The characters used in Japan are distinct from those used in China in many respects.
Cognates in the several varieties of Chinese are generally written with the same character.
They typically have similar meanings, but often quite different pronunciations.
Increasing numbers of polysyllabic words have entered the language from the Western Zhou period to the present day.
It is estimated that about 25–30% of the vocabulary of classic texts from the Warring States period was polysyllabic, though these words were used far less commonly than monosyllables, which accounted for 80–90% of occurrences in these texts.
Unless otherwise specified, Chinese text in this article is written in the format (Simplified Chinese / Traditional Chinese; Pinyin).
If the Simplified and Traditional Chinese characters are identical, they are written only once.
Many characters have multiple readings, with instances denoting different morphemes, sometimes with different pronunciations.
In modern Standard Chinese, one fifth of the 2,400 most common characters have multiple pronunciations.
Another common alternation is between voiced and voiceless initials (though the voicing distinction has disappeared on most modern varieties).
This is believed to reflect an ancient prefix, but scholars disagree on whether the voiced or voiceless form is the original root.
In Old Chinese (and Classical Chinese, which is based on it), most words were monosyllabic and there was a close correspondence between characters and words. Mandarin Chinese), characters do not necessarily correspond to words; indeed the majority of Chinese words today consist of two or more characters because of the merging and loss of sounds in the Chinese language over time.