Let’s face it; we’re emotional beings!
We can feel joy, anxiety, love and exhaustion all in one day!
As humans, we talk about our emotions all the time. Whether it’s feelings towards other people, behaviors or inanimate objects, we like to let others know how we feel. So it makes complete sense if you’re learning Chinese to learn the words for different feelings in Chinese.
There’s a bit of a catch when expressing your emotions in Chinese, though. But no need for anxiety—we’ll address that right away!
What Are the Cultural Differences Between Chinese Feelings and Western Emotions?
While there are a lot of people who like to wear their emotions on their sleeves, the Chinese are a little more subtle in sharing their feelings. Let’s discuss cultural differences before you accidentally share too much sentiment in Chinese.
Western cultures are more vocal about their feelings
Americans and people from other Western cultures tend to be individualistic, often looking for ways to stand out. Because of this stronger focus on the self, Westerns feel less inhibited in terms of expressing their desires and feelings, and value qualities like honesty and straightforwardness.
This differs drastically from Chinese and other Eastern cultures that are centered around collectivism and societal perception.
Eastern cultures believe in suppressing feelings
When it comes to affection, Chinese and Asians at large aren’t so big on saying, “I love you.” It’s more common to show feelings of love through actions, such as holding hands and cuddling. In the East, actions speak louder than words.
Other ways they might show emotions, rather than verbally communicating them, is by using facial expressions, or changing their intonation while speaking. Overtly expressing feelings, positive or negative, is just not very common in Chinese culture.
To express or not to express your emotions in Chinese
Emotions are like data; they communicate meaning and intent. However, with seemingly opposing cultural beliefs between the East and the West, it might be confusing for you as an English speaker to know whether it’s okay to talk about your feelings in Chinese or not.
When talking among friends, you can express positive and negative feelings, but it’s best to refrain from sharing negative sentiments when you’re speaking with acquaintances, elders or in your place of work, if you work with Chinese speakers. Expressing negative emotions could cause you to lose face, a Chinese cultural no-no.
Again, if you have positive feelings, don’t be afraid to share them. Besides, no one ever lost face by expressing how happy or excited they were.
For a little taste of how native Chinese speakers would talk about their emotions, here’s a short conversation where two people are talking about their positive emotional state.
In this short dialogue, the speakers not only use various words for “happy,” but they also indicate their positive emotion in their intonation. This video is also available on FluentU, complete with full audio transcription and interactive subtitles to help you learn more about the vocabulary and grammatical structures featured in this clip.
With thousands of relevant, everyday media clips on the platform, as a learner, you’ll come to better understand grammar concepts and discover natural ways you can discuss your feelings in conversation.
So, are you ready to share your emotions—at least the positive ones?
Let’s get on with it then!
Feel It Out! 20 Chinese Feelings and How to Express Those Emotions Like a Native Speaker
How to Say “Emotion” in Chinese
In case you were curious, here are some of the translations for “feeling” and “emotion.” Most of these words won’t be relevant to beginners, but these terms are great for when you progress into the intermediate and advanced language stages, as they add a poetic touch to speech and writing.
衷情 (zhōngqíng) — inner emotions
感受 (gǎnshòu) — to sense, to feel, to experience; feeling
表情 (biǎoqíng) — facial expression, expression
感情 (gǎnqíng) — emotion, sentiment, affection; feelings between two people
感觉 (gǎnjué) — to feel; feeling, sense, perception
觉得 (juéde) — to feel; to think
心里话 (xīnlǐ huà) — to express one’s true feelings, to express what’s on one’s mind
心声 (xīnshēng) — thoughts, feelings, inner voice
心尖 (xīnjiān) — bottom of one’s heart, innermost feelings
情愫 (qíngsù) — sentiment, feeling
感觉 or 觉得 are most commonly used when discussing feelings. To make an “I feel” statement, you could say 我感觉 or 我觉得, followed by any emotion listed in the next couple of sections.
