What Does the Chinese Character 家 Mean?

Learn the Character for Home or House in Chinese

Multi-generation family posing near house
Jia is the chinese symbol for either house or family. Stella Kalinina/Getty Images

家 (jiā) means family, home, or house in Chinese. Read on to learn about its counterintuitive character development and other Chinese vocabulary words that include the character 家.

Radicals

The Chinese character 家 (jiā) consists of two radicals. One is 豕(shǐ) and the other is 宀 (miān). 豕 can stand on its own as a character, and in fact, means hog or wine. On the other hand, 宀 is not a character and can only act as a radical. It is also called the roof radical. 

Character Evolution

The first Chinese symbol for home was a pictograph of a pig inside a house. Although much more stylized, the modern character today still represents the character for hog underneath the roof radical. 

There are a few speculations as to why the character for home in Chinese depicts a pig in a house rather than a person. One explanation is the practice of animal husbandry. Because pigs were domesticated and lived inside the house, a house with a pig in it inevitably meant that it was a home for people too.

Another possible reason is that pigs were commonly used as animal sacrifices made to family ancestors, especially during Chinese New Years. Therefore, the pig somehow symbolizes respect for the family. 

Pronunciation

家 (jiā) is pronounced in the first tone, which is flat and steady. Characters in the first tone are also typically pronounced at a relatively high pitch. 

Mandarin Vocabulary with 家 Jiā

Because 家 means home or family on its own, pairing 家 with other characters creates words or phrases that relate to the house or family. Here are a few examples: 

家具 (jiā jù) - furniture

家庭 (jiā tíng) - household

国家 (guó jiā) - country

家乡 (jiā xiāng) - hometown 

家人 (jiā rén) - family

大家 (dàjiā) - everybody; everyone 

However, that is not always the case. There are many Chinese words containing 家 but not relating to family or home. Often, 家 refers to a person who specializes in a school of thought. For example, 科学 (kēxué) means "science." And 科学家 means " scientist." Here are a few more examples:

艺术 (yì shù) - art / 艺术家 (yì shù jiā) - artist

物理 ( wù lǐ) -physics / 物理学家 ( wù lǐ xué jiā) - physicist 

哲学 ( zhé xué) - philosophy /  哲学家 ( zhé xué jiā) - philosopher

专家 (zhuānjiā) - expert