In the sentence:


Would a Chinese person typically assume this is a goat or a sheep?

  • IMHO, in the meantime better answers came up than the one that was originally accepted.
    – BertR
    Commented Oct 23, 2012 at 12:12
  • 1
    It likes that when you say a person is coming, what is the gender, age, and nationality of the person you assumed?
    – xenophōn
    Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 5:40

8 Answers 8


People would generally assume it's a sheep. People usually say 山羊 when they mean a goat.

  • "Mountain sheep" ahah that's nice... :D
    – Alenanno
    Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 22:52
  • 14
    I don't think that people necessarily say 山羊 when they mean 'goat' at all. Just because English speakers feel the need to distinguish doesn't necessarily mean Chinese speakers do.
    – Bathrobe
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 14:46
  • @Bathrobe I agree with you, in Chinese, many words stand for a general term, it does not refer to a particular thing in most cases, like, 牛, 肉, 车, etc.
    – xenophōn
    Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 5:46
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    If you say 街上车很多, the word 车 refers to any kind of vehicle, it include cars, buses, trucks, etc. If you say 我想吃肉, the word 肉 may refer to pork, beef, or chicken, etc, the meaning is ambiguous, only if you add qualifier like 猪, 牛, 羊, 鸡, 鸭.
    – xenophōn
    Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 5:55

People usually say 山羊 when they mean a goat.

--- I don't think so.

Goat or Sheep, just only depends on the context or the environment!

Actually, the scene of language is as follows:

When a sheep comes, what the brain of a Chinese-speaking people presents/thinks about is: "羊 is coming."

When a goat comes, what the brain of a Chinese-speaking people presents/thinks about is ALSO: "羊 is coming."

That is to say, when a concept about any sheep or goat or any sheep-like or goat-like or any Caprinae-form animal comes into the brain of a Chinese-speaking people, he or she always thinks about "羊" only, usually without differentiation like a English-speaking people does.

Only if the Chinese-speaking people is need to differentiate sheep or goat in his or her concept, he or she says “绵羊” or “山羊”.

Similarly, in the area which people mainly eat pork (the flesh of a pig or hog), they usually refer to the pork as a single word “肉”. If the word “肉” leads to some ambiguity, they could say “猪肉” for the pork and say “羊肉” for the mutton (or flesh of goat). Furthermore, in the area which people usually only eat mutton (the flesh of sheep), they could say “山羊肉” to indicate the flesh of goat.

You would meet a phrase “鸡鸭鱼肉”, these four words all indicate the flesh as food. Under this phrase,“鸡”means chicken, “鸭” means duck, “鱼” means fish, “肉” means pork mainly or means any flesh of a mammal such as beef, mutton.

Please NEVER forget this truth: The meaning of a word only should be presented from the context or the environment!

Additionally, similarly, when a English-speaking people says "a cousin", that could puzzle a Chinese-speaking listener, the latter wonders what the "a cousin" exactly indicates: a 堂兄 or 堂弟 or 表兄 or 表弟 or 堂姐 or 堂妹 or 表兄 or 表妹? The fact about this conflict is: the English-speaking people usually do not differentiate those consanguinities, but the Chinese-speaking people care for that.

  • 1
    Nice example of the reverse situation with the English word, "cousin".
    – Don Kirkby
    Commented Feb 19, 2013 at 20:50
  • As an inner-Mongolian/northerner, I feel 羊肉 means lamb (or flesh of sheep) in most cases. It's so rare to eat mutton(or flesh of goat). And we will definitely say "it's 山羊肉” to indicate the flesh of goat.
    – Meruemu
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 22:50

I did a quick whip round of some of my Chinese friends (well, 6 who are online currently) and came to the conclusion it could work either way, and doesn't really matter.

One made an interesting point that they don't really point out the difference in Chinese, but that she notices Chinese people say 'sheep' a lot more than 'goat' in English, which I think is an interesting point.

  • 7
    Because 'sheep' is usually one of the first 100 words to learn.
    – Kabie
    Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 23:05
  • 2
    I have asked this before too, and IMO most Chinese native speakers don't make the distinction as clearly as westerners.
    – jsj
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 1:38
  • 1
    Oh yes, Chinese don't distinguish sheep from goat because they use their brain to distinguish whether a cousin is a 堂兄 or 堂弟 or 表兄 or 表弟 or 堂姐 or 堂妹 or 表兄 or 表妹 =). P.S. I AM a Chinese.
    – Meruemu
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 22:55

It doesn't matter. As my first reflection after reading your question, I just ask myself which difference with 山羊 and 绵羊.

And I am a chinese.


It could be either.

Both goat and sheep belong to the same subfamily "Caprinae" in scientific classification. "羊" can be used to refer to an animal within the "Caprinae" subfamily.


It depends on the context really. If it's just the sentence itself, I'd assume it's a sheep.


I believe it depends on the hometown of your interlocutor because there seem to be more goats than sheep in the southern parts of China. So the first thing that comes to mind for a southerner, especially someone who comes from a rural area, will probably be a goat instead of a sheep.


I think for Chinese it doesn't matter sheep or goat for them no difference. As for other cultures like me cannot eat Goat but can eat sheep.


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