Chinese phrasebook

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Chinese script in Chinatown, Singapore

Mandarin Chinese is the official language of Mainland 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 in Taiwan it is referred to as Guoyu (國語), "the national language." It has been the main language of education in China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) since the 1950s. Standard Mandarin is close to, but not quite identical with, the Mandarin dialect of the Beijing area.

Note that while the spoken Mandarin in the above places is more or less the same, the written characters are different. Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau all still use traditional characters, whereas Mainland China and Singapore use a simplified derivative. However, an educated person who lives in mainland China or Singapore can still understand traditional characters but not necessarily vice versa (Taiwanese people may have difficulty recognizing some simplified characters)

Understand[edit]

Map of Chinese dialects

Note that "dialect" has a different meaning when applied to Chinese from when it is applied to other languages.

Chinese "dialects" are mutually unintelligible, as different as, say, Italian and French, which we would call "related languages" rather than "dialects" - using a pure linguistic definition they are distinct "languages".

All Chinese dialects, in general, use the same set of characters in reading and writing. A Cantonese speaker and a Mandarin speaker cannot talk to each other, but either can generally read what the other writes. Even a speaker of Japanese or Korean will recognise many characters.

While formal written Chinese is the same everywhere, there can be significant differences when the "dialects" are written in colloquial form. 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 of Mandarin and other Chinese languages. Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and many overseas Chinese still use the traditional characters. The Dungan language, which is spoken in some neighbouring countries, 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. It is a tonal language that is related to Burmese and Tibetan. The Vietnamese language (which uses a distinctive version of the Latin alphabet) has borrowed many words from Chinese and at one time used Chinese characters as well. Korean used to use the Chinese writing system, however in modern times it is not in general use although people still can read the basics and many Korean words are similar to their Mandarin counterpart. Japanese also uses the Chinese writing system, although over time the meaning of the characters has diverged significantly from those used in China.

Travellers headed for Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong or Macau may find Cantonese more useful than Mandarin. Those heading for Taiwan or southern Fujian may find the Minnan dialect useful as well.

Chinese, like most other Asian languages such as Arabic, is infamous for being difficult to learn. While English speakers would initially have problems with the tones and recognizing the 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 found in other major languages such as English or French.

Pronunciation guide[edit]

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, then switched to Tongyong pinyin, only slightly different from Hanyu pinyin, and now officially uses Hanyu pinyin just like the People's Republic.

Pinyin allows very accurate pronunciation of Chinese for those who understand it, although the way that it uses letters like q, x, c, z and even i is not at all intuitive to the English speaker since some of these sounds do not exist in English or many other languages. Thus, studying the pronunciation guide below carefully is essential. After you master the pronunciation you will need to move on to the next challenge: using accurate tones whilst speaking.

While hanyu pinyin is immensely useful as a pronunciation guide for Mandarin learners, it is much less useful as a form of written communication, as many Chinese cannot read pinyin, and even those that do will often find it awkward. So stick to Chinese characters for written communication.

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

as in father; otherwise, pronounced as in "awesome"
a in an
as "a" in "cat" or "back" (just the English short "a" sound)
unrounded back vowel (IPA [ɤ]), similar to duh; in unstressed syllables become 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 more
as in soon; but read ü in ju, qu, yu and xu
ü 
as in French lune or German grün

Diphthongs[edit]

These are the diphthongs in Chinese:

ai 
as in pie
ao
as in pouch
ei 
as in pay
ia
as in ya
ia in ' ian'
as in 'yes
iao
as in meow
ie
as in yes
iong
as in Pyongyang
ou
as in mow
ua
as in want
uo
as in war

Consonants[edit]

Chinese stops distinguish between aspirated and unaspirated, not voiceless and voiced as in English. Aspirated sounds are pronounced with a distinctive puff of air as they are pronounced 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
b
as in spot
p
as in pit
d
as in stop
t
as in tongue
g
as in skin
k
as in king
j
as in jeer
q
as in cheap
zh
as in jungle
ch
as in chore
z
as in pizza
c
as in rats

Here are the other consonants in Chinese:

as in mow
as in fun
as in none or none
as in lease
as in her
as in sheep
sh 
as in shoot
as in fair, but can be "zh" as in "pleasure"
as in sag
ng 
as in sing
as in wing but silent in wu. Before a, ai, ang, eng, and/or o, this may sound like the English v/ German w.
as in yet but silent in yi, yu

If you think that is a fairly intimidating repertoire, rest assured that many Chinese people, particularly those who are not native Mandarin speakers, will merge many of the sounds above (especially c with ch and z with zh).

