The Complete Chinese Character Profile for 早

Learn About This Character Commonly Used in Morning Greetings

Sunrise over Pudong, Shanghai, China
Laurie Noble / Getty Images

早 (zǎo) means "early" in Chinese. It is often used in morning greetings. Both 早安 (zǎo ān) and 早上好 (zǎo shang hǎo) mean "good morning." In Cantonese-speaking areas, 早晨 (zǎo chen) is how people say "good morning." Sometimes, just a quick 早 is a colloquial way of saying good morning.

Other Chinese words or phrases that include the character 早 usually have to do with the morning or being early. For example, 早饭 (zǎo fàn) or 早餐 ( zǎo cān) both mean breakfast.早衰 (zǎoshuāi) and 早产 (zǎo chǎn) mean premature aging and premature birth respectively. 


The Chinese character 早 (zǎo) is made of two components. The top element is 日 (r ì), which on its own is the character for "sun." But 日 is also a radical, called the sun radical or also identified as radical #72.

The lower element of the character is 十. This looks like the ​modern Chinese character for the number 10, 十 (s hí), but that is not what this element is alluding to.

Character Breakdown

The symbol 十 is an old form of 甲 (jiǎ). Now, 甲 means “first” or “armor.” Thus, 早 is a pictogram of the sun rising over a soldier’s helmet. Therefore another way of interpreting 早 (zǎo) is “the first sun.” 


早 (zǎo) is pronounced in the third tone, which is often described as the falling-rising tone. When you pronounce the syllable, make the pitch go down low and then bring it back up high.

Mandarin Vocabulary with Zǎo

Pinyin Characters Meaning
Zǎo ān 早安 good morning
Zǎo fàn 早飯 breakfast
Zǎo shang 早上 early morning
Zǎo xiān 早先 previously; before
Zǎo yǐ 早已 long ago; for a long time
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Su, Qiu Gui. "The Complete Chinese Character Profile for 早." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Su, Qiu Gui. (2020, August 27). The Complete Chinese Character Profile for 早. Retrieved from Su, Qiu Gui. "The Complete Chinese Character Profile for 早." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).