99 Basic Chinese Words And Phrases For Complete Beginners

99 Basic Chinese Words And Phrases For Complete Beginners

You want to learn Chinese, but you are afraid that you won’t succeed?

It’s perfectly normal to feel that way! And you’re not alone.

After all, Chinese Mandarin is known as the hardest language to learn.

With more than 1.1 billion speakers, it is also the most spoken language in the world. Therefore, it can’t be as difficult as you may think to learn Chinese when so many people speak it.

Learning Chinese words doesn’t have to be a nightmare.

With our 99 basic Chinese words and phrases, you can communicate with native speakers with ease.

And now, without further ado, let’s dive in.

Chinese Words for Greetings and Goodbyes

Learning salutation and farewell phrases are essential in any language. As you will see, these Chinese phrases are not so hard as you might think.

  • 你好 Hello/Good day

Pronunciation: Nǐhǎo

It means ‘good day’ or ‘wishing you are good.’

You can use it in any part of the day. It is also the most basic way to greet people.

  • 喂 Hello (on the phone) 

Pronunciation: Wèi

This phrase we can describe as ‘nǐhǎo’ over the phone.

But remember: it is used when you answer the phone only.

  • 你好吗? How are you? 

Pronunciation: Nǐ hǎo ma?

This phrase usually follows the usual salutation, ‘nǐ hǎo.’ It can be translated as ‘are you okay?’

  •  很好 Very good

Pronunciation: Hěn hǎo

The answer to the previous question on how you are can be positive as this phrase.

  • 不太好 Not so good 

Pronunciation: Bú tài hǎo

When asking ‘how are you, people mainly use positive answers. But, if someone has a real problem, they’ll give you a negative reply. In Chinese, the negative variant is ‘不太好’ which is pronounced ‘Bú tài hǎo.’

  • 你早! Good Morning! 

Pronunciation: Nǐ zǎo

If you want to use some other greeting, for saluting someone in the morning, you can use the phrase ‘你早,’ pronounced ‘nǐ zǎo.’

The Chinese also commonly use a little shorter version of this phrase, ‘早!’ (Zǎo!) which is a perfect equivalent to the English ‘Morning!’ It is a more natural way people greet each other in the morning.

  • 午安  Good afternoon

Pronunciation: Wǔ’ān

Even though ‘nǐ hǎo’ is widely and more often used than this phrase, if you want to switch a bit, you can use this phrase for greeting someone in the afternoon.

  • 晚安 Good night 

Pronunciation: Wǎn’ān

At the end of the day, you may use ‘晚安’ (Wǎn’ān). You can also use it when you are going to bed.

  •  再见 Goodbye  

Pronunciation: Zàijiàn

The phrase ‘再见(Zàijiàn) is an inevitable part of any polite conversation. Used for farewells, you can’t end a decent conversation without it.

  • 拜拜 Bye Bye

Pronunciation: Báibái

Very popular among young people, this phrase is an English loanword, so if you are in the company of teenagers or people in their 20s, you will hear it often.

Being Polite in Chinese

Even though the Chinese can use curse words a lot, it’s all about politeness in their culture and tradition. 

Therefore, it’s essential to learn some basic phrases for being polite. You’ll see that they’ll come in handy during your conversations.

  • 谢谢 Thank you 

Pronunciation: Xièxie

Just like ‘ni hao’ is the basic greeting, ‘xièxie’ or ‘thank you’ in English is the basic phrase for being polite.

  •  不客气 You’re welcome

Pronunciation: Bú kèqi

Replying to ‘thank you,’ you can use the phrase ‘bú kèqi,’ which means ‘you’re welcome.’

  • 幸會 [幸会] Nice to meet you

Pronunciation: Xìng huì

When you meet someone, you usually greet them and shake hands. That’s when you can use this phrase. But don’t forget to look at people’s eyes when you say it.

  • 请 Please 

Pronunciation: Qǐngh

Being polite is important for Chinese people, so make sure you remember this phrase. However, please don’t use it too often, because, it can eventually lose its true meaning.

  • 不好意思 Excuse me 

Pronunciation: Bù hǎo yìsi

In English, this phrase means ‘embarrassed.’ In other words, the person who says this is embarrassed by a situation.

You can use it when you accidentally run into someone or when you have to interrupt someone to ask them something.

  • 没问题 No problem 

Pronunciation: Méi wèntí

One of the answers to the phrases ‘Excuse me’ and ‘I’m sorry’ can also be ‘méi wèntí.’

