We all know Chinese is notoriously difficult to learn but is it really? The truth is, if you only aim to get around with day-to-day conversations, it really isn’t that hard. You can start with some simple phrases and vocabulary, try to understand their various uses while learning some basic grammar and sentence structures along the way. Here, we are going to start with a simple word: “OK”.
When you are learning a language, one of the first things you must know is how to say “OK”. “OK” is one of the most commonly used words in various conversations. Sure, most Chinese people nowadays understand the English word “OK”, but it is not the best word to use in some situations. For instance, you do not use “OK” when replying to your boss. You use “noted” or “understood” instead, right? It’s the same in Chinese. There are many words that carry the same meaning as “OK” which are suitable for different occasions. Like in English, there are “alright”, “sure”, “no problem” and more.
Here are 4 common ways to say “OK” in Chinese:
1. 好 (hǎo)
It literally means “good”. However, in this case, it is not used as an adjective. Rather, it is a word used to accept an offer or agree to something.
Although you can directly use the word “好” to say “OK”, you can also add on several types of modal particles for different situations:
- 好的 (hǎo de): more commonly used in formal situations where 的 emphasizes affirmation.
e.g. when talking to your superiors or elders, or being respectful towards someone.
- 好啊 (hǎo a): used in casual conversations.
e.g. when talking to your friends. 啊 is often used to soften your tone and make you sound nicer.
Q: 请出示您的护照。(qǐng chū shì nǐn de hù zhào) Please show your passport.
Q: 今晚我带你去故宫看看吧！(jīn wǎn wǒ dài nǐ qù gù gōng kàn kàn ba) I’ll bring you to the Forbidden City tonight!
2. 可以 (kě yǐ)
It means “can”. It is used to express that you are allowed to or capable of doing something.
Similarly, you can also say “可以啊” to sound friendlier. However, “可以的” is less used because “可以“ is already formal enough.
Q: 明天早上请把报告交给我。(míng tiān zǎo shàng qǐng bǎ bào gào jiāo gěi wǒ) Please hand in the report to me tomorrow morning.
Q: 你有铅笔吗？ 借我用用。(nǐ yǒu qiān bǐ ma? jiè wǒ yòng yòng) Do you have a pencil? Lend me one.
3. 行 (xíng)
It is similar to “可以”, and it also means “can”. This phrase is mostly used casually, as it carries a “yup, that’ll work for me” type of feeling.
Likewise, to soften your tone, you can add “啊” at the end. However, most people do not say “行的”.
Q: 待会儿在这里见面？(dāi huì ér zài zhè lǐ jiàn miàn) We’ll meet here later?
A: 行！/ 行啊！
4. 没问题 (méi wèn tí)
What if you want to say “OK, no problem”? Here’s how to say it. It means “no problem”. You can use it as a standalone phrase, or add it behind 好/可以/行 to stress that you are absolutely OK with something! For instance:
More Ways to Say OK in Chinese
In fact, the English word “OK” is so frequently used by native Chinese speakers nowadays that you can totally mix it up with 好/可以/行/没问题, and they will still understand you perfectly. It also sounds more natural and friendly! For example:
A: OK，好啊 / OK，没问题！
So, all you have to do is to remember these few words and you’re good to go! However, if you are interested in learning more, here are some similar phrases that dive deeper into native Chinese that you can pick up as well:
- 能 (néng): it means “can”, which is a synonym of 可以, but it is harder to pronounce and not as frequently used. If you hear this word in a yes/no question, e.g. 能不能/能吗, you can answer with 能/不能.
- 好说 (hǎo shuō): 好 means “good”, and 说 means “to persuade”. Put it together and it means “say no more, I’m totally OK with this”. You can repeat it to emphasize your willingness.
- 我来 (wǒ lái): 我 means “I”, 来 means “come”. However, you cannot take this phrase too literally and think that it means “I come”. This phrase actually means “come on, let me do it”. Similarly, you can say it twice to show that you really want to do it.
- 交给我吧 (jiāo gěi wǒ ba): It literally means “give (this) to me”. You can use it to express reassurance, like “don’t worry, leave it to me”. This is a very warm and nice phrase.
When Should You Respond with “OK”?
Besides, you should also know when to respond with “OK”. The go-to way to identify yes/no questions in Chinese is to see if “好”, “可以“ or “行” pops up in the questions. Yes/no questions usually come in these structures:
1. Question + 好/可以/行 + 吗 (ma)
吗 is a modal particle used at the end of questions.
A: 行！/ 不行。Sure! / Nope.
2. Question + 好不好 (hǎo bù hǎo) / 行不行 (xíng bù xíng)
This is more commonly used when pleading for something or asking for affirmation. As for 可不可以 [kě bù kě yǐ], it can be used in the same way, just pop it in the beginning of the question instead of the end.
A：好啊！/ 不好。Ok! / Not OK.
3. 可以 + question + 吗
It usually means “Can you do something for me?”
Q: 可以帮我拿着吗？(kě yǐ bāng wǒ ná zhe ma) / 可不可以帮我拿着？(kě bù kě yǐ bāng wǒ ná zhe) Could you help me take this?
A: 可以啊。/ 不可以。Alright. / No.
4. Subject + 可以 + question + 吗
It means “Can I/you/he/she/we/they do something?”
To sound more polite, you need to add a “请” (qǐng) or “请问” (qǐng wèn) in front of the question, which means “please”.
Q: 请问你可以借我铅笔吗？(qǐng wèn nǐ kě yǐ jiè wǒ qiān bǐ ma) Could you please lend me a pencil?
A: 可以。/ 不可以。
Q: 请问我可以先回家吗？(qǐng wèn wǒ kě yǐ xiān huí jiā ma) Can I please go back home first?
A：可以。/ 不可以。Sure / No, you can’t.
How to Say “Not OK”?
So, you’ve learned how to say “OK” in 3 different ways. “But how do I say ‘not OK’?”, you may ask. It’s simple, just add a “不” [bù] in front of it, like 不好, 不可以, 不行.
I hope this article shares useful and simple ways to enhance your Chinese language. If you want to learn more, subscribe to Maayot for more interesting bite-sized Chinese stories!
You can also read the following articles to discover further: