How To Say Hello In Chinese And Respond (Formal + Informal)

  • Jasmine Chiam
    Written byJasmine Chiam
  • Read time14 mins
  • Comments0
How To Say Hello In Chinese And Respond (Formal + Informal)

Learning how to say “hello” in Mandarin Chinese sets the foundation for sparking friendships and connections with 1.31 billion Chinese speakers worldwide.

And yes, you read that right - approximately 16% of the world’s population speaks Chinese, making it by far the most widely spoken language in the world.

Say you intend to travel to China for a holiday getaway, wish to build a stronger rapport with your Chinese business partners, or want to impress friends and a potential date. Or perhaps you long to explore this beautiful language out of pure curiosity and enjoyment.

In any circumstance, learning to say “hello” in different ways will help to accommodate and adapt to various scenarios.

And once you’ve picked up the core basics of greeting someone using Mandarin Chinese, the possibilities are endless.

Learning to say hello to someone in Mandarin was probably the first thing you mastered from any language-learning resource or course. But there’s more depth to it than meets the eye.

Let’s explore different ways to greet someone in Mandarin Chinese, how you can respond to various greetings, and how to utilize these greetings in the proper context.

Formal vs. informal greetings

The use of formal and informal greetings may leave you a little baffled, but with some practice and experience, you’ll understand them like the back of your hand.

The formal context

Formal greetings are usually utilized when you’re addressing someone senior, your elders, individuals of high status, respected figures, customers, and even strangers you’re meeting for the first time.

Just like how you wouldn’t strut into a job interview and greet the CEO of the company with a casual “What’s up?”, the same logic can be applied when deliberating the use of formal and informal greetings.

You’ll typically hear formal greetings being passed around during business meetings, especially if an influential or high-ranking person is in the room (or Zoom).

Other times, you’ll hear people in the service industry use formal greetings with customers.

When used in the proper context, formal greetings will convey respect, admiration, and courtesy, which is fantastic if you want to start the relationship off on the right foot.

Additionally, when you find yourself in formal circumstances, you may wish to greet in order of seniority, with the most senior person taking precedence. And if you’d like to score extra brownie points, be sure to top off your greeting with a warm handshake, inviting smile, and just the right amount of eye contact.

While bowing may be a popular gesture of respect in Japan and Korea, it is less common in China. However, you may receive a slight bow or polite nod as a greeting—be sure to return it.

Nonetheless, the handshake is currently the most popular way of ‘breaking the ice’ in formal settings.

The informal context

On the other hand, using formal greetings with close friends and your immediate family may come off as awkward and possibly, hostile.

You’ve probably come across the most famous greeting, 你好 (nǐ hǎo). You may be shocked (or not) to know that this is a more formal way of greeting a person in Chinese and is rarely put to use by native speakers.

Common ways to greet someone in Mandarin Chinese (and how to respond])

There’s no harm in learning more than one way to say “hello” in Mandarin Chinese.

Truth be told, you’ll probably put these greetings to good use.

Let’s explore the different ways you can say “hello” in Chinese, including how to use them in the correct context. The Hanyu pinyin and simplified Chinese characters for each greeting have also been included to supplement your learning.

你好 (nǐ hǎo)

English meaning: “Hello.”

This greeting has made it into every Chinese textbook, podcast, online course, and language-learning app.

你 (nǐ) means “you,” and 好 (hǎo) translates to “good.” When combined, they form the most simple greeting in the Chinese language.

It is a less casual way of saying “hello,” and you’ll rarely hear it being used by native Mandarin speakers. It could come off as a bit stiff or awkward to native speakers.

Nonetheless, 你好 isn’t redundant. It’s still a universally-known greeting and is widely understood by fluent speakers and beginner learners alike.

So, if you can’t remember anything else from your Mandarin classes (which I hope isn’t the case), knowing a simple 你好 could very well bring a smile to someone’s face! While 你好 has a slightly formal tone to it, you can use it when greeting acquaintances, colleagues, or classmates.

