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Are there any Chinese words larger than 2 characters? I haven't found any. I looked through the Wikipedia word frequency list, and it's all 1 and 2 character words. If there are larger words, is there a small or big list of words which I could look at, container 3-character, 4-character+ words?

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  • Most Cheng Yu are four character words. Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 1:40

2 Answers 2

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In the HSK 3.0, level 1, we have the following words with 3+ characters:

Level 1: 不客气 打电话 大学生 电视机 电影院 对不起 干什么 教学楼 开玩笑 没关系 没什么 男朋友 女朋友 是不是 图书馆 洗手间 小朋友 小学生 星期日 星期天 有时候 有一些 中学生

Some of these are not really words per se; some combine two words (e.g. 干什么), or are sayings (e.g. 没关系), or are separable verbs (e.g. 开玩笑). But some of them are individual words, like:

CC-CEDICT: 大学生 (dà​xué​shēng​) university student / college student
CC-CEDICT: 男朋友 (nán​péng​you​​) boyfriend
CC-CEDICT: 图书馆 (tú​shū​guǎn​) library

Levels 2 and 3 have the following:

Level 2: 办公室 比如说 笔记本 不好意思 不一定 不一会 差不多 出租车 大部分 大多数 大自然 地铁站 动物园 方便面 公共汽车 公交车 计算机 交朋友 接下来 老朋友 留学生 那时候 普通话 青少年 什么样 体育场 体育馆 停车场 为什么 洗衣机 小时候 信用卡 一部分 一路平安 一路顺风 一点点 音乐会 银行卡 有意思 越来越 怎么办 怎么样 这时候 中小学 自行车

Level 3: 不得不 大使馆 代表团 电视剧 电视台 电子邮件 高速公路 工程师 公务员 互联网 基本上 进一步 看起来 看上去 老百姓 老太太 连续剧 联合国 另一方面 旅行社 能不能 人民币 身份证 实际上 实验室 世界杯 事实上 收音机 卫生间 演唱会 一方面 有的是 志愿者 中华民族

(I'll leave off the higher levels.)

If you want a long list, you can download the CC-CEDICT dictionary (which has the filename cedict_ts.u8), and use awk '{ if(length($2) >= 3) print $2; }' cedict_ts.u8 (or something equivalent depending on your operating system) to print the entries with 3 or more characters. It gives 47000+ hits, like

一一对应 一一映射 一丁不识 一丁点 一下儿 一下子 一不做,二不休 一丘之貉 一中一台 一中原则 ...

but again many are not really individual words, and some are proper nouns.

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My argument on 成语 (both in the answer and the comments) belongs to word is wrong. "Word" doesn't translate cleanly to 词. I'm thinking about 词 when using "word" in my answer.

四字词 is not officially defined, but 成语 belongs to 四字词, which is accepted by most, if not all. 词 is used here as “word+词组”.


1994年清华大学计算机系利用计算机建立了一个大规模的数据库,“它对覆盖汉语的6763个常用字的汉语语素及其所构成的二字词、三字词、四字词进行了穷举描述。在汉语语素数据库中共有语素项17470个,语素10442个,二字词78230个,三字词6700个,四字词14200个

If we use this as an estimate, two-syllable, three-syllable and four-syllable words account for about 78.9%, 6.8% and 14.3% of multisyllabic words.

1997年,北京语言文化大学完成了“汉语构词基本字的统计分析”课题。该项目以国家语委和国家教委1988年公布的《现代汉语常用词表》中的3500个汉字为基础,首先找出《现代汉语词典》、《现代汉语词典补编》、《新词新语词典》(李行健主编,语文出版社,1989)中由这3500字构成的词条70343个,其中包括单音节词4555个,双音节词49641个,三音节词8308个,四音节词6922个,五音节词702个,六音节词215个。

This gives us an overall picture. 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, 5-, 6-syllable words account for about 6.5%, 70.6%, 11.8%, 9.8%, 1%, 0.3%.

The percentage of 4-syllable words, I believe, is significantly underestimated because many 成语 are not included in the dictionaries they sampled. Correct use of 成语 is not naturally acquired and sufficient education is needed. Thus except for a few, most 成语 are not commonly used and are treated in specialized dictionaries.


If there are larger words, is there a small or big list of words which I could look at, container 3-character, 4-character+ words?

There's actually a book 《现代汉语常用词表》. The most recent version is 2nd.


Traditionally, one type of the most important 3-syllable words are adjectives with a reduplication of the 2nd syllable, in the form of ABB. They are usually vivid or figurative. For example, 冷飕飕、白花花. Some of them have a more formal and less vivid disyllabic version BA, like 花白. This category is not very open and active in that not many new words are created.

In the information age more tech-related 3-syllable words are created. For example, 互联网、计算机. Also non-tech-related, like 爆米花. These types are very open and active.

4-syllable words are older and more closed and inactive, like 坐井观天、前呼后拥、人山人海、心宽体胖.

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  • 1
    Can you provide some examples of 三字词 and 四字词? Thanks.
    – r13
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 2:38
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    @r13 See my update.
    – lilysirius
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 3:34
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    A "word" is the smallest element in language, while the 3-syllable words form the smallest, yet non-separable, meaningful word, the 4-syllable words can be separated by inserting word(s) in between to form a phrase, such as 坐井观天、心宽体胖...So I don't think they represent a 字 or 詞. And this is probably the reason the Chinese idioms are called "成語", not "word".
    – r13
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 15:29
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    @r13 I think you misunderstood word with morpheme. 坐井观天 has 4 morphemes but it’s a word since a new meaning that is not the same as the mere addition of the morphemes is created. The same works for most 3-syllable words like 爆米花, which has 3 morphemes, and most 2-syllable words like 火锅,学校,课本, which has 2 morphemes
    – lilysirius
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 18:20
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    坐井观天 can be written as 坐"於"井"底"观天 yet maintain the same meaning. So, it is a 成語, not a single "word".
    – r13
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 18:47

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