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man·​da·​rin ˈman-d(ə-)rən How to pronounce mandarin (audio)
: a public official in the Chinese Empire of any of nine superior grades
: a pedantic official
: a person of position and influence often in intellectual or literary circles
especially : an elder and often traditionalist or reactionary member of such a circle
: a form of spoken Chinese used by the court and the official classes of the Empire
: the group of closely related Chinese dialects that are spoken in about four fifths of the country and have a standard variety centering about Beijing
[Swedish mandarin (apelsin) mandarin (orange), ultimately from Portuguese mandarim mandarin; perhaps from the color of a mandarin's robes]
: a small spiny orange tree (Citrus reticulata) of southeastern Asia with yellow to reddish-orange loose-rinded fruits
also : a tree (such as the satsuma) developed in cultivation from the mandarin by selective breeding or hybridization
: the fruit of a mandarin
mandarinic adjective
mandarinism noun


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: of, relating to, or typical of a mandarin
mandarin graces
: marked by polished ornate complexity of language
mandarin prose

Did you know?

The Portuguese were the first to refer to a Chinese official as a "mandarin." The word hails from the Portuguese word mandarim, which developed, by way of Malay měntěri, from Sanskrit mantrin, meaning "counselor." Mandarins were promoted by successfully completing the imperial Chinese examination system, which was primarily based on the teachings of Confucian texts. In time, mandarin became a word for a pedantic official, a bureaucrat, or a person of position and influence. The noun passed into the English language in the late 16th century, and the adjective appeared in the early 17th. You may also know Mandarin as a word for the chief dialect of China or be familiar with the mandarin orange (the fruit's name comes from the orange color of a mandarin official's robe).

Examples of mandarin in a Sentence

Noun the officious mandarins in the motor vehicles department refused to let me renew my license without all of the required forms
Recent Examples on the Web
Mid palate flavors of mandarins, grapefruit, limes. Tom Mullen, Forbes, 25 Feb. 2024 Indeed, residents of Southern California reach the conclusion, sooner or later, that the most desirable fruit trees to grow are citrus – oranges, mandarins (tangerines), grapefruits, lemons, limes and kumquats. Joshua Siskin, Orange County Register, 27 Jan. 2024 Shortly after the music industry mandarin died last year, the family also listed a Bel-Air mansion for $53 million. Emma Reynolds, Robb Report, 24 Jan. 2024 Harvest citrus now, including limes, kumquats, mandarins, grapefruits, lemons, tangelos and navel oranges. Nan Sterman, San Diego Union-Tribune, 3 Feb. 2024 In Japan, during Lunar New Year, the mandarin is often put on top of a mirror rice cake (kagami mochi)—made of two round rice cakes stacked on top of each other. TIME, 2 Feb. 2024 Take this citrus salad first course, which spotlights the sweet navel oranges, Cara Cara oranges, ruby red grapefruit and mandarins arriving at the market right now. David Tanis, New York Times, 10 Jan. 2024 Two hundred seventy-two miles of scenery are signposted by pretty blue and orange ribbons circumnavigating the island, representing the ocean and those ubiquitous mandarins. Gary Shteyngart, Condé Nast Traveler, 22 Nov. 2023 Made with ingredients like mandarin rinds and cedar atlas, the duo has refreshing and musky scents of citrus and wood. Anna Popp, Travel + Leisure, 17 Nov. 2023
Brilliant straw colored, this enticing wine has aromas of mandarin peel, citrus blossom, and white peach. Mike Desimone and Jeff Jenssen, Robb Report, 4 Apr. 2024 Such a mandarin caste would be congenitally incapable of eye contact, minimizing the ability to weasel out bribes. Razib Khan, Discover Magazine, 27 Apr. 2010 The newest one is the Mandarin Basile, which smells like a ripe herb garden with notes of fig leaves and mandarin peel. ELLE, 29 Aug. 2023 Around that same time, Delilah in the Wynn Las Vegas was offering a stunning and shareable Beehive Baked Alaska with mandarin sorbet, sweet lemon ice cream, almond financier, toasted honey meringue, and honeycomb candy. Karla Walsh, Better Homes & Gardens, 8 June 2023 Tan’s version uses mandarin oranges, which fill the markets in Singapore before the Chinese New Year. Ligaya Mishan, New York Times, 30 Nov. 2022 Stir together mandarin segments, vinegar and cinnamon in a medium bowl; chill in the refrigerator 10 minutes. People Staff, Peoplemag, 25 Nov. 2022 The sweet-and-sour fish is Cuban pargo (red snapper), not mandarin fish. The Economist, 14 Sep. 2019

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'mandarin.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



Portuguese mandarim, from Malay mĕntĕri, from Sanskrit mantrin counselor, from mantra counsel — more at mantra

First Known Use


1589, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1604, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of mandarin was in 1589


Dictionary Entries Near mandarin

Cite this Entry

“Mandarin.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 15 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


: a public official under the Chinese Empire
capitalized : the chief dialect of China centering about Beijing
: a small spiny Chinese orange tree with yellow to reddish orange fruits having loose rinds
also : its fruit

More from Merriam-Webster on mandarin

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