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Airplanes are a type of aircraft (helicopters [直升機], hot air balloons [熱氣球] are also aircraft).

飛機 is a very common Chinese word, but what does it mean?

  1. Does 飛機 mean "airplane"? If no, what is "airplane" in Chinese?
  2. Does 飛機 mean "aircraft"? If no, what is "aircraft" in Chinese?
  3. When someone says 飛機, do they mean "airplane", or do they mean "aircraft"?
  • Erm, those Wikipedia links have Chinese equivalents which tell you the answer... – droooze Mar 28 at 14:09
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    @droooze My Chinese isn't good enough to read those articles. I am not able to answer my own question based on the title of the articles (airplane [固定翼飛機] and aircraft [航空器]), because my question is about 飛機. – Flux Mar 28 at 14:17
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    Ahh, sorry, my apologies! – droooze Mar 28 at 14:17
  • Yeah, an airplane (飛機/飞机) is a kind of aircraft (飛行器/飞行器) while a helicopter (直升機/直升机) is also a kind of aircraft. If you are familiar with Chinese language, you may know that actually 飛機/飞机 and 飛行器/飞行器 are synonyms, but 飛機/飞机 always refer to airplane while 飛行器/飞行器 refer to aircraft. – 賈可 Jacky Mar 28 at 15:45
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    @賈可Jacky How can 飛機 and 飛行器 be synonyms when they, as you claim, refer to airplane and aircraft respectively? – Flux Mar 28 at 16:12
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飛機 - Aeroplane, short for 固定翼飛機 (fixed-wing flying machine)

航空器 - aircraft

飛行器 - both aircraft and spacecraft, i.e. all flying machines which travel through the atmosphere. Includes space rockets.

For reference, spacecraft is 航天器.


Answering the queries directly,

Does 飛機 mean "airplane"? If no, what is "airplane" in Chinese?

Yes, 飛機 means airplane/aeroplane.

Does 飛機 mean "aircraft"? If no, what is "aircraft" in Chinese?

Aircraft is 航空器.

When someone says 飛機, do they mean "airplane", or do they mean "aircraft"?

They should mean aeroplane. If they mean aircraft, well, that's improper use of the language.

1

飞机 is specifically for airplane

飞行器 is for general aircraft

  • Yeah, airplane (飞机) is a kind of aircraft (飞行器), helicopter (直升机) is also aircraft. – 賈可 Jacky Mar 28 at 15:39
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In English, it has a diiferent words for variety of flying machines. In Chinese, we only use 飞机 as a general term. For example, 直升飞机(直升机), 航天飞机(spacecraft). Airplane is a type of aircraft. Aircraft could be some other machines other than airplane. So, depending on what you are really talking about, aircraft could be interpreted as 飞机(airplane), 飞行器,热气球(hot air balloons) and etc.

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飞机 / 飛機 literally means “flying machine”, which is a really inaccurate colloquial term. It can mean an airplane in its narrow sense, and it can also mean an aircraft in its broader sense, and some people even use this word for a space shuttle! Never use this term if you want to describe accurately.

Some well-educated people believe that the broader sense is "wrong", but who cares? All the native Chinese speakers accept the broader sense except some pedants. You can see many pedants on Stack Exchange, but this is not the real world. Welcome to the real world.

If you want to refer to an aircraft, use the term 航空器.

If you want to refer to an airplane, use the term 定翼机 / 定翼機.

If you want to refer to rotorcrafts, use the term 旋翼机 / 旋翼機, which include helicopters, or 直升机 / 直升機 in Chinese.

If you want to refer to a ornithopter, use the term 扑翼机 / 撲翼機.

  • This is pretty far away from the reality. 飞机 is actually airplane only, excluding everything like rotorcraft and bloons. 旋翼机 is Autogyro only, not including helicopters. – user3528438 Mar 30 at 17:31
  • @user3528438 A helicopter is sometimes called 直升飞机, even though some people think it is incorrect. Then so what? Scientists may argue that it is a "wrong" name, but most people accept this name. – Victor Mar 30 at 19:02
  • @user3528438 A space shuttle is called 航天飞机. – Victor Mar 30 at 19:02

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