Characters Indicating People: 师, 生, 员, 家, 者 and 人

Abstract

The Chinese language has a number of characters which, when added to end of various nouns, verbs or adjectives, can form a noun indicating a person. The following article discusses the differences between six of these characters: 师, 生, 员, 家, 者 and 人.

师生员家者人.jpg
Contents

Introduction
Common Measure Words for People: 个, 位, 名
1) The 师 Character
2) The 生 Character
3) The 员 Character
4) The 家 Character
5) The 者 Character
6) The 人 Character
Summary
References and Further Reading


Introduction

The Chinese language has a number of characters which, when added to end of various nouns, verbs or adjectives, can form a noun indicating a person. For example, the character 人 can be placed after the noun 美国 (‘America’) to make the noun 美国人 (‘an American’) while the character 家 can be suffixed to the noun 画 (‘a painting’) to make the word 画家 (‘a painter’).

Some of these common characters indicating people are 师, 生, 员, 家, 者 and 人. This article will discuss the differences between these characters in detail and list some of the most commonly encountered derivations (i.e. words using these characters as suffixes to form new words) with reference to their HSK level.

Some English words may be translated using more than one of these characters; for example, 作家 and 作者 both mean ‘writer’. However, considered without reference to their derivations, 师, 生, 员, 家, 者 and 人 each have their own meanings. Understanding the differences between these characters may help a learner of Chinese better remember their derivations, as well as better prepare the learner for when unknown words are encountered in authentic texts.


Common Measure Words for People: 个, 位, 名

In spoken Chinese, 个 is the most common measure word for people. The measure word 位 is more polite and therefore often encountered in more formal situations.

名 is a relatively impartial measure word for nouns indicating people, mostly encountered in written Chinese. The measure word 名 usually indicates a specific, not an approximate, number of people in a given situation.

In most cases, the measure words 个, 位 and 名 may be used with any person-related noun using 师, 生, 员, 家, 者 and 人.

Noun Phrase Examples using 个, 位 and 名 Meaning
一个美国人
两个服务员
三位老师
四位作家
五名共产党员
六名志愿者
an American
two waiters
three teachers
four writers
five Communist Party members
six volunteers

1) The 师 Character

师.jpgThe character 师 (pronounced shī), when applied as a suffix, can indicate either (1) a teacher, tutor or master, or (2) a person skilled or specialised in a certain profession. The word has connotations of “expertise” or “mastery” of something and carries a sense of respect.

Other words containing 师 often relate to military matters.

Students of Chinese usually first encounter 师 in the HSK1 word 老师 (meaning ‘teacher’). Students may next encounter 师 in the HSK4 words 律师 (meaning ‘lawyer’) or 师傅 – a polite term of address which has no culturally-comparable expression in English and is therefore usually awkwardly translated as ‘master worker’.

The next and only instance of 师 included in the HSK lists is the HSK6 noun 师范, meaning ‘teacher training’. (A school which trains teachers is a 师范学校, for example.)

Derivations using 师

The following words use 师 as a suffix to indicate a kind of ‘teacher’ or ‘instructor’:

Derivation using 师 Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
老师
教师
讲师
导师
名师
大师
lǎoshī
jiàoshī
jiǎngshī
dǎoshī
míngshī
dàshī
a teacher
a teacher
a lecturer
a tutor; a teacher
a famous master; a great teacher
a great master
HSK1




The following words use 师 as a suffix to indicate ‘a person skilled in a certain profession’ (other than teaching):

Derivation using 师 Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
律师
工程师
建筑师
厨师
技师
分析师
会计师
lǜshī
gōngchéngshī
jiànzhúshī
chúshī
jìshī
fēnxīshī
kuàijìshī
a lawyer
an engineer
an architect
a chef
a technician
an analyst
a treasurer; a chartered accountant
HSK4
HSK5





2) The 生 Character
生.jpg
The character 生 (pronounced shēng) is usually first encountered by learners of Chinese as the suffix indicating a person in the HSK1 word 学生 (meaning ‘student’). Other HSK1 words with 生 include 医生 (‘doctor’) and 先生 (‘Mr.’).

With the exception of 先生 and 医生, as a suffix indicating a person, 生 usually relates to individuals who are engaged in some kind of study.

In the wider usage of the word, 生 has a wide variety of meanings and grammatical applications, but the term is often related to ‘life’ or ‘birth’. Beginner students of Chinese are likely to next encounter 生 used as a verb in the phrases 生病 (‘to become ill’), 生气 (‘to be angry’) and 生活 (‘to live’).

