Learning Chinese as a beginner may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. With super-short phrases, you can quickly build confidence and start speaking the language in no time. In this post, we’ve compiled 10 essential Chinese phrases, each containing no more than four characters, to help you get started. These easy-to-remember phrases are perfect for everyday conversations and will quickly boost your Chinese vocabulary. Get ready to take your language skills to the next level!
To start off, here’s a super easy and casual greeting phrase: 嗨 (hāi). It’s a transliteration of the English word “hi,” so the pronunciation is similar to its English counterpart. The character itself is made up of two parts: 口 (mouth; kǒu) represents the meaning of the character, while 海 (sea; hǎi) indicates its sound.
It’s useful to remember the character 嗨 as it’s frequently used in text messages to greet someone. So, whether you’re chatting with a friend or sending a quick message, try using 嗨 (hāi) as a friendly way to say “hi” in Chinese
If you’ve learned 你好 (nǐ hǎo) as “hello” in Chinese, it’s good to know that it’s typically used only when meeting someone for the first time and may sound rather formal. Instead, in more casual situations, with neighbors, friends, or coworkers, it’s better to use 哈囉/哈啰 (hā luō) when greeting them with “hello.”
Interestingly, this phrase is a transliteration of the English word “hello” and doesn’t have any actual meaning in Chinese characters. You’ll also often hear Chinese TV presenters and YouTubers use this phrase to greet their audiences. So, next time you meet a Chinese speaker, try using 哈囉/哈啰 (hā luō) to greet them, and you might find that it can create a more relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
Another loanword in Chinese is 拜拜 (bái bái), which comes from the English expression “bye-bye.” However, it’s important to remember to pronounce the phrase with a 2nd tone. If you accidentally say it with a 4th tone, i.e., bài bài, it would mean “to worship” the gods instead.
As Chinese is a tonal language, even a slight variation in tone can change the entire meaning of a word. To learn more about this unique feature of the language, check out our article on Chinese tones. So, the next time you’re saying “bye-bye” to someone in Chinese, remember to say 拜拜 (bái bái) with the correct tone to avoid any confusion.
See you tomorrow 明天見/明天见
Similar to other languages, Chinese has various ways to say goodbye. Another common phrase to bid farewell, particularly among coworkers, is 明天見/明天见 (míngtiān jiàn), which is made up of two words: 明天 (tomorrow) and 見/见 (to see). Can you guess its meaning?
It translates to “see you tomorrow,” but in Chinese, the word “you” is dropped, and the correct word order is “tomorrow see” 明天見/明天见. To avoid confusion, it’s essential to put these two words in the right sequence.
Do you know the word 隨便/随便 (suíbiàn)? If not, it’s a useful word to add to your vocabulary now. 隨/随 (suí) means “allow,” and 便 (biàn) means “convenience.” Together, 隨便/随便 means “whatever.” You can use it in various contexts, such as:
隨便/随便 + verb, for example:
- 隨便吃/随便吃 (suíbiàn chī) – eat whatever (you want) [lit. whatever eat]
- 隨便點/随便点 (suíbiàn diǎn) – order whatever (you want) [lit. whatever order]
- 隨便說/随便说 (suíbiàn shuō) – say whatever (you want) [lit. whatever say]
- 隨便看/随便看 (suíbiàn kàn) – just browsing [lit. whatever see]
In fact, when you visit shops in China, you may hear store clerks greet you with 隨便看/随便看, and as a customer, you can even say it back to them!
When using 隨便/随便, it’s important to note that the tone and context of the situation can affect how it is received by native speakers. If used in a lighthearted manner, it can be a useful and friendly phrase, but if used in the wrong tone, it may come off as offensive.
If you have a Chinese friend, partner, or teacher, you might be delighted to hear them say 好棒 (hǎo bàng) to you, a common phrase used to express praise. Depending on the context, it can mean “excellent,” “great,” “amazing” or “well done.”
The first character, 好 (hǎo), means “good,” and the second character, 棒 (bàng), can mean “smart,” “capable,” or “strong.” Interestingly, 棒 (bàng) can also be used as a noun and means “stick.” For example, combined with the character for ice (冰), 冰棒 (bīng bàng) means “popsicle/ice pop.”
We see it like this: you do an excellent job at school or work, your teacher (or boss) says 好棒 (hǎo bàng) to you, and you get a 冰棒 (bīng bàng) as a reward!
When you want to express surprise or interest in what someone is saying, respond with the question 真的嗎/真的吗? (zhēn de ma; Really?). Let’s break down this common Chinese question. The first character, 真 (zhēn), means “true”, “real” or “genuine,” while 的 (de) is used to make the speech more colloquial. Finally, 嗎/吗 (ma) is the particle added at the end of the sentence to form a yes/no question.
If someone says 真的嗎/真的吗? to you, you can simply respond with 真的! (zhēn de) to mean “yes.” Alternatively, combine 不是 (bù shì) with 真的 and say 不是真的 (bù shì zhēn de) to mean “no” or “not really.”
So, is Chinese hard? Would you say 真的 or 不是真的?
Can you repeat that? 再說一次/再说一次
Imagine this: you’re talking to your Chinese friend and they said something you didn’t catch. In this situation, you can use the phrase 再說一次/再说一次 (zài shuō yī cì) to ask them to repeat. The word 再/再 means “again,” 說/说 means “to say” or “to speak,” and finally, the last two characters, 一次, translate to “once.”
If you want to make your request more polite, you can add 請/请 (please) at the beginning. So, 請再說一次/请再说一次 (qǐng zài shuō yī cì) is a more polite way to ask someone to repeat what they said.
How much? 多少錢/多少钱
To shop like a local in China, use the question 多少錢/多少钱 to inquire about the price of the product you’re interested in. In this common question, the character for “many/much” is 多 (duō), while the character for “few/less” is 少 (shǎo). Combining these two characters results in 多少 (how much/how many)! Then, add 錢/钱 (money) at the end to form a complete question, 多少錢/多少钱 (duō shǎo qián).
If you’re not content with the price offered by the vendor, you can always haggle the price down. Here are some bonus phrases to use in this scenario:
- (It’s) too expensive! 太貴了/太贵了 (tài guì le)
- Make it cheaper, okay? 便宜點吧/便宜点吧！(piányi diǎn ba)
- Any discounts? 有打折嗎/有打折吗? (yǒu dǎzhé ma)
I don’t eat… 我不吃
If you have dietary restrictions or preferences, you can use the expression 我不吃 (wǒ bù chī), which means “I don’t eat,” followed by the specific food to communicate your dietary restrictions to others.
- I don’t eat mat 我不吃肉 (wǒ bù chī ròu)
- I don’t eat eggs 我不吃蛋 (wǒ bù chī dàn)
- I don’t eat garlic 我不吃大蒜 (wǒ bù chī dàsuàn)
Whether it’s for cultural, health, or personal reasons, it’s always useful to know how to communicate your dietary restrictions in Chinese.
In conclusion, mastering these short and practical Chinese phrases can significantly improve your communication skills in everyday situations with native speakers. Whether it’s greeting, praising, expressing surprise, or bargaining at the market, these simple phrases are highly useful. Not only will they enhance your experience, but they will also help you connect with locals on a deeper level. So why not start practicing these phrases today and take your Chinese language skills to the next level?