什么东西 because the ground is always under you.

Reference to the ground, you can say 地上有什么东西 because things are always above/on the ground.

That's why we say 地面上有什么==地上有什么. But 地面下有什么 means what's under the ground.

地面上/下 is clear about the reference(ground), while the reference for 地上/下 is vague. So, 地上/下 can be valid to mean the same simultaneously, while 地面上 and 地面下 mean differently.

Hope this explains a bit.


both are profectly fine, as a native Chinese speaker, I frequenty use both words up and down.

  • 3
    Would you please tell us what dialect you speak or what part of China you or your family are from? I just asked someone from Jiangxi and he said, dishang was correct, but in his dialect they also say dixia. However, these anecdotal pieces of information are not very valuable to answer the question. – Philipp Jun 28 '18 at 12:17
  • 3
    I from the central China, honestly most people would use Down in my local dialect, but Up is also precectly fine, when leaning a language, you have to concentrate on the more important topics, if its fine in both cases, its no need to find the exact reason behined it. It take me a while to understand English is not math, if it speaks that way, I simply just have to copy. – Junchen Liu Jun 28 '18 at 13:32

Never mind. We can say and understand both. People from different regions may have certain habit/custom to use one of them, but not a big problem.

I think sometimes it also depends on our point of view. If we're staying high or standing on the ground, we might say 地下. Because we think the ground is far from us and we don't care about the real status of the things on the ground, but just follow our language habit/custom. If we squat on the ground, and try to do some research about something on the ground, we mostly say the things 在地上 because now we pay more attention on the real status about it. It is not under ground, so we must use 地上.


I always say 地上, no matter what kind of situation. I don't think 碗掉地下 make sense.

  • 2
    Why do you think 碗掉地下 doesn't make sense, given many still say it? – dan Jun 29 '18 at 3:20
  • 1
    Say 地下 is underground and underground is below the surface of the ground. 碗 is not possible underground. – foxiris Jun 29 '18 at 5:51
  • 2
    lots of dictionaries have the definition of 地下: on the ground. Even in 紅樓夢.第十五回:「鳳姐在裡間,秦鐘寶玉在外間,滿地下皆是家婆子打鋪坐更。」 – dan Jun 29 '18 at 6:36
  • 1
    @foxiris Let me try to nitpick: You should say your answer refers to bowls dropping only. Even that doesn't make it a correct answer. As an anecdote, I once lived next to an underground mall with a shop inside that sold bowls. The mall is named “地下商场”. – Frenzy Li Jun 29 '18 at 8:21

地下 = underground

地上 = on the floor

I think the most natural way to express this could be:

碗掉到地上就碎了。 I'd think 地下 in this context sounds awkward.

I am a native writer of Traditional Chinese, and I often find the way Simplified Chinese writers write awkward.

  • 2
    What's the use of simplified vs traditional characters to do with word choice? – Philipp Jun 28 '18 at 18:28
  • 1
    It’s because Simplified Chinese is used in mainland China, Singapore, etc., and Traditional Chinese is used in countries such as Taiwan and Hong Kong. The use of the language will be vastly different due to the region difference. – The Lyrist Jun 28 '18 at 18:37

To me a Chinese native speaker.

They both make sense for me with the same meaning, and I use them equally.

The only difference is the way they express in.

掉地下 emphasizes that the blow was dropped DOWN.


Well, to be a native speaker I think both of the two expressions right. But I personally prefer to use "地上".

  • This post doesn't really add much to existing answers. – Frenzy Li Jun 29 '18 at 8:17

地下 has 2 meanings, the difference of which can be told from how the word is pronounced. When there is a stress on 下, it means underground. When the stress is only on 地, it can also mean ground, similar to 地上 (the stress is also on 地)。The second situation is common in oral language. Some people prefer to use 地下, but some uses 地上, depending on their habit and where they are from.


Don't have to struggle with it and please forget the "地下" if you want to present "drop on the floor".

"地下" is kind of geographical dialect expression and it's pronunciation is different from Mandarin.

  • 1
    -1. Why forget it? – Frenzy Li Jun 29 '18 at 8:16

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.