nciku.com states that 起码 is an adjective meaning "minimum" and 至少 is an adverb meaning at least; but the examples seem to use both words interchangeably. Is one more colloquial than the other? Or is one used only for numerical amounts( It should cost at least $10) and the other for concepts/situations such as "At least the bus isn't late"?

  • 1
    Just to add that 起码 is an informal and imprecise word. That is why sometimes 最起码 is used.
    – 杨以轩
    Jun 26, 2013 at 7:42

3 Answers 3


They are almost the same and are interchangeble in most circumstances. Maybe the only difference is that "至少" is more formal than "起码” and is more common in written expression.


Both 起碼 and 至少 mean "minimum" and "least". They both can be used either as adjectives or as adverbs.

最起碼 is valid, but because 至 means 最. 最至少 is invalid (just like "the least least" and "the most least" are invalid).

至少 has a rarely-used meaning of "very less", which can not be replaced by 起碼.

至少 is a little more formal than 起碼. But in the legal documents, 以上 ("equals to or more than") is more widely used.

  • +1 for pointing out the difference between 起碼 and 至少. But I don't agree with 起碼 is as formally (informally) as 至少. 以上 is more formally than the two. Though I have no statistical evidence now, I personally believe 至少 is used much more in official documents than 起碼. Moreover, 以上 means more than, but 至少 means at least, they are not of the same meaning.
    – Stan
    Jun 25, 2013 at 14:55
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    @Stan I admit my mistake. But to point out, 以上 means equals to or more than. They are the same if you are comparing numbers. (中華民國刑法第十條第一款:稱以上、以下、以內者,俱連本數或本刑計算。)(中华人民共和国刑法第九十九条:本法所称以上、以下、以内,包括本数。) Jun 25, 2013 at 15:15
  • Yep, that's right XD I almost forget it.
    – Stan
    Jun 25, 2013 at 15:40
  • I too have no statistical evidence but I would say 起码 is not a formal word to use for news broadcast or official documents, at least in mainland China.
    – NS.X.
    Jun 25, 2013 at 18:48
  • 最起碼 is not a legal term at all. It's used in common speech, not just in law. Jun 26, 2013 at 4:13

"至少" accents on the amount, for example, "我想这人至少五十了", and "起码" accents on the thing, for example, "吃饭前起码完成一半工作".

But they are always OK to exchange each other. But there is still a very very very little difference on emotion, "至少" has the meaning of "Absolutely", and used for accurate description or certain emotion, and "起码" has the emotion of pray for something, or contentment.

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