So why does "森严" mean "strictly protected"? like, ok, "森" Means Jungle and "严" means strict, so shouldn't it means "strict forest" not "strongly protected", right? The full phrase is "宫城森严"

  • 森 only means forest when it functions as a noun. In the example you gave, it's not a noun but an adjective. In that case, it can mean being full of trees, towering, gloomy, etc.
    – joehua
    Commented Apr 17, 2022 at 16:06

2 Answers 2


森严 is a common word. I take it as 像林一样密(as dense as the forest). We picture that forest is so dense that light can't pass through.

Metaphorically, we take that to mean heavily guarded.


宫城森严 seems kinda literary/archaic where meaning gets condensed, so its a bit hard to decipher. Note that due to the arrangement of 森严, it would be literally "forestly strict" instead of "strict forest," which would be 严森 otherwise.

The word 森 can have connotations of being oppressive/dark, and when 严 is used in the context of a city/palace it can mean well guarded. It might be a cultural thing to note that names for forest can have subtle differences, 森林 can sound more deep/sinister than 树林 for example.

In general 森严 as a phrase is not very common in modern usage, as far as I'm aware.

  • 2
    警戒森严/ 戒备森严 (heavily guarded) is a common literary phrase, you can see it often in writing
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Apr 16, 2022 at 23:55

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