Chinese Characters That Almost Look The Same

These are the most visually similar and easily confused Chinese characters. Can you tell the difference?

Learning Chinese characters is probably the most difficult part of learning Chinese. And while we believe that learning Chinese isn't as hard as people think, we agree that some Chinese characters can be tricky. Some of them look almost exactly the same as others, which is why these Chinese characters can be easily confused.

We've compiled a short list of some of the most visually similar Chinese characters.

己 (JǏ), 已 (YǏ), AND 巳 (SÌ)

ji yi si

These three are some of the hardest characters to tell apart, especially in handwritten Chinese orChinese calligraphy.

The difference between the three lies in the line on the left side. My teacher used to say, "己's mouth is open, 已's mouth is half open, and 巳‘s mouth is closed."

Fortunately, the character "巳" is pretty much obsolete. Used only in ancient writings (and very occasionally in telling military time,) it is rarely used in modern Chinese.


"自己 (jǐ)" = "self."


“已经 (yǐ jīng) = "already."

“已有 (yǐ yǒu) = "already have."

"已知 (yǐ zhī) = "known."

土 (TǓ) AND 士 (SHÌ)

tu shi

These are two very similar characters with one key difference in their anatomy.

土's first line is short, and the second line is long.

士‘s first line is long, and the second line is short.

Both of these characters are fairly common in modern Chinese, and they mean very different things!


”土“ means "dirt" or "soil."

"土地 (tǔ dì)" = "soil, earth."

"尘土 (chén tǔ) = "dust."

"泥土 (ní tǔ) = "mud, clay."


"士" means "scholar" or "warrior" and appears in many official titles.

"女士 (nǚ shì)" = "Ms., lady." As in, "ladies and gentlemen."

"硕士" (shuò shì) = "Master's degree."

“勇士" (yǒng shì) = "Warrior." "勇" means "brave."

"护士" (hù shì) = "Nurse." "护" means "to protect."

未 (WÈI) AND 末 (MÒ)


Similar to 土 and 士, the one difference between these characters is the second line.

未's first line is short, and the second line is long.

末‘s first line is long, and the second line is short.

Even though the meanings of 未 and 末 are different, they can be used in similar situations (such as time-related phrases) which can make them a little confusing.


”未“ means "not yet" or "haven't."

"未来 (wèi lái)" = "future." Literally, it means "not yet come."

"未成年 (wèi chéng nián)" = "a minor" or "underage." Literally, it means "not mature yet."

"未知 (wèi zhī)" = "unknown." The opposite of "已知 (yǐ zhī.)"


"末" means "end." It appears very frequently in time-related words and phrases.

"周末 (zhōu mò)" = "weekend."

"末日 (mò rì)" = "Doomsday." The 1998 film Armageddon was translated into "世界末日" or "the doomsday of the world."

"末期 (mò qí)" = "last stage" or "final phase."

兵 (BĪNG), 乒 (PĪNG) AND 乓 (PĀNG)


These three characters are almost identical, except "乒" and "乓" are each missing a stroke.

What makes it easier is that "乒乓" means "ping pong," and these characters are never seen without one another. They have no other meaning besides "table tennis." Those who are beginners to Chinese might mix up the order and write "乓乒" instead. If you ever get confused, just make sure the "leg strokes" on those two characters are supporting each other. “乒乓" is supposed to look like two one-legged people leaning on each other.


”兵“ means "soldier" or "pawn."

"士兵 (shì bīng)" = "soldier, troops."

"当兵 (dāng bīng)" = "serve in the army." Literally, it means "be a soldier."

"孙子兵法 (sūn zi bīng fǎ)" = "The Art of War [by Sun Tzu]." "兵法" literally means "soldier tactics."

哀 (ĀI), 衰 (SHUĀI) AND 衷 (ZHŌNG)


All three of these Chinese characters have to do with emotion, so people often confuse them with one another. The key between these three characters is to look at the line in the center.

哀 has no line crossing the middle.

衰 has a horizontal line crossing the middle.

衷 has a vertical line crossing the middle.

Just remember: "衷 (zhōng)" has a mini "中 (zhōng)" in the middle.


”哀“ means "sorrow" or "grief."

"悲哀 (bēi āi)" = "sorrow" or "mournful."

"哀求 (āi qiú)" = "implore" or "beg."

”默哀 (mò'āi)“ = "Moment of Silence." Literally, it means "silent grief."


"衰" means "decline" or "feeble."

"衰老 (shuāi lǎo)" = "senescence" or "aging."

"衰弱 (shuāi ruò)" = "weak."

"衰退 (shuāi tuì)" = "fading" or "waning."


"衷" means "inner feelings."

"衷心 (zhōng xīn) = "Heartfelt" or "sincere."

"莫衷一是 (mò zhōng yī shì)" = A Chinese idiom that means "unable to agree."

"衷肠 (zhōng cháng)" = "words from the heart." Literally, "inner feelings from intestine."

Did you know? In ancient Chinese medicine, they believed that there was a co-relationship between intestinal pain and sorrow. Unlike English, where there are many "heart" related words for emotion (heartfelt, heartbreak,) the Chinese believed the intestine was the vessel for sorrow.

卬 (ÁNG), 印 (YÌN), AND 卯 (MǍO)


Fortunately, the words "卬" and "卯" are all but retired.

You may notice that the phonetic sound of "卬 (áng)" and the character are in these words:

昂 (áng) = "elevated, high"
仰 (yǎng) = "look up, faith, reverence."

Likewise, the character "卯 (mǎo)" appears in the following:

柳 (liǔ) = "willow tree."
卵 (luǎn) = “egg"


"印" means "print" or "stamp."

"打印 (dǎ yìn)" = "print."

"印象 (yìn xiàng)" = "impression." "最初的印象" means "first impression."

"封印 (fēng yìn)" = "Seal."

"印度 (yìn dù)" = "India."

戊 WÙ 戍 (SHÙ) 戌 (XŪ) 戎 (RÓNG)


Nearly all these words are no longer used or used very infrequently. However, we thought we'd include a picture just to show you how similar they were in both meaning and structure. It must've been confusing in ancient times! Can you imagine how hard it would be to decipher if these characters were written in Chinese cursive?

What did you think of those characters? Do you ever mix up other Chinese characters? Let us know!

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