You can use it in other situations when everything works fine.

Introducing Yourself

  • 你叫什么名字? What’s your name? 

Pronunciation: Nǐ jiào shénme míngzì?

If you want to ask the name of the person you’re talking to in Chinese, use this phrase.

Keep in mind that, only people who know each other very well address each other by full name or first name in Chinese culture. 

When you are introduced to some or on business meetings, you can also use the full name.

However, don’t use it with people older than you, senior in rank, or your clients at work.

Instead, ask for their family name. 

  • 我叫… My name is… 

Pronunciation: Wǒ jiào…

After asking for a personal name, the next step is for you to introduce yourself. 

This phrase can be translated as ‘I’m called…’ but that’s the easiest one to use when you want to say your name.

  •  你是哪里人? Where are you from?

Pronunciation: Nǐ shì nǎlǐ rén?

In China, you can often hear this question. The Chinese are always delighted to hear where you are from, and when they get to know you better, they like to know about customs and life in your country.

  • 我是…人 I’m from… 

Pronunciation: Wǒ shì … rén

Answering the previous question is possible in many different ways, but this one is far easier.

In the middle of the sentence, you have to put your country name.

Do You Speak Chinese?

If you get stuck in a situation when you don’t know what to say or explain what you want, you need to know some of the basic Chinese phrases.

Even if you make a mistake, don’t be afraid. The Chinese are full of understanding, and they’ll help you any way they can.

  • 你会说英文吗?Do you speak English? 

Pronunciation: Nǐ huì shuō Yīngwén ma?

If your brain simply stopped working and can’t think of any word in Chinese, make sure that the speaker can understand you. First, you need to ask them ‘Nǐ huì shuō Yīngwén ma?’, that is used for ‘Do you speak English?.’

  • 听不懂 I don’t understand 

Pronunciation: Tīng bù dǒng

It is the right phrase to remember as you will need it. Remember that this phrase means that you don’t understand anything the speaker says. So, to avoid an uncomfortable situation, say ‘Tīng bù dǒng.

  • 不知道 I don’t know 

Pronunciation: Bù zhīdào

Another phrase you’ll likely hear when surrounded by Chinese speakers. You can use it just like the way you use it in English.

  •  我只会说一点中文 I only speak a little Chinese

Pronunciation: Wǒ zhǐ huì shuō yìdiǎn Zhōngwén

Don’t be shy to use Chinese even if you only know several words and phrases. The locals will

appreciate your efforts.

  • …什么意思? What does…mean? 

Pronunciation: … shénme yìsi?

Ask Chinese native speakers whatever you want to know. To do that, use the phrase ‘… shénme yìsi?’ Place the word or phrase you want to know at the beginning of the sentence.

Basic Numbers 

Chinese numbers are an easy part of learning. They are based on the decimal system

Here are some of the basic Chinese numbers.

  •  一 One

Pronunciation: Yī

  • 二 Two 

Pronunciation: Èr

As for number two, there are two different words; ‘èr’ and ‘liǎng.’ They are used on different occasions. 

But, for starters, this is sufficient.

  • 四 Four 

Pronunciation: Sì

Numbers play a vital part in Chinese lives. Unlike the rest of the world, the Chinese consider number four extremely unlucky.

Therefore, it’s not strange that this word also means ‘death.’

The Chinese avoid using numbers four and fourteen when choosing phone numbers, room numbers, or select dates of ceremonies.

  • 八 Eight 

Pronunciation: Bā 

Unlike number four, eight is one of the most favorite numbers. It brings good luck, success, and wealth.

  • 十 Ten 

Pronunciation: Shí

  • 一百 One hundred 

Pronunciation: Yì bǎi

  • 一千 One thousand 

Pronunciation: Yì qiān

Shopping in Chinese

Whether you go shopping for souvenirs, clothes, or food, you’ll find these phrases useful.

  • 多少钱? How much is it? 

Pronunciation: Duōshǎo qián?

By asking the price of something at a shop or a street market in China, use ‘Duōshǎo qián?’

  • 太贵了! Too expensive! 

` Pronunciation: Tài guì le!

It’s common to bargain for almost anything: souvenirs, clothes, shoes, accessories, electronics, fruit, etc.

So, don’t forget to memorize the phrase ‘Tai GUI le!’

  • 便宜一点!Make it cheaper! 

