Updated: Jun 9
1. 你好! (nǐ hǎo) Hi!
You may know this greeting already. But if you don’t, 你好! (nǐ hǎo – Hi!) is the first basic Chinese phrase to learn, and the start of your Chinese social life.
2. 你好吗? (nǐ hǎo ma) How are you?
If you’re not saying “Hi” to someone for the first time, you might want to show some care and concern by asking how they’re doing. 你好吗? (nǐ hǎo ma) or “How are you?” is the perfect phrase for this.
3. 你吃了吗? (nǐ chī le ma) Have you eaten?
This is the Chinese way of showing care and concern. Culturally it’s almost the equivalent of “How are you?” People ask “Have you eaten?” as a polite gesture, and most people simply reply, “吃了” (chī le) or “I’ve eaten,” in response.
To admit that you haven’t eaten might put some pressure on the asker to provide food for you, which is the polite thing to do.
4. 早安! (zǎo ān) Good morning!
Chinese people love to say “Good morning,” so if you greet anyone early, make sure you say “Good morning.”
If you miss that golden timing, however, there’s no need to move on to 午安 (wǔ ān – Good afternoon) or 晚上好 (wǎn shàng hǎo – Good evening), which are not very common.
“Good night” is 晚安 (wǎn ān), and just as in English, 晚安 is a parting phrase.
Bring the cool
Be a little more casual and a little more cool by adding a “Hey,” 诶 (ēi) at the beginning of your phrase. For example:
诶, 你好. (ēi, nǐ hǎo) Hey, hello there.
诶, 怎么样? (ēi, zěn me yàng) Hey, what’s up?
What’s your name?
After greetings, we want to move on to introductions. Here’s how:
5. 我叫[Name], 你呢？(wǒ jiào [Name], nǐ ne) I’m [Name]. What’s your name?
This is a casual way to exchange names. 我叫 (wǒ jiào) means “I’m called…” and 你呢? (nǐ ne) means “And you?”
6. 怎么称呼？(zěn me chēng hū) How may I address you?
This phrase is a more formal/polite way to ask someone’s name. It loosely translates as “How should I address you?”
7. 请问您贵姓? (qǐng wèn nín gùi xìng) May I ask your surname?
This phrase is even more formal, and used in business-like settings. When someone replies with their last name, for example, “我姓王” (wǒ xìng wáng), that is, “My surname is Wang,” you should respond by addressing them as 王先生 (wáng xiān shēng – Mr. Wang), 王小姐 (wáng xiǎo jiě – Miss Wang) or 王太太 (wáng tài tài – Mrs. Wang).
Bring the cool
For a fun and cheeky twist on a boring introductory question, try this phrase:
請問你貴姓大名? (qǐng wèn nǐ gùi xìng dà míng?) What’s your “famous” name?
It’s a way to ask someone’s name while flattering them in a friendly way!
Now that we’ve met someone, here’s how to carry on the conversation.
8. 你是本地人吗？(nǐ shì běn dì rén ma) Are you a local?
This is a less direct way of asking “Where are you from?” or 你是哪里人? (nǐ shì nǎ lǐ rén). In China, people in big cities often come from elsewhere. They move from smaller cities to the metropolis for work or study. Asking if they’re local opens up the conversation to talk about their hometowns.
9. 你作什么样的工作? (nǐ zùo shén me yàng de gōng zùo) What kind of work do you do?
Among professionals or working adults you can start a conversation by asking what line of work someone is in. You can also ask “你的专场是什么?” (nǐ de zhuān chǎng shì shén me? – What’s your specialization?)
10. 你读什么专业? (nǐ dú shén me zhuān yè) What is your field of study?
Among students, you can ask about someone’s major, as a way to open up conversation.
11. 你有什么爱好? (nǐ yǒu shén me ài hào?) What do you like to do?
This phrase is used to ask about someone’s hobbies or passions. Again, it’s another great conversation starter.
Bring the cool
Try this casual phrase to break the ice when walking into the room or joining a group:
诶, 什么事？(ēi, shén me shì?) So, what’s going on?
It’s the equivalent of “What’s up?” or “What’s happening?” In the right context, such as among buddies and peers, it can be very friendly and appropriate to use.
Responding during conversation
Part of carrying on a conversation is offering appropriate and supportive responses. People love to receive empathy, encouragement and compliments, whatever stories they may be telling in conversation.
What do you say if you hear something cool or interesting? Here are some basic phrases for responding to others’ noteworthy stories:
12. 太酷了! (tài kù le!) That’s really cool!
The Chinese word for “cool” is a loanword from English. It sounds exactly the same!
13. 好搞笑。(hǎo gǎo xiào) That’s hilarious.
搞笑 (gǎo xiào) literally means “make fun” or “create humor.”
14. 真的吗? (zhēn de ma) Really?
真的 (zhēn de) means “real,” and 吗 (ma) is the question particle.
15. 不会吧? (bù hùi ba) Are you serious?
不会 (bù hùi) is “not,” and 吧 (ba) is an exclamation particle. In other words, it’s like saying, “No way!”
16. 我的妈呀! (wǒ de mā ya) Oh my goodness!
Yes, you read correctly. 我的妈呀! (wǒ de mā ya) is literally “Oh my mother!” Culturally, this does not appear in English, but you can think of it as similar to “Oh my god.”
17. 哎呦我去! (āi yōu wǒ qù) Oh my gosh!
Again, this isn’t an exact English equivalent. 哎呦我去! (āi yōu wǒ qù) translates literally as “Oh, I’m going!” This phrase is ultra casual, though, so it’s not something you can use with just anybody—especially not with someone you’ve only just met.
18. 我也是。(wǒ yě shì) Me too.
Three words to help express that you share someone’s feelings.
19. 我理解。(wǒ lǐ jiě) I understand.
An all-useful sentence for empathizing with someone.
Bring the cool
For the ultimate punchy reply, try:
太牛了! (tài níu le) That’s freakin’ awesome!
In formal or business-like contexts, this may be considered rude. But it’s totally acceptable at a party.
Finally, we come to parting words. Here’s how you can say farewell casually and appropriately.
20. 我先走了。下次再聊吧！(wǒ xiān zǒu le。 xià cì zài liáo ba) I’ve got to go. Let’s talk again another time!
If you need to be the first to leave, you can use this easy phrase as a friendly way to depart.
21. 回头见。(húi tóu jiàn) See you later.
This phrase is useful for brief separations, for example, when you’ll see each other later in the day.
22. 我们再联络吧。(wǒ mén zài lián lùo ba) Let’s keep in touch.
This means you’ll probably call or email this person later. It works well for someone you don’t see in person often, but with whom you’d like to follow up and maintain closer contact.
Bring the cool
Even when it comes to saying goodbye, we’ll show you a few ways to be more suave, and perhaps get some future dates!
这是我的手机号码。给我发短信吧！(zhè shì wǒ de shǒu jī hào mǎ。gěi wǒ fā duǎn xìn ba) Here’s my cell number. Text me sometime!
This is a simple phrase to help you keep up the relationship after the party.
加我的微信。(jiā wǒ de wēi xìn) Add me on WeChat.
We hope these phrases will add flair to your social life! Whatever social situation you encounter, use it as an opportunity to hone your language skills, even if it’s just through greeting someone or offering an encouraging response to someone’s story. Enjoy!