Hong Kong English: Wikis


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Hong Kong English (Simplified Chinese: 港式英语, Traditional Chinese: 港式英語), in theory, refers to the accent and characteristics of English spoken by native Hong Kong people. In practice, it is often considered, especially by the locals, as the Hong Kong variant of Engrish.

Since many of the 'characteristics' in Hong Kong English are perceived as erroneous and improper use of English, the term is often used by the locals as a disparagement rather than to describe a linguistic identity. The majority of Hongkongers with English proficiency tend to follow British English, American English or a mixture of the two.



English is one of the official languages in Hong Kong, and is used widely in the Government, academic circle, business and the courts. All road and government signs are bilingual and English is equally valid as Chinese on legal and business standings. In North America and Europe, it is commonly referred to as "Ingrish".

In contrast to multi-cultural Singapore where English is the first language with 70% of ethnic Chinese and 25% of Malays and Indians, Hong Kong's population is 95% Chinese (Cantonese, Fukienese, Chiuchow, Fukchow, Hakka) and is a predominantly Cantonese-speaking society.

95% of the population of the city is ethnic Chinese and the majority of them uses Cantonese as their primary language.[citation needed] Most shops located in districts seldom frequented by foreign visitors have signs in Chinese only[citation needed], and in locally owned enterprises written communications are in English with all other work conducted in Chinese.[citation needed]

Under this backdrop most Hongkongers regard English as a foreign language, albeit a prestigious one, used primarily for formal communications, particularly in writing. There is little exposure to the English language, this is increasingly even more so since the transfer of the sovereignty of Hong Kong in 1997. Since that year, the government has been pushing very hard to make sure that government-funded schools use English only to teach English language as a subject, and not as the medium of instruction for other subjects. Only a handful of government primary schools and secondary schools are now allowed[citation needed] to use English as the medium of instruction in Hong Kong such as the English Schools Foundation and Toher international schools (whereas many independent fee-charging schools continue to use the English as the medium of instruction). Nonetheless, being able to use English fluently isn't common, and most of the Hongkongers fluent in English are regarded as part of the upper-middle class.

People with higher education, past experience of living in English-speaking countries, or who constantly interact with Hong Kong's English-speaking expatriate communities, generally speak an acquired form of English. Accent and spelling preference may vary from person to person, depending on the people they have interacted with and the country they have studied in. For most ordinary local Hongkongers however, the English spoken is generally typical of foreign language learners: Cantonese-influenced pronunciation with some acquired Received Pronunciation characteristics, and with vocabularies and sentence structure more formal than those of native speakers. For example, contractions and slang are not used, and many idioms are alien to Hongkongers as they pertain to English-speaking countries' cultures.

The falling English proficiency of local English teachers has come under criticism.[1] In response, the Education Bureau has required English teachers without English language undergraduate degrees to submit to an assessment, called "LPAT", to ensure that their English was of sufficiently high calibre. Those failing LPAT are no longer permitted to teach English. Unless hired by the government, even native English speakers were to undergo LPAT screening. Some opted to retire to avoid the LPAT process[citation needed], while many others failed the test[citation needed].

Spoken characteristics


Voicing of consonants

  • Consonants in Cantonese are all voiceless except nasals and approximants, as a result, /d/, /z/, /dʒ/ is read like /t/(unaspirated), /s/, /tʃ/(unaspirated), for example.


  • Many people pronounce "three" as "free".

Devocing of final consonants

  • Most people confuse the endings -d and -t, making "bad" and "bat" homonyms. Same phenomenon also occurs for the pairs -g/-k and -b/-p.


  • Most people confuse the initials sh with s. That is because in Cantonese there is, in terms of vocalization, no 'sh' sound. Though this condition does not appear on nearly all the younger, or even the middle-aged Hongkongers.


