Choose chengyu flashcard deck

I found a couple of lists of 成语 flashcards.
Here and
Both of them say to be the "must learn" chengyu for Chinese students. The thing is that they don't seem to include similar ones. So my question is, anyone who has studied any of these lists, do you recommend them? Which one should I choose? I don't want to begin studying chengyu that are not the most common ones.
Hi Miguel,

there are some common chengyu in these lists (one of them has 5 million Google hits), but personally, I wouldn't recommend studying chengyu lists made by someone else, unless you already have a precise feeling for their usage on seeing them. I think the best way to approach chengyu is to collect them yourself, along with regular words, with a note about their context added to them. Very often, when I make a note of a new word, I add a few words on the context and a partial example sentence to it, both to help me with memorizing and with associating it with the right meaning. I wouldn't study chengyu in the English-Chinese direction, I would just look at them and check their meaning from time to time. This way, you should automatically learn to use them properly and carefully. I would try not to fixate on any meaning early on—which you're forced to do when studying with flashcards—because the first guess will usually need some correcting.

I would also caution against trying to use chengyu just because one has them ready. If one uses a chengyu when a regular word would have been more appropriate, then naturally it tends to hinder conversation. It should just come as naturally as any other Chinese word, and with the same level of confidence.

So I would start collecting chengyu yourself, and adding all the relevant context information you can get out of the texts.

Cheers, Shun
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Hi Shun,
Thanks for your answer. I agree with you, I already have my own list of chengyu and 口语 expressions that I find useful for myself. I just was expecting to find a list of the most common ones.
Found these 20, from which I know a few of them
You're right, using chengyu is kind of tricky, so I never use them unless I am completely sure about how to use them. That's the good thing of the Pleco dictionary, that some chengyu come with examples so you can start understanding how to use that specific one. And it is not only to use them when I speak but also to understand them when I read or hear one. There are many chengyus I understand the characters but I have no clue about the meaning. :D
I completely agree with Shun. But if you are looking for lists with the most common chengyu, I can recommend this chengyu frequency list compiled by Jun Da which is based on a News Corpus. Another very interesting possibility is to start with ordinary word frequency lists sorted by frequency (like the ones posted here), open them in Excel, paste all the entries of a chengyu dictionary (for example the 汉语成语词典 or the 中华成语大词典, both are available as digital versions) in the same column that contains the words of the frequency list (paste the chengyu dictionary entries above these words), choose "remove duplicates" and you are left with all the entries of the frequency list that are not chengyu. Paste these in a new column, paste the complete frequency list beneath in the same column, choose once again remove duplicates and you get a list of all the chengyu contained in the frequency list you used, sorted by frequency. This allows you (depending on the frequency list you use) to get lists of the most common chengyu used in a certain type of text (eg news, literature, blogs....) or, if you choose a general frequency list, to get a list of the generally most used chengyu.
Hi Miguel,

thanks for that list. Great to hear you're also careful about using chengyu correctly. I think I will start collecting more chengyu with their context, to complement Pleco's example sentences. One can also do it the other way around, google for an interesting chengyu and then find out about the context in the webpage as a reading exercise. One could pick some from the Duogongneng Chengyu Cidian and see if the contextual info from the web page matches the explanations in the dictionary.

Hi John.,

thank you! Wow, that's a great technique I will try with the Beiyu corpus. I will post the results here. :)
@Miguel: Pleco's Duogongneng Chengyu Cidian is also of a high quality, though quite scholarly with its historical citations. I assume you're looking for common chengyu in the very modern language.

@John.: Thanks for your recommendations! I'd rather pay a small amount to get the 汉语成语词典 and the 中华成语大词典. Did you download them for free as text files? I could only get the latter, but not in exportable form, inside a Chinese dictionary.

For what it's worth, I have already filtered out all four-character lexemes from the BLCU global frequency list. Perhaps 10% of them are chengyu, but they're ordered by frequency.


If it's just about avoiding paper dictionaries I would also recommend the free apps 中华成语词典 and 成语词典简体版. I just discovered the latter, it features very long explanations. Pleco's Chengyu dictionary certainly is very good, too.

It is possible to download the 汉语成语词典 and the 中华成语大词典 as stardict files and convert them to txt files. Due to the possibilty of copyright infringements I can't recommend doing this.
Hi Miguel and John.,

I tried to do it as directed, but Excel wouldn't finish it because of a line limit of about 1.04 million lines. The Global corpus already exceeded that limit. I will write another Python script to do the same thing. (using Python dictionaries, with the corpus lexemes as keys and their frequencies as values, then trying to assign a value to each chengyu, removing those chengyu for which there is no value. Let's see how fast that runs.)
Hi Miguel and John.,

I finished it, and I like the results a lot. The chengyu at the top are really the most common ones, many of them will sound very familiar. That was once again some excellent teamwork, thanks to both of you.

The first file is the frequency-ordered chengyu list, and the second file is the script, which ran almost as fast as if it had been done in C.

Cheers, Shun


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The first file is the frequency-ordered chengyu list
Thank you, Shun.
I didn't know there are three-syllabled chengyu. I guess that depends on how stringent the definition of chengyu is.

东道主 123108
里程碑 78128
一刀切 44957
恶作剧 43856
口头禅 36415
破天荒 31072
想当然 21545
一窝蜂 20225