History, elegance, beauty. These are the words that come to mind when I think of Chinese. This culturally rich language is spoken by over 20% of the world’s population - making it the second most widely used language, after English. Gaining fluency in Chinese is an empowering experience. This article will teach some of the top Chinese words and phrases you should learn to kickstart your language journey. Are you ready?
There are plenty of common Chinese expressions, but we think these are the top 5 for us that people use regularly.
1.吃了吗？ (chī le ma?)
This expression literally means “have you eaten?” For a long time, the life of the vast majority of the working people in China was very difficult. Many often went hungry for lack of food. Consequently, people would often ask this question to make sure their friends and acquaintances were okay. Over time, this popular inquiry morphed into a common greeting similar to “hello” in English. With the continuous development of China's economy and culture, this greeting is gradually being replaced by other expressions similar to those used in other countries, such as 嗨 (hāi), 嘿 (hēi), and 哈喽 (hālóu). 吃了吗？ (chī le ma?) is still heard frequently throughout China though, mostly used by senior citizens.
Example: 甲：老王 ，吃了吗 ？
lǎo wáng ，chī le ma ？
Mr Wang, have you eaten ?
乙： 吃了。您呢 ？
chī le 。nín ne ？
Yes. I did. and you ?
2.对不起 (duì bù qǐ)
No top Chinese phrase list could be complete without this versatile expression. It’s meanings include: “I’m sorry,” “excuse me,” and “pardon me.” This phrase is definitely one you will hear, and probaby use, on a daily basis.
Example: 甲： 哎呀，你踩到我的脚了
āi ya ，nǐ cǎi dào wǒ de jiǎo le 。
Ouch, you trod on my foot!
duì bú qǐ ，dōu shì wǒ de cuò .
I'm sorry. All my fault.
3.没关系 (méi guānxì)
This is another popular phrase you will hear on a near daily basis in China. Roughly translated it means “don’t worry,” “it doesn’t matter,” or “it’s okay.”
lì lì ，wǒ míng tiān kě néng wǎn 10fèn zhōng dào gōng sī 。
lì lì, tomorrow I'll be 10 minutes late at the office.
méi guān xì ，fǎn zhèng xiàn zài gōng sī yě bú máng
Don't worry, it's not so busy at the office recently
4.不知道 (bù zhīdào)
This is the most common way to say “I don’t know” and is a phrase you will use often while learning Chinese.
Example: 甲：你知道下班巴士什么时候到吗 ?
nǐ zhī dào xià bān bā shì shí me shí hòu dào ma ？
Do you know when is the next bus arrive ?
bú zhī dào
I don't know.
5.谢谢你 (xièxiè nǐ）
In real life, we often use quick expressions to express a feeling or situation. These change regularly as fashions change, just like in other languages, but here's 5 Chinese slang words that we think are currently in use.
1.吃土 (chī tǔ)
Literally, this means “to eat dirt.” This saying became a buzzword several years ago during the huge online Singles’ Day sales in China. Many people spent so much money they joked that they would have no money left to buy food and would have to eat dirt (i.e. “free food”). This expression is now used as a way to make fun of oneself for spending too much.
shuāng shíyī mǎile tài duō dōngxī! wǒ zhège yuè yīdìng yào chī tǔle.
I bought too much during the Singles‘ Day sales! I’ll definitely be eating dirt this month.
2. 爱谁谁 (ài shuí shuí)
Literally, this means “love who who,” but is used similarly to the English expressions “whatever,” or “who cares?” It’s used most commonly in and around Beijing.
Example: 甲： 周末小李去加班，你也去加班吗？
zhōumò xiǎo lǐ qù jiābān, nǐ yě qù jiābān ma?
Xiaoli has to work overtime this weekend, will you be working overtime too?
aì shuí shuí! Shéi ài qù shéi qù, fǎnzhèng wǒ bù qù.
Who cares! Whoever wants to can, I’m not going to.
3. 笨鸟先飞 (bèn niǎo xiān fēi)
This phrase roughluy translated means “dumb birds should learn to fly first.” It means that even if you lack innate abilities for a given task, you can still be successful or develop those abilities. It’s a phrase used to encourage people to prepare early and work hard to achieve their goals.
Example: 甲： 妈妈，我数学学得不好.
Māmā, wǒ shùxué xué de bù hǎo.
Mom, I’m not doing well in Math.
Méiguānxì, bèn niǎo xiān fēi. Wǒmen zài kāixué zhīqián xiān xué yībiàn.
It’s alright, you just need to get a head start. We can review it together before school starts.
4.没门儿 (méi mén er)
Literally, this means “there are no doors.” It’s another common way of saying “no way,” “fat chance,” or “absolutely not.”
Example: 甲： 玛丽想借你的车。
mǎlì xiǎng jiè nǐ de chē.
Mary wants to borrow your car.
méimén er! Tā shàng gè xīngqí cái bǎ wǒ de chē zhuàng huàile.
No way! She just wrecked my car last week.
Finally, no slang list would be complete without referencing the ever popular internet slang. Many numbers in Chinese sound similar to other words, so they are often used online as a form of abbreviation. 520, for example, is pronounced “wǔ èr líng” in Chinese and sounds similar to 我爱你 (wǒ ài nǐ) , which means “I love you.” Every year on May 20 (520) you can see in WeChat circles husbands and partners sending money, usually 520 in RMB, as an expression of love.
Everybdy has their own list of the most famous Chinese words. This is our list!
This is similar to the expression “cheers!” and refers to drinking a toast.
ràng wǒmen wèi xīnláng xīnniáng gānbēi!
