5 fun Chinese expressions (& how to use them)

November 10, 2023

Chinese is a fun language, especially when it comes to greeting others, whether it’s your everyday hello or good wishes for an important festival like Chinese New Year

When you start to learn Chinese, you’ll most likely start with the basics like 你好 (nǐ hǎo) – “hello” – and 你好吗? (nǐ hǎo ma?)  – “How are you?”. You’ll definitely hear these in day-to-day Chinese (Mandarin) conversations, but there’s other, slightly more authentic, lingo that you need to undertand too.

Learn the ‘not-quite-textbook’ Chinese expressions below and try to use some of them when you next talk to a Chinese friend. 

Here are 5 of our favourite Chinese expressions, and a guide on how to use them

(zǎo) – morning 

Just like ‘morning’ in English, you can shorten ‘good morning’ – 早上好 (zǎo shàng hǎo) – to a simple 早 (zǎo). It’s a little more authentic, although slightly less formal than the full morning greeting. 

If someone greets you with 早 (zǎo), just like with the full 早上好 (zǎo shàng hǎo), you can simply respond by repeating the greeting. 

This can only be used before lunch time, naturally. And, unfortunately, you cannot shorten ‘good evening’ 晚上好 (wǎn hàng hǎo), to just 晚 (wǎn) – although it’d be cool if you could!

吃了吗?(chī le ma?) – Have you eaten? 

Asking someone if they’ve eaten 吃了吗?(chī le ma?) in Chinese is basically another way to ask “How are you?”. 

The question can be used at most times of the day (although usually after meal times), and is usually used with people you’re relatively familiar with (not with a complete stranger!). 

If you’re asked this question, don’t read between the lines. The person asking you (most likely) isn’t asking you out for lunch, nor are they concerned that you’re not eating enough. It’s simply a way to greet someone and show them that you care about them. 

And how would you respond? With a simple 吃了(chī le) – meaning, “Yes, I’ve eaten” if you’ve already had something to eat, or 还没呢 (hái méi ne) – meaning, “Not yet.” – if you haven’t eaten yet.

Whatever you say, don’t forget to add a 你呢?(nǐ ne) – meaning, “And you?” – after your response!

干嘛呢?(gàn má ne?) – What’s up? 

Just like the English phrase, “What’s up?”, the Chinese expression 干嘛呢?(gàn má ne?) can be used to ask someone what they are up to, or as a simple greeting to start a conversation. 

If you’re doing something, you can reply saying what you’re up to (for example, 我在吃饭呢 – “I’m eating”). Or if you’re sitting around doing nothing, 没干嘛呢 (méi gàn má ne) – “I’m not doing anything.”

哥们儿 (gē menr) – (male) friend 

哥们儿 (gē menr) is a way to address your male friends, and it is a lot more common in northern parts of mainland China. 

For example:

  • 早!哥们儿 (zǎo! gē menr) – “Morning, mate!”

姐们儿 (jiě menr) – (female) friend 

Similar to 哥们儿 (gē menr), 姐们儿 (jiě menr) can be used to address your close female friends.

姐(jiě) literally means ‘older sister’, however it doesn’t matter if your friend is older or younger than you. It’s also quite common to just say 姐 (jiě).

You can use 姐们儿 (jiě menr) or 姐 (jiě) before or after any of the greetings listed above.

For example:

  • 干嘛呢姐们儿?What’s up, mate (sis)?
  • 姐,早上好!Good morning, friend (sister)!

Listen out for these phrases and start using them in your Chinese conversations.

And if you’re interested in learning even more Chinese (Mandarin), try Busuu.

Busuu is a language-learning app where you can study from a Chinese course and practise your skills with native Chinese speakers.

Sign up for free and start learning today.

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