When you learn Chinese, one of the first things you need to learn are greetings in Chinese so you can start connecting with Chinese speakers.
There are quite a few different ways of greeting and taking your leave in Chinese. So to help you get started, in this post, I introduce some of the most common greetings in Chinese you’re likely to meet.
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How To Say Hello In Chinese
When you start studying Chinese, probably the first thing you’ll learn how to say is the word for “hello” – and if you ask someone if they know any Chinese words, if they know only one thing, it will be this. “Hello” in Chinese is, of course:
- #1 你好 Nĭ hăo (Hello)
The first character 你 nĭ means “you” and the second character 好 hăo means “good”, so literally it means “you good”.
You can use this greeting when you' re speaking to a single person. But it's rare in everyday speech and is only used in formal settings and when meeting someone you don't know. You'll see some alternatives below that you can use with friends.
Otherwise, you will often hear it being used where in English we would say “excuse me”, like this:
- 欸！你好！服务员！Ēi! Nĭ hăo! Fúwùyuán! (Hey! Excuse me! Waiter!)
This might not seem so polite in English, and it isn’t exactly super-polite in Chinese either. But it’s also not rude, and this is the kind of thing you’ll hear in restaurants in China all the time.
Now a note about pronunciation. Although both characters have a third tone, when one third tone is followed by another, the first is pronounced as a second (rising) tone, so in reality, it sounds more like ní hăo.
However, in pinyin, you still write it with a third tone because that’s the character’s true tone when pronounced in isolation. (The best thing is to learn to read and write in Chinese characters as quickly as possible and then you won’t need to worry about issues like this!)
Other Basic Greetings In Chinese
Other than the famous 你好 nĭ hăo, there are some other ways of saying “hello” in Chinese. If you are speaking to someone you want to show respect to, there is a more formal version:
- #2 您好 Nín hăo (Hello)
您 nín is a more polite form of 你 nĭ, and if you look carefully at the character, you will see that it is written slightly differently.
The 您 nín form is roughly equivalent to vous in French whereas 你 nĭ is like the tu form, but in Chinese, 您 nín is less commonly used. You might perhaps use it with your boss, although this is by no means sure. On the other hand, you would probably use it with the CEO of your company, and you would use it when meeting a visiting VIP.
If you stay in a hotel, the staff there might use it, but they might equally just stick to 你 nĭ.
If you are addressing more than one person, there is another way to say “hello”, like this:
- #3 你们好 Nĭmen hăo (Hello)
The difference here is that 你们 nĭmen is the plural form of “you”, but otherwise, it works just the same. You can use this when addressing two people or small groups.
When addressing larger groups, there’s yet another way to say it, like this:
- #4 大家好 Dàjiā hăo (Hello everyone)
大家 dàjiā is the Chinese word for “everyone”, and examples of when you might use this include a teacher greeting their class, someone about to give a speech greeting their audience or somebody entering a room for a meeting.
One other useful expression to know is the Chinese for “nice to meet you”, which is:
- #5 很高兴认识你 Hĕn gāoxìng rènshi nĭ (Nice to meet you)
Word for word, this literally means “very happy know you”, and you can use this whenever you meet somebody for the first time.
Time-Related Greetings In Chinese
Just like in English, Chinese also has ways of greeting people depending on the time of day, for example:
- #6 早上好 Zăoshàng hăo (Good morning)
In this expression, 早上 zăoshàng is the word for morning, and this is followed by 好 hăo, which we’ve already seen – so literally, this means “morning good”.
Here are some other examples:
- #7 下午好 Xiàwŭ hăo (Good afternoon)
- #8 晚上好 Wănshàng hăo (Good evening)
As you can probably guess by now, 下午 xiàwŭ and 晚上 wănshàng are the Chinese words for “afternoon” and “evening” respectively.
A common shortened version you might hear is 早 zăo, which is the direct equivalent of saying “morning” in English – but be aware that you can’t do the same for the others!
Informal Chinese Greetings
The greetings we’ve seen so far are expressions you can use with anyone, but among friends, they might sound a little stuffy or formal.
Here are some more natural ways to greet people you know well:
- #9 嗨 Hāi, hēi (Hi! Hey!)
- #10 诶 Èi! (Hey!)
These words are just the same as in English, and you can use them in the same way. Often, you follow the word (‘interjection’ is probably more accurate because they’re not really official ‘words’) with the person’s name or nickname, like this:
- 诶！ 小懒猫！Èi! Xiăolănmāo! (Hey! Lazybones!)
- 嗨！老王！Hāi! Lăo Wáng! (Hi! Old Wang!)
In the first example, 小懒猫 xiăolănmāo, “lazybones”, is the person’s nickname – literally, it means “little lazy cat”.
The second example demonstrates a common way Chinese people address others they are on familiar terms with.
If the person is older, they use the word 老 lăo, “old”, and the person’s family name. Here, the person is called Wang, so he (or she) is referred to as “Old Wang”.