Exceptions[edit]

There are a fairly large number of niggling exceptions to the basic rules above, based on the position of the sound:

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

Tones[edit]

How do I put my tone marks?

If you are 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 one 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'. For example, guó and not gúo

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

(4) If only 'i', 'u' and 'ü' are the only present letters, insert it in the letter that occurs last. For example, 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. For example, lǜ

There are four tones in Mandarin that must be followed for proper pronunciation. 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 you use the wrong tone — 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. Do not try it until you have mastered the basic tones.

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

Phrase list[edit]

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, Hong Kong and Macau.

Basics[edit]

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. Here are common examples:

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
Hello. 
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?
What is your name? 
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.
Please. 
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.
Excuse me. (coming through
对不起 Duìbùqǐ * or * 请让一下 Qǐng ràng yixià
I'm sorry. 
对不起。 Duìbuqǐ.
It's okay. (polite response to "I'm sorry")
没关系 (méiguānxi).
Goodbye 
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 bu dǒng.
Where is the toilet? 
厕所在哪里? Cèsuǒ zài nǎli?
Where is the bathroom(polite)? 
洗手间在哪里? Xǐshǒujiān zài nǎli?
How do you say ____? 
怎么说 ____ ? Zěnme shuō ____ ?

Problems[edit]

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 all right? (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)
Police! 
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. 
我的手提包丢了。 (wǒ de shǒutíbāo diūle)
I lost my wallet. 
我的钱包丢了。 (wǒ de qiánbāo diūle)
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?)

Going to the doctor[edit]

Doctor
医生 (yīshēng)
Nurse
护士 (hùshi)
Hospital
医院 (yīyuàn)
Chinese medicine
中药 (zhōngyào)
Western medicine
西药 (xīyào)
I am sick. 
我生病了。 (wǒ shēngbìng le)
My _____ hurts
我 ____ 疼/痛 ("wŏ ____ téng/tòng")
Painful. 
疼/痛 (téng/tòng)
Sick/Uncomfortable. 
不舒服 (bù shūfú)
Itchy/ticklish. 
痒 (yǎng)
Sore (In muscle strains). 
酸 (suān)
Fever. 
发烧 (fāshāo)
Cough. 
咳嗽 (késòu)
Sneeze. 
打喷嚏 (dǎ pēntì)
Diarrhoea. 
拉肚子/泻肚子 (lā dùzi/xiè dùzi)
Vomiting 
呕吐 (ŏu tù)
Running nose. 
流鼻涕 (liú bítì)
Phlegm. 
痰 (tán)
Cut/wound
割伤/伤口 (gēshāng/shāngkǒu)
Burn
烧伤 (shāoshāng)
Hands. 
手 (shǒu)
Arms. 
手臂/胳膊 (shǒubì/gēbo)
Fingers. 
手指 (shǒuzhǐ)
Wrist. 
手腕 (shǒuwàn)
Shoulder. 
肩膀 (jiānbǎng)
Feet. 
脚 (jiǎo)
Toes. 
脚趾 (jiǎozhǐ)
Legs. 
腿 (tuǐ)
Nails. 
指甲 (zhǐjiǎ)
Body. 
身体 (shēntǐ)
Eyes. 
眼睛 (yǎnjīng)
Ears. 
耳朵 (ěrduo)
Nose. 
鼻子 (bízi)
Face. 
脸 (liǎn)
Hair. 
头发 (tóufa)
Head. 
头 (tóu)
Neck. 
脖子 (bózi)
Throat. 
喉咙 (hóulóng)
Chest. 
胸 (xiōng)
Abdomen. 
肚子/腹 (dùzi/fù)
Hip/Waist. 
腰 (yāo)
Buttocks. 
屁股 (pìgu)
Back. 
背 (bèi)
Medical Insurance
医疗保险 (yīliáo băoxiăn)
Doctor's fees
医生费 (yīshēng fèi)
Prescription
处方/药方 (chǔfāng/yàofāng)
Medicine
药 (yào)
Pharmacy
药店 (yàodiàn)

Numbers[edit]

Chinese numbers are very regular. While 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) 
líng
1 一 (壹) 
2 二 (贰) 
èr (两 liǎng is used when specifying quantities)
3 三 (叁) 
sān
4 四 (肆) 
5 五 (伍) 
6 六 (陆) 
liù
7 七 (柒) 
8 八 (捌) 
9 九 (玖) 
jiǔ
10 十 (拾) 
shí
11 十一 
shí-yī
12 十二 
shí-èr
13 十三 
shí-sān
14 十四 
shí-sì
15 十五 
shí-wǔ
16 十六 
shí-liù
17 十七 
shí-qī
18 十八 
shí-bā
19 十九 
shí-jiǔ
20 二十 
èr-shí
21 二十一 
èr-shí-yī
22 二十二 
èr-shí-èr
23 二十三 
èr-shí-sān
30 三十 
sān-shí
40 四十 
sì-shí
50 五十 
wǔ-shí
60 六十 
liù-shí
70 七十 
qī-shí
80 八十 
bā-shí
90 九十 
jiǔ-shí

For numbers above 100, any "gaps" must be filled in with 零 líng, as e.g. 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)
yī-bǎi
101 一百零一 
yī-bǎi-líng-yī
110 一百一十 
yī-bǎi-yī-shí
111 一百一十一 
yī-bǎi-yī-shí-yī
200 二百 
èr-bǎi or 两百:liǎng-bǎi
300 三百 
sān-bǎi
500 五百 
wǔ-bǎi
1000 一千 (壹仟)
yī-qiān
2000 二千 
èr-qiān or 两千:liǎng-qiān

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

10,000 一万 (壹萬)
yī-wàn
10,001 一万零一 
yī-wàn-líng-yī
10,002 一万零二 
yī-wàn-líng-èr
20,000 二万 
èr-wàn
50,000 五万 
wǔ-wàn
100,000 十万 
shí-wàn
200,000 二十万 
èr-shí-wàn
1,000,000 一百万 
yī-bǎi-wàn
10,000,000 一千万 
yī-qiān-wàn
100,000,000 一亿 (壹億) 
yī-yì
1,000,000,000,000 一万亿 
yī-wàn-yì
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". [1] When unsure, 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).

half 
半 bàn
less than 
少于 shǎoyú
more than 
多于 duōyú
more 
更 gèng

Time[edit]

now 
现在 xiànzài
later 
以后, yǐhòu or 稍后, shāohòu
before 
以前, yǐqián
morning 
早上/上午, zǎoshang/shàngwǔ
noon
中午, zhōngwǔ
afternoon 
下午, xiàwǔ
evening/night 
晚上, wǎnshang
midnight
半夜 bànyè or 午夜 (wǔyè)

Clock time[edit]

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.
3:38 PM 
下午3点38分 Xiàwǔ sāndiǎn sānshíbā fēn.

Duration[edit]

_____ 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

Days[edit]

today 
今天 jīntiān
yesterday 
昨天 zuótiān
the day before yesterday
前天qiăntiān
tomorrow 
明天 míngtiān
the day after tomorrow
后天 hòutiān
this week 
这星期 zhè xīngqī
last week 
上星期 shàng xīngqī
next week 
下星期 xià 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).

Sunday 
星期天 xīngqītiān or xīngqīrì (星期日)
Monday 
星期一 xīngqīyī
Tuesday 
星期二 xīngqīèr
Wednesday 
星期三 xīngqīsān
Thursday 
星期四 xīngqīsì
Friday 
星期五 xīngqīwǔ
Saturday 
星期六 xīngqīliù

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

Months[edit]

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

January 
一月, yī yuè
February 
二月, èr yuè
March 
三月, sān yuè
April 
四月, sì yuè
May 
五月, wŭ yuè
June 
六月, liù yuè
July 
七月, qī yuè
August 
八月, bā yuè
September 
九月, jiŭ yuè
October 
十月, shí yuè
November 
十一月, shí yī yuè
December 
十二月, shí èr yuè

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

Writing Dates[edit]

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)

Colours[edit]

black 
黑色 hēi sè
white 
白色 bái sè
grey 
灰色 huī sè
red 
红色 hóng sè
blue 
蓝色 lán sè
yellow 
黄色 huáng sè
green 
绿色 lǜ sè
orange 
橙色 chéng sè
purple 
紫色 zǐ sè
brown 
褐色 he sè, 棕色 zōng sè,
gold 
金色 jīn se
Do you have it in another colour?  
你们有没有其他颜色? nǐmen yǒu méiyǒu qítā yánsè ?

