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This article contains Chinese text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Chinese characters.
Mandarin Chinese
Traditional Chinese 官話
Simplified Chinese 官话
Hanyu Pinyin Guān Huà
Commonly known as
Traditional Chinese 北方話
Simplified Chinese 北方话
Spoken in People's Republic of China
Region Most of northern and southwestern China (and also overseas Singapore; Malaysia; United States (New York City, Los Angeles); Canada (Toronto, Vancouver); Australia (Sydney); France (Paris); United Kingdom (London); Suriname, Mauritius, and other overseas Chinese communities)
Total speakers 885 million (first language speakers) [1]
Total Speakers: 1,365,053,177[1]
Ranking 1 (native speakers)
Language family Sino-Tibetan
Language codes
ISO 639-1 zh
ISO 639-2 chi (B)  zho (T)
ISO 639-3 cmn
Mandarin in China.png

Mandarin (simplified Chinese: traditional Chinese: pinyin: Guānhuà; literally "speech of officials" or simplified Chinese: traditional Chinese: pinyin: Běifānghuà; literally "northern dialect(s)"), is a category of related Chinese dialects spoken across most of northern and south-western China. When taken as a separate language, as is often done in academic literature, the Mandarin language has more native speakers than any other language. The "standard" in Standard Mandarin refers to the standard Beijing dialect of the Mandarin language.

Mandarin is also a general term describing any grade of nobility in the Chinese Imperial Court.

In English, Mandarin can refer to either of two distinct concepts:

The latter grouping is defined and used mainly by linguists, and is not commonly used outside of academic circles as a self-description. Instead, when asked to describe the spoken form they are using, Chinese speaking a form of non-Standard Mandarin will describe the variant that they are speaking, for example Southwestern Mandarin or Northeastern Mandarin, and consider it distinct from "Standard Mandarin" (putonghua); they may not recognize that it is in fact classified by linguists as a form of "Mandarin" in a broader sense. Nor is there a common "Mandarin" identity based on language; rather, there are strong regional identities centred on individual dialects, because of the wide geographical distribution and cultural diversity of its speakers.

Like all other varieties of Chinese, there is significant dispute as to whether Mandarin is a language or a dialect. See Identification of the varieties of Chinese for more on this issue.



The present divisions of the Chinese language developed out of the different ways in which dialects of Old Chinese and Middle Chinese evolved.

Most Chinese living in northern and south-western China are native speakers of a dialect of Mandarin. The prevalence of this linguistic homogeneity in northern China is largely the result of geography: much of northern China is covered by plains and is flat. In contrast to this, the mountains and rivers of southern China have promoted linguistic diversity.

Chronologically, there is no clear line to mark where Middle Chinese ends and Mandarin begins; however, the Zhōngyuán Yīnyùn (中原音韵), a rhyme book from the Yuan Dynasty, is widely regarded as a milestone in the history of Mandarin. In this rhyme book we see many characteristic features of Mandarin, such as the reduction and disappearance of final stop consonants and the reorganization of the Middle Chinese tones.

Until the mid-20th century, most Chinese people living in southern China spoke only their local language. Beijing Mandarin became dominant during the Manchu-ruling Qing Dynasty, and from the 17th century onward, the empire established orthoepy academies (simplified Chinese: 正音书院traditional Chinese: 正音書院pinyin: Zhèngyīn Shūyuàn) in an attempt to make local pronunciations conform to the Beijing standard so that the Emperor could communicate with all officials directly[2]. These attempts, however, had little success.

Zhongguo Guanhua (中國官話), or Medii Regni Communis Loquela ("Middle Kingdom's Common Speech"), used on the frontispiece of an early Chinese grammar published by Étienne Fourmont (with Arcadio Huang) in 1742[3]

This situation changed with the widespread introduction of Standard Mandarin as the national language, to be used in education, the media, and formal situations in both the PRC and the ROC (but not in Hong Kong). As a result, Standard Mandarin can now be spoken intelligibly as a second language by most younger people in Mainland China and Taiwan, with various regional accents. In Hong Kong and Macau, because of their colonial and linguistic history, the language of education, the media, formal speech and everyday life remains the local Cantonese, although Standard Mandarin is very influential now.


Name and classification

The English term comes from the Portuguese mandarim or Dutch mandarijn, from Indonesian/Malay məntəri, from Hindi mantri, from Sanskrit mantrin (meaning councilor or minister[4]); it is a translation of the Chinese term Guānhuà (simplified Chinese: 官话traditional Chinese: 官話), which literally means the language of the mandarins (imperial magistrates). The term Guānhuà is often considered archaic by Chinese speakers of today, though it is often used by linguists as a collective term to refer to all varieties and dialects of Mandarin, not just standard Mandarin. Another term commonly used to refer to all varieties of Mandarin is Běifānghuà (simplified Chinese: 北方话traditional Chinese: 北方話), or the dialect(s) of the North, although this term is used less and less among Chinese linguists in favour of "Guānhuà".

Standard Mandarin

From an official point of view, there are two versions of Standard Mandarin, since the People's Republic of China government refers to that on the Mainland as Putonghua, whereas the Republic of China government refers to their official language as Kuo-yü (Guoyu in pinyin).

Technically, both Putonghua and Guoyu base their phonology on the Beijing accent, though Putonghua also takes some elements from other sources. Comparison of dictionaries produced in the two areas will show that there are few substantial differences. However, both versions of "school" Standard Mandarin are often quite different from the Mandarin dialects that are spoken in accordance with regional habits, and neither is wholly identical to the Beijing dialect. Putonghua and Guoyu also differ from the Beijing dialect in vocabulary, grammar, and usage.

It is important to note that the terms "Putonghua (Common Language)" and "Guoyu (National Language)" refer to speech, and hence the difference in the use of simplified characters and traditional characters is not usually considered to be a difference between these two concepts.


The eight main dialect areas of Mandarin in Mainland China.

