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Alternative forms[edit]

  • cainonstandard


  • (file)


cái (cai2, Zhuyin ㄘㄞˊ)

  1. Hanyu Pinyin reading of
  2. Hanyu Pinyin reading of
  3. Hanyu Pinyin reading of
  4. Hanyu Pinyin reading of
  5. Hanyu Pinyin reading of
  6. Hanyu Pinyin reading of
  7. Hanyu Pinyin reading of



Etymology 1[edit]

Cognate with Muong Bi cảy, Tho [Cuối Chăm] keː³, Chut [Mày] kɛ⁴ (Babaev & Samarina, 2018), Chut [Rục] kɛ⁴ (Nguyễn Văn Lợi, 1993).

Often linked with Chinese (one thing; classifier) (for example, in Alves (2007)); however, as seen with the cognates in the more conservative languages, the earlier vowel can be ascertained to be a monophthongal non-low front vowel, which makes connection with the Chinese term very much doubtful, although semantic influence is still possible.

In Middle Vietnamese, this classifier is also attested to be used for certain animals (e.g. cái kiến (an ant), cái baba (a soft-shell turtle)). However, in Modern Vietnamese, this function has been completely taken over by the general animate classifier con. Although sometimes characterized as historically being used for animals that are on the smaller size, plenty of small animals took con instead.

In Muong dialects, this usage can also be seen. For example, Muong Bi has cảy lòi (a wild boar), cảy ca (a chicken).


cái (, 𫡔)

  1. Indicates an inanimate, tangible thing
    Cái răng cái tóc là góc con người.
    Essentially, teeth and hair tell how good one looks.
  2. (obsolete) Indicates animals
    • Lý hạng ca dao 里巷歌謠 (Folk-ballads from the hamlets and alleys), folio 36a
      Cáicái vạc cái nông;
      Sao mày giẫm ruộng lúa ông hỡi cò?
      The stork, the heron, the pelican;
      Why troddest thou on my paddy rice, oh stork?
  3. (colloquial) Precedes another classifier (any one but “cái” itself), effectively acting as a focus marker, sometimes conveying a connotation of deprecation, especially if persons are referred to.
    Cầm cái con dao này đưa cho mẹ.
    Take this knife and hand it your mom.
    Cái thằng đần thối này!
    You moron!
See also[edit]


cái (, 𫡔)

  1. (only in compounds) a thing; a whatsit
    Synonym: đồ
    cái đánh trứnga whisk (literally, “the thing for whisking eggs”)
    cái đẹpbeauty / the Beautiful (literally, “the beautiful thing / the thing of beauty”)
    cái cao cảgreatness / grandeur / the Sublime (literally, “the great/grand(iose) thing”)
  2. the solid bits of a broth
    Canh này thì chỉ có nước là ngon, còn cái thì dở ẹc.
    Only the liquid part of this broth tastes good, the solid bits suck.
    (literally, “As for this broth, only the liquid part is good, as for its solid bits, they suck.”)
See also[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

From Proto-Vietic *-keːʔ (woman; female). Compare gái.

Attested in the title of Phùng Hưng, 布蓋大王 (MC puoH kɑiH dɑiH ɦʉɐŋ) (SV: Bố Cái Đại Vương), with the first two characters rendering words ancestral to modern vua (monarch) and cái ("great, main"), equivalent to the Chinese 大王 nexts to it, i.e. the title is the phrase "great king/monarch" written in two languages.

Alternative forms[edit]

  • (North Central Vietnam) cấy


cái (, 𡛔, 𡡇, , )

  1. (archaic) mother
See also[edit]
Derived terms


cái (, 𡛔, 𡡇, , )

  1. (of a non-human and non-avian species of animal or plant or their reproductive organs) female
    hoa cáicarpellate flower; female flower
    nhị cáia pistil
  2. (now chiefly in compounds) big, large, main
    sông cáithe big river
    ngón chân cáithe big toe
See also[edit]
Derived terms


cái (, 𡛔, 𡡇, , )

  1. (Northern Vietnam) Title affixed to rural young girls' names.
    Cái Bống là cái bống bang
    Khéo sảy khéo sàng cho mẹ nấu cơm
    Mẹ Bống đi chợ đường trơn
    Bống ra gánh đỡ chạy cơn mưa ròng.
    Oh, Little, Little Goby
    Sieves the rice so skillfully, so that Mommy can cook it.
    Goby's Mommy has returned from the market on a slippy road
    Goby goes help her carry the pole, to get away from the heavy rain.