“How are you?” in Chinese is one of the first phrases you should learn to say.
One of the most commonly used phrases to greet a person is to ask how they’re doing, especially if you have not seen them for a bit.
In English, the phrase “How are you?” can be utilized in casual and formal situations when speaking with friends, family, and just about anyone.
Likewise, in Chinese, you can ask another person how they’ve been getting along in various ways.
The thing is, what you learn from textbooks may not be 100% applicable to real-life settings, and this is the case with 你好吗.
But we’ll dive deeper into this matter further down the article.
Keep in mind that you do not want to sound like you’re reading off a textbook when conversing with native speakers.
We’ll learn a bunch of phrases commonly used by native speakers.
So hopefully, with this arsenal of terms and some practice, you’ll blend right in.
Let’s talk a look at the different ways you can say “how are you?” and how to respond to these phrases.
Different ways to ask “how are you?” in Mandarin Chinese
If you’re a new Chinese language learner, picking up one or two of these phrases would be more than enough.
Once you’ve gotten that down, you may wish to learn a few more to add more dimension, variety, and depth to your conversations.
Let’s get started!
你好吗? (nǐ hǎo ma?)
English meaning: “How are you?”
This is one of the most well-known phrases and possibly a favorite of new learners.
你 means “you,” while 好 means “good.” 吗 is a question particle. Hence, putting it all together, you get the literal translation, “You good?”
However, in Chinese, this would equate to “How are you?”.
你好 and 你好吗? are one of the first few phrases you would learn from various resources.
But here’s a common misconception: Many new learners regard it as a commonly used and popular way to greet someone.
However, be warned that natives in China do not commonly use these greetings.
In contrast, nothing screams “foreigner” louder than 你好吗?.
To native ears in China, this phrase sounds quite prosaic, rigid, and artificial, especially when used in casual and informal settings.
Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean this phrase is entirely obsolete. Some Mandarin speakers in Taiwan do use this phrase.
It is also universally known by natives and newbies alike as a simple greeting and conversation starter.
Just be cautious with how often you use this phrase.
If you’re looking to blend in with native speakers in China, a few other phrases on this list would sound more natural (and impressive)!😁
您好吗? (nín hǎo ma?)
English meaning: “How are you?”
In a game of “spot-the-difference,” you’ll likely ace this one.
The primary (and only) difference between this phrase and the previous one is the first character, 您 (nín). There is an added 心 (xīn) below the 你.
In a sense, you’re pouring extra sincerity in your words when using 您.
Typically, 您 is used when speaking to an elder, someone of a higher status, or someone you highly admire and respect. Hence, 您好吗? is a greeting you can use that carries a more formal vibe.
It’s suitable for professional settings or in situations where you’re greeting someone you greatly respect.
你最近好吗? (nǐ zuìjìn hǎo ma?)
English meaning: “How have you been doing recently?”
Now, this phrase may be regarded as the native version ofa phrase we’ve just covered.
And if ir somewhat looks familiar, you’re right!
Just by combining 最近 (zuìjìn) and 你好吗? (nǐ hǎo ma?), you’ll get this new phrase. It is definitely a step higher than the basic 你好吗?, not to mention it sounds more natural and impressive.
最近 translates to “lately” or “recently” in English.
This phrase can be used when speaking to friends and family you haven’t met or caught up with for some time rather than someone you’re meeting for the first time or someone you met yesterday.
Another closely-related phrase is 你最近过得好吗? (nǐ zuìjìn guò dé hǎo ma?), which is also a more natural variation of 你好吗? (nǐ hǎo ma?).
过得 (guò dé) means “get by,” so putting together all we’ve learned so far, 你最近过得好吗? means “How have you been getting along lately?”
Similarly, this phrase should be used with friends and family you’ve not seen in a while.
It is a rather casual way of asking a person how they’re doing.
If you’d like to mix things up, you can also say 过的还行吗? (guò de hái xíng ma?) or 过的还可以吗? (guò de hái kěyǐ ma?), which both have more or less the same meaning.
Essentially, they translate to “Have you been getting along alright?”
你怎么样? (nǐ zěnme yàng?)
English meaning: “How have you been?”
This following phrase is a great way to show care and concern to your friends and family members.
There’s a stark contrast between this phrase and 你好吗?, where the former is used to show concern among friends and family and ask for a quick update on how things have been going for the other person.
While people would typically respond to 你好吗? with a basic 还好 or 好, quite the opposite is true for this phrase.
You would typically reply to 你怎么样? with slightly more specific answers regarding your life, job, family, and so on. Of course, you don’t need to go too deep. A quick update would suffice.
Hence, you would not use this phrase with someone you’re not well-acquainted with or meeting for the first time.
It carries a somewhat casual tone, so it’s best to reserve it for friends and family or those co-workers you’re fond of. 😁
If you’re looking for variety, adding certain characters will help you conjure new phrases with slightly different meanings.
For instance, one such phrase would be 你最近怎么样? (nǐ zuìjìn zěnme yàng?).