There are regional variations in Mandarin. This is manifested in two ways:

  1. The varieties of Mandarin cover a huge area containing nearly a billion people. As a result, there are pronounced regional variations in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. These regional differences are rather more pronounced than the differences in the varieties of English found in England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.[citation needed]
  2. Standard Mandarin has been promoted very actively by the PRC, the ROC, and Singapore as a second language. As a result, those who are not native speakers of Standard Mandarin frequently flavour it with a strong infusion of the sounds of their native languages.

Dialects of Mandarin can be subdivided into eight categories: Beijing Mandarin, Northeastern Mandarin, Ji Lu Mandarin, Jiao Liao Mandarin, Zhongyuan Mandarin, Lan Yin Mandarin, Southwestern Mandarin, and Jianghuai Mandarin. Jin is sometimes considered the ninth category of Mandarin. (Others separate it from Mandarin altogether.)


See Mandarin phonology for a description of Standard Mandarin phonology and dialects of Mandarin for an overview of the phonologies of Mandarin dialects.

Unlike Cantonese and Min Nan which are syllable timed languages, Mandarin is a stress timed language (Avery & Ehrlich 1992) like many western languages including English.

Syllables consist maximally of an initial consonant, a glide, a vowel, a final, and tone. Not every syllable that is possible according to this rule actually exists in Mandarin, as there are rules prohibiting certain phonemes from appearing with others, and in practice there are only a few hundred distinct syllables.

Phonological features that are generally shared by the Mandarin dialects include:


There are more polysyllabic words in Mandarin than in all other major varieties of Chinese except Shanghainese. This is partly because Mandarin has undergone many more sound changes than have southern varieties of Chinese, and has needed to deal with many more homophones—usually by forming new words via compounding, or by adding affixes such as lao- (老), -zi (子), -(e)r (兒/儿), and -tou (頭/头). There are also a small number of words that have been polysyllabic since Old Chinese, such as húdié (蝴蝶, butterfly). (Please refer to Matteo Ricci's China in the Sixteenth Century, "All Chinese words, without exception, are monosyllabic." )

The singular pronouns in Mandarin are wǒ (我) "I", nǐ (你/妳) "you", nín (您) "you (formal)", and tā (他/她/它) "he/she/it", with -men (們/们) added for the plural. Further, there is a distinction between the plural first-person pronoun zánmen (咱們/咱们), which is inclusive of the listener, and wǒmen (我們/我们), which may be exclusive of the listener. Dialects of Mandarin agree with each other quite consistently on these pronouns, but not with other varieties of Chinese (e.g., Shanghainese has 侬 non "you" and 伊 yi "he/she").

Other morphemes that Mandarin dialects tend to share are aspect and mood particles, such as -le (了), -zhe (著/着), and -guo (過/过). Other Chinese varieties tend to use different words in some of these contexts (e.g., Cantonese 咗 and 緊). Because of contact with Mongolian and Manchurian peoples, Mandarin has some loanwords from Altaic languages not present in other varieties of Chinese, such as hútong (胡同) "alley". Southern Chinese varieties have borrowed from Tai[5], Austro-Asiatic[6], and Austronesian[citation needed] languages.

Word formation

The most common way used to form polysyllabic words in Mandarin is to aggregate words according to their meaning. For instance, the word for "typewriter" is 打字機 dǎ zì jī. The first word means "to strike," used because in typing one's fingers strike the keys. The second word means "character" (and, by extension, "letter"). The third word means "machine." So the combination means "machine for knocking out characters."

Another possibility is to combine two words of similar meaning such as 匆忙 cōng máng, the first meaning "hurried" and the second meaning "busy."

Borrowed words are at times written with a combination of Chinese characters that attempt to approximate the pronunciation of the foreign term. For example, "laser" can be written as 雷射 léi shè. Literally the two Chinese characters mean "thunder" and "to shoot [arrows]" and, by extension, "to radiate."


Chinese is similar to English in many of its syntactic characteristics. It frequently forms sentences by stating a subject and following it by a predicate. The predicate can be an intransitive verb, a transitive verb followed by a direct object, a linking verb followed by a predicate nominative, etc.

Chinese differs from English in distinguishing between names of things, which can stand as predicate nominatives, and names of characteristics. Names of characteristics (e.g., green) cannot follow linking verbs. There is no equivalent of the English predicate adjective. Instead, abstract characterizations such as "green," "angry," "hot," etc., stand as complete predicates in their own right. So one says, e.g., 我不累. Wǒ bú lèi. The word-for-word version in English would be, "I not tired."

Chinese differs from English in that it forms another kind of sentence by stating a topic and following it by a comment. In English, speakers generally flag the topic of a sentence by prefacing it with "as for." For instance, one might say, "As for the money that Mama gave us, I have already bought candy with it." Note that the comment in this case is itself a complete sentence with subject, verb, and object. The Chinese version is simply, 媽媽給我們的錢,我已經買了糖了. Māma géi wǒmende qián, wó yǐjīng mǎile táng le. This is translated somewhat directly as, "The money Mom gave us, I already bought candy," lacking a preface as in English.

Chinese does not have tense. Instead it uses a combination of aspect markers and markers of modality. In other words, it employs single syllables that indicate such things as (1) that the subject of the sentence did something that was expected or anticipated, (2) that the subject of the sentence has gone through some experience within a stated or implicit time period, (3) that a statement that was formerly not the case has now become true, i.e., that there has been a change of status, (4) that there still has not been a change in a condition previously noted, etc.

The time that something happened can be given by an explicit term such as "yesterday," by relative terms such as "formerly," etc.

Another major difference between the syntax of Chinese and languages like English lies in the stacking order of modifying clauses. 昨天發脾氣的外交警察取消了沒有交錢的那些人的入境証. Zuó tiān fā pí qìde wài jiāo jǐng chá qǔ xiāole méi yǒu jiāo qiánde nà xiē rénde rù jīng zhèng. Using the Chinese order in English, that sentence would be:

"[Yesterday got angry] --> foreign affairs policeman canceled [did not pay] --> [those people]'s visas.

In more ordinary English order, that would be:

The foreign affairs policeman who got angry yesterday canceled the visas of those people who did not pay.

There are a few other features of the Mandarin language that would be unfamiliar to speakers of English, but the features mentioned above are generally the most noticeable.