However, if you know the person well, using some greetings further down the list would be more appropriate.

By adding a simple 吗 (ma) at the back, you’ll get 你好吗? (nǐhǎo ma) which essentially translates to ‘how are you?’. This is yet again another greeting not commonly used by native Chinese speakers, though it is something you may have picked up from various Mandarin-learning resources.

If someone greets you with a simple 你好, the simplest way to respond is with a 你好 back. A warm smile and handshake could also accompany this.

Be careful not to ignore a person’s greetings because this could be considered bad etiquette.

您好 (nín hǎo)

English meaning: “Hello.”

You may have noticed that this greeting resembles the previous one. If you observe the characters closely, you’ll see that the only difference is the 心 (xīn) below the 你.

Combining both gives you the character 您, which translates to “you” in English.

The main difference between 你 and 您 is that the latter carries a more formal tone and conveys massive respect and admiration.

The extra 心 translates to “heart” in Chinese, so you could tether this to the fact that 您好 is a more heartfelt and courteous way to greet someone you hold in high regard.

Therefore, 您好 is a highly polite way to say “hello” in Chinese and is usually utilized when talking to elders, seniors, or people you have the utmost respect for. Just keep in mind that 您好 can be used whenever you wish to convey respect and politeness.

For instance, you could put it to use when greeting your teacher, boss, elders such as your parents or grandparents, a senior you may or may not be well acquainted with, or a stranger you’re meeting for the first time.

You may also utilize 您好 as a formal greeting in written correspondence.

While both 你好 and 您好 can be used at any time of the day, let’s take this a step further and explore greetings specific to certain times of the day.

早 (zǎo)

English meaning: “Good morning.”

早 translates to “morning” in English. 早 can be used as either a noun or as a form of greeting.

In Mandarin Chinese, there are generally three different ways you can greet someone with a simple “Good morning.” Other than 早, you can also say 早安 (zǎo ān) or 早上好 (zǎoshàng hǎo).

You’ll often hear people saying a simple 早, a casual, lighthearted greeting equivalent to “morning” in English. You can use this when you’re meeting friends or family or someone you’re well-acquainted with.

安 (ān) literally means peace, calm, or safe. Putting the two together, you get 早安, which directly translates to “morning peace.” This could sound absurd in English, but it does equate to “good morning” and is a commonly used greeting in Taiwan.

早上好 is directly translated to “morning good” in English. Be sure to pay attention that you don’t swap the order of the characters to 好早上, even though in English, the “good” comes before the “morning.” You can utilize this greeting in more formal circumstances, such as when you’re meeting someone new or your elders.

Let’s put things into context. Say you’d like to greet your teacher in the morning. You could go about saying 老师早 (lǎoshī zǎo), meaning “Good morning, teacher.” Do take note that this is a relatively informal way of greeting your teacher, and something more formal and proper would be 老师, 早安.

Or perhaps, you could employ the previous greetings we’ve learned and say 老师, 您好 (lǎoshī nín hǎo) or a simple 老师好 (lǎoshī hǎo), meaning “Hello, teacher.” There are so many ways to go about this.

It is true that 早上好 means “good morning,” but be sure to use it earlier in the morning. While 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. are considered part of the morning, you’ll use 上午好 (shàngwǔ hǎo) to greet someone between 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. instead.

This may be a little confusing at the start, but with a little more practice, you’ll be more familiar with these greetings.

Now that you’ve learned how to greet someone in the morning, let’s find out how to do so at other times of the day.

下午好 (xiàwǔ hǎo)

English meaning: “Good afternoon.”

下午好 is the most widely used greeting for “Good afternoon.” 下午 translates to “afternoon” in English, and adding a 好 at the back will give you this time-associated greeting.

You’ll most commonly hear people utilize this greeting between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m., and very rarely after 6 p.m. would you hear this greeting being exchanged.

While this greeting isn’t a ‘must-learn,’ it’s a step further than the stiff 你好 and a great option to diversify your greetings.