Sè means 'colour' so 'hóng sè' is literally 'red colour'. More common for brown and easier to remember is 'coffee colour': 咖啡色 kā fēi sè

Transportation[edit]

Bus and Train[edit]

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)

Directions[edit]

How do I get to _____ ? 
怎么去_____ zěnme qù _____?
...the train station? 
...火车站? ...huǒchēzhàn?
...the bus station? 
...汽车站? ...qìchēzhàn?
...the airport? 
...机场? ...jī chǎng?
street 
街 jiē; 路 lù
Turn left. 
左转 zuǒ zhuǎn/左拐zuǒguǎi
Turn right. 
右转 yòu zhuǎn/右拐yòuguăi
Go straight
直走 zhízŏu
I've reached my destination
到了dàole
U-turn
掉头 diàotóu
Taxi driver
师傅 shīfu
Please use the meter machine
请打表 qǐng dǎbiǎo
Please turn up the aircon/heater
请把空调开大点儿。 qǐng bǎ kōngtiáo kāi dàdiǎn(r)
left 
左边 zuǒbiān
right 
右边 yòubiān
straight ahead 
往前走 wǎngqián zǒu
north 
北 bĕi
south 
南 nán
east 
东 dōng
west 
西 xī

Taxi[edit]

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

Lodging[edit]

Common signs


入口 
Entrance [rùkǒu]
出口 
Exit [chūkǒu]
推 
Push [tuī]
拉 
Pull [lā]
厕所 / 洗手间 
Toilet [cèsuǒ] / [xǐshǒujiān]
男 
Men [nán]
女 
Women [nǚ]
禁止 
Forbidden [jìnzhǐ]
吸烟 
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...
...bedsheets? 
...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.

Money[edit]

pay
付 fù
cash
现钱 xiàn qián
credit card
信用卡 xìn yòng kǎ
debit card
借记卡 jiè jì kǎ
check
支票 zhīpiào
foreign exchange
外汇 wài huì
to change money
换钱 huàn qián
exchange rate
汇率 huìlǜ
Chinese Renminbi
人民币 rén mín bì or (less formal and easier!) 元 yuán
US dollars
美元 mĕi yuán
Euros
欧元 ōu yuán
British pounds
英镑 yīng bàng

Eating[edit]

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.

dīng
丁 (cubed/diced)
piàn
片 (thinly sliced)
丝 (shredded)
kuài
块 (chunk/cut into bite-sized pieces)
qiú
球 (curled)
chăo
炒 (stir-fried)
zhá or zhà
炸 (deep-fried)
kăo
烤 (dry-roasted)
shāo
烧 (roasted w/ sauce)
Can I look at the menu, please? 
请给我看看菜单。 qǐng gěi wǒ kànkan càidān.
Do you have an English menu? 
你有没有英文菜单? nǐ yŏu méi yǒu yīngwén càidān?

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

I'm a vegetarian 
我吃素 wǒ chī sù
breakfast 
早饭 zǎofàn or 早餐 zǎocān
lunch 
午饭 wǔfàn or zhōngfàn or 午餐 wǔcān
supper 
晚饭 wǎnfàn or 晚餐 wǎncān
beef 
牛肉 niúròu
pork
猪肉 zhūròu,or sometimes simply '肉' ròu.
mutton
羊肉 yángròu
chicken
鸡 jī
fish
鱼 yú
cheese 
奶酪 nǎilào
eggs 
鸡蛋 jīdàn
bread 
面包 miànbāo
noodles 
面条 miàntiáo
fried rice
炒饭 chǎofàn
dumpling
饺子 jiǎozi
rice 
米饭 mĭfàn
coffee 
咖啡 kāfēi
black coffee: 黑咖啡 hēi kāfēi
milk
牛奶 niúnǎi
sugar
糖 táng
tea (drink
茶 chá
green tea
绿茶 lǜ chá
scented tea
花茶 huāchá
black tea
红茶 hóngchá
juice 
果汁 guǒzhī
water 
水 shuĭ
natural mineral water
矿泉水 kuàngquán shuǐ
beer 
啤酒 píjiŭ
red/white wine 
红/白 葡萄酒 hóng/bái pútáojiŭ
It was delicious. 
好吃极了。 hǎochī jí le
The check, please. 
请结帐。 qǐng jiézhàng

