noun man·da·rin \ ˈman-d(ə-)rən \
|Updated on: 20 Aug 2018

Definition of mandarin

1 a : a public official in the Chinese Empire of any of nine superior grades
b (1) : a pedantic official
(2) : bureaucrat
c : 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
2 capitalized
a : a form of spoken Chinese used by the court and the official classes of the Empire
b : 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 : 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
b : the fruit of a mandarin


play \ˌman-də-ˈri-nik\ adjective


play \ˈman-d(ə-)rə-ˌni-zəm\ noun

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Examples of mandarin in a Sentence

  1. the officious mandarins in the motor vehicles department refused to let me renew my license without all of the required forms

Recent Examples of mandarin from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'mandarin.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Origin and Etymology of mandarin

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

Other Language Terms




Definition of mandarin

1 : of, relating to, or typical of a mandarin
  • mandarin graces
2 : 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 mandarium, which developed from Sanskrit "mantrin," a word for "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 1589, and the adjective appeared about 15 years later. 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.)

First Known Use of mandarin


in the meaning defined at sense 1

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MANDARIN Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of mandarin for English Language Learners

  • : a small type of orange

  • : a public official in China in the past

  • Mandarin : the official language of China

MANDARIN Defined for Kids


noun man·da·rin \ ˈman-də-rən \

Definition of mandarin for Students

1 : a public official of the Chinese Empire
2 capitalized : the chief dialect of China

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resembling the blue of the sky

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