Weekly Vocab: Often-Used Greetings and Goodbyes

10 Feb

Greetings and goodbyes – definite necessities. I’m assuming that everyone already knows 你好,你好吗,早上好,下午好, 很高兴认识你,and 再见. If you need a refresher, check out this Wikibooks summary, which also covers several of the greetings in this post.

Those are all great, and most people actually do use all of those on a daily basis. However, just like in English (Ex. How have you been? Catch you later. What’s up, my homie?), Chinese has many more options for greeting and saying goodbye to people. In this post, we’ll look at some of the most common and often-used ones.

(Just a note: after a long deliberative process, I decided not to include very formal/professional greetings on here. There are a good number of them, but no worries, I will include them in an upcoming business lingo post.)

mandarin greetings and goodbyes

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你怎么样? - Nǐ zěnmeyàng? - What’s up?

I’ve seen this translated as “How are you?”, which is completely correct, but I’ve found that I use it most as “What’s up?” Unless you add something to it (see “你最近怎么样?”a little later), it could be used just as a rhetorical question-greeting.

It’s casual, it’s easy to remember, and it does imply that you want to hear what’s up with the other person’s life. It’s a good one to use for starting conversations. Definitely stick it in your daily repertoire.

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好久不见。- Hǎojǐubùjìan. - Long time no see.

I think this one’s pretty self-explanatory. You could follow it with –

最近如何?/ 最近怎么样?-Zùijìn rúhé? / Zùijìn zěnme yàng? - How have you been recently?

This is one that you should use for someone you haven’t seen in a while. Rather than asking for “What’s up?”, it’s asking for an update on life since you last saw them.  最近如何?is either more formal or more teasingly formal, depending on your tone. 最近怎么样? is the fun, all-purpose version.

File:HK Chinese New Year Greeting lighting word 03 發 Fat Jan-2012.jpg   Image thanks to Limcheelian at the Wikimedia Commons.

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你吃了吗?- Nǐ chī le ma? -(Literally) Have you eaten yet?

😀 This greeting is just awesome. “你吃了吗?” literally means “Have you eaten?”, but it’s used just as a casual, awesome greeting. The correct response is a quick “吃了!” or “没吃呢!” (it’s effectively rhetorical; they don’t actually care), followed by a change in topic.

For example:

Me: 你吃了吗?

You: 吃了! 我刚去了银行 (yínháng – bank), 现在去商场 (shāngchǎng – supermarket)。你怎么样?

Me: 我也…

So you see, it’s just a conversational greeting. It tends to be used more by the older generations, so especially if you’re in an urban area it might seem a bit out of place.

But that’s OK, because this greeting has given rise to sarcastic urban derivatives like –

你离了吗?(Nǐ lí le ma? – Have you divorced?)

and

你堵了吗?(Nǐ dǔ le ma? – Have you been stuck in traffic?)

To use a bit of Internet slang, lololololololololol! We can thank China’s rising divorce rate and terrible traffic conditions (in cities like Beijing) for popularizing these.

It’s totally on my bucket list to casually use one.

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你在忙什么呢?-  Nǐ zài máng shénme ne? -What are you busy doing? 

You might not think that this deserves to be on an “Often-Used” list, but I’ve found that I use it all the time. This is a greeting to use for someone that looks like they’re on a mission, after greeting them with 你好 or something. Good candidates would be a friend you meet on the street, a friendly coworker on a computer, or a roommate writing feverishly in a journal.

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您好。/您好吗? - Nín hǎo. /Nín hǎo ma? - (Formal) Hello. / How are you?

The more formal equivalent of the “你” versions. Use for your boss, teacher, or anyone else that you’d like to show some respect towards.

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The next few translate almost perfectly into English, so I won’t give any explanation for them. Feel free to comment with any questions.

晚上好。- Wǎnshang hǎo. - Good evening.

晚安。- Wǎn ān. - Good night.

明天见。- Míngtiān jiàn. - See you tomorrow.

