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Mandarin suffixes and prefixes

You might have found the title of this post a bit odd - Mandarin isn’t usually described as having ‘suffixes’ and ‘prefixes’. It does, however, have characters that often give you a clue about how to translate a word or phrase into English.

This is a list of ten characters that frequently translate into English suffixes and prefixes.

-们 (men): -s

This one is pretty straightforward. It functions exactly like the English plural suffix -s or -es. It also covers what would be irregular plurals in English. The only difference is that it can only be used with people and some animate nouns (such as animals).


  • 鸭子们 (yāzimen): ducks
  • 孩子们 (háizimen): children
  • 他们 (tāmen): they

-地 (de): -ly

This is an adverb marker in Mandarin, exactly like -ly in English. It can turn the majority of adjectives into adverbs.


  • 快地 (kuàide): quickly
  • 慢地 (mànde): slowly
  • 高兴地 (gāoxìngde): happily

可- (kě): -able

If something is -able in English, then it’s often 可- in Mandarin.


  • 可爱 (kěài): adorable
  • 可笑 (kěxiào): laughable
  • 可靠 (kěkào): reliable

重- (chóng): re-

Need to _re_do something? Chances are it’s 重- plus a verb in Mandarin.


  • 重做 (chóngzuò): redo
  • 重组 (chóngzǔ): reorganise
  • 重复 (chóngfù): reiterate, repeat

第- (dì): -st,_ -nd, -rd, -th_

For some reason, English has special markers to turn numbers one to three into ordinals, and then just uses -th for everything else. In Mandarin, they’re all marked by 第.


  • 第一 (dìyī): the first
  • 第二 (dí’èr): the second
  • 第九 (dìjiǔ): the ninth

-化 (huà): -ise

If you need to make something a bit more ~adjective~, then sticking 化 on the end will probably do the job.


  • 石化 (shíhuà): fossilise
  • 戏剧化 (xìjùhuà): dramatise
  • 私有化 (sīyǒuhuà): privatise

-学 (xué): -logy

Specialist fields of study usually have -logy on the end in English, and -学 in Mandarin.


  • 生物学 (shēngwùxué): biology
  • 神学 (shénxué): theology
  • 社会学 (shèhuìxué): sociology

-家 (jiā): -ist,_ -er_

Generic job titles and occupations often include 家 in Mandarin. It’s often the equivalent of -er or -ist in English: “one who does…”


  • 画家 (huàjiā): painter
  • 作家 (zuòjiā): writer
  • 科学家 (kēxuéjiā): scientist (two suffixes here!)

-着 (zhe): -ing

Where English uses verbs ending -ing, Mandarin often uses -着.


  • 站着 (zhànzhe): standing
  • 坐着 (zuòzhe): sitting
  • 等着 (děngzhe): waiting

-性 (xìng): -ness,_ -ability_

This is used to describe properties and qualities, but it’s a bit more versatile in Mandarin than -ness or -ability in English. It converts adjectives into nouns.

  • 可靠性 (kèkàoxìng): reliability
  • 实用性 (shíyòngxìng): utility, usability
  • 可理解性 (kělǐjiěxìng): understandability

-主义 (zhǔyì): -ism

This can be used to describe various ideologies and movements. Literally it’s something like ‘primary meaning’, so it’s about what’s central to a system of thought.

  • 女性主义 (nǚxìngzhǔyì): feminism
  • 社会主义 (shèhuìzhǔyì): socialism
  • 恐怖主义 (kongbùzhǔyì): terrorism