Writing system

The writing system for almost all the varieties of Chinese is based on a set of written symbols that has been passed down with little change for more than two thousand years. Each of these varieties of Chinese has developed some new words during this time, words for which there are no matching characters in the original set. While it is of course possible to invent new characters (as was done to represent many elements in the periodic table), a more common course of development has been to borrow old characters that have fallen into disuse on the basis of their pronunciations. Chinese Characters were traditionally read top to bottom, right to left, but in modern usage it is more common to read from left to right.

In the original set of characters and definitions (containing more than 40,000 items) there were the demonstrative pronouns "this" (此, ) and "that" (彼, ). But these terms were rare in spoken Mandarin, where "zhè" and "nà" (or regional variants of them) were used instead. There are no components in the original set that have those meanings associated with those pronunciations, so a word pronounced "zhè" (这/這) was borrowed to write "this", and a word pronounced "nà" (那) was borrowed to write "that". Originally, 這 meant "to go forward to meet someone", and 那 was the name of a country (and later became a rare surname).

As with other varieties of Chinese, the government of the People's Republic of China (as well as some other governments and institutions) has put a set of simplified forms into operation. Under this system, the forms of the words "here" (zhèlǐ) and "there" (nàlǐ) changed from 這裡 and 那裡 to 这里 and 那里. (See Simplified Chinese for more.)

Mandarin literature

Originally, written Chinese was learned and composed as a special language. It may originally have rather closely represented the way people spoke, but with time the spoken and written languages diverged rather strongly. The written language, called "classical Chinese" or "literary Chinese", is much more concise than spoken Chinese, the main reason being that a single written character is often just what one wants to communicate yet its single syllable would communicate an ambiguous meaning if spoken because of the huge number of homonyms. For instance, 翼 (yì, wing) is unambiguous in written Chinese but would be lost among its more than 75 homonyms in spoken Chinese.

For writing formal histories, for writing government documents, and even for writing poetry and fiction, the written language was adequate and economical of both printing resources and the human effort of writing things down. But to record materials that were meant to be reproduced in oral presentations, materials such as plays and grist for the professional story-teller's mill, the classical written language was not appropriate. Even written records of the words of a famous teacher like Zhu Xi (朱熹;1130-1200) tend strongly to reflect his spoken language. From at least the Yuan dynasty, plays that recounted the subversive tales of China's Robin Hoods to the Ming dynasty novels, such as Shuihu Zhuan (《水浒传》; Outlaws of the marsh), on down to the Qing dynasty novel Honglou Meng (《红楼梦》; usually translated as "Dream of the Red Chamber") and beyond, there developed a vernacular Chinese literature (白话文学; báihuà wénxué). In many cases this written language reflected the Mandarin spoken language, and, since pronunciation differences were not conveyed in this written form, this tradition had a unifying force across all the Mandarin speaking regions and beyond.

A pivotal character during the first half of the twentieth century, Hu Shi (胡适), wrote an influential and perceptive study of this literary tradition, entitled Báihuà Wénxuéshǐ (A history of vernacular literature).

See also


  1. ^ Top Ten Internet Languages - World Internet Statistics
  2. ^ 南方口音,北方腔调—人民网
  3. ^ FOURMONT, Etienne. Linguae Sinarum Mandarinicae hieroglyphicae grammatica duplex, latinè, & cum characteribus Sinensium. Item Sinicorum Regiae Bibliothecae librorum catalogus…
  4. ^ mandarin, Online Etymology Dictionary
  5. ^ Ramsey, S. Robert (1987). The Languages of China. Princeton University Press. pp. 36–8. ISBN 0-691-01468-X. 
  6. ^ Norman, Jerry (1976). "The Austroasiatics in ancient South China: some lexical evidence". Monumenta Serica 32: 274–301. 

Further reading

  • Chao, Yuen Ren (1968). A Grammar of Spoken Chinese. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-00219-9. 
  • Norman, Jerry (1988). Chinese. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-29653-6. 
  • Ramsey, S. Robert (1987). The Languages of China. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01468-X. 
  • Novotná, Z., "Contributions to the Study of Loan-Words and Hybrid Words in Modern Chinese", Archiv Orientalni, (Prague), No.35 (1967), (In English: examples of loan words and calques in Chinese)

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Chinese phrasebook article)

From Wikitravel

Chinese script in Chinatown, Singapore
Chinese script in Chinatown, Singapore

Mandarin Chinese is the official language of China and Taiwan, and is one of the official languages of Singapore. In English, it is often just called "Mandarin" or "Chinese". In China, it is called Putonghua (普通话), meaning "common speech", while it Taiwan it is referred to as Guoyu (國語) - "the national language." It has been the main language of education in China (but not Hong Kong) since the 1950s. Standard Mandarin is close to, but not quite identical with, the dialect of the Beijing area. Note that while the spoken mandarin in the above places is the same, the written characters are different. In Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau traditional characters are used, whereas China and Singapore use a simplified derivative.

Map of Chinese dialects
Map of Chinese dialects

The word "dialect" means something different when applied to Chinese than it does for other languages. Chinese "dialects" are often mutually unintelligible, as different as, say, Spanish and French and even English, which we would call "related languages" rather than "dialects".

However, while there are different spoken dialects of Chinese, there is only one form of written Chinese, with one common set of characters - mostly. An exception arises where in some spoken dialects, for example Cantonese as used in Hong Kong, more informal phrasings are used in everyday speech than what would be written. Thus, there are some extra characters that are sometimes used in addition to the common characters to represent the spoken dialect and other colloquial words. One additional complication is that mainland China and Singapore use simplified characters, a long-debated change completed by the mainland Chinese government in 1956 to facilitate the standardization of language across China's broad minority groups and sub-dialects. Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and many overseas Chinese use the traditional characters. In addition, the Dungan language, which is spoken in some parts of Russia, is considered to be a variant of Mandarin but uses the Cyrillic alphabet instead of Chinese characters.

About one fifth of the people in the world speak some form of Chinese as their native language, making it the most widely spoken language in the world. It is a tonal language that is related to Burmese and Tibetan. Although Japanese and Korean use Chinese written characters and a large number of Chinese loanwords, they are not in the same language family. Rather they are related in a manner that resembles English having a lot of Romance language-derived loanwords while being a Germanic language. Also, the unrelated Vietnamese language (which uses a distinctive version of the Latin alphabet) language has borrowed many words from Chinese.

Note that travellers headed for Hong Kong, Macau or Guangdong will almost certainly find Cantonese more useful than Mandarin.

Chinese, like most other Asian languages such as Arabic, is famous for being difficult to learn but it needn't be. While English speakers would initially have problems with the tones and recognizing many different characters (Chinese has no alphabet), the grammar is very simple and can be picked up very easily. Most notably, Chinese grammar does not have conjugation, tenses, gender, plurals or other grammatical rules which are found in other major languages such as English, French or Japanese.

Pronunciation guide

The pronunciation guide below uses Hanyu pinyin, the official romanization of the People's Republic of China. Until recently, Taiwan used the Wade-Giles system, which is quite different, but has recently officially switched to Tongyong pinyin, which is only slightly different.

Pinyin allows very accurate pronunciation of Chinese if you understand how it works, but the way it uses letters like q, x, c, z and even i is not at all intuitive to the English speaker. Studying the pronunciation guide below carefully is thus essential.


Some pinyin vowels (esp. "e", "i", "ü") can be tricky, so it's best to get a native speaker to demonstrate. Also beware of the spelling rules listed in Exceptions below.

as in father
unrounded back vowel (IPA [ɤ]), similar to duh; in unstressed syllables becames a schwa (IPA [ə]), like idea
as in see or key;
after sh, zh, s, z or r, not really a vowel at all but just a stretched-out consonant sound
as in saw
as in soon; but read ü in ju, qu, yu and xu
as in French lune or German grün


As in any language, there are diphthongs in Chinese, and they are listed below:

as in pie
as in pouch
as in pay
as in ya
ia in ' ian'
as in 'yes
as in meow
as in yes
as in Pyongyang
as in mow
as in what
as in war


Chinese stops distinguish between aspirated and unaspirated, not voiceless and voiced as in English. Aspirated sounds are pronounced with a distinctive puff of air, the way they are in English when at the beginning of a word, while unaspirated sounds are pronounced without the puff, as in English when found in clusters. Place a hand in front of your mouth and compare pit (aspirated) with spit (unaspirated) to see the difference.

Unaspirated Aspirated
as in spot
as in pit
as in do
as in tongue
as in skin
as in king
as in jeer
as in cheap
as in jungle
as in chore
as in zebra
as in rats

The other consonants in Chinese are:

as in mow
as in fun
as in none or none
as in lease
as in her
as in sheep
as in shoot
as in fair
as in sag
as in sing
as in wing, but silent in wu
as in yet, but silent in yi, yu

If you think that's a fairly intimidating repertoire, rest assured that you're not alone, and many Chinese, particularly those who are not native Mandarin speakers, will merge many of the sounds above (eg. q with ch, j with zh).


There are a fairly large number of niggling exceptions to the basic rules above, based on the position of the sound. Some of the more notable ones include:

as u-, so 五百 wubai is pronounced "ubai"
as i-, so 一个 yige is pronounced "ige"
as ü-, so 豫园 Yuyuan is pronounced "ü-üan"

How do I put my tone marks?

If you're confused by how to put tone marks above the Hanyu Pinyin, follow the steps below:

Always insert tone marks above the vowels. If there is more than 1 vowel letter, follow the steps below:

(1) Insert it above the 'a' if that letter is present. For example, it is rǎo and not raǒ

(2) If not, insert it above 'o'. eg. guó and not gúo

(3) Insert it above the letter 'e' if the letters 'a' and 'o' are not present. eg. jué and not júe

(4) If only 'i', 'u' and 'ü' are the only present letters, insert it in the letter than occurs last. eg. jiù and not jìu, chuí and not chúi. Note, if the vowel present is ü, the tone mark is put in addition to the umlaut. eg. lǜ

There are four tones in Mandarin that must be followed for proper pronunciation. If you are not used to tonal languages then never underestimate the importance of these tones. Consider a vowel with a different tone as simply a different vowel altogether, and you will realize why Chinese will not understand you if mess this up — is to as "I want a cake" is to "I want a coke". Be especially wary of questions that have a falling tone, or conversely exclamations that have an "asking" tone (eg jǐngchá, police!). In other words, pronounced like does not imply meaning. While Mandarin speakers also vary their tone just like English speakers do to differentiate a statement from a question and convey emotion, this is much more subtle than in English so it is best not to try it until you have mastered the basic tones.

1. first tone ( ā ) 
flat, high pitch — more sung instead of spoken
2. second tone ( á ) 
low to middle, rising — pronounced like the end of a question phrase (Whát?)
3. third tone ( ǎ ) 
middle to low to high, dipping — Note: For two consecutive words in the 3rd tone, the first word is pronounced as if it is in the 2nd tone. For example, 打扰 dǎrǎo is pronounced as dárǎo.
4. fourth tone ( à ) 
high to low, rapidly falling — pronounced like a command (Stop!)
5. a fifth tone 
this is a neutral tone, which is rarely used by itself (mostly for phrase particles), but frequently occurs as the second part of a phrase.

Phrase list

All phrases shown in here use the simplified characters used in mainland China and Singapore. See Chinese phrasebook - Traditional for a version using the traditional characters still used on Taiwan.

To be or not to be?

Chinese does not have words for "yes" and "no" as such; instead, questions are typically answered by repeating the verb. Common ones include:

To be or not to be
是 shì, 不是 bú shì
To have or not have / there is or is not
有 yǒu, 没有 méi yǒu
To be right or wrong
对 duì, 不对 bú duì
你好。 Nǐ hǎo.
How are you? 
你好吗? Nǐ hǎo ma? 身体好吗? Shēntǐ hǎo ma?
Fine, thank you. 
很好, 谢谢。 Hěn hǎo, xièxie.
May I please ask, what is your name? 
请问你叫什么名? Qǐngwèn nǐjiào shěnme míng?
Who are you? 
你叫什么名字? Nǐ jiào shénme míngzi?
My name is ______ . 
我叫 _____ 。 Wǒ jiào ______ .
Nice to meet you. 
很高兴认识你。 Hěn gāoxìng rènshì nǐ.
请。 Qǐng.
Thank you. 
谢谢。 Xièxiè.
You're welcome. 
不客气。 Bú kèqi.
Excuse me. (getting attention
请问 qǐng wèn
Excuse me. (begging pardon
打扰一下。 Dǎrǎo yixià ; 麻烦您了, Máfán nín le.
I'm sorry. 
对不起。 Duìbùqǐ.
It's okay. (polite response to "I'm sorry")
没关系 (méiguānxi).
再见。 Zàijiàn
Goodbye (informal
拜拜。 Bai-bai (Byebye)
I can't speak Chinese. 
我不会说中文。 Wǒ bú huì shuō zhōngwén.
Do you speak English? 
你会说英语吗? Nǐ huì shuō Yīngyǔ ma?
Is there someone here who speaks English? 
这里有人会说英语吗? Zhèlĭ yǒu rén hùi shuō Yīngyǔ ma?
Help! (in emergencies)
救命! Jiùmìng!
Good morning. 
早安。 Zǎo'ān.
Good evening. 
晚上好。 Wǎnshàng hǎo.
Good night. 
晚安。 Wǎn'ān.
I don't understand. 
我听不懂。 Wǒ tīng bù dǒng.
Where is the toilet? 
厕所在哪里? Cèsuǒ zài nǎli?

Asking a question in Chinese

There are many ways to ask a question in Chinese. Here are two easy ones for travelers...

Verb/Adj. + bù + Verb/Adj. 
Example - hăo bù hăo? - Are you ok? (literally - good not good?)

Exception - yŏu méi yŏu? - Do you have? (literally - have not have?)

Sentence + ma 
Example - nĭ shì zhōngguóren ma? - Are you Chinese? (literally - you are chinese + ma)
Leave me alone. 
不要打扰我。 (búyào dǎrǎo wǒ)
I don't want it! (useful for people who come up trying to sell you something) 
我不要 (wǒ búyào!)
Don't touch me! 
不要碰我! (búyào pèng wǒ!)
I'll call the police. 
我要叫警察了。 (wǒ yào jiào jǐngchá le)
警察! (jǐngchá!)
Stop! Thief! 
住手!小偷! (zhùshǒu! xiǎotōu!)
I need your help. 
我需要你的帮助。 (wǒ xūyào nǐde bāngzhù)
It's an emergency. 
这是紧急情况。 (zhèshì jǐnjí qíngkuàng)
I'm lost. 
我迷路了。 (wǒ mílù le)
I lost my bag. 
我丟了手提包。 (wǒ diūle shǒutíbāo)
I lost my wallet. 
我丟了钱包。 (wǒ diūle qiánbāo)
I'm sick. 
我生病了。 (wǒ shēngbìng le)
I've been injured. 
我受伤了。 (wǒ shòushāng le)
I need a doctor. 
我需要医生。 (wǒ xūyào yīshēng)
Can I use your phone? 
我可以打个电话吗? (wǒ kěyǐ dǎ ge diànhuà ma?)
I am sick. 
我生病了。 (wǒ shēngbìng le)
痛。 (tòng)
不舒服。 (bù shūfú)
Sore (In muscle strains). 
发烧。 (fāshāo)
咳嗽。 (késòu)
打喷嚏 (dǎ pēntì)
泻肚子/拉肚子 (xiè dùzi/lā dùzi)
Running nose. 
流鼻涕 (liú bítì)
痰。 (tán)
手。 (shǒu)
手腕。 (shǒuwàn)
肩膀。 (jiānbǎng)
脚。 (jiǎo)
脚指。 (jiǎozhǐ)
腿。 (tuǐ)
指甲。 (zhǐjiǎ)
身体。 (shēntǐ)
眼睛。 (yǎnjīng)
耳朵。 (ěrduo)
鼻子。 (bízi)
脸。 (liǎn)
头发。 (tóufǎ)
头。 (tóu)
颈项/脖子。 (jǐngxiàng/bózi)
喉咙。 (hóulóng)
胸。 (xiōng)
肚子。 (dùzi)
腰。 (yāo)
屁股。 (pìgǔ)
背。 (bèi)


Chinese numbers are very regular. While Indo-Arabic (Western) numerals have become more common, the Chinese numerals shown below are still used, particularly in informal contexts like markets. The characters in parentheses are generally used in financial contexts, such as writing cheques and printing banknotes.

0 〇, 零 
1 一 (壹) 
2 二 (贰) 
èr (两 liǎng is used when specifying quantities)
3 三 (叁) 
4 四 (肆) 
5 五 (伍) 
6 六 (陆) 
7 七 (柒) 
8 八 (捌) 
9 九 (玖) 
10 十 (拾) 
11 十一 
12 十二 
13 十三 
14 十四 
15 十五 
16 十六 
17 十七 
18 十八 
19 十九 
20 二十 
21 二十一 
22 二十二 
23 二十三 
30 三十 
40 四十 
50 五十 
60 六十 
70 七十 
80 八十 
90 九十 

For numbers above 100, any "gaps" must be filled in with 〇 líng, as eg. 一百一 yībǎiyī would otherwise be taken as shorthand for "110". A single unit of tens may be written and pronounced either 一十 yīshí or just 十 shí.

100 一百 (壹佰)
101 一百〇一 
110 一百一十 
111 一百一十一 
200 二百 
èr-bǎi or 两百:liǎng-bǎi
300 三百 
500 五百 
1000 一千 (壹仟)
2000 二千 
èr-qiān or 两千:liǎng-qiān

Numbers above 10,000 are grouped by in units of four digits, starting with 万 wàn (ten thousand). "One million" in Chinese is thus "hundred tenthousands" (一百万).

10,000 一万 (壹萬)
10,001 一万〇一 
10,002 一万〇二 
20,000 二万 
50,000 五万 
100,000 十万 
200,000 二十万 
1,000,000 一百万 
10,000,000 一千万 
100,000,000 一亿 (壹億) 
1,000,000,000,000 一兆 
number _____ (train, bus, etc.
number measure word (路 lù, 号 hào, ...) _____ (huǒ chē, gōng gòng qì chē, etc.)

Measure words are used in combination with a number to indicate an amount of mass nouns, similar to how English requires "two pieces of paper" rather than just "two paper". Read this for full details. When in doubt, use 个 (ge); even though it may not be correct you will probably be understood because it is the most common measure word. (One person: 一个人 yīgè rén; two apples: 两个苹果 liǎnggè píngguǒ; note that two of something always uses 两 liǎng rather than 二 èr).

半 bàn
less than 
少於 shǎoyú
more than 
多於 duōyú
更 gèng
现在 xiànzài
以后, yǐhòu or shāohòu
以前, yǐqián
早上, zǎoshàng
中午, zhōngwǔ
下午, xiàwǔ
晚上, wǎnshàng
半夜 bànyè or 午夜 (wǔyè)

Clock time

What time is it? 
现在几点? Xiànzài jǐ diǎn?
It is nine in the morning. 
早上9点钟。 Zǎoshàng jǐu diǎn zhōng.
Three-thirty PM. 
下午3点半. Xiàwǔ sān diǎn bàn.
38 PM. : 下午3点38分 (xiàwǔ sāndiǎn sānshíbā fēn).


_____ minute(s) 
_____ 分钟 fēnzhōng
_____ hour(s) 
_____ 小时 xiǎoshí
_____ day(s) 
_____ 天 tiān
_____ week(s) 
_____ 星期 xīngqī
_____ month(s) 
_____ 月 yùe
_____ year(s) 
_____ 年 nián


今天 jīntiān
昨天 zuótiān
the day before yesterday
明天 míngtiān
the day after tomorrow
后天 hòutiān
this week 
这个星期 zhège xīngqī
last week 
上个星期 shàngge xīngqī
next week 
下个星期 xiàge xīngqī

Weekdays in Chinese are easy: starting with 1 for Monday, just add the number after 星期 xīngqī. In Taiwan, 星期 is pronounced xīngqí (second tone on the second syllable).

星期天 xīngqītiān or xīngqīrì (星期日)
星期一 xīngqīyī
星期二 xīngqīèr
星期三 xīngqīsān
星期四 xīngqīsì
星期五 xīngqīwǔ
星期六 xīngqīliù

星期 can also be replaced with 礼拜 lǐbài and occasionally 周 zhōu.


Months in Chinese are also easy: starting with 1 for January, just add the number before 月 yuè.

一月, yī yuè
二月, èr yuè
三月, sān yuè
四月, sì yuè
五月, wŭ yuè
六月, liù yuè
七月, qī yuè
八月, bā yuè
九月, jiŭ yuè
十月, shí yuè
十一月, shí yī yuè
十二月, shí èr yuè
13th month:十三月, shí-sān yuè (occasionally added as a leap month in the Lunar Calendar)

Tips: From January to December, you just need to use this pattern: number (1-12) + yuè

Writing Dates

Writing dates in the Lunar Calendar

If you are attempting to name a date in the Chinese Lunar Calendar, add the words ‘农历’ before the name of the month to distinguish it from the months of the solar calendar, although it is not strictly necessary. There are some differences: The words 日(rì)/ 号(hào) are generally not required when stating dates in the lunar calendar; it is assumed. Besides that, the 1st Month is called 正月 (zhèngyuè). If the number of the day is less than 11, the word 初 is used before the value of the day. Besides that, if the value of the day is more than 20, the word 廿 (niàn) is used, so the 23rd day is 廿三 for example.

15th day of the 8th lunar month (the mid-autumn festival)
(农历)八月十五 ( (nónglì) bāyuè shí-wǔ).
1st day of the 1st lunar month
(农历)正月初一 ( (nónglì) zhèngyuè chūyī).
23rd day of the 9th lunar month
( 农历) 九月廿三 ( (nónglì) jiŭ yuè niànsān).

When writing the date, you name the month (number (1-12) + yuè), before inserting the day (number (1-31) + 日(rì)/ 号(hào) ). Note that the usage of 号(hào), which is more often used in spoken language, is more colloquial than that of 日(rì), which is more often used in written documents.

6th January
一月六号 (yī yuè liù hào) or 一月六日 (yī yuè liù rì)
25th December
十二月二十五号 (shí-èr yuè èr-shí-wǔ hào)
黑色 hēi sè
白色 bái sè
灰色 huī sè
红色 hóng sè
蓝色 lán sè
黄色 huáng sè
绿色 lǜ sè
橙色 chéng sè
紫色 zǐ sè
褐色 he sè, 棕色 zōng sè,
Do you have it in another colour?  
你们有没有另外颜色? nǐmen yǒu méiyǒu lìngwài yánsè ?

Tips: sè means 'colour', therefore, 'hóng sè' is 'red colour'(literally). More common for brown and easier to remmember is 'coffee colour': 咖啡色 kā fēi sè


Bus and Train

How much is a ticket to _____? 
去______的票多少钱 qù _____ de piào duō shǎo qián?
Do you go to... (the central station)? 
去不去... (火车站) qù bù qù... (huǒ chē zhàn)


How do I get to _____ ? 
怎么去_____ zěnme qù _____?
...the train station? 
...火车站? ...huǒchē zhàn?
...the bus station? 
...汽车总站? ...qìchē zǒngzhàn?
...the airport? 
...机场? ...jī chǎng?
街 jiē; 路 lù
Turn left. 
左边转弯 zuǒbiān zhuǎnwān/左拐zuǒguǎi
Turn right. 
右边转弯 yòubiān zhuǎnwān/右拐yòuguăi
Go straight
一直走 yìzhízŏu
I've reached my destination
掉 头 diàotóu
Taxi driver
师傅 shīfu
Please use the meter machine
请打表 qǐng dǎbiǎo
Please turn up the aircon/heater
请空调开大点儿。 qǐng kōngtiáo kāi dàdiǎn(r)
左边 zuǒbiān
右边 yòubiān
straight ahead 
往前走 wǎngqián zǒu
北 bĕi
南 nán
东 dōng
西 xī


