'Red Packet' or 'Red Pocket'? Which One Is Correct? | Mastering Grammar

(Last Updated: 15 February 2024)

Red Packet or Red Pocket: Which One Is Correct?

At Chinese New Year, it is customary for families and friends to exchange gifts and wish each other well as they usher in prosperity and good fortune. Among these traditions is the giving of money in decorative red envelopes, a practice eagerly anticipated by children and unmarried young adults.

The correct terms for these gifts are red packets and red envelopes. The term red packet is a direct translation of the Mandarin hóngbāo (紅包), which describes the small paper containers, typically red to symbolise luck and vitality, used to present monetary gifts during the festive season. The term red envelope conveys the same meaning.

However, you may occasionally come across people referring to them as red pockets, but technically, this is incorrect. The confusion likely stems from the similar spelling and pronunciation of the words packet and pocket. In English, a pocket is typically a small pouch sewn onto an item of clothing or a bag. By contrast, a packet is a small container or envelope designed to hold and protect items. Thus, the correct terms should be red packet or red envelope, which accurately describe the item's design.

These are red packets.
(Image Credit: China Business Knowledge@CUHK)

This is a skirt with two red pockets.
(Image Credit: Zara)

Let's look at some example sentences that use the correct terminology:

During Chinese New Year, it's customary for elders to give red packets to the younger members of the family.

I received a red envelope from my grandparents with a generous amount of money inside.

Children often look forward to receiving red packets during the festive season.

It is considered good luck to give and receive red envelopes in Chinese culture.

My uncle always gives the most ornate red packets, decorated with golden characters and designs.

In modern times, the tradition has also embraced technology, with digital red packets becoming increasingly popular. Nevertheless, whether the gift is a physical red packet or a digital one, the sentiment remains the same: a symbol of transferring luck, good wishes, and prosperity for the year ahead.

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Examples from the Media

For many people in China, celebrating the new year by handing out red packets of money often referred to as hongbao, is part of the holiday tradition. Daily Mail (2016)

The married Mr Yee agreed under questioning that red packets were usually given to children and unmarried adults. —The Sydney Morning Herald (2019)

She still gifts bright red packets to friends and family. The packets, which traditionally contain money, symbolize well wishes and luck for the upcoming year. —CBC (2023)

Benjamin Leung, 41, chairman of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, looks forward to enjoying the holiday with friends. His parents now live in Hawaii, but every year, they send him a red packet of money, something that he's received ever since he was a little boy in Hong Kong. —The Washington Post (2000)

Real-World Examples of Misuse

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