  • Confusion of Tr and Ch often occurs, making "train" sounding like "chain"


  • Like many places in Britain and the US, Hong Kong English is non-rhotic, which means 'r' is not pronounced except before a vowel. However, with the influence of American programmes shown in TV, young people in Hong Kong have started to pronounce the 'r' sound as in General American English.
  • Some people pronounce "r" as "w", except when followed by consonant other than g and k. e.g. rain -> wayne, free->fee.



  • Some people read 'v' as 'w' or 'f' sound. (e.g. 'Vector' and 'Aston Villa'; 'Vince' is read as "Whince"; same occurs with Indian accent.)
  • Other 'v' becomes 'w' or 'f' mostly with a consensus yet no obvious pattern. (e.g. 'f' in 'favour', second 'v' in 'Volvo' and either 'f' or 'w' in 'develop' depending on the speaker.)
  • Many Chinese people cannot pronounce 'v' as native English speakers do, because the 'v' sound has no equivalent in Cantonese, Mandarin, and many other dialects; but in the case of other Chinese dialects, such as Wu and Hakka dialects, there is an equivalent of the 'v' sound, hence speakers of those dialects have little difficulty pronouncing this sound.


  • Often 'n' is changed to 'l' which reflects current usage in the Hong Kong Cantonese (Yuet) language; many people in Hong Kong, particularly the younger generation, mix up the initials /n/ and /l/ in English. (In Cantonese the original correct pronunciation of, for example, 女 (Jyutping neoi5) meaning lady/female/woman is /noi/, but is almost always pronounced /loi/ in modern Hong Kong usage. Also, the correct pronunciation of 你 (you) is nei5, but it is almost always pronounced lei5 in Hong Kong usage.)
  • Nasals in English are stronger than in Cantonese.
  • l-vocalization is common: ending 'l' (Dark L)(IPA: [ɫ]) often pronounced 'w', as in Polish, e.g. "bell" --> /bew/, "milk" --> /miwk/. This /w/ is sometimes strengthened and becomes like /o/ (e.g., sale becomes SAY-o). This may come from Southern England accents, during colonial days.


  • Beginning 'j' and soft 'g' commonly read as 'dz'[ts]. It is less noticeable as there is no contrast in the initial position between /ts/ and /tʃ/ in both Cantonese and English. Many people also merge the sound "dr" with j/soft g.


  • A speaker of Hong Kong English differentiates the pronunciations of the words affect and effect. In Standard English, both words are pronounced /əˈfɛkt/, with a reduced vowel "schwa" (/ə/). However, a speaker of Hong Kong English often emphasises the vowel, pronouncing affect as /aˈfɛk/ and effect as /iˈfɛk/ (or even /jiˈfɛk/).


  • Merging of /æ/ and /ɛ/ to /ɛ/. e.g. 'bad' and 'bed', 'mass' and 'mess'.


  • The letter “z” is generally pronounced [jiˈsɛt̚], a corrupted version (due to various of the above-mentioned reasons) of a very archaic pronunciation /ɪˈzæd/; the usual pronunciations, /zɛd/ (used in UK and most of the Commonwealth nations) and /ziː/ (used in USA), are not understood by some.


  • Multi-syllable words are often differently stressed. For example, while the word "latte" is pronounced /ˈlɑːteɪ/ in most variants of the English language, it is usually pronounced [laːˈtɛ] in Hong Kong English, with the second syllable stressed instead of the first.
  • Omission of entire syllables in longer words. ('Difference' become DIFF-ENS, 'temperature' becomes TEM-PI-CHUR.)
  • Words beginning with unstressed syllables 'con' are generally pronounced its stressed form /kawn/ with a lower pitch, e.g. 'connection', 'consent', 'condition'. Words beginning with stressed syllable 'com-' e.g. 'competition', 'common' and 'compromise' are pronounced /kahm/.

Lack of double consonantal endings

  • Due to Cantonese phonology, many Hong Kongers have difficulty pronouncing double consonant endings, except when the second element is fricative. e.g. "think" as "thing", "swamp" as "swam", "send" and "sent" as "sen". "Sense" is unaffected.
  • Finals like /-kt/ is reduced to either -k or -t.