Derivations using 生

The following words use 生 as a suffix to indicate a kind of ‘student’:

Derivation using 生
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
学生
留学生
大学生
研究生
本科学生
小学生
中学生
高中学生
女生
男生
xuéshēng
liúxuéshēng
dàxuéshēng
yánjiūshēng
běnkēxuéshēng
xiǎoxuéshēng
zhōngxuéshēng
gāozhōngxuéshēng
nǚshēng
nánshēng
a student
a foreign student
a university student
a postgraduate student
an undergraduate student
a primary school student
a middle school student
a high school student
a schoolgirl
a schoolboy
HSK1








The following words use 生 as a suffix to indicate persons other than students:

Derivation using 生
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
先生
医生
实习生
考生
书生
xiānshēng
yīshēng
shíxíshēng
kǎoshēng
shūshēng
Mr.
a doctor
an intern
an examination candidate
a scholar; an intellectual
HSK1
HSK1



3) The 员 Character

员.jpgThe character 员 (pronounced yuán), when applied as a suffix, can indicate either (1) a person engaged in a certain job or field of work or (2) a person who is a member of a certain team or organisation.

Beginner students will probably first encounter the character 员 in the HSK2 word 服务员 (meaning ‘waiter’ or ‘waitress’.) The character is next seen in the HSK4 words 演员 (‘actor’, ‘actress’ or ‘performer’) and 售货员 (‘shop assistant’).

Note that some words with 员 – for example, 人员, 工作人员 and 员工 – can mean ‘(work) staff’ or ‘personnel’ in general. The verb-object phrase 裁员 means ‘to cut staff’ or ‘to reduce staff’.

In the wider usage of the character, 员 may relate to military organisation and action. The verb-object phrase 动员 means ‘mobilize (troops)’, for example.

Derivations using 员

The following words use 员 as a suffix to indicate a ‘person engaged in a certain job or field of work’:

Derivation using 员
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
服务员
演员
售货员
售票员
飞行员
航天员
保安员
船员
海员
店员
教员
话务员
译员
专员
业务员
乘务员
fúwùyuán
yǎnyuán
shòuhuòyuán
shòupiàoyuán
fēixíngyuán
hángtiānyuán
bǎo’ānyuán
chuányuán
hǎiyuán
diànyuán
jiàoyuán
huàwùyuán
yìyuán
zhuānyuán
yèwù yuán
chéngwùyuán
a waiter; a waitress
a performer; an actor; an actress
a shop assistant; a sales clerk
a ticket collector; a booking office clerk
a pilot; an aviator
an astronaut
a security guard
a crew member; a sailor
a sailor; a seaman
a shop assistant; a shop clerk
a teacher
a telephone operator
an interpreter
an assistant director; a commissioner
a salesperson
an attendant (on a train, boat etc.)
HSK2
HSK4
HSK4












The following words use 员 as a suffix to indicate a kind of ‘team member’ or ‘member of an organisation’:

Derivation using 员
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
人员
成员
团员
委员
党员
共产党员
雇员
官员
会员
工会会员
学员
球员
议员
社员
要员
rényuán
chéngyuán
tuányuán
wěiyuán
dǎngyuán
gòngchǎndǎngyuán
gùyuán
guānyuán
huìyuán
gōnghuìhuìyuán
xuéyuán
qiúyuán
yìyuán
shèyuán
yàoyuán
a member; a staff member
a member (of a group or family)
a member (of a group, delegation, etc.)
a committee member
a member of a political party
a Communist Party member
an employee
a government official; a government worker
a member (of an organisation)
a trade union member
a student (of a college, training course, etc.)
a member of a ball team
a member of a legislative assembly
a member (of a club, society, etc.)
a key participant; an important official
HSK5
HSK6

HSK6











4) The 家 Character

家.jpgThe character 家 (pronounced jiā) has a wide range of meanings, but learners of Chinese will probably first encounter this word in the context of ‘family’ or ‘home’.

The character 家, when used as a suffix, can indicate a person’s occupation or profession. The noun 专家 (meaning ‘expert’) suggests that occupational roles using the suffix 家 require specialised skills or knowledge. In addition, other words with 家 as a suffix imply a person whom should be respected: The word 名家 indicates ‘a person of academic or artistic distinction’ whilst 行家 can be translated as ‘expert’ or ‘connoisseur’.

The word 学家, meaning scholar, can also act as a suffix to certain other nouns to indicate a person who is involved in scholarly research or work; for example, 经济学家 (‘an economist’) and 历史学家 (‘a historian’).

