chinese vocabulary

200+ Essential Chinese Words and Phrases Used in Daily Life (with Audio and Free PDF)

Focus on the most common Chinese words, and you’ll be able to get a solid foundation in the language.

You’ll also navigate conversations faster and get better at handling different situations. 

This post will take you through 212 of the most common Chinese vocabulary words, plus links to 64 posts with additional terms and information—that’s a lot of learning!

So, read on to build your Mandarin vocabulary from survival phrases to numbers, shopping vocabulary and beyond.

Contents

Common Phrases

tourist asking chinese people for directions

These are the words and phrases you’d need most in a Chinese-speaking region:

ChinesePinyinEnglish
你好 nǐ hǎoHello
你叫什么名字? nǐ jiào shén me míng zì?What's your name?
谢谢 xiè xieThank you
不好意思 bù hǎo yì siExcuse me
对不起 duì bù qǐI'm sorry
我听不懂 wǒ tīng bù dǒngI don't understand
不是 / 没有 bú shì / méi yǒuNo*
厕所在哪里? cè suǒ zài nǎ lǐ?Where's the bathroom?
你吃了吗? nǐ chī le ma?How are you?
[lit. Have you eaten?]
再见 zài jiànGoodbye

*The Mandarin word for “no” depends on context; you can learn more here.

You can also learn:

Food & Drinks

chinese braised pork with veggies

China is a place well known for its cuisine. Here are the most common words for basic foods in Chinese:

ChinesePinyinEnglish
食物 shí wùFood
早饭 zǎo fànBreakfast
午饭 wǔ fànLunch
晚饭 wǎn fànDinner
鸡肉 jī ròuChicken
猪肉 zhū ròuPork
牛肉 niú ròuBeef
海鲜 hǎi xiānSeafood
dànEgg
蔬菜 shū càiVegetables
水果 shuǐ guǒFruit
fànRice
miànNoodles
tāngSoup

See this post for more specific food vocabulary, and this post for vegetables and vegetable dishes. You can also learn how to order food in Chinese and discover useful restaurant phrases.

What’s a meal without a beverage? Below are common drinks and related terms in Mandarin:

ChinesePinyinEnglish
饮料 yǐn liàoDrinks
shuǐWater
汽水 qì shuǐSparkling water
葡萄酒 pú táo jiǔWine
啤酒 pí jiǔBeer
苏打 sū dǎSoda
zhīJuice
牛奶 niú nǎiMilk
豆浆 dòu jiāngSoy milk
cháTea
咖啡 kā fēiCoffee
拿铁咖啡 ná tiě kā fēiLatte
Hot
lěngCold
bīngIce
tángSugar

Here’s a full list of drinks in Chinese, as well as how to order coffee and all about alcohol.

Clothes & Shopping

man shopping for shoes in china

If you’re spending time in China, you may be interested in checking out the fashion. Here are some helpful terms:

ChinesePinyinEnglish
衣服 yī fúClothes
衬衫 chèn shānShirt
裤子 kù ziPants
牛仔裤 niú zǎi kùJeans
短裤 duǎn kùShorts
裙子 qún ziSkirt
连衣裙 lián yī qúnDress
外套 wài tàoCoat
袜子 wà ziSocks
xiéShoes

Here’s our complete guide to clothing in Chinese.

And if you’re looking to purchase clothes or other items, these terms will help you out:

ChinesePinyinEnglish
商店 shāng diànStore
百货公司 bǎi huò gōng sīMall
mǎiTo buy
礼物 lǐ wùGift
这个多少钱? zhè ge duō shǎo qián?How much does this cost?
我可以试穿吗? wǒ kě yǐ shì chuān ma?Can I try it on?
/ yuán / kuàiMonetary unit
现金 xiàn jīnCash
零钱 líng qiánSmall change
信用卡 xìn yòng kǎCredit card

You can also check out more useful phrases for shopping, learn more about money in Chinese and learn the Chinese names of popular brands.

Colors

Knowing colors in Mandarin can help you discuss clothes, food, drinks and so much more.

ChinesePinyinEnglish
颜色 yán sèColor
黑色 hēi sèBlack
白色 bái sèWhite
灰色 hūi sèGray
棕色 zōng sèBrown
红色 hóng sèRed
橙色 chéng sèOrange
黄色 huáng sèYellow
绿色 lǜ sèGreen
蓝色 lán sèBlue
紫色 zǐ sèPurple
粉红色 fěn hóng sèPink

Check out our full list of colors in Chinese here.

Numbers

calculator in pants pocket

Learning how to count is a vital skill in any language. Here’s zero through ten, plus a few other helpful numbers:

ChinesePinyinNumber
líng0
1
èr2*
sān3
4
5
liù6
7
8
jiǔ9
shí10
十五 shí wǔ15
一百 yī bǎi100
一千 yī qiān1,000

*There are two ways to say “two” in Chinese; learn more in our complete number guide.

