When you study Chinese vocabulary, one of the first things you’ll learn is how to say hello in Chinese. Greetings are a crucial part of any language, and “hello” is a particularly important phrase to know. In this article, you’ll learn a few different ways to say hello in Chinese, as well as a few options for continuing a conversation! If you have any questions or doubts about pronunciation, click the play button to hear each greeting pronounced by a native speaker.
You probably already know the most common way to say hello in Chinese: 你 好 (nĭ hǎo). But did you know that 你好 is pretty formal?
So, how can you casually just say hi in Chinese? There are actually several different ways to greet someone, just like there are many different greetings for different situations in English. Keep reading to learn something new!
Learn to say 你好:
This is often the first phrase that people learn when studying Chinese greetings.
However, this is a rather formal greeting in Chinese and is most often used to say hello to someone you’ve never met before. It’s appropriate for greeting a server in a restaurant or a taxi driver, for example. You can also use this expression if you work in China and are speaking with a customer. So you’ll certainly hear and use this phrase, but not in every situation.
If you’d like to be even more polite, you can say 您 好 (nín hǎo). 您 is kind of like using a formal form of “you” (similar to “usted” in Spanish or “vous” in French).
Learn to say 早:
If you’re meeting someone early in the morning, you can use 早 (zǎo) or 早 安 (zǎo ‘ān). But be careful—you should only use this phrase with friends or close acquaintances. It’s kind of like the equivalent of “Mornin’!” in English.
On the other hand, if you’re talking to an elderly person (even if they’re your grandparents, because Chinese culture holds high respect for elders and superiors), someone you’ve met recently, or a superior, you should instead say: 早 上 好 (zǎo shang hǎo). This literally translates as “morning – good,” so “good morning.”
Learn to say 午安:
Similarly, if you want to say hi to your friends in the afternoon, you can say: 午 安 ! (wǔ ‘ān).
The more formal version that you can use in any situation is: 下 午 好 (xià wǔ hǎo).
“Good evening” is constructed in the same way: 晚 安 (wǎn ‘ān) or with 嗨 (hāi), which means “Hey, hi!”
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Learn to say 嗨:
嗨 is a very informal way to greet someone. It’s mostly used by young urban people to greet their friends or peers.
As you can see from the pinyin version, this greeting comes from the English “hi!” It’s also used when you run into someone you know, but don’t necessarily have the time to stop and chat with them.
It’s also very common to see the character 嗨 on social media platforms like WeChat.
Learn to say 哈罗:
This expression can also be traced back to the English word “hello.” The pronunciation is actually very similar!
However, you’ll want to stick to using it with friends, because it’s generally only used by young urban populations.
Learn to say 大家好:
If you already know a little bit of Chinese, you might recognize these characters:
- 大 dà – big
- 家 jiā – family
- 好 hǎo – well
So, literally, this says: “big family well.”
In Chinese culture, a group is referred to figuratively as a big family. 大家 also means “everyone” and 大家好 means “hello everyone.” This is a good way to greet a group in Chinese.
Learn to say 喂:
Wondering how to say hello in Chinese when you’re answering the phone? 喂 (wéi)! This greeting is used exclusively for answering the phone. You likely won’t hear or use it in any other context.
However, if you think that the person on the other end of the call is important, and if you’d like to be more polite, you can also say 喂, 你 好 (wéi, nĭ hǎo). It’s more polite than just 喂 and less strange in context than simply saying 你 好.
Learn to say 老师好:
You probably know that the Chinese hold great respect for their elders and superiors. Teachers hold a similar place of respect, because education is highly valued. So if you’re a student in China, or if you’re going there to study, this greeting will come in very handy!
Translated literally, 老师好 (lǎoshī hǎo) means “good teacher,” but in context it actually means “hello, teacher.” You can use it to greet your teacher, or anyone else that you run into in the hall of your school or in the street.
An important next step in most conversations is some form of asking your interlocutor how they’re doing. As in English, some versions of this question express a sincere interest in the other person, while other forms are more of a conversational reflex that doesn’t require as detailed of an answer. Below, you’ll find three forms of this same question, and the different ways you can respond.
