Mandarin Mondays: The First 100 Characters Every Beginner Needs to Memorize

Mandarin Mondays: The First 100 Characters Every Beginner Needs to Memorize

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Just months before arriving in Beijing, I asked my Chinese friend to give me a Chinese name. She said it was easy since “Andy” can be transliterated to just 安迪 (ān, safe; , guide). When I did some background research of places to visit in Beijing, Tian’anmen 天安门 (Tiān’ānmén or Gate of Heavenly Peace) was one of the recommended spots. The word Tian’anmen got me really interested in learning more characters because it had the same ān as in my name. Then I started using Pleco to decipher subway station names (especially when it’s overcrowded or when I’m on a long train journey).

I remember my Chinese teacher telling me that I would have to memorize not only the phrases but also the pinyin and the characters if I wanted to learn Chinese. It’s hard I must say, but just knowing basic characters will give you enough background to get around, especially when you’re traveling, dining out, or going to malls.

I found several resources listing the first 100 Chinese characters beginners to the language might memorize. The first 50 are almost the same, but the lists differ when it comes to the 60 to 100 character tier. Regardless, this list from Learning Chinese Everyday certainly helps, especially for knowing about 80 characters that can help beginners to the language compose simple sentences.

If you find pronouncing the characters difficult, we have a starter guide which provides an easy way to speak the four Chinese tones. In the list below, you’ll find the pronunciation guide along with a number, its grammatical function, and lexical meaning. The number indicates the character’s usage in most Chinese conversations.

The website also says that “to understand 90 percent of the content in Chinese publications, students have to learn only about 900 Chinese characters and 11,000 phrases/words.”

