For instance, in the phrase 「我善养吾浩然之气」

I notice both 我 and 吾 are used. Is there a reason for this?

  • 2
    要看具体的历史时期。先秦时候真正常用的代词很丰富(后来的人用吾/余/予等都是仿古),似乎有说法是吾和我同时用的时候格是不同的。比如此处,我为主语(主格)吾为定语(所有格),一般来说吾做主语,我做宾语;但也有说法是,吾和我中我字的发音更重,因而处于强调地位的第一人称用我字,这也是我一般做宾语的原因。此后,这些人称代词用得就比较随意了,有的时候仅仅是作者习惯,或者避免一句话有重复才换用代词的吧。|・ω・`) Nov 24, 2018 at 1:00

2 Answers 2


The first thing to point out is that「吾」(Baxter-Sagart: /*ŋˤa/) and「我」(Baxter-Sagart: /*ŋˤajʔ/) are cognate. They mean exactly the same thing, and were interchangeable to a very large degree; as the comment pointed out, the use of one over the other is due to either personal preference, emulation of ancient texts, or to avoid repetition.

Specifically in the pre-Qin era, there was some difference in their usage that eventually disappeared by Middle Chinese.「吾」could not be used in the pre-Qin era as an object after a verb. Quote from Zhuangzi:


子綦 said: "偃, it is very good that you asked this question! I had just lost myself now, but how should you know the answer?"

「吾喪我」could not be written as「我喪吾」in this era.

  • Just to inquire on 「不亦善乎而問之也」: what is 而 used here as? Is it an equivalent to 你? Nov 24, 2018 at 16:34
  • @AndrewWang 而 is a conjunction, more commonly translated as and, and in my translation should be seen as the word that. It is the same kind of and as I was thirsty and drank water; the second clause not only comes after the first in temporal sequence, but also may be a consequence of the first clause.
    – dROOOze
    Nov 24, 2018 at 22:34

for classical chinese, most "吾" means "i", occasionally, it means "my", or "mine".

"我" means "i", "me" or "my"; depends on the verse.

here're some usages from analects (論語):

論語 學而


the first 吾 means "i", the second 吾 means "my"

daily (日), i (吾) reflect upon (省) my (吾)-self (身) three times (三)

論語 述而


this 吾 means "i"

ok (諾), i (吾) will (將) ask (問) about it (之)

論語 先進


吾 means "my", or "mine", depends on the english style.

the Master (子) said (曰): "[he's] not (非) my (吾) disciple (徒)


the Master (子) said (曰): "[he's] not (非) [a] disciple (徒) of mine (吾)

論語 述而


"我" means "i"

the Master (子) said (曰), "i (我) [am] not (非) one (者) who was born (生) in the possession of knowledge (而知之)

論語 先進


"我" means "me"

the Master (子) said (曰): "Of those (者) who were with (從) me (我) in (於) Chen (陳) and Cai (蔡)

論語 述而


"我" means "my"

the Master (子) said (曰): "When I walk along with two others (三人行), they may serve me as my (我) teachers (師)

so, back to your question "what is the difference between 吾 and 我 in 文言文?"

i would say, they're interchangeable.

about "我善養吾浩然之氣"; well, no idea about using both "我" & "吾" in the same verse.

have fun :)

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