10

My daily newsletter contained the following sentence:

长江是中国最长的河。

According to the dictionary, 江 and 河 both mean "river", but they seem to be used differently.

Am I right in assuming that 长河是中国最长的江 is wrong (even if we assume that there is a river called 长河)? Is there a semantic difference?

  • 2
    In Northern China, rivers are usually called 河 while in Southern China 江, owing to etymological reason. Besides, in northern China, 江 usually refers to wider rivers while 河 narrower rivers. – user58955 Sep 13 '14 at 23:19
17
  1. 江 is mostly used in the South; 河 is mostly used in the North. There are exceptions, such as 黑龙江, 浏阳河.

  2. Scale. 江 is exclusively for mighty rivers; 河 can be used for both large and small rivers.

  3. All foreign rivers are named with 河.

  4. There is no fundamental differences between 河 and 江.

  5. 江 is used for rivers whose banks are steep cliffs; 河 is used for rivers with beaches.

  6. In some classic text, 江 refers to Yangtze river; 河 refers to Yellow River; the other rivers are named with 水, e.g. 渭水

Source: http://baike.baidu.com/subview/20655/8126542.htm#2

  • 1
    I only wish I was good enough to read that source properly... :) – dr Hannibal Lecter Sep 14 '14 at 15:42
  • You can ignore the source. I cited the source to borrow some authority, 'cause I ain't nobody. :) – George Chen Sep 14 '14 at 16:04
  • I know, I was just thinking out loud how nice it would be if I could do that... so jealous :) – dr Hannibal Lecter Sep 15 '14 at 11:12
7

Yes, they both mean river. But only refers to extremely large rivers while can be any kind.

There are more than 2000 main rivers in China, only a handful of them are called with .

For example, 长江, 黑龙江.

黄河 is the second longest river in China, followed by 长江. Note the here is referring to an extremely large river.

You can also use in sentence like

我家门外有一条小河。

There's a small river outside my house.

5

Basically they can use as a unit of scale. From biggest to smallest 洋>海>江>河>湖>湾>溪

洋(ocean):比海大的水域
海(sea):靠近大陆比洋小的水域
江(Jiang) basically bigger river):大河的通称
河(River):水道的通称
湖(Lake):陆地上聚积的大水
湾(Bay):水流弯曲的地方
溪(creek):山里的小河沟
  • 1
    why has nobody objected to the above confusion of bay and lake,为什么没有人对上面回答中弯与湖的混淆表示抗议 – user6065 Sep 8 '15 at 23:16
  • yes, @user6065, you are right. updated. – ah_hau Sep 9 '15 at 2:58
3

In ancient China, “河” only means the Yellow River(黄河) while “江” only means the Yangtze River(长江), and the other rivers in our modern meanings are called Water (水).

But as time goes, we are used to call any rivers "河" except the rivers which has been named "江" in history, such as"长江"、"黑龙江"、"澜沧江".

Almost all the river in other countries are called “河” just because Chinese didn't know their existence in the past, such as Amazon River("亚马孙河")、Mississippi River("密西西比河").

Simply, you can just understand it in the following way: 1. "河" is now a standard expression usage for the river. 2. "江" is just used for some rivers because of the historical reason.

  • Please don't add personally identifying information or requests for off-site contact into your answers. Perhaps this site has a chatroom where such discussions are appropriate, but unfortunately it's not content that belongs in an answer. – Bart Jul 25 '16 at 15:52
  • @Bart Thank you for informing me! It seems to be my first answer here and I don't know this rule. – Jie Zhang Jul 25 '16 at 15:58
3

@George Chen's answer is roughly correct, but not completely accurate.

To fully answer this question, it would be interesting to know the etymology of the word '江'(jiāng in Standard Mandarin) and the word '河' (hé in Standard Mandarin) respectively.

In Old Chinese, the character 河 is pronounced as 'gaal', while the word '江' is pronounced as 'kroong'. It is speculated that 'gaal' is a Sino-Tibetan word, while 'kroong' is a loan word from Mon-Khmer languages. In ancient times, southern China was inhabited by Mon-Khmer speaking peoples, while northern China was inhabited mostly by Sinitic language speakers.

So, mostly rivers in the South are called '江', while rivers in the north are called '河'. However, it should be noted that rivers in North East China are mostly called '江'. This is due to the influence of Korean languages.

Most foreign rivers are called 河, with a significant exception: rivers in the Korean Peninsula are called 江:大同江、汉江, etc, as rivers in the North East.

-3

Even though both terms refer to a river, the main difference is that 河 are those rivers that DO NOT flow into the sea. While 江 are rivers that DO flow into the sea.

Size is not a factor as both the Yellow River and the Yangtze River are both long and big rivers.

  • 1
    黄河, 海河, 辽河, they all flow into 渤海. – songyuanyao Sep 9 '15 at 0:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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