So I saw a video on youtube about a guys experience in china. He said that people can often accidentally say swear words if they say the tones wrong. Like the word "ma"

It can heard as mother but 'ma' can also be heard as horse in a foul way. Is there any pinyin/character combinations that I should be careful to write or say wrong/all together?

And for swear words, do they use the same character they use for the word or is it written differently? Also maybe describe a experience that you accidentally said a swear word in Chinese.

7 Answers 7


A story tells of an ethnic minority student who simply wanted to borrow a pen from a female comrade. Ethnic minorites in China are often as tone deaf as Westerners, and when the guy wanted to borrow a pen (借你的笔 / jie4 ni3 de bi3), it became 借你的屄 (jie4 ni3 de bi1), and the female student got all red in her face pondering the proposal of lending her cunt to that fellow...

The words and tones to look out for are the following:

  • cào (肏,操), which means fuck (often heard as 我操, i fuck, simply meaning fuck)
  • bī (屄,逼), which means cunt (often rendered as 傻屄 or 傻逼 (sha3bi1), meaning stupid cunt)

gàn is not problematic in China, only in Taiwan.

mā de (妈的) is a very mild swear sentence in China.

  • More information. 肏 and 屄 is the correct word, but people seldom use them. They usually use word with the same pronunciation like 操 and 逼. Some time 肏 write as 草 on the internet. and 我肏 write as 握草 or 臥槽. gàn is 姦 in Hokkian, but people in Taiwan always write it 幹. So when you are saying '看!' or '干嘛?' in Taiwan, be careful with your pronunciation.
    – Clay Hsu
    Jul 1, 2023 at 6:20

I think maybe your friend is referring to "ma de", which literally means "your mother" but colloquially means "f**k".

Actually, there's a slow, drawn out way to say this, which is "maaaa de", which means "f**k", "s**t"... but honestly, without the "de" (which sounds like "duh"), no one will misinterpret your meaning (or lack of meaning) by simply saying "ma".

I can actually give you a better applied example...

When I first arrived in China, I would often find women to be the more accepting of answering questions from lost foreigners than men, so I would often say: "qing wen", which means "please ask"... which translates to "excuse me, may I ask a question"?

However, if you ask this question to a single woman during the evening, "wen" also means "kiss", so it may sound like "hey, how about a kiss"?

This is the only misunderstanding I've had more than several times before understanding what was going on.

The last experience I've had was complementing others. I often find myself wanting to say "you have a wonderful personality", or "your personality. good!" using Chinese grammatical structure.

Personality in Chinese is "ge xing" or "ge shing". However, I often reverse these two characters and say "xing ge" or "shing ge". Unfortunately "xing gan" means "sexy". So if I compliment a woman on her personality in front of her peers, it sometimes sounds like I am saying "I think you... sexy! very nice".

Talk about cringeworthy!

That's my 2 cents...

  • 1
    And "xing gao" just refers to "sex" (literally, sexual communication). So be careful with this stuff.
    – Tom Au
    Jul 2, 2014 at 0:03

Note that I'm Taiwanese and I use Traditional Chinese characters. The swear words I type below (sorry!) may look different in Simplified Chinese. Also, China has way more swear words than us that I don't understand.

...for swear words, do they use the same character they use for the word or is it written differently?

As many people have written above, the three most common swear words look exactly the same as normal words.

Addressing your mother (or nobody's mother in particular) 媽的 (ma1de5) looks quite harmless. I have said this many times by pure accident because I address other people's mothers with one 媽 contrary to two (媽媽).

cao4 is synonymous with the F-bomb. It is usually pronounced cao1 and used as a verb (to exercise extraneously) or in a phrase like 操場 (cao1chang3, meaning track field).

gan4 is used with 幹什麼 gan4shen2me3 and 幹事 gan4shi4. It's a verb meaning "to do". The sexual innuendo is the same as the English equivalent. gan4 only becomes a swear word when it's on its own.

  • Bull, I always call waitresses in China 小姐, and so does everybody else (or they are using 服务员(儿)). I have never ever heard anyone call a waitress 同志, which is a term that nobody uses and that also denotes male homosexuals.
    – user4452
    Jul 11, 2014 at 14:10
  • Like I said, my uncle told me this. I can't really vouch for it. I'll edit it out :) Jul 14, 2014 at 1:06
  • 操 is a variant character of 肏 for this meaning, by the way (combination of 入+肉)
    – sqrtbottle
    May 14, 2015 at 13:48

干(gan4) is another character that could be accidentally said as a swear word in Chinese.

干(gan4) could mean do as in "gan4 shen2 me" or tree bark as in "shu4 gan4".

However, 干(gan4) is also the equivalent for "f**k" in Chinese. In our experience, our students usually accidentally say it when slowly pronouncing the compounds such as "gan4 shen2 me" and "shu4 gan4"


A friend of mine used to go to the post office and borrow a pen (bi3) from one of the women who work there. However, she kept asking if the woman had a bi1 (in the first tone), which means a cu*t until a friend noticed what she was saying and told her what it meant. And they say shabi, which is pretty offensive, it would translate as stupid c*nt.


is a swear word getting popular and popular in china these days..
By the hatred for the Japanese..
And it's stroke like the circle with a dot in the center..
Same meaning as sticking up your middle finger..
It is a very ”powerful” word that doesn't need any help of other words to lead it's meaning.
Like "ri ni ma"for integrated phrase.
The same applies towhich means stupid.
二货!,"foolish one"
你很二,"you are very stupid"
足够二,"stupid enough"


Gotta be careful with cao - if you say it with a 4th tone you will only be saying one thing, and it's totally a swear word.

ma I'm not totally sure how it would become a "curse word" - sure 'mom' could turn into 'horse' and that would be offensive but the only thing that could be considered is 4th tone ma which, actually, means to curse, to swear or to berate.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.