If all these characters look somewhat familiar, you’re spot on. 最近 (zuìjìn) means “lately,” so 你最近怎么样? would mean “How have you been lately?”
Another variation is 你今天过得怎么样? (nǐ jīntiān guò dé zěnme yàng?).
The only new characters introduced here are 今天 (jīntiān), meaning “today.” Essentially, this phrase means, “How are you doing today?”
身体好吗? (shēntǐ hǎo ma?)
English meaning: “How are you?”
身体好吗? is a phrase more often used to ask about how someone has been doing in terms of their health and wellbeing.
身体 (shēntǐ) means “body,” so this phrase could be directly translated to “Body good?”
That definitely sounds off, but it could be likened to “Have you been well?” or “Have you been in good health?” when used in the context of asking someone how they’re doing.
It is not used as often as the other greetings on this list.
However, it serves as a caring gesture to ask about someone’s wellbeing.
Essentially, this question demonstrates care and concern, especially when talking to an elder, friend, or family member you have not met for a long time.
还好吧? (hái hǎo ba?)
English meaning: “Are you doing alright?”
还好吧? or 还好吗? (hái hǎo ma?) are other phrases you may have heard exchanged in casual settings between friends and family.
It could be interpreted as “Are you still doing alright?” or “Are you getting along fine?”
It can be used as a greeting, but this phrase leads the pack in versatility. For instance, you can also use it to ask a person how they’re doing after they’ve been through an unpleasant event.
If you notice your friend looking a little down or gloomy lately, this phrase can be put into action as well.
In such cases, it isn’t purely a form of greeting, but more of a way to find out if the other party is faring okay.
Another somewhat related phrase you can use is 生活还撑得住吗? (shēnghuó hái chēng dé zhù ma?). Similarly, if you know your friend or a family member has been going through a rough patch, this phrase conveys the meaning of “Still holding up?”
But keep in mind that this is best reserved for casual conversations and settings.
你吃了吗? (nǐ chīle ma?)
English meaning: “Have you eaten yet?”
As mentioned earlier, people in China sometimes use greetings that display concern and care for the other person, and this is yet another phrase that demonstrates that.
You’ll often hear this phrase being used among friends and family rather than strangers.
While a more direct translation would be “Have you eaten?”, this phrase could also be likened to a “Hello.” or “How are you?”
In other words, you’re not expected to share details about the delicious noodles you’ve just chowed down.
Also, it’s best not to regard this as an invite for a meal either, especially if you don’t know the other person too well.
People would typically reply with a 吃了 (chīle), which means “I’ve eaten.”
Saying you haven’t had a meal may put the other person in an uncomfortable position of asking you out for a meal, especially if they can’t or don’t want to.
If you know them well, though, then you may go ahead and let them know you haven’t had a meal yet—they can probably hear your stomach growling anyway.😅
最近忙些什么? (zuìjìn máng xiē shénme?)
English meaning: “What have you been busy with lately?”
While this question may come off as a little overbearing and nosy, you’re not expected to give or receive a detailed reply.
This is a perfect phrase for informal settings with friends and family.
It is most suitably used when you have not seen someone for a while, especially if that’s due to a hectic, packed schedule.
Essentially, this phrase is a simple way to ask someone what they’ve been up to since the last time you both caught up.
How to respond to “how are you?” in Mandarin Chinese
Now that we’ve covered the various ways you can ask, “How are you?”, let’s also look at some of the most common ways to respond to these questions.
Feel free to mix things up with these phrases if you’ve generally been getting along alright.
On the other hand, if things have been stagnant, or unfortunately, taking a turn for the worse, you may say something along the lines of:-
Another response would be 我最近很忙 (wǒ zuìjìn hěn máng). 忙 (máng) translates to “busy” in English, so 我最近很忙 essentially means “I’ve been swamped lately.”
You can also slip in a quick 谢谢 (xièxiè), which means “Thank you!”
And since conversations are a two-way street, redirecting the question back to them may show your concern and care as well.
You may go for a simple 你呢? (nǐ ne?), which translates to “How about you?”
Summary: Saying “how are you?” in Chinese
You may have noticed that almost all of these phrases are used between friends and family.
In other cultures, people sometimes ask “How are you?” as a polite greeting or way to break the ice.
However, people in China do not usually ask strangers or people they’re not well-acquainted with how they’re doing.
It’s typically reserved for friends and family. Just a simple “hello” would suffice when greeting someone you’re not too familiar with.
Again, the basic 你好吗? greeting you’ve seen in many resources is rarely, if ever, used by native speakers.
Use it sparingly if that’s the only thing you recall from these lessons.
There isn’t a set-in-stone method of replying when someone asks you how you’ve been doing. And how deep you delve into your reply will definitely depend on how tight your relationship is with the other person.
But don’t fret—everything will come naturally with some practice.
Know of any other ways to say “How are you?” in Mandarin Chinese?
If so, leave a comment down below. I’d love to hear from you!