To say “I am very,” your statement would start off with 我很 (wǒ hěn). Although that literally translates to “I very,” remember that in Chinese, you can omit the verb “to be” or 是 (shì) as long as it doesn’t take away from the main idea of the sentence.
You also have the option of removing 很 if you simply want to say “I am” rather than “I am very.”
Chinese Vocabulary for Positive Feelings
Onto happy things now!
Here are terms to describe your positive emotions. Notice how there are tons of different ways to say “happy” in Chinese.
开心 (kāixīn) — to feel happy; to have a great time
高兴 (gāoxìng) — happy, glad, in a cheerful mood
喜滋滋 (xǐzīzī) — happy
快活 (kuàihuo) — happy, cheerful
欣喜 (xīnxǐ) — happy, joyful
宽心 (kuānxīn) — to feel relieved; to feel relaxed
满足 (mǎnzú) — contented, to be contented, to feel satisfied
兴奋 (xīngfèn) — to be excited
恋爱 (liàn’ài) — to be in love
惊奇 (jīngqí) — to be amazed; to be surprised
To use these terms in sentences, just follow the formulas shared above. Here are a couple of examples of how you might express positive emotions.
我很惊奇。(wǒ hěn jīngqí.) — I am so amazed.
我感觉满足。(wǒ gǎnjué mǎnzú.) — I feel content.
我很宽心。(wǒ hěn kuānxīn.) — I am very relieved.
Chinese Words for Negative Feelings
Not feeling like your best self?
Here are the terms to use when you want to express those not-so-positive feelings.
闷闷不乐 (mènmènbùlè) — depressed, unhappy
悲伤 (bēishāng) — sad, sorrowful, mournful
伤心 (shāngxīn) — brokenhearted, sad
焦急 (jiāojí) — anxious, worried, restless
累死 (lèi sǐ) — exhausted, worn out
害怕 (hàipà) — to be afraid, to be scared
心寒 (xīnhán) — to be very disappointed
生气 (shēngqì) — to be angry
紧张 (jǐnzhāng) — nervous, tense
尴尬 (gāngà) — awkward, embarrassed
Following the formulas above, here are a few sentences you might say when expressing negative emotions.
我累死了。(wǒ lèi sǐle.) — I am exhausted.
我觉得紧张。(wǒ juédé jǐnzhāng.) — I feel nervous.
我很生气。(wǒ hěn shēngqì.) — I am very angry.
How Native Speakers Actually Express Their Feelings
Again, it’s up to you whether you’d like to share your feelings or not, given the context is appropriate and non-offensive for you or the audience. If you want to do as the locals do, then talk about your emotions in a roundabout way.
Here’s how you can do that.
Share feelings of love through song
If you’re feeling brave, you can dedicate a Jay Chou love song to your partner at a KTV (place where you sing karaoke). You can also go for one of the classic hits from Teresa Teng, such as “The Moon Represents My Heart.” There are a lot of different KTV hits to choose from.
Talk about your relationship through proverbs
Rather than simply saying you love someone, take it a step further and use proverbs to describe the relationship.
Was it love at first sight or 一见钟情 (yíjiànzhōngqíng)?
Did your significant other stand out from the crowd? If so, you could say 各花入各眼 (gè huā rù gè yǎn), meaning “Different flowers match different eyes.”
Use number slang
A modern way to express your feelings is through number slang. There are several different numerical combinations you can use to say “I love you,” but numbers can also be used to reveal feelings of anger or despair.
For example, 555 or 五五五 (wǔwǔwǔ) is onomatopoeia for crying in Chinese.
When you’re feeling embarrassed or disappointed, you can exaggerate by saying 514 or 五一四 (wǔ yao sì), which sounds similar to the phrase 我要死 (wǒ yào sǐ) meaning “I want to die.”
As mentioned earlier, the Chinese like to communicate feelings through actions, which includes body language and delivery of thoughts. Simply exclude those “I feel” statements, and express your feelings of excitement, anger, affection or frustration through the tone of your voice. We all might speak different languages, but intonation can be understood across all cultures.
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