If you’ve embarked on a mission to learn Chinese, then this article is for you! In it, you’ll find lists of some of the most useful Chinese words for a variety of situations. Learning any language is made easier with context, so we’ve provided you with common Chinese phrases and words that you’ll need for traveling, tourism, emergencies, and more.

Black and white image of a few people standing in front of market stalls with Chinese characters visible. Text reads: Basic Chinese Vocabulary. MosaLingua

Foundations: Start Mastering Basic Chinese Words

Learning Chinese vocabulary is only one (albeit very important) aspect of communicating in this language. If you’re learning Mandarin, it’s best to start with basic Chinese words first.

In the vocabulary lists we’ve compiled, we’ve included the pinyin transcription, which can help you nail Mandarin pronunciation, in addition to the English translation.

However, a simple tonal error in spoken Chinese can transform the meaning of your words! So we encourage you to search for quality recordings of Chinese pronunciation and train yourself to repeat what you hear. You can use the online dictionary Forvo to search for audio clips of words you’re uncertain about.

It’s a good idea to start listening to spoken Chinese as early as possible because the language is so different from English.


Salutations are the central aspect of beginning any new conversation. In general, people simply won’t speak to you if you don’t approach them with a minimum of courtesy. So knowing how to greet someone is very important!

Keep in mind that these phrases are just the basic Chinese words that you’ll need if you’re traveling or having a conversation with a native speaker. These are, in our opinion, the most important Chinese words to know.

EnglishMandarinPinyin Transcription
Hello你好!Nǐ hǎo!
Hello (polite)您好!Nín hǎo!
Hello (to more than one person)你们好Nǐ men hǎo
Good evening晚上好!Wǎn shang hǎo!
Goodnight晚安Wǎn ān
Goodbye再见!Zài jiàn!
See you later回见Huí jiàn
How are you? (informal)你好吗?Nǐ hǎo ma?
I'm very well. Thank you!我很好。谢谢你!Wǒ hěn hǎo. Xiè xie nǐ!
What's your name?你叫什么名字?Nǐ jiào shén me míng zi?
My name is…我是… / 我叫… Wǒ shì… / Wǒ jiào…

If you’re a tourist, 您好 and 你好吗? are the two most simple ways to say “hello” and “how are you?” However, they are both fairly formal. As you begin to master the foundations of Mandarin vocabulary, you can branch out and use other manners of greeting people.

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Polite phrases

Please请问Qǐng wèn
Thank you谢谢Xiè xie
You're welcome不用谢Bú yòng xiè
Pardon/Excuse me对不起Duì bu qǐ
Good luck!祝你好运!Zhù nǐ hǎo yùn! 
I'm sorry.对不起。Duì bu zhù.
It's not a big deal.没关系。Méi guān xi.

Important Chinese words for a first conversation

This is not meant to be an exhaustive Chinese travel guide, but rather a quick reference of the most common Mandarin phrases to prepare you for a successful first conversation. You won’t get very far without some of these everyday phrases, so this kind of focused vocabulary list can be very useful!

I don't understand (anything).*我听不懂。Wǒ tīng bù dǒng.
I don't understand (what you're saying).**我不明白。Wǒ bù míng bai.
Could you repeat, please?请您再说一次?Qǐng nín zài shuō yī cì?
I don't know how to speak Chinese.我不会说中文。Wǒ bù huì shuō zhōng wén.
I don't speak Chinese well.我的中文不太好。Wǒ de zhōng wén bú tài hǎo.
Speak slower, please!请讲慢一点!Qǐng jiǎng màn yī diǎn!
I am learning Chinese.我在学习中文。Wǒ zǎi xué xí zhōng wén.
What does that mean?这是什么意思?Zhè shì shén me yì si?
What is that/this?这是什么?Zhè shì shén me?
What is your nationality?你是哪国人?Nǐ shì nǎ guó rén?
I am American.我是美国人。Wǒ shì měi guó rén.

*This phrase means that you didn’t understand a word someone said. This would be useful if it’s the first time you’re going to China and you haven’t learned much of the language yet.
**On the other hand, this phrase simply means that you didn’t catch a word or you missed a detail, but that you would like to continue the conversation in Chinese.



Talking about your family in Mandarin can be very interesting. Each person has their own identifying name that reflects their specific place in the family tree.

