Usually Chinese words are not made up of random characters, but instead have some kind of underlying logic. Moreover, understanding this logic makes it easier to remember and use the word. However, one common-ish (HSK5-level) word causes me issues:

从事 (cóng​shì)
CC-CEDICT: to go for / to engage in / to undertake / to deal with / to handle / to do

So it's yet another way of saying "do" (I'll add it to the list: 做, 干, 搞, 弄, etc.) but it's perhaps more formal and encountered in a business/workplace setting.

It literally translates to something like "from matter/affair", which seems detached from "to do":

从 (cóng​)
CC-CEDICT: from / through / via / to follow / to obey / to engage in (an activity) / never (in negative sentence) / (Taiwan pr. [zong4]) retainer / assistant / auxiliary / subordinate / related by common paternal grandfather or earlier ancestor

事 (shì)
CC-CEDICT: matter / thing / item / work / affair

I don't get the logic here, and why this word is even needed.

Question: What's the logic behind the word 从事?

  • It seems fairly logical to me. 从 to engage in (in this context) + 事 matters / things = to engage in matters. I take it as being a "serious" word for "doing things" with the notion of engaging in them. Similar logic as for 说话: to say words = to speak. Dec 8, 2020 at 10:00
  • 3
    It's interesting that the English gloss, "to undertake", is also composed of roots with fairly opaque connection to their combined meaning.
    – The Photon
    Dec 8, 2020 at 21:06

5 Answers 5


事 can also be a verb for 'to serve; to work for' e.g. 忠臣不事二主 (a loyal vassal does not serve/ work for two masters)

Since 从 itself has many different meanings, just say 从 is not specific enough. Adding a similar verb 事 and form the compound word 从事 make it a specific term for 'to engage in' (a field/ industry)

从政 = to undertake a political career

从商 = to engage in the business world

从影 = to work in the films industry (refers to the on-screen personnel only )

从軍 = to join/ to serve the military

从 - engage; join

事 - serve; work for

从事 = to engage in (a field/ industry)


从事环保工作 - Engage in environmental protection work

从事出入口行业 - Engage in the import and export industry

  • Is 出入口行业 a word used in Hong Kong? I searched this word on Google. And most pages refer this word as "entrance & exit" (or maybe simply "doors")
    – tsh
    Dec 9, 2020 at 3:09
  • @tsh 出入口 short be parsed as short for "出口 and 入口". See wiktionary.
    – yawnoc
    Dec 9, 2020 at 3:33

The primary meaning of 從(从)is to "follow". In English, we may describe participating/engaging in X as "pursuing" X. The logic in Chinese is similar.


  1. 參與。 To participate.
    如:「從事」、「從政」。 As in: "pursue/participate", "pursue politics".

从事: it mean that working for some thing that have important sense, for example: manned spacecraft engineering. it is used in very offical and formal occasion.

例句: 杨利伟从事航天事业。 孙中山从事革命事业。 韩红从事公益工作。

  • You can 从事 any field or industry, important or not. For example, 餐饮业,理发行业,新闻工作,小贩行业,太空研究工作,室内设计工作,搬运业
    – Tang Ho
    Dec 9, 2020 at 7:19
  • ralely guys try to say 从事餐饮业, 从事理发行业,it hears like the guys are a big big big boss.
    – jamlee
    Dec 9, 2020 at 8:16
  • You just need to own a restaurant or hair salon of any size to claim yourself is 从事餐饮业, 从事理发行业-- you are a part of the industry, not the industry itself
    – Tang Ho
    Dec 9, 2020 at 8:19
  • Chinese people like to use the word humble.
    – jamlee
    Dec 9, 2020 at 8:21
  • if i just own a restaurant or hair salon. i will say 我是干理发的 ,我是干餐饮的
    – jamlee
    Dec 9, 2020 at 8:22

从 gives us a sense of "follow" as in 跟从 and 事 is "thing", "something" or "occupation" as in 事业.

Together, 从事: to follow something. "To follow something" suggests pursue something, do something, undertake, engage in, etc.

So 从事xxx can be taken as follow/do something/things about xxx.

PS 从事 is usually used in the formal register. It sounds more business-like. In casual speech, we use 做, 当,etc.


I'm a Chinese working in a US company.

I think most Chinese can't answer your question well, as 从事 is always used as a full word, a normal Chinese people will never think about to split it into 从 and 事。

But, yes, originally, 从事 is an ancient word, from thousands of years ago. In that age, 从 had a meaning of 'engage in', 事 meant 'career, work‘.

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