If the person is younger, you just replace 老 lăo with 小 xiăo, meaning “small” or “little”.
As a non-native speaker, it’s best not to start using 小 xiăo and 老 lăo first yourself – but if other people use these terms to refer to someone, it’s ok to follow their lead.
Note also that this form of address is rarely used with non-Chinese.
A Particularly Chinese Way Of Greeting Someone
If you spend any time in China, there’s another expression that you will often hear, and if you’re not aware of the real meaning, it might seem strange at first:
- #11 你吃饭了吗？Nĭ chī fàn le ma? (Have you eaten?)
The thing to remember about this expression is that the person is not literally asking if you’ve had anything to eat – instead, it’s more like another way of saying hello.
In a way, it’s not so different from ‘how are you?’ in English. If someone asks you this, they aren’t expecting an in-depth low-down on the current state of your health, it’s just a pleasant thing to say. Similarly, in Chinese, they’re not expecting details about the meal you’ve just eaten or how hungry you are, it’s just a common thing to say to show you care.
So how should you reply?
If you have eaten, you can say:
- 吃了 Chī le (I’ve eaten)
And if you haven’t:
- 还没有 Hái méi yŏu (Not yet)
That’s all you need to say – and then you just carry on with your conversation as normal. This type of thing is common in many East Asian countries, and Vietnamese and Thai also have similar expressions.
However, it can be a little disconcerting at first, especially when people speak to you in English asking “have you had lunch yet?” – when all they really mean is “hello”!
How To Say How Are You? In Chinese
So how do you say “how are you?” if you do actually want to enquire about somebody’s health? In Chinese, it’s very simple – you can say it like this:
- #12 你好吗？Nĭ hăo ma? (How are you?)
As you can see, this is just the same as the word for “hello” with the particle 吗 ma tacked on the end to turn it into a question. Literally, it just means “you good [question particle]”.
Another possibility is this:
- #13 你最近怎么样？Nĭ zuìjìn zĕnmeyàng? (How have you been recently?)
In this expression, we have 你 nĭ, which we know already, followed by 最近 zuìjìn (recently), and then 怎么样 zĕnmeyàng (how). Word for word, it means “you recently how?”
One last expression that’s interesting to note is the Chinese expression:
- #14 好久不见 Hăo jiŭ bú jiàn (Long time no see)
It literally means “good long no see”, but it can be also be translated as “long time no see”. The reason it’s interesting is that the source of the ungrammatical expression we use in English is, in fact, none other than this very Chinese phrase!
How To Say Goodbye In Chinese
When it’s time to take your leave, Chinese also has a set of simple expressions you can use.
The most common way to say “goodbye” is:
- #15 再见 Zàijiàn (Goodbye)
The first character 再 zài means “again” and the second one means “see”, so literally, this means something like “again see”, or more naturally, “see you again”. This is the general word for saying goodbye if you don’t know when you will see the other person next.
If you do know when you are going to see each other again, there are some other expressions you can use. For example:
- #16 明天见 Míngtiān jiàn (See you tomorrow)
- #17 后天见 Hòutiān jiàn (See you the day after tomorrow)
As you can easily guess, 明天 míngtiān and hòutiān are the Chinese words for “tomorrow” and “the day after tomorrow”.
You could also say something like:
- #18 下个星期见 Xià ge xīngqī jiàn (See you next week)
Here, of course, 下个星期 xià ge xīngqī means “next week”.
Two More Ways Of Saying “Goodbye” In Chinese
Just like when saying “hello”, there are also some other less formal ways of saying “goodbye”, and the most common is this:
- #19 拜拜 Bāibāi (Bye-bye)
It’s no coincidence that the Chinese version sounds like the English one – because it’s borrowed directly from English.
If you’re chatting online, you are also bound to come across ‘88’. This is because the pronunciation of the Chinese number ‘8’, 八 bā,sounds quite similar to bāi – so ‘88’ is just the internet version of 拜拜.
Saying Goodnight In Chinese
At the end of the day just before you go to bed, you’ll also need to know how to say “goodnight”, which, in Chinese, is:
- #20 晚安 Wăn ān (Good night)
We’ve already seen 晚 wăn, which means “evening” or “night”, and the second character, 安 ān, means “peace” or “peaceful” – so this expression literally means “peaceful night”.
And there’s one more expression you’ll need before you close your eyes and go to sleep:
- #21 好梦 Hăo mèng (Sweet dreams)
As you can see, in Chinese, you don’t wish people “sweet dreams” but rather “good dreams” just before you switch off the light.
Lots Of Fun Greetings In Chinese To Practise
There’s nothing difficult about greetings in Chinese, and all you have to do is remember which ones to use at the right times and with the right people.
As always, the best way to fix them in your memory is to practise them as much as possible, so always look for every chance to use them with native speakers.
And then, when you do, you can look forward to hearing many times over 很高兴认识你 hĕn gāoxìng rènshi nĭ – very happy to meet you!