You can also learn how to tell time and how to do basic math in Chinese.

Days & Months

calendar on office desk

You’ll also want to know how to discuss dates in Chinese, especially if you’re traveling.

ChinesePinyinEnglish
星期一 xīng qī yīMonday
星期二 xīng qī èrTuesday
星期三 xīng qī sānWednesday
星期四 xīng qī sìThursday
星期五 xīng qī wǔFriday
星期六 xīng qī liùSaturday
星期日 / 星期天 xīng qī rì / xīng qī tiānSunday
今天 jīn tiānToday
明天 míng tiānTomorrow
昨天 zuó tiānYesterday

See this post for more about the days of the week in Mandarin.

And here are the months:

ChinesePinyinEnglish
一月 yī yuèJanuary
二月 èr yuèFebruary
三月 sān yuèMarch
四月 sì yuèApril
五月 wǔ yuèMay
六月 liù yuèJune
七月 qī yuèJuly
八月 bā yuèAugust
九月 jiǔ yuèSeptember
十月 shí yuèOctober
十一月 shí yī yuèNovember
十二月 shí èr yuèDecember
yuèMonth
niánYear

You can also check out our full post on the months in Chinese (plus the lunar calendar).

Seasons, Weather & Holidays

beijing in autumn

Discussing the weather is also considered small talk in Mandarin! Here’s important vocabulary for doing just that:

ChinesePinyinEnglish
季节 jì jiéSeason
夏天 xià tiānSummer
秋天 qiū tiānFall
冬天 dōng tiānWinter
春天 chūn tiānSpring
天气 tiān qìWeather
Hot
lěngCold
凉快 liáng kuaiPleasant
晴朗 qíng lǎngSunny
多云 duō yúnCloudy
Rainy
fēngWindy
xuěSnowy

Follow these links for our full posts about the seasons and the weather.

Additionally, many Chinese holidays relate to the time of year. These are some of the most popular holidays in China:

ChinesePinyinEnglish
节日 jié rìFestival / Holiday
新年 xīn niánNew Year
春节 chūn jiéSpring Festival
端五节 duān wǔ jiéDragon Boat Festival
中秋节 zhōng qiū jiéMid-Autumn Festival
万圣节 wàn shèng jiéHalloween
圣诞节 shèng dàn jiéChristmas
新年快乐! xīn nián kuài lè!Happy New Year!*

*You can sub another holiday in place of “New Year.”

Learn more about the holidays and related phrases by checking out these posts on:

Family, Friends & Relationships

chinese family sitting around table

To talk about your family, friends, romantic partner, classmates or colleagues, you’ll need these vocabulary terms:

ChinesePinyinEnglish
家人 jiā rénFamily
妈妈 mā māMom
爸爸 bà baDad
兄弟姐妹 xiōng dì jiě mèiSiblings
妻子 qī ziWife
丈夫 zhàng fūHusband
孩子 hái ziChild
祖父母 zǔ fù mǔGrandparents
亲戚 qīn qīRelative
朋友 péng yǒuFriend
女朋友 nǚ péng yǒuGirlfriend
男朋友 nán péng yǒuBoyfriend
同学 tóng xuéClassmate
同事 tóng shìColleague

Check out these links for how to introduce your family and friends and useful phrases for hanging out.

You can also discover Mandarin phrases for “happy birthday,” “good luck” and “congratulations” to say to these important people in your life.

Feelings

girl with an excited expression

It’s important to be able to express yourself in the language you’re using, even at a basic level. Here’s what to say in Chinese:

ChinesePinyinEnglish
感觉 gǎn juéFeelings
觉得 jué deTo feel
高兴 gāo xìngHappy
兴奋 xīng fènExcited
满足 mǎn zúContent
伤心 shāng xīnSad
生气 shēng qìAngry
害怕 hài pàAfraid
紧张 jǐn zhāngNervous
累死 lèi sǐTired

For more emotions in Mandarin, see this post.

You may also be interested in how to flirt in Chinese, how to say “I love you” and Chinese terms of endearment

Hobbies

girl swimming sideways in a pool

If you find yourself in conversation with some native Chinese speakers, discussing hobbies is a great way to get to know each other.

ChinesePinyinEnglish
爱好 ài hàoHobbies
跑步 pǎo bùRunning
游泳 yóu yǒngSwimming
跳舞 tiào wǔDancing
运动 yùn dòngWorking out / Playing sports
做饭 zuò fànCooking
看书 kàn shūReading
画画 huà huàDrawing
旅游 lǚ yóuTraveling
看电影 kàn diàn yǐngWatching movies
听音乐 tīng yīn yuèListening to music
玩游戏 wán yóu xìPlaying games

Check out this post for more hobbies in Chinese, and this one if you’re into soccer.

