The following phrases sometimes give me pause:

  • 中小学
  • 中前期

The first phrase, 中小学, is a backwards(?) combination of elementary and middle school. The second phrase is seemingly another backwards(?) combination of early and mid.

中前期 can even be stylized as: 中、前期.

Chinese phrases don't usually follow this sort of order.

Is there a reason these phrases take on this sort of structure? Is it because it could be misconstrued as the middle of something if it were the other way around?

  • are you saying that for you the natural order would be 小中大,前中后?just clarifying
    – blackgreen
    Sep 8, 2020 at 19:34
  • @blackgreen Presumably, yes. I do believe in most word phrases that is how it is usually ordered.
    – Mou某
    Sep 9, 2020 at 8:12
  • @Mo. Not sure your region, but the order 小中大 is not a 'usually' practice indeed. We have these terms frequently used, such as 中小学,中小板,中小创股票,大中院校。However, the phrases 前中期,中后期, 前中后期 follows your pattern.
    – dan
    Sep 9, 2020 at 10:10
  • @dan I meant in general not in terms of the phrases that I asked in my question.
    – Mou某
    Sep 9, 2020 at 10:12
  • @Mo. Not sure what you mean by "in general". The Chinese usage practice I know of is the order "大中小" and "前中后". That's the natural order I'd take.
    – dan
    Sep 9, 2020 at 10:45

4 Answers 4


For 中小学

It is a common practice in Chinese to put bigger things in front of smaller things.

  • In address, 北京市朝阳区, where 朝阳 is a part of 北京-
  • In dates: 壬申年正月初七日 or 一九九二年二月十日
  • In people: 全家老小 where 老 elders are in front of 小 children. 公司上下,where 上 means the executives and 下 means workers.
  • And here in schools: 大中小学

But the rule is not always true when 1, the number of items is small 2, you want to emphasize some of the items. For example, 中杯,大杯,超大杯, where the 超大杯 is extraordinary.

For 中前期

I want to say, it is a rather vague phrase to me. It can mean either 中期 and 前期 or the early part of 中期, which are different. These abbreviations often appear in time or location descriptions but are not recommended. You should either say 中期和前期 or 中期的前半 to reduce the confusion.


前中期 can mean either [early of the middle stage] or [early and middle stages]

中前期 means [middle of the early stage]

大中小学 is the more common way to describe the education system, but it doesn't mean 小中大学 is grammatically wrong

Some orders can be stated backward, for example, 大中細碼都齊全 --> 細中大碼都齊全

[南北][東西] is [東西][南北] in reverse order


I think it's simply conventional, nothing special. It could be diverse regionally. For example, when you say 中前期 is natural, I find 前中期 is more natural.

中小学 is common (to my ear), whilst 小中学 is stilted.

If you break the convention, I might think what you truly mean based on the particular context. E. g. when you say 小中学,I have to judge whether you mean 小学&中学 or 小的中学(little middle school).

So, I don't think there is a rule for this. If indeed there is, I'd be glad to see it.




Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.