You wouldn’t talk about simply your “brother” for example, but rather your “big brother” or your “little brother.” The same idea extends to grandparents – you must specify whether you’re talking about the maternal or paternal side because there are special names for each. Every person has a particular name for their role in the family.

Here, you’ll find a Chinese word list with the basic relationships.

family家庭jiā tíng
family members家人jiā rén
(the) mother母亲mǔ qīn
Mom妈妈mā ma
(the) father父亲fù qin
Dad爸爸bà ba
child/children孩子 / 孩子们háizi / háizimen
daughter女儿nǚ ér
son儿子ér zi
little brother弟弟dì di
big brother哥哥gēge
little sister妹妹mèimei
big sister姐姐jiějie
wife妻子qī zi
stepmother后妈hòu mā
stepfather后爸 hòu bà
step-brother继兄弟jì xiōngdì
step-sister继姐妹jì jiěmèi

Of course, there are also cousins, aunts, uncles, in-laws, nieces, and nephews. But as I mentioned above, they’ll all have their own specific name. It depends if they are on your mother’s side or your father’s side, and if they are older or younger than you.

For example, your maternal aunt (for this example, let’s say the wife of your mother’s brother) will have a totally different name than your paternal aunt (your father’s little sister).

It is easiest to learn them (and use them) little by little, depending on your needs. Start with each of the roles in your own family. That way you can ease into it. And don’t worry – even native speakers get tripped up sometimes!


Food and drink

Here you’ll find one of the most important Chinese vocabulary lists (in our opinion!). To learn more about the names of specific fruits, vegetables, and condiments, and how to order food in a restaurant, be sure to download our Mandarin app.

fruits果实guǒ shí
vegetables蔬菜shū cài
noodles面条miàn tiáo
rice米饭mǐ fàn
I'm hungry!我饿了!Wǒ è le!
I'm thirsty!我口渴!Wǒ kǒu kě!
breakfast早饭 zǎofàn
lunch午饭 wǔfàn
dinner吃晚饭 chī wǎnfàn
chopsticks筷子 kuài zi
It's very good!很好吃!Hěn hǎo chī!
Bon appétit!***开动!Kāi dòng!
Cheers!干杯!Gān bēi!
What would you like to eat?你想吃什么?Nǐ xiǎng chī shénme?
What would you like to drink?你想喝点什么?Nǐ xiǎng hē diǎn shénme?

*** 动! literally means “Attack!” It’s used in Chinese as an equivalent to “bon appétit” or “dig in!” when it’s time for everyone to eat.

A spread of traditional Chinese foods. Part of 150 Chinese Words article.


Dates and times

Giving the date and time in Chinese is fairly straightforward. All you need to know are the characters or pinyin for the words “day” and “month,” as well as the numbers in Chinese. Everything stems from those terms. Here is the basic vocabulary you’ll need.

day日 (formal) / 号 (informal)rì / hào
month月 yuè
year年 nián
week星期 xīngqī
Monday星期一 xīngqī yī
Tuesday星期二 xīngqī èr
Wednesday星期三 xīngqī sān
Thursday星期四 xīngqī sì
Friday星期五 xīngqī wǔ
Saturday星期六xīngqī liù
Sunday星期日 xīngqī rì
January一月yī yuè
February二月èr yuè
March三月sān yuè
April四月sì yuè
May五月wǔ yuè
June六月liù yuè
July七月qī yuè
August八月bā yuè
September九月jiǔ yuè
October十月shí yuè
November十一月shíyī yuè
December十二月shí’èr yuè
What time is it?现在几点?Xiànzài jǐ diǎn?
today今天 jīntiān
yesterday昨天 zuótiān
tomorrow明天 míngtiān


Most common Chinese verbs

Some verbs can be used very differently depending on their context. For example, “can” in English might have three different uses: to be capable of doing something, to ask permission, or even as a synonym for “willing to do something.” In Mandarin, there are three unique characters to describe these situations.

Auxiliary verbs

  • to be – 是 shì / to be someplace – 在 zài

We use 是 when talking about things like nationality or occupation.

For example: 我是美国人 (wǒ shì měi guó rén), means “I am American.”

In Chinese, you won’t place the verb “to be” before an adjective. Instead, you’ll use another adjective. For example, “to say “he is tall,” you’ll say “he – (very) – tall.”

