CC-CEDICT: 生意 (shēng​yi​) business / CL: 筆|笔
CC-CEDICT: 交易 (jiāo​yì​) (business) transaction / business deal / CL: 筆|笔

I'm just curious as to why these two semantically related words have distinct characters pronounced "​yì​". It seems like it would be more consistent to use the same character.

Question: Why do 生意 ("business") and 交易 ("business deal") use distinct "yì"-pronounced characters?

  • Perhaps contributors who have answered would like to continue with why the two forms of words are also not used interchangeably? Commented Jan 3, 2022 at 3:10
  • I think we explained the difference. 生意 is a commercial venture, 交易 is a trade agreement , commercial or not
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Jan 3, 2022 at 4:25

3 Answers 3


To demonstrate more directly this is just a coincidence:

Pronunciation of 意 is derived from Early Middle Chinese [ʔɨh], which naturally develops into yì in Mandarin.

Pronunciation of 易 is derived from Early Middle Chinese [jiəkʲ], which also naturally develops into yì in Mandarin.

The word 生意 occurs in texts since at least the 3rd century (originally in the meaning "vitality, livelihood," with "work" or "business" shades occurring since around 16th century).

The word 交易 occurs very frequently in the classical texts such as the Chronicles of the Historian and even before, in the Yi Jing, already in the modern meaning.

Thus, both words appeared long before the pronunciations of the two components coincided as yì in Mandarin.

(Data on occurences taken from the 漢語大詞典, which is not always able to pinpoint the actual first appearance of a word - but at least allows to give an upper estimate to it. I am sure that 生意 is even earlier.)


The two words are not semantically related, though both uses are linked to commercial activities.

意 has a meaning as "idea", 生意 - an idea (to sell something) to make living/money.

易 means "change", 交易 - exchange something (usual goods/info, or goods/info for money/reward).


It is just a coincidence. 意 and 易 are not semantically related.

意 in 生意 means "mean" (生意 = a mean to grow = business)

易 in 交易 means "trade" (交易 = exchange and trade = a trade/ a business deal)

They are two different words that happened to have the same pinyin

  • 生意 is a commercial venture, a business providing goods or service for monetary gain

  • 交易 is a trade agreement, commercial or not, one party offer something to another party for something in return.

Beside 笔, 宗 and 单 can also be the classifier for 交易

Beside 笔, 盘 and 门 can also be the classifier for 生意

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