In Chinese, what is the difference between 汽油 and 石油?

Row 1: Characters + Bopomofo* (Ruby text).

Row 2: GR Tonal Spelling* (Gwoyeu Romatzyh, Bopomofo’s romanized companion; ), with Hanyu Pinyin** below.

Row 3: English uses Latin (PETR “rock” + OLEUM “oil”) or Greek (CHAOS → GAS), roots that clearly indicate what’s what. Bote: OLine and OLeum are variants of the same root = “oil”

*Both systems were promulgated by the ROC government (1918, 1928) and still used in Taiwan.

**Pinyin (1958) used GR 國語羅馬字 (1928) as an unacknowledged blueprint (unsurprising: many of the same scholars worked on both). The base forms of GR and Pinyin are 95% the same, but GR uses tone letters (hollow portions are visual mnemonics for pitch movements), whereas Pinyin mark tones with tiny diacritics, hard to type and easily omitted or overlooked.

Leave a Comment