Different ways to talk about people’s intelligence in Chinese

Posted by Grace Feng on January 15, 2013

You probably already know one high frequency word to express “smart” in Chinese – 聪明 cōngming. I agree that if you need to learn at least one word to say “smart” in Chinese, you should learn that one. It can be used on all ages or genders of people, and usually there’s a “ hěn” to be added to the mix if used in a compliment:

很聪明 hěn cōngming – very smart

Different ways to talk about people's intelligence in Chinese

Photo by {link:http://www.flickr.com/photos/teo/4925573/}Teo{/link}

However, that compliment, though a “safe” expression, is actually too vast in its definition. Usually if you tell someone that one of your colleagues is 很聪明 hěn cōngming without further explanation, people are likely to be left wondered about which kind of “smart” your colleague actually is? The answer could be unlimited, isn’t it?

Today I’ll show you a few different ways to describe “smart people”. And hopefully they can help you to be slightly “smarter” on your mandarin learning. :-)

Talking about “smart” or not, there are two words you really need to know to give a clear classification on which type of “smart” you’re implying. A person with high IQ can be described as 智商高 zhìshāng gāo. While a person with high EQ are usually called 情商高 qíngshāng gāo. For example,


tā shì gè qíngshāng hěn gāo de rén!


He’s got high emotional quotient.


If you want to describe a person that is shrewd and with calculating mind, you can use “精明 jīngmíng“. “精明 jīngmíng” is not like the above-mentioned ones. It can be used either in a positive way or a negative way. It all depends on the context in which it appears. The following example demonstrates the usage of “精明 jīngmíng” in a negative way:


tàiguò jīngmíng de rén wǎngwǎng chéng bùliǎo dàshì。


The one with a calculating mind might not be capable of achieving big feat.


For people that is wise and open-minded, you can also use 智慧 zhìhuì and 开明 kāimíng to say about them. 智慧 zhìhuì is mostly used as a noun (wisdom). When it is used as an adjective, it means “wise”. Not quite the same as “smart”.

As a matter of fact, under some circumstances, Chinese like to use 聪明 cōngming as 小智慧 xiǎo zhìhuì or 小聪明 xiǎocōngming;

智慧 zhìhuì or 开明 kāimíng as 大智慧 dàzhìhuì or 大聪明 dà cōngming.

In that comparison, 小智慧 xiǎo zhìhuì or 小聪明 xiǎocōngming are used with a negative tone, meaning “clever in trivial matters” or “sharp but petty-minded”.

On the contrary,大智慧 dàzhìhuì or 大聪明 dà cōngming are great wisdom and knowledge, which are definitely positive.

For example,


wǒmen xūyào de bùshì shuǎxiǎocōngming de rén, érshì yǒu dàzhìhuì de rén.

我们需要的不是耍小聪明的人, 而是有大智慧的人.

Being clever in trivial matters is not the talent we want, we’re in need for great wisdom.


Do you know any Chinese words that are used on smart people?


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5 Responses to “Different ways to talk about people’s intelligence in Chinese”

  1. nothing


    01-15-2013 10:16 pm



    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      01-16-2013 4:36 am

      EQ 翻译成”情商”后在中国这二十年来已成了个很普遍的词, 但严格说来”情商”是个英语中来的外来词. Equalizer的缩写也是”EQ”吗?


  2. nothing


    01-16-2013 8:50 pm



    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      01-17-2013 5:05 am

      明白了, 原来”EQ”的用处不少, 谢了!!


  3. nothing

    nameIntelligence Quotient:

    11-19-2015 12:07 pm

    Great Post and Nice Article.I like it.I had Never Know about this before.Thanks for Sharing.


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