Let's drink to the bride and groom!
2.加微信 (jiā wēixìn）
This means to add someone on WeChat. It’s used instead of giving someone your phone number since WeChat is a free alternative to calling and messaging. It’s also the largest communication platform in China, making it nearly impossible to live in China without it.
wǒmen jiā gè wēixìn ba.
Let’s add each other on WeChat.
3.恭喜发财 （gōngxǐ fācái)
Literally translated this means “congratulations and prosperity.” This is the most common New Year’s greeting in China used to wish someone a happy, prosperous new year. It’s also used by children to ask for “red envelopes,” like in the example below.
Example: 恭喜 发财！ 红包 拿 来！
gōngxǐ fācái! Hóngbāo ná lái!
Happy New Year! Hand me/us a red envelope!
Red envelopes, as mentioned above, are part of a very famous tradition in China. During the Lunar New Year people will give red envelopes filled with money to their family and friends. The red color of the envelopes are symbolic of luck and prosperity.
This is likely the most used expression in China to express encouragement. Literally it translates to “add oil,” but it refers to cheering someone on to make an extra effort. It’s similar to the English phrases “keep it up,” “you can do it,” or similar a demonstration of your support.
jiāyóu! nǐ zhè yīcì yīdìng néng zuò dào!
Keep it up! I’m sure you’ll make it this time!
Some Chinese characters are quite rare but are useful. Here's five that we think are like this.
Many people think it's a weird Chinese characters . It seems that several independent characters are put together to form a unique character. The word is pronounced Biang2, a special type of Shanxi noodles. The name is said to be derived from the biang biang sound the dough makes when it hits the panel.
We often see this word in Shanxi noodle restaurants.
Example: 下了班，我们一起去吃面，怎么样 ？
xià le bān ，wǒ men yī qǐ qù chī biang miàn ，zěn me yàng ？
Let's go for biang noodle after work, how is it ?
A stuffy nose means a stuffy nose. This word is still used in spoken Chinese.
Example: 他 感 冒 了，鼻 子 齉 齉 的。
tā ɡǎn mào le，bí zi nàng nàng de.
He had a cold and a snuffle.
From又双叒叕(yòu shuāng ruò zhuó)
It means that something changes quite frequently. It also means that something happens repeatedly.
wǒ mén yòu yào bān jiā le.
We are going to move house again。（but we have done it many times before.）
Knowing the word. Three pieces of gold make up this word, which means that gold is abundant and wealth is prosperous. The original meaning is more gold, wealth new prosperous. Used mostly for personal and literal names such as : 鑫源（xīn yuán）， 日鑫（rì xīn ）。
Mandarin pronunciation: niǎo
Dialect is a word, often used as a dirty word. Lead to孬（nāo） meas worse. In Mandarin, it means to tease, disturb, or pester. In Inner Mongolia and North Shanxi dialect, meaning: air, pride, or will be proud of the meaning. It's rarely used in Mandarin, but it's often used in Cantonese, it means to be angry.
Cantonese Example: 嬲 死 人 了！
lāo sǐ rén le !
It's so annoying. It's so infuriating!
Many Chinese characters are beautiful, with meaning and structure, some tell almost a whole story. Here's 5 of our favourite ones.
Means good. This word is a left-right structure, the left part means woman, the right part is a child, so mother and child together, for many ancient people this was the idea of home and happiness, and perhaps still is. So it is a very good and happy thing, and a common word used everyday.
zǎo shàng hǎo
Means, My Dear. Also has the meaning of the kiss.
亲(qīn) , originally from taobao customer service, (taobao is China's largest and earliest network shopping mall) is the dear customer abbreviation, because customer service pays attention to efficiency, so called dear but does not conform to the domestic language habits, abbreviation 亲(qīn) ,dear . Makes sense, right?
Now in the workplace, when shopping in the mall, colleagues (among female colleagues), salesclerks will also use "qīn" or "dear" to the customer.
Don't overthink it. They're not familiar with you, but they're closer to you so they can work with you better. Or, it's the friendliest and most convenient way to address people without knowing your name.
Example: 亲，在吗 ？
qīn, zài ma ?
Dear, are you there ?
This character by itself can mean wealth, valuables, or riches. The left part of the character is the word 贝 (bèi) which means money and the right part is the word 才 (cái) which means ability or talent. Think about it. Treasures can make you rich and your talent plays an important role in your ability to earn money and maintain your prosperity.
gōng xǐ fā cái
Congratulations and prosperity
Means： security peace of mind peace stability
The family members are safe, have good health and a stable life. For Chinese people this is the most simple, the most basic and the most strong desire.
The whole character is a woman coming from the outside into the room and sitting down, indicating that "An" refers to "woman sitting indoors". In ancient times, snakes and beasts of prey and other human natural enemies are many, women's physique and physical strength are not as good as men, in the wild is not safe, only in the room can be protected from damage, get peace. Therefore, the ancestors of the Han people made the word "An" with the meaning "women sit indoors for safety". In the meaning of the word, the original meaning of the word "An" is calm, extended to static, and extended to comfortable, safe, no danger, so that...... Stabilize, stabilize... Have a suitable position, pleasure, etc.
Side-radical “宀 ”, which means the roof, the house, it's safe to stay at home; You can also imagine that having a woman in the house, like a mother in the house, is reassuring.
This character means beautiful. It is used in many words, such as “to admire” (赞美, zànměi), “perfect” (完美, wánměi), and America (美国, (měiguó). Many women in China also have this character in their names.
Example: 这个公园好美呀 ！
zhè gè gōng yuán hǎo měi ya ！
This park is so beautiful !