午安 (wǔ ān) is another greeting that can be used in the afternoon, though it is much less frequently exchanged. One example of how you could utilize this phrase is by greeting your teacher with a 老师午安.

Since 下午好 is only used before 6 p.m., you may be wondering what you can say to greet someone after that time, which brings us to our following phrase.

晚上好 (wǎnshàng hǎo)

English meaning: “Good evening.”

After 6 p.m., 晚上好 would be the most suitable greeting to use. You’ll most often hear this greeting passed around between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

晚 (wǎn) means “evening” or “night” in English. Something interesting about the character 晚 is observed when you break it into two separate portions, 日 and 免, which translates to “sun” and “avoid/exempt” in that order. It would naturally be nighttime when you take away the sun, so 晚 translates to “evening” or “night” in English.

Mandarin Chinese is a rather intriguing language, isn’t it?

You might have also noticed a repeating pattern by now with these time-bound greetings. 早上好, 下午好, and 晚上好 all share a common denominator—the 好 at the back. Recognizing this pattern may help you learn these greetings more efficiently.

Of course, you should be cautious not to fall back onto English grammar when saying these phrases. 晚上好 literally translates to “evening good,” while in English, the order is “Good evening.”

Previously, we learned 早安, which means “Good morning.” If you switch the 早 with 晚, you’ll get 晚安 (wǎn ān), but this doesn’t translate to the greeting, “Good evening.”

In fact, 晚安 means “Good night.” and is utilized to bid someone farewell rather than to greet a person. That’s something you may wish to keep in mind.

In addition to that, Chinese-speaking families would also use 晚安 as a way to say “Good night.” to their family members. For instance, children may say 爸妈晚安 (bà mā wǎn ān) before heading off to bed, and this means “Good night, dad and mum.”

Now that we’ve covered several time-associated greetings, let’s learn some casual greetings you can use when speaking to friends, family members, and other people you’re well-acquainted with.

吃了吗? (nĭ chīle ma?)

English meaning: “Have you eaten yet?”

If you’re learning Mandarin Chinese, you may have chanced upon this greeting. It’s a greeting that expresses care and concern and something you may often hear from older folks and seniors. My grandparents would always greet me with this whenever I saw them.

You could somewhat think of it as “How are you?” in English, though 你吃了吗? more accurately translates to “Have you eaten?” In everyday conversations, you may also notice that the 你 is omitted for simplicity, so you can greet someone with 吃了吗? (chīle ma?).

People typically use this question to greet people they are familiar with or well-acquainted with, rather than someone they’re meeting for the first time. It’s a more relaxed and casual way to greet a person or kickstart a conversation.

More often than not, it isn’t an invitation to eat together. Keep this in mind!

Though 你吃了吗? is indeed a question, you’re not expected to give a thorough or detailed reply about what you’ve eaten.

It is a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question. But people sometimes feel obliged to answer with a ‘yes,’ even if they haven’t had the chance to fill their stomach yet. The common conception is that responding with a ‘no’ would put the other person in a spot where they’d have to extend a meal invitation.

Of course, if you have a close relationship with the other person, there’s no harm in letting them know you haven’t actually eaten, yet.

The most common and polite way to respond to this greeting is with a 吃了, 你呢? (chīle, nĭ ne?) This reply simply translates to “Yes, I’ve eaten. And you?” There’s no need for you to give them a detailed response about that giant burger you just had for lunch. 😅

If you’re well-acquainted with the person, then you may also say 还没吃 (hái méi chī) or 还没 (hái méi), which essentially means “No, I have not eaten yet.”

Of course, if you’re with interacting with someone you’re close to or better familiar with, you may even extend the invitation to eat together by saying 还没, 一起吃吗? (hái méi, yīqǐ chī ma?), which means, “No, I have not eaten yet. Would you like to grab a meal together?”

去哪儿? (qù nǎ er)

English meaning: “Where are you going / Where are you headed?”

