In the yin-yang dynamic, yang is pretty much always the dominant force: it represents the sun (the "great yang", 太陽), brightness, positivity (陽性), masculinity (the penis, 陽物), the living (陽間, 陽世), etc. Yin on the other hand, represents the moon (the "great yin", 太陰), darkness, negativity (陰性), femininity (the vagina, 陰物), the dead (陰間, 陰府), etc.

So why does "yin" comes first in the compound "yin-yang"? If there's "south-north" (南北), in which case south is more yang and north is more yin, why isn't there "yang-yin"? Was there some phonotactic restriction that prevented yang from coming first in Old Chinese (like say, certain sounds are forbidden to appear before certain sounds)? Or is it about some phonetic harmony that makes "yin-yang" sound better than "yang-yin"? I suspect that given the Middle Chinese reconstructions of both elements (something like /ʔim/ and /jaŋ/), it probably didn't sound great to have the /ŋ/ in "yang" in front of the vowel or semivowel in "yin".

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    Yes, we also have, 大小, 长短. 高矮, 胖瘦 where the superior in quantity comes first. Perhaps it just sounds "better"? Even in English you say, big & small, long & short, up & down. It just sounds awkward or "unnatural" or less "smooth" if said in reverse whether in Chinese or English. Not sure about other languages. It could very well be a matter of linguistic habit or just plain primordial dominance of the masculine element, which of course goes against the "Yin Yang" thing where the "feminine element", (weak), comes first. Here again saying "Yang Yin" is pretty awkward. Interesting question. Jun 21, 2021 at 6:25
  • A quick search through digitally transcribed excavated texts (inscription.asdc.sinica.edu.tw/c_index.php) shows 陰陽 turning up hits, and 陽陰 turning up no hits.
    – dROOOze
    Jun 21, 2021 at 6:31
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    @WangDingwei What do you mean "lower sound register"? You're using the simplified spelling so can I assume that you're talking about Mandarin? We're talking about an ancient word that's used throughout East Asia, and if you look into other languages (en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E9%99%B0%E9%99%BD#Chinese), the pattern would be 陰 higher and 陽 lower, not the other way around that's typical of only Mandarin. Jun 21, 2021 at 13:52
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    There is also 牝牡 /pin4 mu3/, where the feminine comes before the masculine gender. I am not sure there is any logically or semantically related reason. Perhaps these things just "sound" better to the native ear? Also, why the assumption that male/dominance has to come first?
    – monalisa
    Jun 21, 2021 at 22:44
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    It could be arranged according to philosophical reasons, such as the typical saying "光明之前必黑暗" - the darkness (陰)always proceed the daylight (陽), and in reverse "黑暗之後必是光明". Also, it could be influenced by "母系社會思維", as ancient Chinese treat "mother/female"(陰) as the start/begin of everything.
    – r13
    Jun 22, 2021 at 0:08

4 Answers 4


I have found an interesting answer to this question on the Internet.

It says: YinYang is from 《易》, in 易,至阴为坤, 至阳为乾, 卦 is read from top to bottom (上卦下卦)。

So if we read yang-yin,that is 乾坤, ䷋ 否卦 (天地否) 。


But, read as yin-yang, it is ䷊ 泰卦 (地天泰)。


The original answer: https://www.zhihu.com/question/31089807


In my opinion, as a native speaker, this is about phonology, and has nothing to do with the word meanings - that is, 陰陽 is preferred than 陽陰 is only a result of the sounds yin1 and yang2, and the meanings of the characters 陰 and 陽 have no influence.

陰 is 阴平(一声) and 陽 阳平(二声), and the 音韵 of 陰陽 is more natural to me than 陽陰 - I believe a general study of how 声调 affects character order in words is present.


Good question!

I didn't see any authoritative source for this. However, I found some answers:

  1. People respect maternity because that female “阴” gives birth to lives.
  2. At the very beginning of human evolution. People used to crawl on the ground rather than walking. And when you're crawling, you're facing the ground, back to the sunshine. So when you're standing up. You're facing the “阴”.
  3. For all the lives, they all starting from the dark. For instance: a seed is under the ground before they sprout. A man is inside his/her mother's body before seeing any sunshine.
  • Interesting hypotheses. I can see these ideas, if being true, predating, in primitive times, the whole philosophy about yang being the more dominant and positive force, which would've arisen later. Jun 22, 2021 at 3:06
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    Then the question arises, which came first, the Concept or the word? The reason I ask is that when those "crawling" early humans were "evolved" enough to have sophisticated written words, these ideas of predominant "darkness" were no longer of societal concerns, and since the male element was dominant in those early societies, surely the arrangement of these terms would reflect that? There is no linguistic reason why it could not be 陽 陰. In any case, following your hypothesis, "Death" is always the end result of existence, human or animal, then 陰, (Death), should come after 陽, (Life) Jun 22, 2021 at 5:46
  • "There is no linguistic reason why it could not be 陽陰." I'm not so sure about that. As you may have noticed, all my proposed hypotheses have been phonetics-based (thus, linguistic), and I think it's possible that in Old Chinese, 陽陰 could've violated some sort of phonotactics that forbid certain sounds to occur at close proximity, or certain tone pattern to occur altogether. Jun 22, 2021 at 5:59
  • Quote:- "...陽陰 could've violated some sort of phonotactics that forbid certain sounds to occur at close proximity, or certain tone pattern to occur altogether" Wow, that's a big can of worms. You'll have to look at all, or at least a meaningful amount of words to prove or disprove that, (a doctoral thesis is called for here) Also, you'll run into your "...unless you can find some convincing evidence on the thought process in those primitive times, which I suspect predate written language and historical records altogether" Good Luck :) Jun 22, 2021 at 6:11
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    These seem like explanations that only make sense once you know what the right answer is. It seems it would be easy to come up with similar explanations for the reverse case (陽陰) too. Just looking at one word and trying to explain it like this doesn't really say much.
    – Olle Linge
    Jun 22, 2021 at 6:28

Underlying all language is a logic assessor of some kind, assessing the language we generate.

I find Chinese to be very logical.

阴 may come first because, whereas you may have 阴阳, dark light, 阳阴 light dark is illogical.

There is a story told of Albert Einstein, I don't know if it is true.

Apparently, A. E. once attended a philosophy lecture. The professor was talking about good and evil.

A. E. said, perhaps there is no evil, just greater and lesser degrees of good, analogous to heat and cold.

There is really no "cold", just greater or lesser degrees of heat, until we approach 0 Kelvin, where weird quantum effects manifest themselves, mainly as a result of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, I read.


没有“阴” 只有“阳量”或多或少。

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    What's so illogical about light-dark? Saying "dark-light is logical because light-dark illogical" is pure nonsense. It's like saying "it's big because it's not small". Jun 22, 2021 at 3:33
  • Quote:- "... 阳阴 light dark is illogical" Not really, because we have 光阴 which has to do with Time, a subject central to Albert Einstein's Relativity Theories. :) Jun 22, 2021 at 5:53
  • There is a fundamental difference between light and dark: light is something, dark is the absence of something.
    – Pedroski
    Jun 22, 2021 at 21:37
  • Sure, light is the presence of photons, dark is the absence of photons. That doesn't make the phrase "light and dark" any illogical. Instead of throwing vague reasons to the wall and unhepfully waxing philosophical, I suggest you take a hard look at your own understanding of what "logical" means in the first place. Jun 23, 2021 at 9:39
  • Sorry, but where are you getting "and" from? Maybe a translation error??
    – Pedroski
    Jun 23, 2021 at 12:43

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