10 Popular Chinese Idioms You Must Know!

Chinese idioms, or 成语 in Chinese, are commonly used by native speakers and can take your own Chinese to the next level. Trust us–sprinkling your Chinese sentences with a few choice idioms is the best way to sound like a native Chinese.

But Chinese has over 5,000 chengyu–how can you know which ones are worth your time to study? Never fear, here are ten of the most popular Chinese idioms to impress your Chinese teacher!

人山人海 rénshānrénhǎi

“People mountain people sea,” a lot of people, a vast crowd

Ex: 广场上人山人海。Guǎngchǎng shàng rénshānrénhǎi. The square is packed with people


自言自语 yán

to talk to oneself/to think aloud

Ex: 他似乎在自言自语。Tā sìhū zài zì yán zì yǔ. He appeared to be talking to himself.


雨后春笋 yǔhòuchūnsǔn

“After the rain, the spring bamboo comes,” rapid new growth / many new things emerge in rapid succession

Example: 新的建筑物像雨后春笋般出现 。Xīn de jiànzhú wù xiàng yǔhòuchūnsǔn bān chūxiàn. New buildings have sprouted up like bamboo after the rain.


津津有味 jīnjīnyǒuwèi

With keen interest (idiom) / with great pleasure / eat with gusto / eagerly

Ex: 他津津有味地吃肉. Tā jīnjīnyǒuwèi de chī ròu. He eagerly tore at the meat.


怒气冲冲 nùqìchōngchōng

Spitting anger (idiom); in a rage

Ex: 他怒气冲冲。Tā nùqì chōngchōng. He was boiling over with rage.


乱七八糟 luànqībāzāo

Everything in disorder (idiom); in a hideous mess

Ex: 你的书桌看上去乱七八糟。Nǐ de shūzhuō kàn shàngqù luànqībāzāo. Your desk looks like a terrible mess.


五光十色 wǔguāngshísè

Bright and multicolored

Ex: 五光十色的灯把厦门装扮得更加美丽。Wǔguāngshísè de dēng bǎ xiàmén zhuāngbàn dé gèngjiā měilì. Multicolored, dazzling lights make Xiamen more beautiful.


大名鼎鼎 dàmíngdǐngdǐng

Grand reputation / renowned / famous

Ex: 他现在已是一个大名鼎鼎的歌手了。Tā xiànzài yǐ shì yīgè dàmíngdǐngdǐng de gēshǒule. He is already a famous singer.


一无所有 yīwúsuǒyǒu

Not having anything at all (idiom); utterly lacking

Ex: 他除了身上的衣服一无所有。Tā chúle shēnshang de yīfú yīwúsuǒyǒu. He owned nothing aside from the clothes on his back.


莫名其妙 mòmíngqímiào


Ex: 今天我遇见个莫名其妙的事。Jīntiān wǒ yùjiàn gè mòmíngqímiào de shì. Something weird happened to me today.


Learn more: Check out the complete list of all HSK 6 idioms to get even more advanced!

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Savannah Billman has a master's degree in Chinese Law and Society at the Yenching Academy of Peking University. She holds a B.A. from NYU Shanghai and has also written for The World of Chinese, TechNode, SupChina, and Sixth Tone.
Savannah Billman

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