How can one character ‘相’ can participate in formation of so many words with a different meaning ?
This list below that I am struggling now with, might be eternally continued =>
真相 - truth, 相处 – get along (with), 互相 – each other,
相扣 – interlock (fingers), 相看 – exchange a look, 相对 – relatively, 相当 – considerably, 相关 – relevant, 相应 – corresponding, 相信 – to believe,
相同 – the same, 相亲 – blind date, 变相 – disguise, 相较 – comparatively, 相反 – opposite。 Who are you really Mr. ‘相‘ ?

  • 4
    How can inter- participate in the formation of so many words? Intermix, interject, interfaith, interstate, interact, intercede, interfere, interview, interpose, ... If you spend a moment to consider the meanings of the words you listed, I think you'll find that one single meaning accounts for all but a few of those words. Another meaning (with a different pronunciation fyi!) accounts for a couple of the others. I think 相信 was the only one I had to look at a dictionary to explain. Commented Apr 3 at 18:18
  • Well, inter does just mean between: between mix, between throw, between faith(s), between act, between go ...
    – Pedroski
    Commented Apr 4 at 8:33
  • There are others, like, "pro...", "anti...", "uni...", "re...", "bye..."? Commented Apr 7 at 2:02
  • This reminds me of this recent question, where it turns out that 子 appears in over 1000 words. Here's a plot.
    – Becky 李蓓
    Commented Apr 7 at 4:15

3 Answers 3



For the pronunciation of xiàng, the meaning generally leans towards "appearance/look". Examples include: 真相,面相,相貌, 照相

For the pronunciation of xiāng, the meaning is generally "the relationship between two objects". Examples include: 相对,相传,相同,相识

Of course, there are "outliers" such as 宰相 which doesn't "follow" the two guidelines above. But typically speaking, the majority of 相formations are some variant of the two forms above.


相 is a character with two different pronunciations(xiāng and xiàng).

When we said xiāng, 相 is used to link two or more objects in most instances, like 相互(could be equal to between), 惺惺相惜(sympathize with one another).

When we said xiàng, it always be a noun, and there is always another character to modify 相, such as 真相, 面相:

  • 真 is an adjective and equal to true, so 真相 means the truth.
  • 面 means face here, so 面相 means one's face looks.

As for 宰相, the word mentioned in summer7's answer, 宰 in ancient Chinese means to manage or rule. During the Spring and Autumn (770-476 BC) and Warring States (475-221 BC) periods, there was an official position called 太宰 and another one called 相(xiàng, means it is a noun), 相 has the meaning of auxiliary at that time and the two official positions has the greatest power other than the king's, so they have been combined as 宰相 which means the one who governs and rules over all. So you can still put 宰相 into the xiàng.


A good comparison is to compare in english, why do so many completely different words contain -able or -tion or re-? Some structures cover very wide and generic uses, so you see them alot. just like the letter e is most common in english and j is the least common, some chinese characters just have way more different uses than others.

As another reply stated 相 has a meaning of -like// as if, which immediately gives it huge use ((not even counting its other definitions)). Also compare chinese characters like 到 that can show successful completion, or the dozen different 道 uses of which multiple are common and broad, like method related meanings.

To put it another way 相 has at least 15 different uses, 到 18, 道 20, they really are like e's of the chinese language, or at least vague equivalents ((different languages are different so no one to one can be found)).

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