拜拜。- Bāibai. - Bye-bye. (<- Pretty great, right? Really common.)

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回头见。- Huítóu jiàn. - See you soon.

OK, this one gets an explanation. “回头见,” is used as a cross between “See you soon,” and “See you around.” I’m fairly positive it’s used all over Northern China (Update: It is.), but it’s definitely used all the time in Beijing. If you ever feel like 再见 is getting old, you can try this one.

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On another note, Happy New Year! In this new year, may 10,000 things go as you want you them to! As the Chinese New Year spirit is still in the air, let’s talk about a few New Year’s greetings.

File:Chinese new year copenhagen 2006.JPG

新年快乐 – Xīnniánkuàilè – Happy New Year!

I think this one’s pretty clear cut.

新春快乐 – Xīnchūnkùailè – Happy New Spring!

I’m hearing this one more and more, especially in the States. I’m not certain about this, but I have a feeling that it’s to differentiate Chinese New Year with the Jan 1st New Year. Because “Chinese New Year” is mostly referred to as 春节 (Chūnjíe – Spring Holiday), 新春快乐 makes a lot of sense.

万事如意 – Wànshì rúyì – (Lit) May 10,000 things go as you want you them to!

Basically just means good luck in the new year. For some reason, I personally really like this one.

恭喜发财 – Gōngxǐfācái – Congratulations, and get rich!

This one is used interchangeably with Happy New Year – it wishes the person best of luck in the new year.

年年有鱼 – Níannían yǒu yú – Have fish every year!

This also wishes the person luck. The saying is (predictably enough) based on fishermen. You wish the person many fish this year and every year after.

In my experience, these New Year’s greetings tend to be said in pairs. (Besides 新年快乐 and 新春快乐 – those can go by themselves.) For example, I tend to hear , ”恭喜发财, 年年有鱼!“ more than one or the other by itself. Just a note of curiosity; might just be me.

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Now that you know how to greet and take leave of people like a fluent speaker, practice and try it! Did I miss any that you think I should add? If you think of another greeting or goodbye, please tell us in the comments.

Best of luck, 新春快乐,  and I’ll be back next Saturday.

Vocab from this list:

  • 你怎么样? - Nǐ zěnmeyàng? - What’s up?
  • 好久不见。- Hǎojǐubùjìan. - Long time no see.
  • 最近如何?-Zùijìn rúhé? - How have you been recently?
  • 最近怎么样?-Zùijìn zěnme yàng? - How have you been recently?
  • 你吃了吗?- Nǐ chī le ma? -(Literally) Have you eaten yet?
  • 你离了吗?- Nǐ lí le ma? - (Literally) Have you divorced?
  • 你堵了吗?- Nǐ dǔ le ma? - (Literally) Have you been stuck in traffic?
  • 你在忙什么呢?-  Nǐ zài gàn shénme ne? -What are you busy doing?
  • 您好。 - Nín hǎo. - (Formal) Hello.
  • 您好吗?- Nín hǎo ma? -(Formal) How are you?
  • 晚上好。- Wǎnshang hǎo. - Good evening.
  • 晚安。- Wǎn ān. - Good night.
  • 明天见。- Míngtiān jiàn. - See you tomorrow.
  • 拜拜。- Bāibai. - Bye-bye.
  • 回头见。- Huítóu jiàn. - See you soon.
  • 新年快乐 – Xīnniánkuàilè – Happy New Year!
  • 新春快乐 – Xīnchūnkùailè – Happy New Spring!
  • 春节 - Chūnjíe – Spring Holiday/Chinese New Year
  • 万事如意 – Wànshì rúyì – May 10,000 things go as you want you them to!
  • 恭喜发财 – Gōngxǐfācái – Congratulations, and get rich!
  • 年年有鱼 – Níannían yǒu yú – Have fish every year!
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One Response to “Weekly Vocab: Often-Used Greetings and Goodbyes”

  1. Why should i o it February 21, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    Thanks for the great article..

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