1 的 (de / 95.9) – particle used after an attribute
2 一 (yī / 94.3) – noun one
3 是 (shì / 93.0) – verb to be; adjective correct, right
4 不 (bù / 91.8) – adverb no
5 了 (le / 90.7) – particle used after an action that has taken place or changed
6 在 (zài / 89.7) – preposition in, on, at; adverb indicating an ongoing action
7 人 (rén / 88.7) – noun human, people, person soul
8 有(yǒu / 87.8) – verb have, possess, get, there is
9 我 (wǒ / 86.9) – pronoun I; 我的 wǒde my; 我们 wǒmen we, us
10 他 (tā / 86.1) – pronoun he, him; 他的 tāde his
11 这 (zhè / 85.3) – pronoun this, these
12 个 (gè / 84.7) – general measure word for nouns without specific measure words; adjectiveindividual
13 们 (men / 84.1) – pronoun used to form a plural pronoun
14 中 (zhōng / 83.5) – noun center, middle, in the midst of; abbrev. China
15 来 (82.9 / lái) – verb arrive, come; indicate an intended action; particle indicate time period from past to present
16 上 (shàng / 82.4) – preposition on, above, upper; verb go up, go to, leave for; adjective last, most recent
17 大 (dà / 81.8) – adjective great, large, big; age; eldest
18 为 (wèi / 81.3) – preposition for, in the sake of
19 和 (hé / 80.8) – conjunction and; preposition in connection to, with; adjective gentle; noun total, sum
20 国 (guó / 80.3) – noun country, state; adjective national
21 地 (dì / 79.8) – noun the ground; land, soil; place, area
22 到 (dào / 79.3) – verb arrive, reach, go to; preposition up until, to
23 以 (yǐ / 78.8) – preposition by, for; conjunction and, as well as
24 说 (shuō / 78.4) – verb to say, speak, talk; to explain; to scold
25 时 (shí / 77.9) – noun period of time; time of day, hour
26 要 (yào / 77.5) – verb to want, ask for, wish; must, should; shall, will; take, need; adjectiveimportant, essential
27 就 (jiù / 77.1) – adverb at once, right away; already; precisely
28 出 (chū / 76.7) – verb to go out, go beyond; exceed; to issue, produce; to happen
29 会 (huì / 76.3) – verb can, be able to; would, might; to assemble; to meet; noun meeting, party; association
30 可 (kě / 76.0) – verb can, may; conjunction but, yet, however
31 也 (yě / 75.6) – adverb too, as well, also; used for emphasis
32 你 (nǐ / 75.2) – pronoun you, yourself; your (used with 的 de)
33 对 (duì / 74.9) – adjective right, correct; opposite; verb to answer, reply; preposition with regard to
34 生 (shēng / 74.5) – verb to bear, to give birth to; noun student; adjective alive, living; unripe, raw
35 能 (néng / 74.2) – verb can, could, be able to; noun ability, skill; energy; adjective capable, able
36 而 (ér / 73.8) – conjunction and, as well as, to
37 子 (zǐ / 73.5) – noun son, child; person; copper; adjective young, tender, small; affiliated
38 那 (nà / 73.2) – pronoun that, then
39 得 (dé / 72.8) – verb to get, obtain; be satisfied; be suitable; (of calculation) result in, equal
40 于 (yú / 72.5) – preposition in, on, at; from; by
41 着 (zhe / 72.2) – particle added to a verb or an adjective to indicate a continued action
42 下 (xià / 71.9) – preposition below, under; verb to go down; to come; adverb down; noun next (in order)
43 自 (zì / 71.6) – pronoun self; preposition from, since; adverb of course, certainly
44 之 (zhī / 71.2)  – particle used between an attribute and the word it modifies
45 年 (nián / 70.9) – noun year; age; adjective annually, yearly
46 过 (guò / 70.6) – verb to cross, pass; to exceed; to spend (time); adverb too
47 发 (fā / 70.3) – verb to give, issue, emit; to start; to feel; to shoot; measure word for bullets and shells
48 后 (hòu / 70.0) – noun behind, back, rear; after; later; last
49 作 (zuò / 69.8) – verb to write, compose; regard as; noun writings; work
50 里 (lǐ / 69.5) – preposition in, inside; noun inner; hometown; neighborhood; measure word unit of length
51 用 (yòng / 69.2) – verb to use, apply; to consume, drink, eat; noun expenses; adjective utility, use
52 道 (dào / 68.9) – noun road, way; method; Taoism; verb to say, speak; measure word for long, narrow objects; doors, walls; questions, orders; courses in a meal
53 行 (xíng / 68.7) – verb to go; to travel; to cover; to do; to perform; to publish; noun conduct
54 所 (suǒ 68.4) – noun place; office; measure word for houses, schools, hospitals
55 然 (rán / 68.1) – adjective right, correct; adverb so, like that
56 家 (jiā / 67.9) – noun family; house; household, home; an expert
57 种 (zhòng / 67.6) – verb to grow, plant; to cultivate; to sow
58 事 (shì / 67.3) – noun matter, affair, business; work, job; trouble, accident; involvement, responsibility
59 成 (chéng / 67.1) – verb to accomplish, succeed; to turn into, become; noun result, achievement
60 方 (fāng / 66.8) – noun square; direction; place, locality; side; party
61 多 (duō / 66.6) – adjective a lot of, many, more; verb to have more; adverb to what extent
62 经 (jīng / 66.3) – verb to manage, deal with; to pass through, undergo, experience; bear; adjectiveregular, constant; preposition after
63 么 (me / 66.1) – suffix for certain characters (pronoun 什么 shenme / what; 那么 nàme / then, like that)
64 去 (qù / 65.8) – verb to go; to go to a place; to remove;
65 法 (fǎ / 65.5) – noun law; method; way; standard; model
66 学 (xué / 65.4) – verb to study, to learn; to imitate, mimic; noun school, college
67 如 (rú / 65.1) – verb like, as, if; for instance; conjunction if
68 都 (dōu / 64.9) – adverb all, both; even; already
69 同 (tóng / 64.7) – verb be the same as; adverb together, in common; preposition used for comparison
70 现 (xiàn / 64.4) – verb to show, to appear, to become visible; adjective present, current; nouncash, money
71 当 (dāng / 64.2) – verb should; act as; accept; deserve; preposition just at
72 没 (méi / 64.0) – verb to be without; not have; adverb not
73 动 (dòng / 63.8) – verb to move; to use; to touch; to arouse
74 面 (miàn / 63.6) – noun noodle; face; surface; measure word for flat things
75 起 (qǐ / 63.3) – verb to rise, to get up; to grow, to begin; adjective upward, up
76 看 (kàn / 63.1) – verb to see, to look at, to watch over; to look after, tend
77 定 (dìng / 62.9) – verb to decide, fix, set; to subscribe; adjective calm, stable; adverb surely, definitely
78 天 (tiān / 62.7) – noun sky, heaven; weather; time of day
79 分 (fēn / 62.5) – verb to divide, part, separate; to allot, distribute, assign; measure word for minute, cent, fraction, point, mark
80 还 (hái / 62.3) – adverb still, yet; even more; also, too; even
81 进 (jìn / 62.0) – verb to advance, move forward; to enter, get into
82 好 (hǎo / 61.8) – adjective good, fine, well; done
83 小 (xiǎo / 61.6) – adjective small, little, minor; young, youngest; a bit
84 部 (bù / 61.4) – noun part, section; headquarters, department; measure word for machines, vehicles; films
85 其 (qí / 61.2) – pronoun his, her, its, their; he, she, it, they; that, such
86 些 (xiē / 61.0) – measure word some, few; a little more
87 主 (zhǔ / 60.8) – noun host; master; owner; adjective main; verb to manage, to take charge
88 样 (yàng / 60.6) – noun appearance, shape; sample, pattern; type
89 理 (lǐ / 60.4) – noun reason, logic, truth; verb to manage, run; to put in order
90 心 (xīn / 60.2) – noun heart; core, center; feeling; mind; intention
91 她 (tā / 60.0) – pronoun she, her, hers
92 本 (běn / 59.8) – noun book, script; adjective current; adverb at first, originally measure word for books
93 前 (qián /59.6) – noun front; forward; ahead; ago; before
94 开 (kāi / 59.4) – verb to open, open up; to begin, start; to operate; to hold (a meeting)
95 但 (dàn / 59.2) – conjunction but, still, yet; adverb only
96 因 (yīn / 59.0) – preposition because of noun cause, reason
97 只 (zhǐ / 58.8) – adverb only, merely, just, but
98 从 (cóng / 58.6) – preposition from, through, past; verb to follow; to comply, obey
99 想 (xiǎng / 58.4) – verb to think, to ponder; to miss; to want (doing something)
100 实 (shí / 58.2) – adjective solid; real, true; factual; noun reality, fact; fruit; seed

There’s an alternative list of the first 100 characters in order of frequency (link in .pdf), and another with 300 characters and their definitions. This can be a great way to kill time while on the subway or during long travels!

Source : source 1, source 2