I was discussing a linguistics paper about chengyu in one of my YouTube videos and wondered what is the most common chengyu. It's the kind of question someone like me would like to know off the top of my head. But I don't know...

I Googled the question in English and Chinese, and found lists of common chengyu, but these are based on people's subjective impressions, and not actual data, and nobody says which is the most common chengyu, just e.g. "here's 100 common chengyu".

The most common character is 的. The most common word is 一 (Junda), 我 (Leeds (internet); LWC), or 在 (BLCU) depending on corpus (I'm not counting 的 nor 了 as words, or 的 would be the most common word).

Question: Which is the most common chengyu (idiom)?

I feel like this is the kind of thing someone should already know. I really can't guess which is the most common chengyu; perhaps it's 不可思议 or 乱七八糟.

1 Answer 1


Actually, I can work this out myself. It depends on the corpus, and what you consider is or isn't a chengyu. For simplicity, I'll only search for 4-character chengyu. Doing this search, we get a whole bunch of 4-character words like 社会主义 and 工作人员, which I leave off. Below I list the 4-character phrases which I feel could be interpreted as a chengyu (and if you don't think it's a chengyu, just pretend it's not there).

I feel like the correct answer is among: (a) 不好意思, (b) 莫名其妙, (c) 好不容易, (d) 不知不觉, and (e) 有感而发.

Leeds internet corpus

chengyu no. occurrences per 1mil hanzi
不好意思 36.67
莫名其妙 19.35
好不容易 18.75
不知不觉 18.23
各种各样 17.34
绝大多数 14.65
小心翼翼 14.60
不可思议 14.43
与此同时 13.58
哈哈大笑 11.03

BLCU global corpus

chengyu count
有感而发 713476
与此同时 621536
不好意思 421657
绝大多数 402207
无论如何 232946
莫名其妙 230452
好不容易 226637
前所未有 224422
不可思议 223894
绝大部分 216299

LWC Weibo corpus

chengyu no. hits
来之不易 26411
恭喜发财 12648
龙马精神 10904
有感而发 7451
万事如意 6750
一呼百应 6310
欢欢喜喜 5145
战鼓不休 5105
生龙活虎 4980
金枝玉叶 3848

I'm not sure why this is different to the other corpora.

  • 2
    不好意思 was not in my chengyu specific dictionary, regular chinese dictionary just showed it as詞語。 莫名其妙 was in there for the top leeds list result, so probably the answer there. for reference 無論如何 was highest blcu and 來之不易 was top lwc to actually show in dictionary as chengyu.
    – zagrycha
    Feb 24 at 7:55
  • 2
    I think most of these in the lists belong to the category of "惯用语(collocations)" rather than "成語(chengyu)", which usually have a story behind, or have philosophical meanings.
    – r13
    Oct 22 at 17:22

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