Derivations using 家

The following words use 家 as a suffix to indicate a person with a specialised occupation:

Derivation using 家
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
作家
专家
艺术家
画家
书法家
文学家
科学家
化学家
zuòjiā
zhuānjiā
yìshùjiā
huàjiā
shūfǎjiā
wénxuéjiā
kēxuéjiā
huàxuéjiā
a writer; an author
an expert
an artist
an artist
a calligrapher
a writer; a man of letters
a scientist
a chemist
HSK4
HSK5





The following words use 学家 as a suffix to indicate a person involved in scholarly research or work:

Derivation using 家
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
学家
名家
行家
地理学家
经济学家
考古学家
历史学家
社会学家
数学家
语言学家
哲学家
xuéjiā
míngjiā
hángjiā
dìlǐ xué jiā
jīngjìxuéjiā
kǎogǔxuéjiā
lìshǐxuéjiā
shèhuìxuéjiā
shùxuéjiā
yǔyánxuéjiā
zhéxuéjiā
a scholar
a person of academic or artistic distinction
an expert; a connoisseur; an “old hand”
a geographer
an economist
an archaeologist
an historian
a sociologist
a mathematician
a linguist
a philosopher











5) The 者 Character

者.jpgThe character 者 (pronounced zhě), when used as a suffix, can indicate (1) a person engaged in a type of work, (2) a person who adheres to a certain belief or ideology or (3) a person who is inclined to a certain activity or action or (4) a person (or organism or thing) which can be categorised in a group with certain characteristics.

Beginner students will probably first encounter the character 者 in the HSK3 conjunction 或者 (meaning ‘or’). 记者 and 作者, meaning ‘reporter’ and ‘writer’ respectively, are listed in HSK4.

There are an especially large number of person words with the suffix 者. This is mainly because of the pattern 主义者, which refers to someone who adheres to a certain belief or ideology, can be suffixed to a large number of nouns. For example, 完美 (‘perfect’) can be suffixed with 主义 (‘ideology’) and 者 to make the word 完美主义者 (‘a perfectionist’).

Derivations using 者

The following words use 者 as a suffix to indicate a ‘person engaged in a type of work’:

Derivation using 者
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
记者
作者
使者
音乐工作者
jìzhě
zuòzhě
shǐzhě
yīnyuègōngzuòzhě
a reporter; a journalist
a writer; an author
an emissary; an envoy; a messenger
a musician
HSK4
HSK4

The following words use 者 as a suffix to indicate ‘a person who adheres to a certain belief or ideology’:

Derivation using 者
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
素食主义者
马克思主义者
社会主义者
完美主义者
理想主义者
现实主义者
个人主义者
和平主义者
sùshízhǔyìzhě
mǎkèsīzhǔyìzhě
shèhuìzhǔyìzhě
wánměizhǔyìzhě
lǐxiǎngzhǔyìzhě
xiànshízhǔyìzhě
gèrénzhǔyìzhě
hépíngzhǔyìzhě
a vegetarian
a Marxist
a socialist
a perfectionist
an idealist
a realist
an individualist
a pacifist







The following words use 者 as a suffix to indicate ‘a person who is inclined to a certain activity or action’:

Derivation using 者
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
志愿者
患者
爱好者
消费者
生产者
读者
学者
zhìyuànzhě
huànzhě
àihàozhě
xiāofèizhě
shēngchǎnzhě
dúzhě
xuézhě
a volunteer
a patient (at a hospital, etc.)
a hobbiest; an enthusiast
a consumer
a producer (of goods, etc.)
a reader (of a magazine, etc.)
a scholar; a learned person
HSK5
HSK6




The following words use 者 as a suffix to indicate a ‘person which can be categorised in a group with certain characteristics’:

Derivation using 者
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
老者
强者
弱者
lǎozhě
qiángzhě
ruòzhě
an old person
a strong person; a powerhouse
a weak person; a weakling



6) The 人 Character

人.jpgThe character 人 (pronounced rén) usually relates to ‘people’. It can be used as a standalone noun meaning ‘a person’.

Words with 人 applied as a suffix describe a type of person. Often the character 人 is added to an adjective (e.g. 老人 an old person, 男人 a male person, 穷人 a poor person).

As a general rule, 人 may also be added after the name of a country or region to indicate a person from that place. Thus 美国人 means ‘an American’ and 西班牙人 means ‘a Spanish person’. Similarly, 中国人 means ‘a Chinese person’ while 外国人 means ‘a foreigner’ (i.e. someone from outside of China.)