Like the previous greeting, 去哪儿? is by right a greeting but could be misinterpreted as a question (and a rather nosy one, too).

Nonetheless, it’s great to realize that this casual greeting is a way to extend concern and care towards another person and could be likened to “How are you?” in English. It’s not meant to be overly intrusive or nosy but is instead used as a conversation starter.

You can utilize this greeting in a casual context, for instance, when you bump into a friend or family member on the street.

Again, a detailed response about your actual routine or schedule isn’t sought after.

You could reply with something simple, for example, “I’m on my way to work.” or “I’m heading to the market.” A response like this may require some extra vocabulary knowledge, but nothing too demanding.

You can also add a 你 at the start of this greeting to form “你去哪儿?”, which carries the same meaning, though people tend to drop the 你 at the front for simplicity’s sake.

Another thing to note is that this greeting may be said as 去哪儿 啊? (qù nǎ’er a?) where the fourth character adds a casual touch to the greeting, making it sound more native-like. The meaning remains the same.

While 去哪儿? is typically used in China, other Mandarin-speaking countries may more frequently use 去哪里啊? (qù nǎlǐ a?), which essentially conveys the same meaning.

好久不见 (hǎojiǔ bùjiàn)

English meaning: “Long time no see!”

好久不见 is a casual greeting you can use on old-time friends, family members, and other people you’re better acquainted with.

好久不见 literally translates to ‘Long time no see.” It can be used as a fantastic conversation starter when meeting or bumping into someone you have not caught up with for quite some time.

You can use this conversation opener and top it off with some of the greetings we have just learned.

For example, when greeting an old friend, you may say “好久不见! 你去哪儿?”, which means “Long time no see! Where are you off to?”

Another fantastic way to kickstart your conversation is to pair this greeting with the next.

最近好吗? (zuìjìn hǎo ma)

English meaning: “How have you been doing lately?”

最近好吗? is a casual greeting you can use when meeting someone you haven’t seen for a while, preferably for longer than a week. Additionally, you may also use this when calling someone up to check in on them.

最近 (zuìjìn) translates to “recently” or “lately,” while 好 translates to “good” or “well.” In the Mandarin Chinese language, 吗 is used as a question particle for yes or no questions.

More literally, this greeting means “Have you been doing good lately?” or “Have you been doing well lately?” when translated to English.

Because it is usually utilized when greeting someone you have not met for a while, you may use it in conjunction with the previous greeting to create the perfect combo. You can say something along the lines of “好久不见! 你最近好吗?”, which means “Long time no see! How have you been lately?”

If you’d like to change things up from time to time, or if you’re up for a challenge, here are several variations to this greeting you may wish to pick up as well:

Listen to audio

你最近怎么样?

nǐ zuìjìn zěnme yàng?
How have you been lately?
Listen to audio

最近过得怎样呀?

zuìjìn guò dé zěnyàng ya?
How has life been for you lately?
Listen to audio

你最近过得好吗?

nǐ zuìjìn guò de hǎo ma?
Have you been doing well lately?

In response to these questions, you may pick any of the following:

Listen to audio

我还好。

wǒ hái hǎo
I’m doing alright.
Listen to audio

我很好。

wǒ hěn hǎo.
I’m doing good.
Listen to audio

我最近有点忙。

wǒ zuìjìn yǒudiǎn máng
I’ve been a little busy recently.
Listen to audio

还不错。

hái búcuò
Not too bad.
Listen to audio

我挺好的。

wǒ tǐng hǎo de
I’m doing pretty well.
Listen to audio

不太好。

bù tài hǎo
I’m not doing too good.

Of course, you can always ask the person how they’ve been getting by as well after responding to their initial greeting. You can do this with a simple 你呢? (nĭ ne?).

Or if they’ve given you a phone call to check in on you, you can thank them for their concern by saying 谢谢你的关心 (xièxie nǐ de guānxīn).