Lack of structure of diphthong+consonant

  • In Cantonese, there is no structure of diphthong+consonant. As a result, /eɪn/ becomes /ɪŋ/, /oʊn/ becomes /ʊŋ/, and /aʊn/ becomes /aːn/. Many people pronounce -ake identically to ick, also -ane identically to -ing.
  • For the case /aɪn/ or /aɪt/, some speakers omit the ending consonant, resulting in /aɪ/.


  • When speaking English, many people tend to assign one of the six tones (or nine, if entering tones are included) of the Cantonese language to English sentences, giving it a Cantonese style.
  • Exaggeration of certain final consonants, for example 's' (to /si/) and 'd' sounds of past-tense form of verbs (to [tət̚]).
  • Differences or omission in ending sounds. (as the ending consonants are always voiceless and unreleased (glotallised) in Cantonese with the exception of 'm', 'n' and 'ng', similar to Basel German)
  • Producing the 'w', 'h' or 'l' sounds in words like Greenwich, Bonham, Beckham, and is reflected in the transliteration of the words, for example, Beckham is transliterated 碧咸 (pronounced [pɪk̚ ˥haːm˩]).
  • Merging the contrast of voiceless / voiced consonants with aspirated / unaspirated if any contrast exists in Cantonese. This is because English voiceless consonants are most often aspirated, whereas the voiced ones are always unaspirated. The stop /p/ becomes [pʰ] and /b/ becomes [p]; /t/ becomes [tʰ] and /d/ becomes [t]; /k/ becomes [kʰ] and /ɡ/ becomes [k] (except when preceded by s, where the English consonants are unaspirated).
  • Merging voiceless / voiced consonants into voiceless if there is no contrast in aspirated / unaspirated in Cantonese. Both [f] and [v] become [f]; both [z] and [s] become [s]; both [tʃ] and [dʒ] become [tʃ] ; both [ʃ] and [ʒ] become [ʃ]; the only exception might be that [θ] and [ð] are never confused, due to difficulty in pronouncing [θ] and [ð]: many pronounce [θ] as [f], [ð], as [d].
  • Confusion between homographs (words with the same spelling but different meanings), e.g. the noun "resume" (c.v.) and the verb "resume" (to continue).


  • Omitting articles like "the" and "a".
  • Contractions such as "aren't" are almost never used, even in conversations, as English in Hong Kong is used largely for formal writing.
  • Confusion with verb tenses and agreement of singular or plural nouns, as they have no direct equivalents in Chinese grammar (Mandarin and Cantonese). Or because that verb tenses are expressed using a preposition or exclamation words at the end of the sentence.
  • Use of prepositions: "on", "in" and "at" are often interchangeable.
  • Yes/No confusion: In Cantonese, "yes" represents an agreement, "no" represents a disagreement, whilst in English "yes" represents a positive answer, "no" represents a negative answer. For example: "She isn't pretty, is she?" might attract the answer "No" when the native Cantonese speaker means "I disagree, in my opinion she is pretty".
  • "There is/are" becomes "there has/have", a direct translation.
  • Plural forms: there are no plural forms in Chinese, so plural and singular forms tend to be confused.
  • After someone apologises, they would substitute "It's fine/It's okay" with "Never mind".
  • "Actually" (also "In fact") is used much more frequently than in standard English, as would the equivalent Cantonese "keih sat" (其實).
  • Using "lend" and "borrow" interchangeably. e.g. "I will borrow you my car" (real meaning: "I will lend you my car"). In Chinese there is just one word used for both actions.
  • Omitting -ed and -ing. e.g. "He is charm.", "I feel touch." (real meaning: "He is charming.", "I feel touched.")
  • Using -ed and -ing interchangeably, e.g. "bored" and "boring". e.g. "I am so boring!" (real meaning: "I am so bored!"). Again, in Chinese there is just one word used to describe either state.
  • Using "win" instead of "beat". e.g. "I win you in the race!" (real meaning: "I beat you in the race!"). Same reason as above.
  • Using "hear" instead of "listen". e.g. "I hear the radio" (real meaning: "I listen to the radio"). Same reason as above.
  • Using "see" instead of "watch". e.g. "I see the television." (real meaning: "I watch (or am watching) the television"). Same reason as above. In fact, 'watch' is only associated with wrist-watches, a noun.