Learn to say 你吃饭了吗？:
This literally means “have you eaten?” This expression is often—though not always—used around lunch and dinnertime, and it can cause some confusion for foreigners traveling in China. Don’t be too surprised if someone asks you this question with no other context. It’s simply another polite way to say hello in Chinese.
The person who asks you this question doesn’t really care to know if you’ve eaten, nor is it an invitation to go get a meal together. On the contrary, it’s generally like saying “Hi, how’s it going?” and doesn’t really require a response. However, this question is just as polite as any other greeting (without being formal).
There are a few possible responses to this question:
- 我 吃饭 了, 你 呢？(wǒ chī fàn le, nĭ ne?) – I have eaten, and you?
- 吃 了，你 呢 ? (chī le, nĭ ne ?) – This phrase also translates as “I have eaten, and you?”; this is definitely the easiest and most efficient way to respond to this greeting.
- 快 去 吃! (kuài qù chī !) – Go eat fast!
This response should only be used if the person says that they haven’t eaten.
But don’t say that you haven’t eaten yet, as this will put the other person in an awkward position. They will probably feel obligated to invite you to eat, when they’d only meant to greet you. If they do offer, the polite answer would be to refuse.
Learn to say 好久不见, 你最近好吗？:
If you’d like to keep things simple, you can simply say 好 久 不 见 (hăo jiŭ bú jiàn) to say hello. This expression means “it’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other.” But if you want to keep the conversation going, you can add: 你 最 近 好 吗？(nĭ zuìjìn hăo ma) which means “how are you doing now?”
This greeting is used when two friends haven’t seen each other in a while. It’s a warm, friendly sentiment. Adding the “how are you doing?” is meant to be sincere, so feel free to give an honest answer.
A few ways you could respond to this question:
- The easiest is: 很 好 啊! 你 呢？(hěn hǎo ā! Nĭ ne?) – Very well! And you?
- 不 错 啊! 你 呢？(bú cuò ā! Nĭ ne?) – Not bad! And you?
- 还 好! 你 呢？(hái hǎo! Nĭ ne?) – It’s going! And you?
- 不 太 好 (bú tài hǎo) – Not very well.
It’s fairly straightforward and similar to the way you’d respond to the question in English.
Learn to say 你最近怎么样？:
This is another way to ask “how are you” after 好久不见.
- 你 nĭ – you
- 最 近 zuìjìn – recently
- 怎 么 样 zĕnmeyàng – how
This question is also more open-ended. If someone asks you this question, you can respond with what you’re doing in the moment, or what you’d like to be doing.
Here are a few ways to answer if someone asks you this question:
- 最 近 很 好 啊! 你 呢？(zuìjìn hěn hǎo ā! Nĭ ne?) – Very well! And you?
- 都 不 错! 你 呢？(dōu bú cuò! Nĭ ne?) – It’s going well! And you?
- 还 可 以! 没 什 么 特 别 的 (hái kě yǐ! Méi shén me té biè de) – It’s going. Nothing too special.
(Here, 没 什 么 means “nothing” and 特 别 means “special.”)
- 不 太 好, 很 多 事 很 烦 (bú tài hǎo, hěn duō shì hěn fán) – Not very well, I’m preoccupied.
Learn to say 最近忙什么呢?:
Here’s one final way to ask how someone is doing, which you can use after the expression 好久不见.
The answer to this question is very simple. Just say: 最 近 忙 工 作 啊，你呢？(Zuì jìn máng gōng zuò ā, nĭ ne?). This reply literally means that you’ve been busy with your work: “I’ve been working a lot, and you?”
If a Chinese person greets you in this way, it’s kind of like they are asking “What’s new?” It implies a degree of real interest in your reply. They really want to know what you’ve been up to!
You can learn more useful Chinese words and phrases from your MosaLingua Learn Mandarin app. And if you found this article interesting, here are a couple of others you might enjoy: