What Chinese girls really mean when they say “aunt”?

When it comes to language, people use words not only to express their literal meaning.

Think about it, in English, there are plenty of sayings that might sound pretty strange to a nonnative speaker.

For example, “the ball is in your court” or “you are barking up the wrong tree.”

This kind of phrase exists in Chinese as well, and today you are going to learn one.

periods for women

Read the dialogue and see if you understand the underlining meaning:

Sū Shān: Hēi,  Lǐ Lì,   nǐ jīntiān guò de zěnmeyàng?
Susan: Hey Lily, how are you today?

Lǐ Lì:     Bú tài hǎo, wǒ de dùzi bù shūfu.
Lily: Not so great, my stomach feels pretty uncomfortable.

Sū Shān: Aīya! Zěnme le?
苏珊: 哎呀!怎么了?
Susan: Oh no! What’s wrong?

Lǐ Lì:     Wǒ dàyímā lái le.
Lili: My mother’s sister came last night.

Sū Shān: Shénme yìsi?
苏  珊:什么意思?
Susan: What?

In Chinese, the word “大姨妈 (dàyímā)” is the colloquial term for mother’s sister.

In China you might hear a girl say, “我的大姨妈来了。(Wǒ de dà yímā lái le.)” literally meaning “my mother’s sister came.”

So, what is this phrase actually used to mean?
A visit from Aunt Flo. Its that time of the month. I have that situation that just women get. I think you understand now.

In the West, as well as in China, people generally consider menstruation a slightly private topic, typically discussing it only among females.

The phrase above is the result of trying to keep it so, much the same with the different expressions used in English.

What’s quite interesting is that both in English and Chinese, people use the word “姨妈 (yímā) aunt” as part of a phrase to discuss menstruation.

According to Chinese folklore, this phrase came about from a love story.

A beautiful orphan girl went to live with her aunt.

When she reached a marriageable age a scholar fell in love with her.

During this time, China was very traditional and women and men could not even kiss before marriage.

He desperately wanted to spend time with her, but she was always at home helping her aunt with household chores.

Finally, they came up with a plan where they would spend some time together secretly and listen for her aunt’s footsteps.

When they heard that her aunt was near one would say, “大姨妈来了。(Dà yímā lái le.) My mother’s sister is coming.”

Finally, the scholar couldn’t stand it any more and asked a match maker to get them together.

Yet, the day of the marriage wasn’t a luck one, the woman was on her period.

From embarrassment instead of telling him her situation, she said “大姨妈来了。(Dà yímā lái le.)” letting him know that it wasn’t a convenient time, and the scholar, an intelligent man, quickly picked up on her meaning.

From then on, “大姨妈 (dàyímā).” were referred to as periods.
Except for “大姨妈 (dàyímā),” the common word for menstrual periods in Chinese is “经期 (jīngqī)” or “月经 (yuèjīng),” and can be used the same as the expression above:


Tā lái yuèjīng le.
她 来  月经   了。
Her period came.

So now you might be worried, what about actually referring to someone’s aunt?

If someone is actually talking about their mother’s sister, they might add a specific place to the sentence, such as saying “My mother’s sister came to Beijing.”

Or they will just refer to their aunt as “大姨(dàyí)” a shortened form of the word.


Jīntiān wǎnshang, wǒ qù dàyí jiā chīfàn.
今天       晚上,     我  去 大姨 家  吃饭。
Tonight I am going to my aunt’s house to eat dinner.

Tā de dàyí shì yí wèi lǎoshī.
他 的 大姨 是  一 位  老师。
His aunt is a teacher.

HSK 3 quiz

Which of the following refers to a woman’s period?
A. 大姨 (dàyí)
B. 小姨 (xiǎoyí)
C. 大姨妈 (dàyímā)
D. 姨 (yí)

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


2 thoughts on “What Chinese girls really mean when they say “aunt”?”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top