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几年后,赵奢去世了。这一年正好秦国军队来打赵国,赵国派老将廉颇带20万大军迎战。廉颇根据敌强我弱的形势,命令士兵们坚守阵地,绝对不可主动出战。

This is from the Standard Course Book of HSK5, section 15.

Baidu and Google say that here 我 means we and indeed according to dictionaries 我 not only means I, but it can also mean "we".

So when should 我 mean I and when we? And what is the difference between 我 and 我们 as we?

Simply, the context determines when the 我should mean I and when we, and 我 as we is just the short version of 我们? Or is there another rule we should know?

5 Answers 5

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That's an interesting question.

I think you can see 我 as always referring to a single entity on the user's side. That entity can be a person, a company (我司), a country (我国), and this case an army (我军). Sometimes the entity (司, 国, 军) is omitted and only 我 is left. When that entity has more than one person, it would actually mean us.

So here, instead of "我" referring to a single person, it refers to an army, in particular, 廉颇's army.

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  • 我司 means 我们公司. In Chinese 我的公司 and 我们公司 can mean much differently.
    – PdotWang
    Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 19:03
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  1. 我 + collective noun = we; our; my, or mine
  • 我方 - our side (also, my side).

  • 我輩 - our generation (also, my generation).

  • 我國 - our country (also, my country).

  1. 句子前後的對稱 (symmetry in the quantification of the subject nouns in a sentence)
  • 敌强我弱, here, "敌" means "敌人", a plural noun, so "我" means "我們" - "the enemy is strong, (and) we are weak". However, if "敌" is replaced by "", then

  • 他强我弱 becomes "he is strong, (and) I am weak".

Another similar Chengyu is "敵暗我明". Have fun.

Note, a special case, "我等" strictly means "we", as it literally says "these/those people and I".

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Simply, the context determines when the 我 should mean I and when we, and 我 as we is just the short version of 我们? Or is there another rule we should know?

Let's put the "rule" first. In learning Chinese, the rule to remember is that "there is no rule". More precisely, there is no rule like the rules in English. It is correct that the meaning of a word highly depends on the context.

In a simple statement, you must use 我 and 我们 correctly. For example, 我回家了 is obviously different from 我们回家了.

“敌强我弱” is an idiom where 我 is the short version of 我们. Many Chinese idioms are from ancient books where 成语 (idiom, proverb) is made with 4 characters. When the length of the phrase is limited to 4, then the "short versions" of words become quite often.

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Good question. As a native Chinese speaker, I believe that in Modern Chinese, using “我” as “we” or “us” is pretty rare. You were probably confused by the example “我等二人” that Baidu translate gave out, which was a piece of hot garbage. Because first of all it was in Classical Chinese, and second “我等” is one word, which means “we” in Classical Chinese.

If you would like to only use “我” as “we” or “us”, then you would need to specify what “我” represents. For example, “我二人”.

The example “敌强我弱” you gave was an idiom, and here “我” from my understanding is an abbreviation, so yeah.

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Quite contrary to other peoples' answers, in 敌强我弱, the usage of 我 as plural is not a short form, but rather is its original pronoun usage.

The glyph 我 was created as a hieroglyph for a type of weapon. In Oracle Bone Scripts, it was borrowed to denote the first person plural pronoun, both in the nominative (we) and genitive case (our). Its usage then extended to include the first person singular and also the accusative case.

The plural particle 们 (or earlier 每)for persons in Chinese was a very late formed grammatical structure.

The ancient usage of the pronoun 我 has left a lot of legacies on modern Chinese, especially through idioms like 敌强我弱 (1P PL NOM, we).

Whether to use 我 or 我们 (1P PL GEN, our) in compound words is more of prosody. For example, if instead 国家 is used, we cannot use 我 but rather should say 我们国家. Though 我国 is more formal, these two basically have the same meaning.

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  • Correct. The original meaning came from a depiction of a weapon with a long handle. Its meaning as a pronoun came later via sound loan. See 季旭昇,2004《說文新證》,台北:藝文印書館印行,2014年9月第二版。
    – user31212
    Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 3:35

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