I know that both words mean "arm", but is there any real difference between 手臂 and 胳膊? When I started to learn Mandarin at university, they taught me to use 手臂, but now I see that 胳膊 is the one included on the HSK4 vocabulary list.

Is there any difference regarding the "part" of the arm that they represent? Is it a matter of one being more formal than the other?

Best regards

2 Answers 2


"手臂" = "arm" -- Includes "上臂" (upper arm) and "前臂" (forearm)

= armpit; = arm

= upper arm

"胳膊" (upper arm region) --> "arm" -- Includes "上臂" (upper arm) and "前臂" (forearm)

"肩頭" = shoulder

"肩膊" = shoulder/ shoulder region

Both "手臂" and "胳膊" mean "arm"

"手臂" is more colloquial and "胳膊" is more literary.

  • 胳膊 is more colloquial in my neck of woods. 手臂 is more a technical term instead.
    – dan
    Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 2:47

手臂 includes hands and arms. 胳膊 is the arms only.

  • 手臂 doesn't include hand just like 腳脛 doesn't include foot; 眼皮 doesn't include eye and 頭髮 doesn't include the head. 在手臂上打針 never include the option of injecting in the hand
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Oct 11, 2020 at 20:26
  • 手臂 = 手 and 臂, but 眼皮 = 眼's 皮 , 头发 = 头's 发. These are not comparable
    – River
    Commented Oct 11, 2020 at 21:16
  • @Tang Ho 洪深《电影戏剧表演术》第三章五:“手臂自然地分为三段:上臂、前臂与手。” If it means different things in Cantonese, please notify. I guess so because 腳脛 is not a common word.
    – River
    Commented Oct 11, 2020 at 21:22
  • 肩連上臂,上臂連前臂,前臂連手掌, 手掌連手指. (手臂指上臂及前臂)
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Oct 11, 2020 at 21:31
  • 如說 "切下手臂",因為手是連接在手臂上的, 所以一條斷臂也包括了手部,但如說"在手臂上打針",指的就只是上下臂,並不包括手部
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Oct 11, 2020 at 21:45

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