Bars[edit]

Do you serve alcohol? 
卖不卖酒? ( mài búmài jiǔ?)
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 bottle, please. 
请给我一瓶。 (qǐng gěi wǒ yìpíng)
_____ (hard liquor) and _____ (mixer), please. 
请给我_____和_____。 (qǐng gěi wǒ _____ hé _____)
whiskey 
威士忌 (wēishìjì)
vodka 
伏特加 (fútèjiā)
rum 
兰姆酒 (lánmǔjiǔ)
water 
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 
橙汁 (chéngzhī)
Coke (soda
可乐 (kělè)
Do you have any bar snacks? 
有没有吧台点心? (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? 
洗手间在哪儿?(xǐshǒujiān zài nǎr?

Shopping[edit]

Bargaining (还价 huán jià) is possible (and expected) in markets and many small shops. The first price you are given will usually be hugely inflated - it's up to you to haggle it down to something more acceptable. This will probably feel awkward if you aren't used to it, and you may worry about ending up cheating the seller. Don't worry - sellers won't take a price that's too low, and you will usually end up agreeing on a price that's considerably lower than the starting one but still allows the seller to make a profit. Try starting at around 20-30% of the original price; you can always work up from there. The exceptions to the rule are supermarkets, large department stores, bookshops and some of the higher end boutiques, most of which will have signs letting you know that haggling is unacceptable in these stores.

Do you have this in my size? 
有没有我的尺码? (yǒu méiyǒu wǒde chǐmǎ?)
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?)
expensive 
贵 (guì)
cheap 
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. 
请给我个袋子。 (qǐng gěi wǒ ge dàizi)
Do you ship (overseas)? 
可以邮寄到海外吗? (kěyǐ yóujì dào hǎiwài ma?)
I need... 
我要_____ (wǒ yào _____)
...toothpaste. 
牙膏 (yágāo)
...a toothbrush. 
牙刷 (yáshuā)
...tampons. 
卫生棉条 (wèishēng miántiáo)
...soap. 
肥皂 (féizào)
...shampoo. 
洗发精 (xǐfàjīng)
...pain reliever. (e.g., aspirin or ibuprofen
止疼药 (zhǐténg yào)
...cold medicine. 
感冒药 (gǎnmào yào)
...stomach medicine. 
胃肠药 (wèicháng yào)
...a razor. 
剃须刀 (tìxūdāo)
...an umbrella. 
雨伞 (yǔsǎn)
...sunblock lotion. 
防晒霜 (fángshàishuāng)
...a postcard. 
明信片 (míngxìnpiàn)
...postage stamps. 
邮票 (yóupiào)
...batteries. 
电池 (diànchí)
...writing paper. 
纸 (zhǐ)
...a pen. 
笔 ()
...a pencil. 
铅笔 (qiānbǐ)
...glasses. 
眼镜 (yǎnjìng)
...English-language books. 
英文书 (Yīngwén shū)
...English-language magazines. 
英文杂志 (Yīngwén zázhì)
...an English-language newspaper. 
英文报纸 (Yīngwén bàozhǐ)
...a Chinese-English dictionary. 
汉英词典 (Hàn-Yīng cídiǎn)
...an English-Chinese dictionary. 
英汉词典 (Yīng-Hàn cídiǎn)

Driving[edit]

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)
yield 
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)
petrol 
汽油 (qìyóu)
diesel 
柴油 (cháiyóu)

Authority[edit]

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 and the Internet[edit]

Telephone & Internet


In most Chinese cities, there are no telephone booths. Instead, small street shops have telephones which can usually be used for national calls. Look for signs like this: 公用电话 Public Telephone Most cafes are cheaper than in hotels. Many mid-range hotels and chains now offer free wireless or plug-in internet. 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[edit]

Chinese is the most spoken language of the world, with more speakers than the next two, Hindi and Spanish, combined. However, there are still few learners of Chinese in the Western world and you might get weird looks if you say you want to start learning it: "Instead of anger of frustration, the student should instead feel a smug superiority of being ahead of everyone else!"

The first step is to learn to read the romanization with tones. Avoid any phrasebook that does not mark the tones.

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 guide phrasebook. It covers all the major topics for traveling without resorting to English. But please Plunge forward and help us make it a star!