Finally, to specify your location, you’ll use 在 (zài), as in 我在学校 (wǒ zài xué xiào), literally, “I – to be at – school.”

  • to have – 有 yǒu

Unlike 是 and other verbs, the negation of 有 is done with 没, as in 没有 (méi yǒu). What’s more, it’s never used with an adjective, but rather to express possession.

For example, to say “I’m hungry,” you’d say 我饿 (wǒ è), literally “I – (to have) hunger.”

The same is true for giving your age in Chinese – you’ll say “I – 25 – years.”

Modal verbs

  • to want – 想  xiǎng (in the sense “I’d like…”) / 要 yào
  • can – 会  huì (capability) / 能 néng (possibility) / 可以  kě yǐ (permission)

会 is also used in the context of having special skills or training. 能 is used in the sense of being willing to do something. And finally, 可以 is used in cases of asking or giving permission to do something. For example:

Can you (= do you know how to) speak Chinese? – 你会说中文吗?Nǐ huì shuō Zhōngwén ma?

I can (= it’s possible for me to) come on Saturday – 我星期六能来 Wǒ xīngqíliù néng lái

I can (= it’s allowed; my parents gave me permission) come on Saturday我星期六可以来 Wǒ xīngqíliù kě yǐ lái

  • have to/must – 得 děi

Common regular verbs

to make (to create)zuò
to watchkàn
to take (with you)dài
to take (with your hands)
to know (to understand)知道 zhī dào
to know (to be acquainted with)认识rèn shi
to go
to think (to be of a certain opinion)认为rèn wéi
to sellmài
to buy买 mǎi
to study学习 xuéxí



Again, in our opinion, this is another list of important Chinese words that we hope you’re able to make use of!

to travel旅行 lǚ xíng
luggage行李 xíng lǐ
departure/arrival出发 / 到达chū fā / dào dá
passport护照 hù zhào
plane ticket飞机票 fēijī piào
boarding pass登机证 dēng jī zhèng
ticket machine取票 qǔpiào
Where are you going?你要去哪里?Nǐ yào qù nǎlǐ?
(the) car汽车  qì chē
(the) metro地铁  dì tiě
(the) plane飞机 fēijī
reserve a hotel room订房 dìng fáng

Image of the Great Wall of China in the fog. Part of 150 Chinese Words article.


In case of emergency

And just in case…

Be careful!小心  xiǎo xīn
Help!救命  jiù mìng
Can I borrow your phone, please?我可以借你的电话吗?Wǒ kě yǐ jiè nǐ de diànhuà ma?
It hurts here.我这里疼。Wǒ zhè li téng.
I have to go to the hospital.我必须去医院 。Wǒ bì xū qù yī yuàn.
I'm sick.我病了。Wǒ bìng le.
Where is the pharmacy?药店在哪里?Yào diàn zài nǎ lǐ?
Can I see a doctor?我可以看医生吗?Wǒ kě yǐ kàn yī shēng ma?


How to Learn Chinese Words

If you want to learn new Chinese words and phrases efficiently, you’ll have to memorize the foundations. To start, you can use our Chinese vocabulary app.

Study both the characters and pinyin at the same time. If you plan to go to China, you’ll need to be able to recognize and read the characters. As for pinyin, that will help you type words on a keyboard. Once you’ve learned words, use them in context as much as possible!

And remember – just because we use the word “study” doesn’t mean this has to be boring! Find a way to make the process fun for you: work on drawing characters as you learn them (because the order does matter!), watch videos or films, chat with language partners, etc.

Whatever you do, just make sure that you’re enjoying the learning process!

A few tips for learning Chinese words and phrases

Now, the question is: how can you integrate learning into your daily life (and also keep it fun)? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Stick post-it notes on different objects while you’re learning their names in Mandarin. If you’re working in words for animals or family members, just stick the note on a photograph! Seeing words regularly and associating them visually with the object they represent is a very effective technique.
  • Once you’ve learned basic Chinese vocab, we strongly recommend that you get out there and find a conversation partner. You can even ask them to incorporate the words you’re learning into your conversations.
  • Finally, listen to podcasts, music, and books on tape, watch movies or short videos, read books, etc. The more exposure you give yourself, the more your vocabulary will grow!


Next Steps

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