So far, we’ve only covered phrases typically used when greeting a single person. Let’s explore how you can greet a group of two or more people.

大家好 (dàjiā hǎo)

English meaning: “Hello everyone!”

While we learned at the start that 你好 is one way to say “Hello!” to one person, greeting a crowd with 你好 will be less appropriate. Instead, 大家好 is used to greet a group of people.

大家 (dàjiā) translates to “everyone” or “everybody” in English, and hence, 大家好 more literally means “everyone good.”

However, the meaning it conveys is “Hello everyone!” when translated to English. You could think of this as a shortcut to say “Hello!” to everyone in the group all at once.

This greeting carries somewhat a formal tone. It is usually used in situations where a person is giving a speech and greeting his audience.

Another greeting that bears even more formality is 各位好 (gèwèi hǎo), which also means “Hello, everyone!” but isn’t something you would use when meeting up with a group of friends in a more laid-back setting.

If you were greeting several friends at once, a more casual and relaxed way to say “Hello, everyone!” would be 你们好 (nǐmen hǎo).

To sum it up, 你们好 is usually used when greeting a group of friends or a smaller group. On the contrary, 大家好 and 各位好 are more often used when greeting a larger group of people, such as when you’re in a meeting or reporting to a crowd.

喂 (wéi)

English meaning: “Hello?”

If you’ve watched Chinese movies, dramas, or shows, you’ve probably heard this greeting utilized countless times before.

喂 is used as a greeting when picking up a phone call. It could be likened to saying “Hello?” in English when answering a call. The “Hello?” is conveyed as a greeting and question, prompting the caller to identify themselves or state their reason for calling.

It’s important to note that the 喂 used in this context is said with a rising tone (second tone, wéi) rather than a falling tone (fourth tone, wèi). When 喂 (wèi) is used with a falling tone, it means “feed” in English. Additionally, it could also be used as a way to get someone’s attention. This is definitely not something you would use on your boss, elders, or seniors, but more so with close friends.

When you pick up the phone, though, 喂 (wéi) carries the second tone. If the call is a more formal one, you can add a 你好 after 喂.

哈喽 (hālóu)

English meaning: “Hello!”

哈喽 is a loaned word from the English language (hello) with a pretty straightforward meaning.

It is commonly used by the younger crowd when greeting their peers or friends of similar ages. This greeting has a more playful, casual, and informal sound to it.

Other than 哈喽, you may also hear younger people use 嗨 (hāi), meaning “Hi!” in English. Similarly, 嗨 is a borrowed word from English for use in casual situations.

While both these greetings can be verbally conveyed, you may also see people using them on social media platforms, such as WeChat or QQ, as a friendly and casual way to say “Hi!” to other users.

你好 is not the only way to say “Hello!” in Mandarin Chinese.

By diving a little deeper into this beautiful language, you’ll realize that 你好 barely scratches the surface.

From making a lasting impression to conveying respect and admiration through your very first hello, you’ll be able to conjure up the suitable greeting from your vocabulary arsenal with this handy list.

Switching up your greetings and learning to use them naturally will allow you to form deeper connections and meet new people.

With some practice and real-life application, it won’t take you long to master this!

And once you’ve learned how to say “Hello!” in Mandarin Chinese, there’s so much more to explore through a diverse range of resources, including Chinese apps, YouTube videos, online Chinese courses, and podcasts.


Learning to say “Hello!” is just the start!

If you know of any other Mandarin Chinese greetings to add to the list, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Support me by sharing:
  • Reddit share
  • Facebook share
  • Twitter share

Let me help you learn a language
JOIN THE GUILD:

Join Now
Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek
Greek

COMMENTS

Comment Policy: I love comments and feedback (positive and negative) but I have my limits. You're in my home here so act accordingly.
NO ADVERTISING. Links will be automatically flagged for moderation.
"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world."
- Ludwig Wittgenstein
© The Mezzofanti Guild, 2021. NAGEL PTY LTD. All Rights Reserved.