8 Ways to Say Hello in Chinese Like a Native
Do you know that awkward moment that every Chinese learner experiences?
When you realize that “nǐ hǎo” is actually not how Chinese people say hello?
If you don’t, then this post is for you: now you can say hello in Chinese like a local.
And if you do, then this post is also for you: now you have some extra options in your Mandarin Chinese greeting toolkit.
1. 你好 (nǐ hǎo) — “Hello”
Just in case you’re just getting started with Chinese, let’s cover our bases. 你好 is basically the first phrase that you learn in Chinese class. People tend not to use it so much with people who they’re at all familiar with. It is kind of awkwardly formal.
2. 您好 (nín hǎo) — “Hello” (respectful)
您好 is the respectful form of 你好—it’s used with people whom you want to express respect towards (a teacher, perhaps). 您好 is actually used and appropriate in such situations.
3. 早 (zǎo) — “Morning!”
This is short for 早上好 (zǎo shang hǎo), which means “good morning.” It’s pretty much used the exact same way as it is in English. You can’t go wrong with this one, unless it’s the evening.
4. 你吃了吗? (nǐ chī le ma?) — “Have you eaten?”
I remember the first time someone greeted me with 你吃了吗？ I responded that I unfortunately had already eaten, but I would be happy to eat with them some other time. They burst out laughing.
When someone says 你吃了吗？, they’re not asking you out to lunch.
You can just say: 吃了，你呢？ (chī le, nǐ ne?) — “I’ve eaten, how about you?” That pretty much suffices. It’s a way to lightly express that you care about the other person.
But like the expression “how are you” in English, don’t come back with a long description of the sandwich you just had—they’re just asking it to be polite.
5. 最近好吗? (zuì jìn hǎo ma) — “How are you these days?”
This is basically equivalent to “how are you” in English.
You can actually reply by just grunting with 嗯 (en), which implies that you’re doing fine. Another way would be to say 我很好 (wǒ hěn hǎo) — “I’m very good” or 我还好 (wǒ hái hǎo) — “I’m okay.” Or you can reply with a few lines about how things are going.
6. 去哪儿? (qù nǎr) — “Where are you going?”
This is a Chinese greeting that’s commonly used when you run into someone.
This one might seem quite nosy by non-Chinese standards, but don’t be bothered by that. It’s another way for people to express that they care—by showing interest.
It’s common to use a variation of this expression by putting in a location. For example, if you run into a student, you might say 去上课了？ (qù shàng kè le?) or “Going to class?”
7. 喂 (wéi) — “Hello?”
This is the first thing that Chinese people say when they pick up the phone. It’s just like when English speakers say “hello?” on the phone. The person is saying hello, but also expecting that the person on the other end identify themselves.
8. 好久不见 (hǎo jiǔ bú jiàn) — “Long time no see!”
This is the expression that is used between old friends. It’s a very positive greeting.
Now that you know about eight Chinese expressions for saying hello, you’ll be able to greet people with confidence in different situations. Don’t be afraid to go beyond 你好—use these phrases, and you’ll be closer to talking like a local!