Pronunciation: Piányi yì diǎn!

This phrase doesn’t go without the one above, so when you start your bargain, you should remember this one, too. 

At the Restaurant

Restaurants and bars are perfect places to make new friends. As you already know, Chinese kitchens are known across the globe. So besides practicing the language with the locals, you can explore delicious Chinese dishes.

To do that, you’ll need some essential words and phrases related to food and restaurants. 

  •   菜单 Menu

Pronunciation: Càidān

If you find it challenging to read Chinese menus, by asking 有没有英文菜单? (Yǒu méiyǒu Yīngwén càidān?), you are asking if the restaurant has an English menu. You would be surprised how many of them have it.

  • 请给我…Please bring me… 

Pronunciation: Qǐng gěi wǒ…

When you are ready to order, use this phrase.

  •  水 Water 

Pronunciation: Shuǐ

When you ask for ‘Shui,’ don’t be surprised if you get tea or hot lemon water. The Chinese custom is to serve these beverages. If you want iced water, you can say ‘冰水’ (bīngshuǐ).

  •  筷子 Chopsticks

Pronunciation: Kuàizi

It’s not a big deal if you don’t know how to use chopsticks. But, it would be best if you learned how. The overall impression of eating Chinese food is with chopsticks.

  • 叉子 Fork 

Pronunciation: Chāzi

If you simply don’t know or don’t want to use chopsticks, feel free to ask for ‘chāzi’, which is ‘fork.’

  • 买单 Check, please 

Pronunciation: Mǎi dān

Before you leave the restaurant, use the phrase ‘Mǎi dān’ to ask for the check.

  •  服务员 Waiter/Waitress 

Pronunciation: Fúwùyuán

This is a gender-neutral word, and it means ‘service staff.’ It refers not to the waiter/waitress but also the steward/stewardess, shop assistant, etc.

Asking For Directions, Time And Help

Imagine that you’re in China to meet a friend and you get lost. How would you ask for directions?

Find out in the following lines.

  • …在哪儿?Where is…? 

Pronunciation: … zài nǎr?

To use this phrase properly, say the name of the place you’re looking at at the beginning of the sentence and then continue with the ‘zài nǎr?’

  • …怎么去?How do I get to…? 

Pronunciation: … zěnme qù?

Here’s one more useful phrase to remember when asking for directions in Chinese.

  •  什么时候? At what time?

Pronunciation: Shénme shíhou?

When you have to meet with someone, for example, you can use the phrase ‘Shénme shíhou?’ It can also be translated as ‘when.’

In case you want to ask what time is it, use this expression: ‘现在几点?’(xiàn zài jǐ diǎ)

Short Simple Answers 

  • 是的 Yes 

Pronunciation: Shì de

  • 不是 No

Pronunciation: Bú shì

In Chinese, there is no specific word for ‘no’ neither for ‘yes.’ 

If you want to use it separately, you have to know the grammar rules.

However, these two phrases can help you in need.

  • 好的 Good/Okay 

Pronunciation: Hǎo de

When you accept someone’s invitation or request or ask for a favor, use this phrase.

Special Occasions

The following basic phrases are ideal for you to get off on the right foot.

  • 我爱你 I love you 

Pronunciation: Wǒ ài nǐ

You never know whether you’ll need this phrase soon, so, just in case, memorize it now.

  • 生日快乐!Happy birthday! 

Pronunciation: Shēngrì kuàilè!

Wishing your friend a happy birthday in Chinese is possible with the phrase ‘Shēngrì kuàilè!’

  • 恭喜發財 [恭喜发财] Happy Chinese New Year

Pronunciation: Gōngxǐ fācái

Don’t forget to save the date for Chinese New Year in your calendar and memorize this phrase, too.

Final Thoughts

There you have it! 99 basic Chinese words and phrases for complete beginners! Now you see that Chinese isn’t so difficult to learn as you may have thought at first.

If you’re interested in becoming fluent in a new language, check out these top online learning resources: Kick off your learning with Babbel, where interactive, enjoyable lessons are designed to blend smoothly into your routine, fostering fast and effective language learning. For those aiming for an in-depth understanding, Udemy provides a broad spectrum of courses from basic to advanced levels. To enhance your speaking skills, Preply connects you with native speakers for personalized coaching, ensuring significant improvement. Take advantage of a 50% discount on your first lesson at Preply with this link.

祝你好运!Zhù nǐ hǎo yùn! (Good luck!)

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