Greeting people is the very first thing we learn when we start our journey with a new language. We could say this is how we invite it into our life. The very good news for you is that expressing greetings in Chinese is not very complicated. As we already explained in our articles about the words Please and You’re welcome, Chinese people tend to be very open and direct. This is why Chinese language is not as formal as Japanese, and you don’t have to think about proper polite forms every time when you meet a new person. This is why expressing yourself in Chinese is relatively easy.
As you may probably know, Chinese language is very rich due to its massive scale and long history. This is why there are several ways of expressing greetings. There are obviously formal and informal expressions for greeting people, just like in every other language. Moreover, Chinese is also susceptible of English influence, since many Chinese people learn English. This is why young people may often loan English words.
There are many useful expressions you may want to know in order to greet people properly. Most of them are appropriate for any situation, informal or formal. In this article, you will learn at least 5 easy ways of greeting people in Chinese.
- 你好 (nǐhǎo): the most basic and useful Chinese equivalent of “hi”, “hello”.
If you started learning Chinese already, you definitely have come across 你好 already. What is more, it is most likely the very first word you have learnt. 你好 is good for every situation, and it is one of the most useful Chinese words, alongside 谢谢 (xièxiè), which is “thank you”. As already mentioned, 你好 is very versatile: you can use it to greet anyone in any situation.
Moreover, Chinese don’t really ask small talk questions like “how are you” or “how are you doing”. 你好 is enough for the start of a conversation. Fun fact: it literally means “you good”.
There is also a more polite equivalent of 你好, which is 您好 (nín hǎo). As you can see, 您 is a very similar character to 你, but it has a heart element (心) added to the bottom. It makes sense for it to be more formal, since this character implies that you are “placing” this person in your heart or talking to him/her with your heart.
When should you use 您好?
Generally speaking, not very often. You can use it when you meet someone important or someone you want to show a lot of respect to, like a company’s boss or someone else being in a higher position than you. You can often spot 您 in official emails or in customer service. However, don’t overthink it: it is very unlikely for Chinese people to get offended because you forgot to address them in a more formal way.
* By the way, have you ever wondered how you should greet somewhere when talking on a phone? Communicating via phone is not an easy thing for a beginning speaker, but you should definitely know how to greet someone who has hold you.
When you pick up the phone, the proper word to say is: 喂 (wéi). In order to greet the person on the phone, you can say: 喂, 你好! As you can see, it is very simple.
2. 早上好 (zǎoshang hǎo): a direct equivalent of “good morning”.
The characters 早上 mean “morning”, so 好 gives us “good morning” . The phrase 早上好 sounds more formal in Chinese, just like “good morning” sounds more formal in English. It is often abbreviated to 早 and thus becomes less formal.
Note that 早上好 is used mostly in Mainland China. In Taiwan people tend to say 早安 (zǎo ān), which literally translates to “peaceful morning”.
There is also a Chinese equivalent for “good evening”, which is 晚上好 (wǎnshang hǎo). However, it is only used in very formal situations and you will rarely hear it in general.
3. 大家好 (dàjiā hǎo): a useful way to say “hello everyone”.
The word 大家 (dàjiā) means everyone, therefore 大家好 is used to greet a crowd of people. It is often said by teachers upon entering the classroom. If you are taking Chinese classes you have probably heard it already.
When you are greeted this way, you can simply respond 好 or 你好.
4. 嗨 (hāi) or “Hi”.
As we mentioned in the beginning of this article, Chinese language becomes increasingly open to English influence. This is why saying “hi” (the Chinese loanword is 嗨) is totally acceptable, especially when meeting younger Chinese people.
Since you are reading this article, we assume that you are a non-Chinese person. You must know that when going to China as a foreigner, you will be expected to know English very well. This is why Chinese people will most likely greet you with English “hi” or “hello” on a daily basis. What is more, people in Mainland China hope to practice English whenever they have an occasion. You can imagine that meeting a foreigner is a perfect excuse. This is why you will most likely hear more “hi” than 你好 during your stay there. However, continuing conversation in Chinese after greeting each other with “hi” is completely fine!
5. 好久不见 (hǎo jiǔ bú jiàn): the Chinese “long time no see”.
Just like it happens with English, Chinese people also like to use their equivalent of “long time no see” very often. Actually, 好久不见 (the last character is used in its traditional form “見” in Taiwan) is one of a very good ways of saying “hello”.
Imagine you cross the street and come across a friend that you haven’t seen for weeks or months. You can simply call him/her by name and add 好久不见. It works the same in English: “Natalie! Long time no see!”. In Chinese it could be: “小花 (xiǎo huā)! 好久不见!”
Learning Chinese and looking for the best way to practice? You have come to the right place. In Maayot, we specialise in quality Chinese content tailored for students at three different stages of learning. We provide short Chinese stories that can supplement your study on a daily basis. Each story takes little time to read yet gives you a great opportunity to expose yourself to new useful Chinese vocabulary every day. If you would like to know more about Chinese language, check out some of our articles below: