How to Greet People in Mandarin-Chinese (1) —— How to Say Hello

If I ask you a question (问题) (wen4 ti2): Do you know how to greet people in Mandarin-Chinese?

I am sure many of you will answer with confidence (自信) (zi4 xin4): “Of course. (当然) (dang1 ran2) I know it. (我知道) (wo3 zhi1 dao4) 你好! (ni2 hao3) (hello)”

Let me tell you: “你好” is just one way to greet people.

Actually, “你好” is a very formal greeting, ordinary Chinese people rarely say “你好” unless it is in a very formal setting, for example, a business meeting or meet with a professional person.

If we greet a respectful person, especially an old person, we will say: 您好 (nin2 hao3), it is a more polite version of 你好.

If you want to greet a stranger in a polite way, 你好 is also appropriate.

However, there are other ways to greet people in Mandarin-Chinese.

If you wish to sound like a native speaker, you have to learn other greeting words.

In this post, I will teach you how to greet people like an insider.


1, 你吃了吗? (ni3 chi1 le ma) (Did you eat?)

When Chinese people greet you in this way, don’t expect they will buy you a meal. It is just a polite way to say hello.

I don’t know why we greet in this way. I guess, for a long time Chinese people had a hard time to get food, so people greet each other in this way to show the care.

So how do you greet back if someone greet you in this way?

You can answer in either way: 我吃了 (wo3 chi1 le) (I ate) or 还没呢 (hai2 mei2 ne) (don’t eat yet).

Then you keep asking: 你吃了吗?The person will answer: 我吃过了 or 还没呢. Then the greeting is over.

If you meet a Chinese person in the public bathroom and he still greets you in this way, don’t feel embarrassed, it is just the way to greet you.

2, 早 (zao3) (good morning).

When you meet people in the morning, you can use this word, the person will greet you back with this word 早 too.

It is better to put a title before 早, for example: 大爷(da4 ye2) (title for an old man) , 早! or 大妈(da4 ma1) (title for an old woman),早!

There is another way to say good morning when you meet someone in the morning: 起床了? (qi3 chuang2 le) or 起来了? (qi3 lai2 le) (Did you get up?)

The answer is : 起床了 or 起来了, which means: I got up.

3, 你来了? (ni3 lai2 le) (Are you coming?)

It is used in an situation: When your friend shows up while you are waiting for him, you could greet him in this way: 你来了? Your friend usually will say: 来了(came).

4, 好久不见. (hao2 jiu3 bu2 jian4) (Don’ see you for a long time).

Obviously, it is used for greeting a friend that you don’t meet for a while.

Then your friend might say: 是呀 (shi4 ya) (right), 好久不见了(hao2 jiu3 bu2 jian4 le) (don’t meet for a long time).

5, 最近好吗? (zui4 jin4 hao3 ma) or 最近怎么样? (zui4 jin4 zen3 me yang4), they both mean: How is it going lately?

If you don’t meet your friend for a while and you run into him, you could greet him in this way, it is same as English word: How are you?

There are several ways to greet back: 很好 (hen2 hao3) (very good), 还不错 (hai2 bu2 cuo4) (not bad), 一般 (yi4 ban1) or 马马虎虎 (ma3 ma hu1 hu), these two words both mean “so so”, 不太好(bu2 tai4 hao3) (not good).

6, 你上哪儿 (ni3 shang4 na3 er) or 你去哪里 (ni3 qu4 na2 li3)? They both mean: Where are you going?

When you run into a friend, especially on the road, you can greet him in this way, then your friend will tell you where he is going. He might greet you back with same words.

Note: If you greet people on the phone, you have to say: (wei2), it means hello.

The character of 喂 originally has the 4th tone, however, when people greet on the phone, we usually say with 2nd tone: wei2, it is similar as English word   “hello”.

When you greet a stranger on the street, for example, A stranger on the street lost a wallet and you want to reminder him, then you could greet him with 4th tone: 喂 (wei4) (hello), 你的钱包掉了! (ni3 de qian2 bao1 dial4 le)(You lost your wallet!)

7, 欢迎(huan1 ying2) (wecome)  or 欢迎光临 (huan1 ying2 guang1 lin2) (welcome to visit) is used when you are a host and you welcome your guest to  your place.

Now you know how to say hello like a native Chinese speaker.

In my future post, I will talk about how to say goodbye in Mandarin Chinese. I will also teach you how to address Chinese peopleEnjoy your learning.

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