Body Parts & Medical Terms

man holding his elbow

Here are common body parts in Mandarin:

ChinesePinyinEnglish
身体 shēn tǐBody
tóuHead
头发 tóu fàHair
眼睛 yǎn jīngEyes
胳膊 gē boArm
shǒuHand
肚子 dǔ ziBelly
bèiBack
tuǐLeg
jiǎoFoot

See our complete list here.

If you get hurt while in China, you can explain where the pain is using the above vocabulary, or discuss your symptoms with these medical terms:

ChinesePinyinEnglish
医院 yī yuànHospital
医生 yī shēngDoctor
疼痛 téng tòngPain
我病了 wǒ bìng leI'm sick
感冒 gǎn màoTo have a cold
头痛 tóu tòngHeadache
发烧 fā shāoFever
咳嗽 ké sòuCough
喉咙痛 hóu lóng tòngSore throat
yàoMedicine

See more in our full guide to Chinese medical terms.

Business & Jobs

coworkers in china saying goodbye

To learn business Chinese, you can start with these common vocabulary words:

ChinesePinyinEnglish
工作 gōng zuòJob / To work
办公室 bàn gōng shìOffice
公司 gōng sīCompany
会议 huì yìMeeting
员工 yuán gōngEmployee
经理 jīng lǐManager
客户 kè hùClient
律师 lǜ shīLawyer
工程师 gōng chéng shīEngineer
老师 lǎo shīTeacher

You can also learn:

Animals

cats sitting on wood

Below are the Chinese terms for the most common animals:

ChinesePinyinEnglish
动物 dòng wùAnimal
māoCat
gǒuDog
Fish
niǎoBird
兔子 tù zǐRabbit
Horse
大象 dà xiàngElephant
zhūPig
hóuMonkey
狮子 shī ziLion
老虎 lǎo hǔTiger
xióngBear
熊猫 xióng māoPanda

See this post for more animals in Mandarin, plus their cultural significance. You can also take it a step further by learning some animal sounds in Chinese! If you have a pet dog, you can even practice training them with these Chinese commands

Other Vocabulary in Chinese

Additional common vocabulary in Chinese requires some in-depth explanations. Follow these links to learn about Chinese measure words, idioms, slang and more! And if you want to learn even more Chinese vocabulary in context, head over to FluentU, where vocabulary learning is linked to natural Chinese video content.

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.

P.S. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

FluentU Ad

 


The Top 10 Chinese Measure Words You Need to Know: 包 (bāo), 对 (duì) and More | FluentU Chinese Blog

Learn all about the most common Chinese measure words and how to use them correctly so you can be confident with your Chinese. Cigarettes, pants, people, beers—there are…

 


34 Interesting Chinese Idioms (Chengyu) to Improve Your Mandarin Fluency | FluentU Chinese Blog

Stumped by Chinese idioms? What does “nine cows, one cow hair” even mean?! Well, this post is for you. It includes 34 chengyu, their English meanings, a brief explanation…

 

 


Chinese Slang: 22 Mandarin Slang Words Your Textbook Won’t Teach You | FluentU Chinese Blog

Learning Chinese slang will help you go beyond your textbook and better understand what’s going on in real Chinese conversations. This post covers how to say everything…

 


Chinese Internet Slang: 18 Words to Get You Chatting Online Like a Native | FluentU Chinese Blog

While it may seem confusing at first, Chinese internet slang can be very rewarding to learn and opens up a whole new sphere of communication with fellow Chinese netizens.…

 


The Complete Guide to Onomatopoeia in Chinese | FluentU Chinese Blog

Onomatopoeia in Chinese are words that represent animated sounds, like barking and water dripping. Click here to learn 39 common Chinese onomatopoeia, like 轰 (boom),…

https://www.fluentu.com/blog/chinese/advanced-chinese-phrases/

 


The 10 Hardest Chinese Words to Pronounce (with Audio and Pronunciation Guides) | FluentU Chinese Blog

What are the hardest Chinese words to pronounce? We’ve listed them down here, with audio and step-by-step explanations so you’ll get the hang of saying them! Master…

 


13 Most Beautiful Chinese Words with Fascinating Hidden Meanings | FluentU Chinese Blog

In this post are some of the most beautiful Chinese words with unexpected origins. Find surprising hidden meanings derived from history and linguistics in words like 爱,…

 


27 Chinese Terms Commonly Used in English That You Already Know | FluentU Chinese

Chinese words are found all over English vocabulary. We’ll cover 27 terms used in English and what words they come from in Chinese. From dog breeds to delicious food…

 

There you go—now you have a ton of basic Chinese vocabulary plus lots of resources for learning even more.

Time to start memorizing!

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

Close