Chinese Phrases For Dummies
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When you're traveling in Chinese-speaking locations, you'll find that the words and phrases you use most frequently will be the common Chinese greetings. These words and phrases will quickly become second nature to you because you'll use them day in and day out with everyone you come across.

As you'd expect, you should use a polite greeting when you run into someone you know or want to know. However, in Chinese-speaking countries, greetings are given a much greater importance than they are in America.

Saying hello

The most common ways to greet someone in Chinese-speaking countries are:

  • nĭ hăo! (Hello/Hi!)

  • zăoshàng hăo; nĭ zăo; zăo (Good morning.)

    These three ways to say "good morning" aren't actually very different, but they go somewhat in order of formality, from more formal to less formal.

  • xiàwŭ hăo (Good afternoon.)

  • wănshàng hăo (Good evening.)

In China, the standard greeting is usually accompanied by a hand shake. However, unlike the firm, quick American handshake, the Chinese tend to shake hands lightly and for hold the handshake longer: even as long as ten seconds.

Although the handshake is more common, some people prefer a bow. If you are unsure what to do, wait for your Chinese counterpart to make the first move. Then, just duplicate their greeting.

How are you? How's it going? How many times a day do we hear or say these brief greetings at the beginning of our conversations? So many times, in fact, that half the time, we don't even pay attention. These pleasantries are common in Chinese-speaking countries as well. The Chinese phrase equivalent to "How are you?" is nĭ hăoma? Other common ways to ask how someone is doing are:

  • nĭ zĕnmeyàng? (How is it going?)

  • zuìjìn zĕnmeyàng? (How's it going lately?)

  • zuìjìn hăoma? (How are you lately?)

Responding to "How are you?"

As you'd expect, when someone asks you how you're doing, there are many possible responses.

  • wŏ hĕnhăo, xièxie. (I'm doing great, thank you.)

  • wŏ bútàihăo. (I'm not doing well.)

    In Chinese, as in English, you would only tell people you know reasonably well that you aren't well.

  • mămăhūhū. (So-so.)

    This phrase actually translates as "Horse horse tiger tiger." If you use this with your Chinese friends, they'll be very impressed!

  • háixíng. (I'm okay.)

  • tĭnghăode. (I'm fine.)

Saying good-bye

There are also many ways to say goodbye.

  • zàijiàn. (Goodbye.)

  • míngtiān jiàn. (See you tomorrow.)

  • huítóu jiàn. (See you soon.)

  • zhù nĭ hăoyùn! (Good luck!)

  • xiàge xīngqījiàn. (See you next week.)

  • găitiān zàiliáo. (Talk to you soon.)

  • mànzŏu. (Take care.)

    Although mànzŏu generally means "walk carefully" in Chinese, you also can say mànzŏu or băozhòng in Chinese for "take care" in English. Moreover, băozhòng is a little more formal and serious than mànzŏu.

Have a look at how these greetings words work in an actual conversation.

Bill: nĭ hăo! (Hello!)
Jin: nĭ zăo. zuìjìn zĕnmeyàng? (Good Morning. How is it going lately?)
Bill: háixíng. nĭ ne? (I'm okay. And you?)
Jin: wŏ yĕ búcuò. (The same.)
Bill: zàijiàn. (Goodbye.)
Jin: mànzŏu. (Take care.)

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