We are all familiar with the preposition words in English such as “in, at, after, beside etc”. In Chinese there are a group of special words that are put after the location. Instead of being called “preposition” words, they are called “nouns of locality” (方位词 , fāngwèi cí).

方位词 (fāngwèi cí)are nouns showing direction and location. The most common ones are “前后左右,上下里外”(qiánhòu zuǒyòu, shàngxià lǐ wài), in detail,

前 qián Front
后 hòu Back
左 zuǒ Left
右 yòu Right
上 shàng Up
下 xià Down
里 lǐ Inside
外 wài Outside

Single Character Nouns of Locality

Single character nouns of locality like the ones listed above are rarely used on their own. They normally attach to other nouns.

For example,

房子里 fángzi lǐ Inside the house
楼上 lóu shàng Upstairs
村子外 cūnzi wài Outside the village

Two Character Nouns of Locality

In most cases, the single character nouns of locality are combined with two characters 面 and 边, such as 前面(qiánmiàn),后面(hòumiàn),外边(wàibian),右边(yòubiān)…

面 (miàn) literally means surface
边 (biān) literally means side

However, when used as part of nouns of locality, the difference is so little that can be ignored.

Nouns of Locality Chart 方位词表 fāngwèi cí biǎo

Single Character Double Character Meaning
前面 | 前边 Front
后面 | 后边 Back, behind
左面 | 左边 left
右面 | 右边 Right
上面 | 上边 Above, on top of
下面 | 下边 Under, bottom
里面 | 里边 Inside
外面 | 外边 Outside

Let’s make some sentences:

他在前面等我。
Tā zài qiánmiàn děng wǒ.
He is waiting for me in the front.

我的左边是我妹妹,右边是我爸爸。
Wǒ de zuǒbiān shì wǒ mèimei, yòubiān shì wǒ bàba.
It is my little sister on my left side and my dad on my right side.

彼得住在我家楼上。
Bǐdé zhù zài wǒjiā lóu shàng.
Peter lives on the floor above my home.

弟弟喜欢在外面玩。
Dìdì xǐhuān zài wàimiàn wán.
Little brother likes playing outside.

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