  • 10,000: Numbers larger than ten thousand. In Chinese, 10 thousand is read as one myriad, 100 thousand as 10 myriad, one million as 100 myriad. Even so, most people will not use the English word "myriad" so the this type of English is hardly ever seen.
  • Fractions: "three over four" (or three fourth) may wrongly be taken as "four over three". In Chinese, the denominator is read before the numerator. For example, three-fourths in Chinese is "四分之三", literally "out of four portions, three".
  • Discounts: the Chinese way of saying 10% off is "90% of the original price".

American/ British Spelling and Word Usage

This is the entrance of the shopping centre "New World Centre" in Hong Kong. Note the UK spelling of the word "Centre" (instead of "Center") and also that it does not say "Mall", as in the US.
  • Both British and American spellings are in common use, with the British variant predominating in official circles.
  • When referring to the same thing, British vocabulary is more commonly used, for example: bin instead of garbage can; lift instead of elevator.


  • end-word: In informal conversation like instant messengers, sentence-final particles or interjections of Cantonese origin such as ar, la, lu, ma and wor'—many of these being “flavouring particles”—are used at the ends of English sentences.
  • "I've eaten dinner lu" (“I've had dinner”—“lu” /lu₃₃/ indicates a perfect aspect and makes the sentence more informal)
  • "I go la/lah, bye" (“I'm leaving, bye!”—“la” /la₃₃/ indicates intent and makes the sentence more informal)

Compass Directions

  • In terms of the directions, East/West directions are said before North-Soutern directions. So they may say East-North (東北), when they mean northeast.

Hong Kong vocabulary

Some words and phrases widely understood in Hong Kong are rare or unheard of elsewhere. These often derive from Chinese, Anglo-Indian or Portuguese/Macanese.

  • A 'chop' is a seal or stamp, e.g. a "Company chop" is the seal or stamp of a corporation (It actually originates from colonial Indian English.) It is now used in some other commonwealth countries as a non-official term.
  • 'Hong Kong foot' is a literal translation of the Chinese slang term "香港腳" for athlete's foot.
  • Hongkongers colloquially use the term "sit-in" to refer to "academic auditing".
  • A Tai-Pan (or 'taipan') is a term used in early 20th century for a business executive of a large corporation.
  • An amah is a term used in early 20th century for a live-in servant (from Macanese/Portuguese- ama nurse).
  • "Open the door, see the mountain" is a direct translation of the Chinese phrase "開門見山", which roughly means "go straight to the point" in a conversation.
  • A 'shroff' is a cashier in a hospital, a government office or a car park.
  • A 'body check' is a medical checkup (medical examination), not a contact with an opponent from the front.
  • "Outlook" is often (mis)understood as "appearance".
  • Jetso ("著數") is sometimes used to mean discount or special offer.(no reference) Also meaning advantage in a lot of cases.
  • "Over the puddle" is used by non-Chinese Hongkongers as reference to the other side of the Victoria Harbour; e.g. "This is Kowloon, Hong Kong Island is there over the puddle." (Analogous to referring to the Atlantic Ocean as ʼthe pondʼ.)
  • Nullah is a cement-lined canal or an re-inforced creek bed used to contain run-off. Nullah entered the English language from Hindi. The word nullah is used almost exclusively in Hong Kong.
  • Pitch -as in "soccer pitch"- means "field." More often than not -in Hong Kong- a soccer pitch is topped with cement.

See also



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