What is the difference between these two words? Both mean train. Is there any difference? Are they used in different regions?

  • 1
    There are no difference between 列车 and 火车 in general, except this cases: 1. 火车头, not 列车头(but some time, we say 列车机头); 2. 列车员, not 火车员; 3. 列车时刻表 in formal. And most time, 列车 is considered the train itself; 火车 has a broad meaning.
    – mikespook
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 10:15

5 Answers 5


Yes there are differences.

火车 literally means "fire car", and it got this name since the steam locomotive era when trains relied on buring coal as fuel. Later this word is generalized to refer to trains. But with modern technology developing, for example 高铁 (High Speed EMU Train), official media usually referes to it as 高铁列车, not 高铁火车. I guess it's because 火车 simply does not fit into the image. 电气列车, 地铁列车 and 轻轨列车 are some other examples.

However, the word 火车 is still used when referring to train in general. For example, 火车票 means "train ticket" and 火车站 means "railway station". You cannot replace 火车 with 列车 in these cases.

Technology aside, 列车 literally means "linked car(s)". So this word should also be used when the subject referred to is related to the linked cars (passenger units), not the locomotive (motor unit). Hence in the word 列车乘务员 (train conductor), you shouldn't use 火车, because the conductor serves the passenger units.

  • 4
    That's generally correct, but their usage is more conventional than following hard rules. Ironically Kowloon-Canton Railway in Hong Kong was called 電氣化火車 (electric train), possibly because it is literally 火車 (on steam engine) before the electrification.
    – leesei
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 10:39
  • 1
    @leesei that's a very intereting example of idiomatic usage. :)
    – Rephinx
    Commented Apr 29, 2014 at 9:00
  • It is better to speak linked vehicles than linked cars, after all, 车/車 is the generic terms of all types of vehicles as an etyma, not only cars. But the one-character word 车/車 means car commonly.
    – xenophōn
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 12:56
  • @Rephinx does 列车 work for cars of a train used to transport things instead of people? Commented Oct 28, 2018 at 13:54
  • 高铁这个词汇实际上并非官方认可。官方的名字应该是:动车组列车,简称动车,以及:高速动车组列车,简称高速动车。The word 高铁 (gaotie) actually is not approved officially. The official names are: EMU (Electric Multiple Unit) trains, for Dongche, and, high speed EMU trains, for Gaosu Dongche.
    – xenophōn
    Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 12:31

列车 is used more frequently in formal cases. For example, you may often hear such broadcasting in a station: 开往武汉方向的列车即将进站,请您文明候车有序排队.

火车 is more commonly used in daily life. After 2011, 高铁 and 动车 are more and more popular because they are faster and more comfortable than traditional trains, so more and more people are using those two words to replace 火车.


火车 and 列车 denote a bit different concepts. The most significant meaning of 列车 is a series of linked train cars. If you are in the depot and see only one single car, you will not call it 列车. In addition, 列车 refers to the tangible object of linked train cars. If you want to tell me you will travel by train, you will not say *坐列车. In contrast, 火车 can refer to the mode of transport. In 火车票 and 火车站 (from Rephinx's examples), 火车 refers to the mode of transport.

  • oh, so saying 我做高铁列车去学校 is incorrect? Commented Oct 28, 2018 at 14:02
  • 1
    @MrVocabulary I am sorry for confusing you. (1) 我坐(zuò)高铁列车去学校 is not ungrammatical. (2) The reason you won't say *坐列车 is that it does not mean "(to travel) by train". This phrase, however, is correct to mean, say, "sit in a series of linked train cars". (3) In your sentence, 高铁 refers to the mode of transport, and so does 高铁列车. (列车 can be omitted. Saying 我坐高铁去学校 changes little to the meaning.)
    – HYC
    Commented Nov 21, 2018 at 1:00
  • Ah, okay, I see. And naturally I meant 坐, not 做 ;-) Commented Nov 21, 2018 at 7:09

well literally there is no difference, except 列车 is more of a formal use and 火车 is just of casual speaking style talking about 火车 it's literal meaning is fire car coz the old trains are promoted mostly by burning coals



  • 3
    Please include at least a short English translation of your answer.
    – Don Kirkby
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 14:52

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