“Ghost” in the Chinese Language (Elementary)

One day, one of my foreign friends rushed to my home and told me that she was really scared and upset because her neighbor, an old Chinese woman, said she was a ghost! How come this old lady behaved so rude to my foreign friend? For me, it’s unbelievable because this woman is very kindhearted and the kids around the town treat her as their granny. To convince me, she repeated what the woman said,

“Zhège wàiguó xiǎonǚhái zhēn shì yíge jīlingguǐ.
 这个      外国      小女孩     真   是  一个 机灵鬼。”

As soon as she finished, I burst into laughter at the misunderstanding! Can you understand this sentence? The granny was giving praise to my friend! The issue revolves around how you understand the Chinese word 鬼(guǐ).

Literally, 鬼(guǐ) in Chinese means ghost. For example, some people like listening to 鬼故事(guǐgùshi)— a ghost story, and some like watching 鬼片(guǐpiàn)— a ghost movie.

A 鬼(guǐ) is scary, so people usually use it to express negative meanings in the Chinese language. First, 鬼(guǐ) can be an adjective to express hate, dissatisfaction, disgust and so on. 鬼天气(guǐtiānqì) and 鬼地方(guǐdìfang) are two high-frequency words used by Chinese people. 天气(tiānqì) means weather, so 鬼天气(guǐtiānqì) is to say the weather is terrible. 地方(dìfang) is a noun referring to a place, and 鬼地方(guǐdìfang) means a terrible place.


A. 鬼天气(guǐtiānqì)

     Xià dàyǔ le!Zhēn shì guǐtiānqì.
     下   大雨 了!  真    是  鬼天气。

     It’s raining heavily. Such terrible weather!

B. 鬼地方(guǐdìfang)

    Nàgè xiǎo shùlín shì yíge guǐdìfang.
    那个   小     树林  是  一个  鬼地方。

    That grove is a terrible place.

Second, 鬼(guǐ) can alsofunction as a noun referring to people who obviously have certain bad habits, such asan addiction of some kind. We can use 酒鬼(jiǔguǐ) in which 酒(jiǔ) means wine, to describe people indulging in alcohol, similar to the term “alcoholic” in English. Also, we refer those who are penny pinchers as 小气鬼(xiǎoqiguǐ). 小气 (xiǎoqi) in the Chinese language meansthat someone is stingy.


A. 酒鬼(jiǔguǐ)

    Tāde  bàba shì yíge jiǔguǐ.
    他的    爸爸  是  一个 酒鬼。

    His father is an alcoholic.

B. 小气鬼(xiǎoqiguǐ)

    Wǒde péngyou shì yíge xiǎoqiguǐ.
     我的      朋友    是  一个  小气鬼。

    My friend is a penny pincher.

Regardless of how much people associate ghosts with fear, theterm carries some positive characteristics such as quickness, energy, nimbleness and elusiveness. These are in some way very similar with naughty kids. Therefore, Chinese people also use it to describe shrewd and smart, but cute kids. The following contains three words Chinese people usually use to describe youth.




It is always used by elders to address the kids as a way of showing their love for them. For example, a grandma is praising her grandson who can write Chinese, and she will say the following sentence:

     Wǒjiā de xiǎoguǐ huì xiě hànzì!
     我家   的   小鬼    会  写   汉字!

     My grandson can write Chinese characters very well!

B. 机灵鬼(jīlingguǐ)

It is a noun phrase used to address kids in which 鬼(guǐ) functions as a noun, and机灵(jīling) is an adjective meaning smart.

    Wǒde dìdi shì yíge jīlingguǐ.
    我的   弟弟 是 一个 机灵鬼。

    My little brother is a smart boy.

C. 鬼机灵(guǐjīling)

It has the same Chinese characters with 机灵鬼(guǐjīling), but it is an adjectival phrase used to describe active or smart children in which 鬼(guǐ) functions as an adverb modifying the adjective机灵(jīling).

    Tāde mèimei tài guǐjīling le.
     他的   妹妹   太  鬼机灵 了。

     His sister is smart.

I’m sure you must know why I said that the old woman next door to my friend was actually praising her as a smart and intelligent girl, and not intending to offend her by calling her a ghost. Now, let us do some exercises to enhance what we have just learned above!


1. What’s the meaning of the sentence: “李华是一个机灵鬼。(LǐHuá shì yíge jīlingguǐ.)”?__________

 A. It means Li Hua is a ghost.

 B. It means Li Hua is very smart.

 C. It means Li Hua loves ghost stories.

2.  Lily and her friends plan to go hikingon Saturday, but on that day it rains like cats and dogs. Lily complains, “鬼天气(guǐtiānqì).” What does she mean?_____

 A. The weather is good.

 B. She loves the weather.

 C. The weather is terrible.

3.Which one of the following usages of 鬼(guǐ) is a noun ?    ____

 A. 鬼地方(guǐdìfang)

 B. 酒鬼(jiǔguǐ)

 C. 鬼天气(guǐtiānqì)

4. When someone says that she is a 小气鬼(xiǎoqiguǐ), it means that _____

 A. she is generous.

 B. she is small.

 C. she is a penny pincher.

Chinese Popular Words (Fun Stuff)
General Chinese (Beginner Level)
General Chinese (Intermediate Level)

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