Knowing how to say yes is essential in any language, including Mandarin Chinese. Just think about how often you say “yes” or “no” in a day!
If you plan on speaking Mandarin to anyone at all, you’re bound to use the word “yes.”
But surprisingly, there is no direct equivalent to “yes” in the Chinese language. 😊
In other words, there’s no one-size-fits-all phrase you can use in any and every situation to say “yes.”
If you’ve spent some time going through some Chinese resources, you may have already heard of one character commonly used to imply a “yes,” which is 是 (shì). This versatile phrase can be used in various contexts, but it isn’t a complete wildcard.
In the English language, phrases such as “okay,” “alright,” “sure,” or “that’s right” are variations of “yes.” Likewise, in Mandarin Chinese, there are various ways you can show your approval, agreement, or consent.
In other words, there’s more than one way to say yes!
We’ll explore the different ways you can say “yes” in Mandarin Chinese and when you can use each phrase.
Common ways to say yes in Mandarin Chinese
Different phrases in the Chinese language convey the meaning of “yes.”
Nonetheless, some are more specific and are used for the different variations of “yes,” such as “correct,” “okay,” “that’s right,” “no problem,” and “sure.”
These phrases aren’t always interchangeable. Due to this, it is crucial to consider the context of the question and situation.
Here are some common ways to say “yes” in Mandarin Chinese, starting with the most basic phrase.
English meaning: “Yes.”
是 is a multifunctional word that functions as an auxiliary verb. 是 can also be used in response to a question. You could typically use it in correspondence to someone checking a fact or confirming something. 是 can convey the meaning “Yes, it is,” or “‘Yes, I am.”
One handy tip is to keep your ears out for questions containing the word 是. It is usually appropriate to respond with a 是 if your answer is a yes for such questions. On the flip side, questions that do not contain the word 是 may require a different phrase instead.
As examples, you can reply to the following questions using 是 (if your answer is a yes).
As you may have noticed, all these questions contain the word 是 in them. That’s one thing you can look out for in future conversations.
Another closely-related term is 是的 (shì de). It is a more polite and formal way to say “yes,” but it bears the same meaning as 是. When speaking with your colleagues, boss, peers, supervisors, clients, or someone you’ve just met, you can use this phrase.
English meaning: “Correct.” or “That’s right.”
This phrase is interchangeable with 是 in some instances. 对 is also used in response to questions asked to check something or confirm a fact. However, if the question contains a 是, people tend to reply with a 是. In some circumstances, the question may include a 对, and you can respond with a 对 instead.
Of course, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, and there are many cases where 是 or 是的 are replaceable with 对.
For instance, say someone asks you 这是你的车, 对吗? (zhè shì nǐ de chē, duì ma?), meaning “This is your car, right?” You can reply with a 对.
Other than that, 对 can also be used to show your agreement with someone’s personal opinion or statement. Essentially, you can use it to show that you support their opinion, even if it wasn’t phrased as a sentence.
For instance, imagine someone were to say 这件衬衫很漂亮 (zhè jiàn chènshān hěn piàoliang), meaning “This blouse is very pretty.” In that situation, you can show your agreement with a 对. However, you can also replace it with the following phrase.
没错 (méi cuò) is the equivalent of 对, and they both can be used interchangeably. 没 translates to “no” or “not,” while 错 (cuò) translates to “wrong.” Putting the two together, you’ll get the literal translation “not wrong.”
Essentially, 没错 means “that’s right.” or “you’re right.” And like 对, it can be used to show your agreement about a statement someone has made. You can use it in the same scenarios as those mentioned above, such as when someone expresses an opinion or makes a statement you agree with, too.
For instance, if your classmate is describing your dedicated teacher, and you agree, the conversation may play out as follows.
English meaning: “Can.”
可以 is often used in response to someone requesting permission to do something. It could be roughly translated to “Yes, you may.” It could also mean, “Yes, sure you can.” In certain situations, it would translate to “Yes, you’re allowed to.”
You’ll often hear the word 可以 in the question as well. So, this could be one way to gauge if 可以 is a suitable response to the other party’s question.
The following are some examples of how 可以 may be used to respond to a question.
As you can gauge from these examples, 可以 can be used to allow, approve, or accept a suggestion or give the other party permission to do something. 可以 is often **not **interchangeable with 是, 对, or 没错, and doing so will come off extremely strange to native ears.
