In English, when one encounters "q", it is almost certain that the next letter will be a "u".

I am looking for a similar situation in Chinese. Is there a character A which is universally (or nearly universally) followed by some other character B?

This question might be of limited linguistic interest, so let me give the context: I'm teaching a course on information theory where questions like this show up (think: effective text compression, for example). Most of the students are Chinese so I think it would be fun to include a Chinese example. My preference is for a well-known example where anyone with basic Chinese will be able to produce B when presented with A.


4 Answers 4


There exists a type of words in Chinese we call 连绵词, aka those words with 2 characters, but they only make sense together, and you cannot explain each character individually. There are TONS of 连绵词 in Chinese, and basically all of them can be used as examples that you look for.

Some 连绵词's for example:

柠檬 - 檬 almost always comes after 柠, and 柠檬 means lemon, and you can't really explain the individual meaning of 柠 and 檬. If you had to, then 柠 means 柠檬, and 檬 means 柠檬 as well.

邋遢 - 遢 almost always comes after 邋, and 邋 is almost always followed by 遢.

慷慨 - 慨 almost always comes after 慷, and 慷 is almost always followed by 慨

Others includes 窈窕, 疙瘩, 螳螂, 蜘蛛, 嶙峋, 徜徉, etc...

Note that not all 连绵词 satisfy this property. There are 连绵词 where one or both characters have a meaning on its own, like 仓皇, where 仓 means storage and 皇 is emperor, but only when these character come together does the word "仓皇" mean "rushed". Clearly "rushed" has nothing to do with the original meanings of the two characters, so it's considered a 连绵词, but it would be wrong to say "皇 is almost always following 仓, and 仓 is almost always followed by 皇".


While I totally understand where the OP is coming from, I have to point out that the "similar situation" you are looking for in Chinese is, in fact, not similar to what you have in the English "qu" situation.

The reason /q/ is always followed by /u/ in English is totally phonetic. It has to do with how the English language normally represents the sound /kw/, phonologically a velar stop followed by a labial glide.

What you are looking for in Chinese is semantic in nature. A Chinese character is essentially a semantic unit. As such, I can safely say that it's extremely rare to find that one specific character has to follow a certain given character. Even if you do find one that is ALWAYS followed by another in all the literature you can find today, there is no guarantee that in future some new usage will not be coined to allow the two characters to split and be attached to some other characters. Semantics is a forever changing and expanding realm, whereas phonology of a language is much, much more stable over the long term.

I think a more comparable situation to look for is where one letter (or set of letters) is always followed by another set in Pinyin, if your students are all Mandarin speakers fluent in Pinyin, or if they are all users of a standard transciption system of Chinese.


Is there a character A which is universally (or nearly universally) followed by some other character B?

Almost all Chinese characters have multiple meanings, Only some archaic characters that have no independent usage in modern Chinese would exclusively pair with another character


黷 in 窮兵黷武 originally meant "wantonly engage", but this character is not used independently in modern Chinese, the only place you can see it is in the idiom 窮兵黷武

Another possibility is a "specifically coined characters" like 麒麟. You cannot use 麒 or 麟 alone, it has to be 麒麟


i disagreed with other answers provided in this thread.

柠檬 - 檬 almost always comes after 柠

incorrect, in the book 類篇 by 司馬光; it mentioned “吳俗謂木榫曰檸頭”, that, it’s the character “頭” comes after “檸”, further, “檸” does not mean lemon in this usage

You cannot use 麒 or 麟 alone

well, we can use “麒” or “麟” alone in one’s name 😼 so, in 世宗憲皇帝硃批諭旨, by 清世宗


in which “林麒” is a military personnel with a surname “林”, & a given name “麒”; that it’s not followed by the character “麟”

慷 is almost always followed by 慨

incorre, in the poem 短歌行 by 曹操, there’s verse


that, “慷” is followed by the character “憂”

back to the question

in Chinese. Is there a character A which is universally (or nearly universally) followed by some other character B?


if, you exclude names, rhyme books, dictionaries, texts written in classical / literary chinese; you might get a “yes”. but, what chinese is it 🙀

In English, when one encounters "q", it is almost certain that the next letter will be a "u"

btw, how do you interpret “qatar”, the country in middle east, in such context?

have fun :)

  • 1
    @水巷孑蠻 We can use qi in English to mean Chinese 气:中医指能使人体器官发挥机能的动力, but such words are borrowed and very few in number. In Latin, C, K and Q all sound like K, The Romans always wrote U after Q to make the sound KW: QUEEN (女王) = KWEEN, QUEST (寻求,探险) = KWEST. Spanish, very much influenced by Latin changed QU for CU: CUÁL (which) = KWÁL, CUANDO (when) = KWANDO, but in Spanish, QU is just K: qué (what), spoken the same as K. 很有意思!
    – Pedroski
    Jul 7 at 3:03
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    OK, since "qatar" is a borrowed word in the English language, I can now say, "I used to qatar all my pocket money during school days"? 😸 (borrowed your 😸, hope you don't quibble, quarrel, query me, but do display your quick but qualitatively quaint wit putting op in a queer quandary?) Jul 7 at 4:41
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    Nah. In "lunatic" the "u" is not preceded by "q" Unless we borrow from Spanish and say "Qunatic?" Jul 7 at 5:01
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    As for 柠,慷 , etc. I am aware of these ancient usages, that's why I say almost always in my answer. This is even more true if we only consider modern Chinese.
    – dvx2718
    Jul 7 at 20:31
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    No, it’s not ‘shameful’. It’s called language evolution, and every language has it. Do you think the point about q nearly always being followed by u would be true if you took into account every form of English recorded over the past 1500 years? It wouldn’t. If I ask for the meaning and pronunciation of 字 in Chinese, valid and expected answers would include _zì_/‘character’ (Mandarin), _zi⁶_/‘five minutes’ (Cantonese) and _³zr_/‘word’ (Wu); but not _mədzəʔs_/‘love’. Jul 8 at 9:52

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