Asian Language School

 11 June 2018

How to Greet People in Chinese

Many of you probably have known that “nǐ hǎo” means “hello” or “how do you do?” in Mandarin Chinese. Your very first Chinese lessons usually contains a topic on how to greet people in Chinese. Another common greeting that is often taught in the textbook is “nǐ hǎo ma?”, translated as “how are you?”. Your Chinese teacher may briefly explain that “nǐ hǎo ma?” is not used quite the same as “how are you?” in spoken English. The textbook usually does not provide alternatives to these greetings, nor explain in what contexts these greetings should be used. Here, we are going to explain in details various Chinese phrases you can use to greet others.

Chinese Greetings

你好Nǐ Hǎo

When you are introduced to someone for the first time, you say “nǐ hǎo” and the other person will reply in “nǐ hǎo” as well. Here, “nǐ hǎo” means “how do you do?”.

This greeting is not just used for first time meeting, but also commonly used between people who do not know each other well (e.g. between a superior and a subordinate), and in professional contexts (e.g. when greeting colleagues).

Important to note is when addressing someone more senior, the respectful version of the second person pronoun “nín” is used instead, even in a casual context. And in professional contexts, two people of equal ranks will address each other with “nín” instead of “nǐ”

Example 1:

David: Chén lǎoshī, nín hǎo!

Teacher: David, nǐ hǎo!

Note that David should address his teacher with “nín”, while the teacher will address him with “nǐ”.

Example 2:

Mr Wang: Chén Lǎobǎn, nín hǎo!

Mr Chen: Wáng Zǒng, nín hǎo!

In the above example, both Mr Chen and Mr Wang are of equal ranks, thus, they greet each other with “nín hǎo”.

你好吗? Nǐ Hǎo Ma?

The literal translation of “nǐ hǎo ma” is “how are you?”. However, it is not used the way “how are you?” is used by English speakers. So how do Chinese people normally ask how others are doing? Common phrases used include:

  • 你最近怎么样?
    nǐ zuìjìn zěnmeyang?
    How have you been lately?
  • 你学习怎么样?
    nǐ xuéxí zěnmeyàng
    How is it going with your study?
  • 你身体好吗?
    nǐ shēntǐ hǎo ma?
    Are you in good health?
  • 你工作顺利吧?
    nǐ gōngzuò shùnlì ba
    Is your work going well?

Possible responses are:

  • 还不错。
    hái búcuò
  • 还可以。
    hái kěyǐ
  • 还好。
    hái hǎo
  • 还行。
    hái xíng

which mean “pretty good” or “not bad”.

Sometimes, you will come across the phrase “nĭ hái hăo ma”, meaning “how have you been doing?”. This phrase is reserved to ask someone you care about whom you have not been keeping in touch with, for example, a Chinese guy may greet his ex-girlfriend with this phrase.

And here are some more Chinese lessons on greetings …

  • 嗨!
    Hi! (casual)
  • 好久不见!
    hăojiŭ bújiàn
    Long time no see!
  • 早! / 早上好!
    zǎo / zǎoshàng hǎo
    Morning! / Good morning!
  • 下午好!
    xiàwǔ hǎo
    Good afternoon! (not commonly used)
  • 晚上好
    wǎnshàng hǎo
    Good evening! (not commonly used)
  • 晚安
    Good night!
  • 再见!
  • 拜拜!
    Bye! (casual)
    Quiz: Do you know what it means when your Chinese friend texts you “8181”?

Colleagues, friends and families often greet each other differently. They will say:

  • 你吃饭了吗?
    nǐ chī fàn le ma
    Have you eaten?
  • 你去哪儿?
    nǐ qù nǎr
    Where are you going?
  • 你最近忙吗?
    nǐ zuìjìn máng ma
    Are you busy lately?

Now that you have had your Chinese lessons about greetings, next time when you hear your Chinese friends ask you if you have eaten or where you are going, don’t be puzzled! It is how Chinese people greet each other in daily life.

If you would like to learn how to speak more Mandarin Chinese, take a look at our Chinese language course.