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How to use the Chinese Interjection 哦

Written by Liz老师 from GoEast Mandarin.

What are Chinese Interjections?

Most often, face-to-face or verbal communication is more effective than written expressions. This is because our facial expressions and changes in tone add to the meaning we want to reveal.
For example, although most interjections have only one character, they convey different meanings when expressed differently. Usually, an interjection is expressing an exclamation, calling someone, or indicating a response.

Today I’ll introduce one of them: 哦 (o).

The interjection 哦

哦 (o) is a pictophonetic character composed of a meaning element (kǒu) and a sound element (wǒ). The Chinese character 口 means mouth, and in most cases, words with the 口 radical relate to something to do with the mouth, such as sound and eating. On the right side, the Chinese character 我 (wǒ) shares the same final “o” sound with 哦. Therefore, this is a Chinese character that you can easily remember from its pronunciation or its shape.

How is the interjection 哦 used?

The change of meaning with a tone change is a fascinating part of a language, but it also requires extra attention. Each interjection expresses a certain feeling, so we should be careful how we use them. 

So, how do we use 哦?

There are two different tones and meanings of 哦: 

1. 哦 (ó), indicating curiosity or doubt

Similar to 嗯 (én), 哦 (ó) can also indicate questioning. But (ó) expresses doubt about the authenticity of a thing. It’s pretty similar to asking “really?” in English.

Example sentences: 

(1) 哦?他也来参加这次会议吗?(Ó? Tā yě lái cānjiā zhè cì huìyì ma?) Really? Is he also attending this meeting?

(2) 哦?今天不是星期四吗?(Ó? Jīntiān búshì xīngqísì ma?) Really? Isn’t today Thursday?

2. 哦 (ò) can show realization

When you finally understand something, you can add (ò) at the beginning of a sentence to strengthen your tone.

Example sentences: 

(1) 哦!原来是你!我刚才没认出来。(ò, yuánlái shì nǐ! Wǒ gāngcái méi rèn chūlái.) Oh, it’s you! I didn’t recognize you just now.
(2) 哦!这件事情原来是这样,我误会你了。(ò, zhè jiàn shìqíng yuánlái shì zhèyàng, wǒ wùhuì nǐle.) Oh, this issue turned out to be like this, I misunderstood you.

3. 哦 (ò) can also indicate understanding

 哦 (ò) can express “I got it” or “understood.” However, if you only use this one word to respond, it expresses indifference, and others may think that you are not satisfied with the result.

Example sentence: 

(1) 今天晚上我很忙,不能陪你一起吃饭了。(Jīntiān wǎnshàng wǒ hěn máng, bùnéng péi nǐ yīqǐ chīfànle) I’m very busy tonight, I can’t eat with you.

。(ò.) Got it.

Using different tones in different situations can help you express your meaning effectively. If you have finished reading this article, I hope you have a sense of realization by responding 哦 (ò)!

Read more articles about interjections.

This guide is written by Liz老师 from GoEast Mandarin. GoEast is an online Chinese language school that combines online self-learning materials with live classes from professional Chinese teachers.

Mention “WrittenChinese” when purchasing a course at GoEast Mandarin and you get a free Business Chinese Course for free (either Elementary or Intermediate Level) worth $69-99.