Which one is your favorite? El gato or el perro? Choose carefully. The cat is watching.
How should we say “hello” in Chinese? 你好 nǐ hǎo is maybe the most well-known Chinese greeting. But surely, like in many other languages, 你好 nǐ hǎo is not the only way to greet someone in Chinese. There must be different kinds of greetings you can use with friends and other people you are close to, formal greetings that are suitable for business meetings, slightly formal “hello”s you can say when entering a store and so on. Well, indeed there are! The Chinese language is just as rich in greetings as any other language. So let’s dive in and learn the best ways to say “hello” in Mandarin like a native.
Let’s learn how to actually say “hello” in Mandarin Chinese
The Mandarin “hello” is the “hello” that brings more than 1 billion people together. As you probably already know, Chinese is the most spoken language in the world, so learning how to say “hello” in Chinese is a pretty big deal for any avid language learner such as yourself, wouldn’t you say?
Contrary to Google’s most popular search result, 你好 nǐ hǎo isn’t how Chinese people actually greet each other every day. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn 你好 nǐ hǎo as well – especially if you’re only just beginning to learn Chinese -, but don’t overuse it. Its literal translation is “you good” or “you ok” and it is generally used to greet only one person at a time. Not sure how to pronounce 你好 nǐ hǎo? Just say “nee haow” and you should be ok!
Since 你 nǐ is the informal form of “you” in Chinese, 你好 nǐ hǎo is considered an informal greeting you can safely use with friends and acquaintances.
But if you want to get a little bit more formal and greet someone that is higher-ranked than you, then you can switch to the polite 您好 nín hǎo. It may seem like a small difference, but I can assure you: it makes all the… difference!
Now that you know what’s the easiest and most popular way to say “hello” in Chinese, let’s move on to some more advanced Mandarin Chinese greetings that are guaranteed to make you sound like a native.
1. 早！(zǎo) – “Morning!” in Chinese
早 (zǎo) is short for 早上好 (zǎo shang hǎo) which means “good morning” in Chinese. The same as our English “good morning”, 早 (zǎo) can be used safely in all kinds of social interactions as long as it is… you’ve guessed it: morning.
2. 你好吗? (nǐ hǎo ma) – “How are you?” in Chinese
Or 您好吗? (nín hǎo ma?) if you want to be polite.
This expression is generally used as a response to a greeting, but it can also work as a “how are you?”.
3. 你怎么样? (nǐ zěnmeyàng) – “What’s up?” in Chinese
As you can probably already tell, this is an informal greeting you can use with your friends.
4. 你吃了吗？(nǐ chī le ma) – “Have you eaten?”
Are you confused? Amused? Or maybe a little bit of both? I was too when I first heard this greeting. When someones says 你吃了吗？(nǐ chī le ma) to you, they don’t actually want to know if you have eaten. In Chinese culture, this greeting is used as a way of showing someone you care about their well-being.
To answer to this greeting, you can say “chī le, nǐ ne?” which means “I’ve eaten, how about you?”.
5. 久仰 (jiǔyǎng) – a very formal Chinese greeting
On your way to a business meeting where you’ll meet someone for the first time? Well, that’s the perfect moment to use this very formal Mandarin greeting.
If you want something even MORE formal than that, go with 久闻大名 (jiǔwéndàmíng) literally meaning “your name is famous” – a phrase which could translate to something like “I have heard much about you”. But only use this on very special occasions like meeting the president or a person you hold in very high regard.
6. 最近好吗？(zuì jìn hào mǎ) – “How are you these days?”
Isn’t this beautiful? It’s very similar to the English “how are you?”, so you can use it accordingly.
7. 大家好 (dàjiā hǎo) – say “hello” to a crowd in Chinese
As mentioned earlier, 你好 nǐ hǎo is used to greet only one person at a time. So if you need to say “hello” to a group of people in Mandarin Chinese, simply go with 大家好 (dàjiā hǎo).
8. 下午好 (xiàwǔ hǎo) – “Good afternoon” in Chinese
Want to diversify the way you greet people in Chinese? Then you can go with 下午好 (xiàwǔ hǎo) when it’s the right time of the day.
9. 晚上好 (wǎnshàng hǎo) – “Good evening” in Chinese
Staying up late to meet with your friends? Then this your chance to show them how well you’ve mastered the Mandarin greetings!
10. 喂 (wèi) – answer your phone like a Chinese native
Although it is not specific to face to face interactions, 喂 (wèi) is still a greeting. So if you want to answer your phone like a Chinese native or check whether the person you are talking to is still on the other end of the line, 喂 (wèi) is the Chinese word you are looking for!
Ready for another Chinese lesson? Here’s how to say “thank you” in Chinese.
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