Woman Thinking With Hot Pink Background

11 Common Chinese Filler Words to Say “Um” and “Uh” in Chinese

How many times do you say “um,” “uh” or even “like” when you’re talking?

Pauses in conversation are so common that we have special words to naturally fill those words, in every language. 

Learn Chinese filler words if you want to sound fluent, even when you’re trying to remember how to say something!


那个 (nàge)

那个 literally means “that,” but it’s often used as a placeholder.

Be very careful when you use this word, as it can be misheard as the n-word in English!

In colloquial usage, 那个 in Mandarin Chinese is often used as a filler word or placeholder when a speaker is pausing or hesitating, similar to saying “uh” or “um” in English. It doesn’t carry any specific meaning in this context; rather, it serves to fill the silence while the speaker gathers their thoughts.

他问我关于那个……那个……那个计划。 (tā wèn wǒ guān yú nà ge… nà ge… nà ge jì huà.) — He asked me about that… um… that plan.

One famous example of 那个 (nàge) being used in a Chinese song is in the song 北京欢迎你 (běi jīng huān yíng nǐ), “Beijing Welcomes You.” In this song, 那个 is used as a filler word in the chorus:

那个,有一种力量,那个,来自每个角落,那个,照亮我心中的那个地方。 (nà ge, yǒu yì zhǒng lì liàng, nà ge, lái zì měi ge jiǎo luò, nà ge, zhào liàng wǒ xīn zhōng de nà ge dì fāng.) — That, there is a kind of power, that, comes from every corner, that, illuminates the place in my heart.

In this context, 那个 doesn’t have a specific meaning but is used rhythmically in the song to maintain the flow and add emphasis to the following lines.

You can hear this common filler word and many other native Chinese expressions and vocab in the video-based learning program, FluentU.


Equivalent to “um” or “uh” in English, this Chinese filler word is used to indicate acknowledgment, agreement or hesitation in speech. Here’s how you can use it:

嗯,我想一下再告诉你。 (ēn, wǒ xiǎng yí xià zài gào sù nǐ.) — Um, let me think about it and then I’ll tell you.

In this example, 嗯 is used to show hesitation or a pause while the speaker gathers their thoughts before responding.


This Chinese filler word can be used to express realization or understanding:

啊,我懂了! (ā, wǒ dǒng le!) — Ah, I understand now!

It can also soften the tone of a sentence:

你好啊! (nǐ hǎo ā!) — Hello there!

You can use it to add emphasis or emotion to a sentence:

你喜欢她啊? (nǐ xǐ huān tā ā?) — You like her, huh?

Or, as a pure filler word, to fill in pauses or indicate hesitation:

这个啊……我不太确定。 (zhè ge ā… wǒ bú tài què dìng.) — Um… I’m not quite sure about this.


This word is commonly used as a filler word to express understanding or to signify a response to new information. Here’s an example:

哦,原来是这样啊! (ò, yuán lái shì zhè yàng ā!) — Oh, so that’s how it is!

It can also serve to acknowledge what someone has said before responding further, acting as a bridge between different parts of a conversation, like this:

Person A: 我们明天一起去看电影吧。 (wǒ men míng tiān yì qǐ qù kàn diàn yǐng ba.) — Let’s go watch a movie together tomorrow.
Person B: 哦,好主意。你想看哪部电影? (ò, hǎo zhǔ yì. nǐ xiǎng kàn nǎ bù diàn yǐng?) — Oh, good idea. Which movie do you want to watch?


This filler word is commonly used to express surprise and frustration or to call someone’s attention.

Here’s an example of how you’d use it to show surprise or realization:

哎,你怎么这么快就回来了? (āi, nǐ zěn me zhè me kuài jiù huí lái le?) — Oh, how come you’re back so soon?

And here’s how it can be used to indicate frustration or annoyance:

哎,这个电脑又坏了! (āi, zhè ge diàn nǎo yòu huài le!) — Ugh, this computer is broken again!

Or to call someone’s attention:

哎,你听我说! (āi, nǐ tīng wǒ shuō!) — Hey, listen to me!


This word is used to soften commands or requests, similar to adding “please” in English:

快点啦,我们要迟到了! (kuài diǎn la, wǒ men yào chí dào le!) — Hurry up, we’re going to be late!

It can also convey a sense of urgency, completion or casualness, depending on the context:

你怎么还在那儿看手机啦? (nǐ zěn me hái zài nàr kàn shǒu jī la?) — Why are you still there playing with your phone?
我终于做完作业啦! (wǒ zhōng yú zuò wán zuò yè la!) — I finally finished my homework!


Similarly to 啦, 吧 is used to suggest something or to soften the tone of a request. 吧 (ba) is more commonly used to seek agreement or suggest a course of action, while 啦 (la) is often used to convey completion or emphasize a point.

It can also be used to express uncertainty or suggestion. For example:

我们去吃饭吧? (wǒ men qù chī fàn ba?) — Shall we go eat?


嘛 is commonly used as a filler word to soften the tone of a sentence, emphasize a point or indicate obviousness. Here are some examples:

我们去吃饭嘛,你想吃什么? (wǒ men qù chī fàn ma, nǐ xiǎng chī shén me?) — Let’s go eat, what do you want to eat?

这事情很简单嘛,不用担心。 (zhè shì qing hěn jiǎn dān ma, bú yòng dān xīn.) — This thing is very simple, no need to worry.


Use this one to express surprise or disbelief. For instance:

哎呀,我忘记带钱包了! (āi ya, wǒ wàng jì dài qián bāo le!) — Oh no, I forgot to bring my wallet!

快看呀,那边有一只小猫! (kuài kàn ya, nà biān yǒu yì zhǐ xiǎo māo!) — Quick, look, there’s a little cat over there!

什么 (shénme)

什么 is primarily used as an interrogative pronoun meaning “what.” While it’s not typically used as a filler word like some other particles we’ve discussed, it can still be used in a similar manner to fill pauses or indicate uncertainty in speech.

Here’s how you might use it:

我觉得…什么…可能是因为天气吧。 (wǒ juéde… shén me… kě néng shì yīn wèi tiān qì ba.) — I think… um… maybe it’s because of the weather.

你问我…什么…我忘记了。 (nǐ wèn wǒ… shén me… wǒ wàng jì le.) — You asked me… um… I forgot.

你知道吗 (nǐ zhīdào ma)

This phrase is commonly used in conversation to seek confirmation or to emphasize a point, similar to how “you know” is used in English. For example:

这个地方真的很漂亮,你知道吗? (zhè ge dì fāng zhēn de hěn piào liang, nǐ zhī dào ma?) — This place is really beautiful, you know?

那个电影非常感人,你知道吗? (nà ge diàn yǐng fēi cháng gǎn rén, nǐ zhī dào ma?) — That movie is very moving, you know?


Pauses happen naturally in conversations. Fill them like a native Chinese speaker with these common Chinese filler words!

And One More Thing...

If you want to continue learning Chinese with interactive and authentic Chinese content, then you'll love FluentU.

FluentU naturally eases you into learning Chinese language. Native Chinese content comes within reach, and you'll learn Chinese as it's spoken in real life.

FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos—like dramas, TV shows, commercials and music videos.

FluentU brings these native Chinese videos within reach via interactive captions. You can tap on any word to instantly look it up. All words have carefully written definitions and examples that will help you understand how a word is used. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.

FluentU's Learn Mode turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you're learning.

The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your vocabulary. It customizes quizzes to focus on areas that need attention and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a 100% personalized experience.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe