“Excuse Me” in Chinese: 9 Phrases to Get You Through the Crowds

Crowds are a fact of life in China—this is important to know if you hope to do any traveling there.

So what do you say if you’re in a hurry and have to get past people?

Perhaps you’ve been silently bumping into and running past them…

Now you don’t have to do that!

Here are nine authentic ways to say “excuse me” in Chinese.


1. 借过 (jiè guò) — Excuse me

借 is “borrow” and 过 is “pass,” so literally this phrase means something like “borrow (your) road.”

It’s used in a similar manner as “please let me through!” in English, so if you’re really in a hurry, you can repeat this as you go—like a person in this story about crowded public transportation:

(yǒu wèi chéng kè bù duàn hǎn zhe “jiè guò jiè guò”, dàn zhí dào chē mén jí jiāng guān bì shí, cái mǎn tóu dà hàn de jǐ xià le chē.)
A passenger was continuously yelling “excuse me, excuse me,” but it was only when the car doors were about to close that he—face full of sweat—was able to get out of the car.

2. 让一让 (ràng yí ràng) — Give way

让 means “to give way” or “to allow.” This expression is a polite way of asking someone to “allow” you to pass.

You can use it by itself or in conjunction with other words. These all translate to essentially the same thing in English:

(má fan nín ràng yí ràng.)
Excuse me, please let me by.

(qǐng ràng yí ràng.)
Please give way.

(láo jià nín ràng yí ràng.)
Excuse me, please give way.

Throw in a Chinese honorific to make it extra polite!

3. 让一下 (ràng yí xià) — Make way

This one is similar to the previous phrase. Here, you’re basically saying the same thing and asking someone to move a bit.

Here’s a sentence from this article as a real-world example:

(tā gāo dà de shēn qū, zhē dǎng le shēn hòu guān zhòng de shì xiàn, yǒu rén shì yì tā ràng yí xià.)
His big, tall frame blocked the line of sight of the audience behind him, and someone signaled for him to move out of the way.

4.  劳驾 (láo jià) — Excuse me

This is perhaps the most polite way of saying “excuse me,” as it implies something like “may I trouble you?”

It’s a very flexible term that can be used in many situations. Take this example from an article about the Peking Opera:

(zuò zài zhào yàn xiá lǐ miàn, tā yào chū qù, yú shì shuō le shēng “láo jià”, qǐng tā ràng yí ràng.)
Sitting on the inside of Zhao Yanxia [a famous Peking opera actress], [she] wanted to go out, so [she] said “excuse me,” asking to let her pass.

In fact, 劳驾 is so polite that you can combine it a not-so-polite option, like 过一下 (guò yí xià) — coming through.

过一下 is similar to 让一下, but the subject of the sentence is yourself instead of the person you’re speaking to. It’s like saying you’re going to pass someone, rather than nicely asking if they can let you pass.

But to be polite, you can say:

(láo jià, guò yí xià.)
Excuse me, coming through.

5. 不好意思 (bù hǎo yì si) — Pardon me

不好意思 is a very common way to say “excuse me.” It implies a sense of courtesy like the English phrases “pardon me,” “forgive me” or even “sorry to bother you.”

You can use this phrase to get past people, or to preface a question, especially if you need something from them.

(bù hǎo yì si, wǒ kě yǐ jiè yòng nǐ de bǐ ma?)
Pardon me, could I borrow your pen?

6. 对不起 (duì bu qǐ) — Sorry

While 不好意思 can sometimes mean “sorry,” 对不起 is stronger and consequently used less often.

In terms of “excuse me,” you’d want to say 对不起 if you accidentally bump into someone. For example:

(duì bu qǐ! wǒ de cuò.)
I’m sorry! My bad.

7. 请问 (qǐng wèn) — Please (may I) ask

This phrase is commonly used to politely ask for someone’s attention or to ask a question. It’s appropriate for situations where you need to address someone respectfully, for example when you’re seeking assistance, inquiring about something, or when approaching a stranger. It’s like saying “excuse me” or “may I ask” in English.

(qǐng wèn, nín zhī dào qù tú shū guǎn de lù ma?)
Excuse me, do you know the way to the library?

8. 抱歉 (bào qiàn) — Sorry (apologies)

This phrase means “sorry” or “apologies” in English and is generally used to express regret or to apologize for a mistake. It’s a good phrase for situations where you need to acknowledge your fault or show your regret, for example when accidentally bumping into someone, or when you’re unable to fulfill someone’s request.

(bào qiàn, wǒ chí dào le.)
Sorry, I’m late.

9. 什么 (shén me) — What (hey)

Although 什么 (shén me) translates to “what” in English, it can also be used as a casual or colloquial way to grab someone’s attention or to politely interrupt a conversation. It’s generally used in informal settings among friends. It can be compared to saying “hey” or “excuse me” in English when trying to get someone’s attention.

(shén me, nǐ shuō shén me?)
Hey, what did you say?


As you can see, all these ways of excusing yourself in Chinese have nuanced meanings. If you’re still not sure about when to use which phrase, the FluentU program can help through videos that show the words in natural use by native Chinese speakers.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

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Hopefully, now that you know how to say “excuse me” in Chinese, you can avoid some awkward moments in public!

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