Why Does Mandarin Have Two Words For “We”?

THE MANDARIN CORNER

zanmen

Word of the Week: 

zán men 咱们

To native English speakers it often seems strange to learn that Chinese doesn’t have plurals. The exception to the rule here is pronouns, you just stick suffix men on the end of the word for “I” (wǒ 我) to make “we” (that’s wǒ men for those of you who can’t add.)

But in Mandarin Chinese there is the word zán men 咱们, which also means “we”. Don’t bother asking a Chinese person what the difference is because if they’re not a Chinese teacher it’s quite likely wont be able to tell you. In fact, if they’re from the south of China they almost certainly won’t even use the word zánmen.

So that’s the first difference right there for you, zánmen has a particularly northern feel to it. But there’s more to it than just geography.zánmen is strictly inclusive, whereas wǒ men is not. This means zán men is only used when…

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