Another somewhat related phrase is 没问题 (méi wèntí), which is commonly used for both casual and work settings. It is equivalent to “sure” or “no problem” in English. You can use this phrase for a couple of situations, for instance, when someone asks you for a favor.
English meaning: “Okay.” or “Alright.”
行 carries a similar meaning to 可以 in many cases. Hence, they’re usually interchangeable. However, you won’t typically hear 行 being used in the question.
行 is used to respond to someone asking for permission or requesting a favor. To put things into context, these are examples of how and when you can use 行.
行 is more often used amongst friends and family, rather than your boss or colleagues. A phrase more appropriate for formal or professional settings would be the following one.
好的 (hǎo de)
English meaning: “Okay.” or “Will do.”
好的 is a suitable phrase to use when speaking with colleagues, peers, bosses, clients, or supervisors. It is a more formal and polite way of saying “alright” or “okay” when asked to do something. You may also hear this being utilized in the service industry.
If you’ve been exploring the Chinese language for some time now, you will notice that there are many variations to this phrase. First, let’s explore its root word, 好 (hǎo). And if this word seems familiar to you, you might have seen or heard it in two of the most basic Chinese greetings, 你好 (nǐ hǎo) and 你好吗? (nǐ hǎo ma?)
好 essentially means “good” in Mandarin. And in case you’re wondering, you can use it in response to a question as well. When replying to a yes-or-no question, 好 will mean “alright,” “okay,” or “fine.”
Its fun and loud cousin, though, would be the following phrase.
好啊 (hǎo a)
English meaning: “Sure!”
好啊 (hǎo a), or sometimes said as 好呀 (hǎo ya), are two phrases that scream enthusiasm and could be likened to “Sure!” or “Heck yes!” in English. Both are more often used for casual settings when talking to friends and family. If you want to show your excitement and enthusiasm, either would be a great fit.
Two example scenarios are as follows:-
好啊 (hǎo a) 好呀 (hǎo ya) aren’t usually used in work or professional settings—unless, of course, you’re so darn enthusiastic about the new project you’ve just been assigned.
好吧 (Hǎo ba)
English meaning: “Fine.”
Let’s go from the very enthusiastic cousin to this somewhat reluctant one—好吧 involves the same root word, 好. However, the phrase bears a totally different tone and meaning by just changing the particle at the back. You could liken it to “fine” or “all right then” in English.
好吧 is usually exchanged between friends and family members. It could come off as a little grudging and less passionate, so only use it if you’re feeling reluctant to give your “yes.”
Try to minimize the use of this phrase in professional or work settings, especially if you’re speaking to your client, supervisor, or boss. After all, you may not land in their good books if you sound that unenthusiastic all the time. A more appropriate phrase would be the one we covered previously, 好的 (hǎo de).
English meaning: “Have.”
In the context of yes-and-no questions, 有 has a very specific meaning. Hence, it is not often interchangeable with other phrases on our list. However, you can still keep your ears peeled and listen out for a 有 in the question (though this doesn’t happen 100% of the time).
When answering such questions, you can choose between 有, meaning “have” or 没有 (méiyǒu), meaning “don’t have.” Now, these are very direct translations, but context-sensitive translations can be better understood using these examples.
You can see that the actual in-context meaning of 有 alters slightly depending on the question asked.
English meaning: “Yeah.” or “Uh-huh.”
嗯 is a rather casual phrase generally reserved for friends and family or for use on social media. You may hear this someone is on the phone with another party they’re well acquainted with. Other than that, you may also notice it being used in online conversations on social media.
嗯 is a rather non-commital response indicating your agreement, and it isn’t laden with emotion or enthusiasm. Try to avoid using 嗯 in professional or formal settings.
Knowing which phrase is suitable for saying “yes” in different situations will come with practice
Most of these Mandarin phrases are simple, but knowing how to use them correctly isn’t as straightforward.
Sometimes, you’ll be given clues in the question itself. More importantly, if you practice using them, you’re bound to improve your fluency.
Sooner or later, you’ll naturally be able to quickly draw out the correct phrases to use in your day-to-day Chinese conversations.
Do you know of any other phrases that can be used to say yes in Mandarin Chinese?
If so, I would love to hear from you in the comments below!