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When learning new languages, knowing how to say Hello is one of the first things we usually learn to say. Because, even if that’s the only word we can speak, most natives will be pleased to hear that you’ve made an effort to speak their own tongue.
You might have already come across the word for ‘Hello’, in Chinese, 你好 (nǐ hǎo). However, for many young Chinese people, 你好 (nǐ hǎo) is becoming less fashionable and is seen as too formal to be used between friends and colleagues.
We’ve put together a list of the most common Chinese greetings, all of which you should learn if you’re studying Mandarin. It’s useful to know in which context to use these greetings, as well as which ones will help you sound more fluent and natural.
1. 你好 (nǐ hǎo) – Hello
This is the first phrase you will probably learn to speak in Chinese and whilst it is still used to say ‘Hello’ in Mandarin, there are now more relaxed phrases (that you will be introduced to shortly) to use instead.
Note: If both words have the 3rd tone, change the first word to the second tone in spoken Chinese. Learn more about tone rules here.
您好 (nín hǎo) – Hello
您 (nín) is used when addressing someone older or in a respected position, whether at work or in the family. It is usually referred to as a more formal way to say ‘Hello’.
2. 你好吗？ (nǐ hǎo ma) – How are you?
Literally translated to ‘You good?’. This is often taught to students as an essential Chinese phrase, but it’s rarely used nowadays. When you think about it, even in English, we rarely ask ‘How are you?’, and it’s now similar amongst young Chinese.
3. 吃饭了吗？ (chī fàn le ma?) – Have you eaten yet?
Asking if someone has eaten yet is a more common way to ask ‘how are you?’. Showing concern for a friend or acquaintances health is common within Chinese culture. You will hear it most often spoken between neighbours within a garden during their evening walk after supper.
This phrase can sometimes be used to ask ‘Do you have time?’, especially if you are calling during lunch or dinner time.
4. 早上好 (zǎo shang hǎo) – Good Morning
早 (zǎo) actually refers to early morning and can be remembered as the sun 日 (rì) rising over a helmet. Originally, the 十 (shí) part of the character 早 (zǎo) was a helmet 甲 (jiǎ). This character also means ‘first’, and can signify the first 十 (shí) sun 日 (rì).
早 (zǎo), used on it’s own is more often used as a shortened version of 早上好 (zǎo shang hǎo), creating a more casual phrase, just like saying ‘morning’.
5. 晚上好 (wǎn shàng hǎo) – Good Evening
晚 (wǎn), or 晚上 (wǎn shàng) means evening or night. Combined with the character for good, 好 (hǎo) creates the greeting commonly used after sunset.
6. 喂 (wéi) – Hey
This word is only used to say ‘hello’, when on the phone.
7. 好久不见 (hǎo jiǔ bu jiàn) – Long time no see
This is a great phrase to use if you haven’t seen someone for a long time. If you break down the characters, you’ll see it’s a very literal translation. You can do this by clicking the link above 🙂
This is an informal phrase, more like saying ‘what’s up’ to a friend or colleague.
Note: 你 (nǐ), the character for ‘you’, can be omitted in spoken Chinese.
最近。。。- (zuì jìn) …Recently
最近 (zuì jìn) can be used to preface a greeting, to mean ‘since I saw you last’.
最近在干嘛？ (zuì jìn zài gàn má?) What have you been doing recently?
最近干什么呢？ (zuì jìn gàn shén me ne?) What were you doing recently?
最近忙什呢？ (zuì jìn máng shén ne?) What have you been busy doing recently?
9. 去哪呢？ (qù nǎ ne?) – Where have you been?
This is often used as a pleasantry when passing an acquaintance or neighbour. It’s not really a question, just a greeting, which will have a short response.
10. 干嘛呢？(gàn má ne?) What are you doing?
When I first came to China, my impression of this phrase was that it was offhand and a bit rude. Like, ‘what the heck are you doing?’ It is commonly used instead, as a greeting you would make to a colleague or friend.
The following three are more modern and commonly used ways to say hello between friends, colleagues and classmates. All three of them have been translated using transliteration, which is replacing the original English word with a Chinese character that sounds the same or similar. This is often done with brands, place names and people. These types of words are becoming more fashionable amongst younger people in China.
嗨 (hāi) = Hi
哈喽 (hā lóu) = Hello
嘿 (hēi) = Hey
If you have any comments or questions about any of the Chinese greetings we mentioned in the article, please feel free to leave your messages below.