Derivations using 人

The following words use 人 as a suffix to indicate a person’s nationality or place of origin:

Derivation using 人
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
中国人
外国人
英国人
美国人
西班牙人
越南人
日本人
香港人
北京人
zhōngguórén
wàiguórén
yīngguórén
měiguórén
xībānyárén
yuènánrén
rìběnrén
xiānggǎngrén
běijīngrén
a Chinese person
a foreigner (i.e. a non-Chinese person)
an English person
an American
a Spanish person
a Vietnamese person
a Japanese person
a person from Hong Kong
a person from Beijing








The following words use 人 as a suffix to indicate a person’s relationship within a family structure:

Derivation using 人
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
亲人
家人
夫人
丈人
先人
爱人
情人
下人
qīnrén
jiārén
fūrén
zhàngrén
xiānrén
àirén
qíngrén
xiàrén
a member of one’s family; a close relative
a member of one’s family
a lady; a wife (polite)
a wife’s father; a father-in-law
an ancestor
a husband or wife; a lover
a lover
a domestic servant (old fashioned term)


HSK6




The following words use 人 as a suffix to indicate a type of person more generally:

Derivation using 人
Pin Yin Definition(s) HSK Level
工人
男人
女人
老人
年轻人
成人
大人
客人
主人
好人
坏人
穷人
富人
病人
行人
旁人
过路人
黑人
白人
陌生人
敌人
当事人
诗人
读书人
军人
创始人
代理人
投保人
主持人
收款人
gōngrén
nánrén
nǚrén
lǎorén
niánqīngrén
chéngrén
dàrén
kèrén
zhǔrén
hǎorén
huàirén
qióngrén
fùrén
bìngrén
xíngrén
pángrén
guòlù rén
hēirén
báirén
mòshēngrén
dírén
dāngshìrén
shīrén
dúshūrén
jūnrén
chuàngshǐrén
dàilǐrén
tóubǎorén
zhǔchírén
shōukuǎnrén
a worker
a man
a woman
an old person
a young person
an adult
an adult
a guest; a customer; a visitor
a host
a good person
a bad person
a poor person
a rich person
a sick person
a pedestrian
a bystander
a passer-by
a black person
a white person
a stranger
an enemy
a person involved in a certain affair
a poet
a reader
a soldier; a serviceman
a founder; an originator
an agent; a proxy
an insured person; an insurance policy holder
a host (of a television show, etc.)
a payee; a person who receives payment
HSK5




HSK5

HSK5






HSK5





HSK5
HSK6








Summary

Despite exceptions, words associated with 师, 生, 员, 家, 者 and 人 may be classified into groups usually relating to the original or standalone meaning of each character. Therefore, when considering words using these characters as suffixes indicating people, it may be useful for learners of Chinese to remember that (exceptions notwithstanding):

1) 师 usually refers to teachers or “masters”.
2) 生 usually refers to students.
3) 员 usually refers to occupations or members of teams or organisations.
4) 家 usually refers to persons with specialist or scholarly occupations.
5) 者 and 人 have a wide range of uses.

Learners should also be careful, however, not to associate all instances of 师, 生, 员, 家, 者 and 人 at the end of words or phrases with people-related terms. For example, 出师 means ‘to complete one’s apprenticeship’ or ‘dispatch troops to battle’, 发生 means ‘to happen’, 裁员 means ‘to cut staff’, 国家 means ‘country’, 或者 means ‘or’ and 丢人 means ‘to lose face’.

Nonetheless, by paying attention to the original or standalone meanings of 师, 生, 员, 家, 者 and 人, students of Chinese may more efficiently learn and understand nouns indicating people.

References and Further Reading

1. New Practical Chinese Reader (2013) Books 1-6.
2. 常用汉字组词搭配词典 (2011), p.352 (师), p.350 (生), p.473 (员), p.491 (者), p.331-332 (人).
3. 卓越汉语:公司实战篇 (2012).
4. Business Chinese: An Advanced Reader 商货汉语高级读本 (2004).
5. Chinese Measure Words Without Tears 汉语量词学习手册 (2010), p.129 (位), p.103 (名).
6. 现代汉语规范词典: 第3版 (2014), p.1183 (师), p.1172 (生), p.1619 (员), p.1669 (者), p.1102 (人).

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2 thoughts on “Characters Indicating People: 师, 生, 员, 家, 者 and 人

  1. Pingback: Mandarin Weekly #58 – Mandarin Weekly (每周中文)

  2. Pingback: Lesson I-6: Attending Class – Things Beyond Z

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