Taxi 出租车 chū zū chē
Take me to _____, please. 
请开到_____。 qǐng kāidào _____。

Common signs

Entrance [rùkǒu]
Exit [chūkǒu]
Push [tuī]
Pull [lā]
厕所 / 洗手间 
Toilet [cèsuǒ] / [xǐshǒujiān]
Men [nán]
Women [nǚ]
Forbidden [jìnzhǐ]
Smoking [xīyān]
Do you have any rooms available? 
你们有房间吗? Nǐmen yǒu fángjiān ma?
Does the room come with... 
有没有... Yǒu méiyǒu...
...床单? ...chuángdān?
...a bathroom? 
...浴室? ...yùshì?
...a telephone? 
...电话? ...diànhuà?
...a TV? 
...电视? ...diànshì ?
I will stay for _____ night(s). 
我打算住_____夜。 Wǒ dǎsuàn zhù _____ yè.
Do you have a safe? 
你们有没有保险箱? Nǐmen yǒu méiyǒu bǎoxiǎn xiāng?
Can you wake me at _____? 
请明天早上_____叫醒我。 Qǐng míngtiān zǎoshàng _____ jiàoxǐng wǒ.
I want to check out. 
我现在要走。 Wǒ xiànzài yào zǒu.
付 fù
现钱 xiàn qián
credit card
信用卡 xìn yòng kǎ
支票 zhīpiào

Reading a Chinese Menu

Look for these characters to get an idea of what you're ordering. With help from The Eater's Guide to Chinese Characters (J. McCawley) and using Simplified Chinese.

丁 (cubed/diced)
片 (thinly sliced)
丝 (shredded)
块 (chunk/cut into bite-sized pieces)
球 (curled)
炒 (stir-fried)
zhá or zhà
炸 (deep-fried)
烤 (dry-roasted)
烧 (roasted w/ sauce)
Can I look at the menu, please? 
请给我看看菜单. qĭng gĕi wŏ kànkan càidān.
Do you have an English menu? 
你有没有英文菜单? nĭ yŏu méi yŏu yīngwén càidān?

(Listen for... Yes, we have one. : 有 yŏu - No, we don't. : 没有 méi yŏu)

I'm a vegetarian 
我吃素的 wŏ chī sù de
早饭 zǎofàn or 早餐 zǎocān
午饭 wǔfàn or zhōngfàn or 午餐 wǔcān
晚饭 wǎnfàn or 晚餐 wǎncān
牛肉 niúròu
猪肉 zhūròu,or sometimes simply '肉' ròu.
羊肉 yángròu
鸡 jī
鱼 yú
奶酪 nǎilào
鸡蛋 jīdàn
面包 miànbāo
面条 miàntiáo
fried rice
炒饭 chǎofàn
饺子 jiǎozi
米饭 mĭfàn
咖啡 kāfēi
black coffee: 黑咖啡 hēi kāfēi
牛奶 niúnǎi
糖 táng
tea (drink
茶 chá
green tea
绿茶 lǜ chá
scented tea
花茶 huāchá
black tea
红茶 hóngchá
(水)果汁 (shuǐ)guǒzhī, literally 'fruit juice'.
水 shuĭ
natural mineral water
矿泉水 kuàngquán shuǐ
啤酒 píjiŭ
red/white wine 
红/白 葡萄 酒 hóng/bái pútáo jiŭ
It was delicious. 
好吃极了。 hǎochī jí le
The check, please. 
请结帐。 qǐng jiézhàng
Do you serve alcohol? 
卖不卖酒? ( màibú màijiǔ?)
Is there table service? 
有没有餐桌服务? (yǒu méiyǒu cānzhuō fúwù?)
A beer/two beers, please. 
请给我一杯/两杯啤酒。 (qǐng gěiwǒ yìbēi/liǎngbēi píjiǔ)
A glass of red/white wine, please. 
请给我一杯红/白葡萄酒。 (qǐng gěi wǒ yìbēi hóng/bái pútáojiǔ)
A pint, please. 
请给我一品脱。 (qǐng gěi wǒ yìpǐntuō)
A bottle, please. 
请给我一瓶。 (qǐng gěi wǒ yìpíng)
_____ (hard liquor) and _____ (mixer), please. 
请给我_____和_____。 (qǐng gěi wǒ _____ hé _____)
威士忌 (wēishìjì)
伏特加 (fútèjiā)
兰姆酒 (lánmǔjiǔ)
水 (shuǐ)
mineral spring (i.e. bottled) water 
矿泉水 (kuàngquánshuǐ)
boiled water
开水 (kāishuǐ)
club soda 
苏打水 (sūdǎshuǐ)
tonic water 
通宁水 (tōngníngshuǐ)
orange juice 
柳橙汁 (liǔchéngzhī)
Coke (soda
可乐 (kělè)
Do you have any bar snacks? 
有没有吧臺点心? (yǒu méiyǒu bātái diǎnxīn?)
One more, please. 
请再给我一个。 (qǐng zài gěi wǒ yígè')
Another round, please. 
请再来一轮。 (qǐng zàilái yìlún)
When is closing time? 
几点打烊、关门? (jǐdiǎn dǎyáng/guānmén?)
Where is the toilet? 
厕所在哪里 (cèsuǒ zài nǎli?)
Where is the washingroom? 
Do you have this in my size? 
有没有我的尺寸? (yǒu méiyǒu wǒde chǐcùn?)
How much is this? 
这个多少钱? (zhège duōshǎo qián?)
That's too expensive. 
太贵了。 (tài guì le)
Would you take _____? 
_____元可以吗? (_____ yuán kěyǐ ma?)
贵 (guì)
便宜 (piányi)
I can't afford it. 
我带的钱不够。 (wǒ dài de qián búgòu)
I don't want it. 
我不要。 (wǒ bù yào)
You're cheating me. 
你欺骗我。 (nǐ qīpiàn wǒ) Use with caution!
I'm not interested. 
我没有兴趣。 (wǒ méiyǒu xìngqù)
OK, I'll take it. 
我要买这个。 (wǒ yào mǎi zhège)
Please provide me with a carrier-bag. 
请给我袋子。 (qǐng gěi wǒ dàizi)
Do you ship (overseas)? 
可以邮寄到海外吗? (kěyǐ yóujì dào hǎiwài ma?)
I need... 
我要_____ (wǒ yào _____)
牙膏 (yágāo)
...a toothbrush. 
牙刷 (yáshuā)
卫生棉条 (wèishēng miántiáo)
肥皂 (féizào)
洗发精 (xǐfàjīng)
...pain reliever. (e.g., aspirin or ibuprofen
镇痛剂 (zhèntòngjì)
...cold medicine. 
感冒药 (gǎnmào yào)
...stomach medicine. 
胃肠药 (wèicháng yào)
...a razor. 
剃刀 (tìdāo) umbrella. 
雨伞 (yǔsǎn)
...sunblock lotion. 
防晒油 (fángshàiyóu)
...a postcard. 
明信片 (míngxìnpiàn)
...postage stamps. 
邮票 (yóupiào)
电池 (diànchí)
...writing paper. 
纸 (zhǐ)
...a pen. 
笔 ()
...a pencil. 
铅笔 (qiānbǐ)
眼镜 (yǎnjìng)
...English-language books. 
英文书 (Yīngwén shū)
...English-language magazines. 
英文杂志 (Yīngwén zázhì) English-language newspaper. 
英文报纸 (Yīngwén bàozhǐ)
...a Chinese-English dictionary. 
汉英词典 (Hàn-Yīng cídiǎn) English-Chinese dictionary. 
英汉词典 (Yīng-Hàn cídiǎn)
I want to rent a car. 
我想要租车。 (wǒ xiǎngyào zūchē)
Can I get insurance? 
我可以买保险吗? (wǒ kěyǐ mǎi bǎoxiǎn ma?)
stop (on a street sign
停 (tíng)
one way 
单行道 (dānxíngdào)
让路 (rànglù)
no parking 
禁止停车 (jìnzhǐ tíngchē)
speed limit 
速度限制 (sùdù xiànzhì)
gas (petrol) station 
加油站 (jiāyóuzhàn)
汽油 (qìyóu)
柴油 (cháiyóu)
I haven't done anything wrong. 
我没有做错事。 (wǒ méiyǒu zuòcuò shì)
It was a misunderstanding. 
这是误会。 (zhè shì wùhuì)
Where are you taking me? 
你带我去哪里? (nǐ dài wǒ qù nǎlǐ?)
Am I under arrest? 
我被捕了吗? (wǒ bèibǔle ma?)
I am an American/Australian/British/Canadian citizen. 
我是 美国/澳洲/英国/加拿大 公民。 (wǒ shì měiguó/àozhōu/yīngguó/jiānádà gōngmín)
I want to talk to the American/Australian/British/Canadian embassy/consulate. 
我希望跟 美国/澳洲/英国/加拿大 的 大使馆/领事馆 联系。 (wǒ xīwàng gēn měiguó/àozhōu/yīngguó/jiānádà de dàshǐguǎn/lǐngshìguǎn liánxì)
I want to talk to a lawyer. 
我希望跟律师联系。 (wǒ xīwàng gēn lǜshī liánxì)
Can I just pay a fine now? 
我可以支付罚款吗? (wǒ kěyǐ zhī fù fákuǎn ma?)

