I always mix up their tones and/or meaning. Do you know a good mnemonic to differentiate the two?

Maybe there are compound words which contain either character which could help me?
I found 买卖 which I get right tone wise (mai3mai5) and meaning wise (buy and sell) mostly. So I can connect tone and meaning using that. But when writing I still don't know where the 十 goes.

  • 1
    Not really understand what you're trying to explain.. hmm .. Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 8:30
  • 1
    I associate the + on top to be "+ income", that's how I remember :) as for how to remember the tones, that's just rote in a lot of cases.
    – Ming
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 8:21

8 Answers 8


You can use 买进 and 卖出 to reduce the chance of being misunderstood.

买,卖 and 借 are the most bewildering Chinese words in modern commerce. He who can coin some new words and popularize them will be our hero.

We just treat '十' as the goods you want to sell ^_^, the character without 十 for buy. by the way, when 买卖 is used for verb (i.e. 参与买卖的双方 participants of the dealing), it is pronounced mai3mai5, but when it is used for noun (我这是一个小本买卖, I'm operating a small business), it is pronounced mai3mai (second one have no tone which is pronounced lowly and shortly) even if the pronunciation is possibly not recorded in a dictionary.


Here's an image shows the evolution of /.

enter image description here

Pay attention to the picture (B), it appeared at the Qin dynasty, and take the / as its phonogram part, so / has the same pronunciation with /, and take the word (out) at the top of the word, which means sell out sth to get money. And at Han dynasty, became (picture (C)), and then at Tang dynasty's cursive script(picture (E)), it was simplified as further, and at last is adopted as the simplified Chinese word of .

Hope it can help you to remember the difference between and .

Source: [字源谈趣] Author: 陈政


This is not true etymology but I remember that 卖 (mai4, sell) looks like it has 土 on top (tu3, earth), a person stamping on the ground to insist they must sell (with falling tone emphasis). Then 买 (mai3, buy) has more like a third tone mark over it for the customer hesitating "buy?"

I don't like to use a lot of stories like that but for this case of 卖/买 I do it.


Well, how about this as a mnemonic: "Sell something and get ten dollars." That might just help you remember the 十 goes on top of "sell".


When I was a child, I used the analogy below to memorize these two characters.

The only difference between them is "十", which pronounces Shi2, having the same pronunciation as 食. 食 can link to 食物, which means food.

So, when you don't have any food (十/食 doesn't exist), you have to buy (买) some; When you have some food (十/食 does exist), you can sell (卖) some.


In ancient times, sellers always wrote a circle or insert a grass on the things to indicate that are on sale.

You can remember this when you write next time: 卖 has the component 十, meaning seller have things to sell, but 买 has nothing, so he can only to buy something.

I hope this was helpful. :)


I'm still bad at remembering the characters but I have a mnemonic for remembering the tones.

I associate tone 2 with questions / asking and tone 3 with doubt but also any kind of cyclic or repeated back-and-forth motion. Tone 4 I associate with commands. So 2 and 3 can be symbolized by a question mark ? and 4 can be symbolized with an exclamation mark !

  • - mai3 - to buy - do I really want to buy it?? It's expensive. But I want it. Vacillating over the decision is tone three.
  • - mai4 - to sell - Sell! Sell! Sell! Sell the thing, get the commission, make money, just sell it. That's tone four.

Maybe the 十 or 土 two on the top is the "caching!" dollar sign popping up in the eyes of the person selling something and making their profit.


买 mai3 = buy, buy is 3 letters and so it’s the tone in mai3 买

卖 mai4 = sell, sell is 4 letters and so it’s the tone in mai4 卖

Also, 4 is bigger than 3, so you know that in sell (4 letters) = mai4 (4th tone) you have one more piece = 十 (十 + 买 = 卖)

I remember in this way.

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