Telephone & Internet

In most Chinese cities telephone booths don't exist. Instead, small street shops have telephones which can usually be used for national calls and cost around 0.6RMB for a city-call. Look for signs like

公用电话 Public Telephone

Don't pay to go online in hotels since most common cafes are cheaper. Many mid-range hotels and chains now offer free wireless or plug-in internet. In cafes, usually you pay 10RMB in advance for a card. Prices per hour from 1RMB to 4RMB. Those cafes are quite hidden sometimes and you should look for the following Chinese characters:

网吧 Internet Cafe
Can I make international calls here? 
可以打国际电话吗? (kěyǐ dǎ guójì diànhuà ma?)
How much is it to America/Australia/Britain/Canada? 
打给 美国/澳洲/英国/加拿大 是多少钱? (dǎgěi měiguó/àozhōu/yīngguó/jiānádà shì duōshǎo qián?)
Where can I find an Internet cafe? 
哪里有网吧? (nǎlǐ yǒu wǎng ba?)
How much is it per hour? 
一小时是多少钱? (yī xiǎoshí shì duōshǎo qián?)

Learning more

Chinese is the most spoken language of the world, in the sense that it has the most native speakers of any language, more than the next two, Hindi and Spanish, combined. Due to China's economic growth and globalisation, more and more students in the western world are quickly taking up language to open opportunities to working in China. Be part of the new 'cultural wave' sweeping across the world!

Advice: The first step is to learn to properly read the romanization or 'hànyǔ pīnyīn' with tones! There are still many sites with small Chinese phrase chapters which do not indicate the Mandarin tones needed. For simple sentences, one may be able to get away without tones, but this can cause confusion in more complex situations, so tones are very important. A classic example is the difference between the Chinese characters for "four" (四, sì) and "death" (死, sǐ), different only by tones. A good idea for practicing is to make Chinese friends online since millions of young people in China also look for somebody to practice English with.

This is a usable phrasebook. It explains pronunciation and the bare essentials of travel communication. An adventurous person could use it to get by, but please plunge forward and help it grow!


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




Mandarin Chinese


Mandarin Chinese

  1. A category of related Chinese dialects spoken across most of northern and southwestern China.
  2. Standard Mandarin.



See also


Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection

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This book is incomplete, and still under construction

Chapter One: Pinyin

  1. Consonants
  2. A, O, and E
  3. I and N
  4. Quiz One
  5. U, Ü and NG
  6. Pronouns
  7. Numbers
  8. Quiz Two


Chapter Two: Sentences

  1. 你好。 我是...
  2. 你好吗?
  3. 他是学生。
  4. 她的名字是什么?
  5. 我四十二岁。
  6. 你呢?

你好。 我是...→


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