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Minnan phrasebook

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The Chinese language that originated in the southern part of Fujian province — the area around Xiamen, Quanzhou and Zhangzhou — has several names. In the language itself, it is bân-lâm-ōe. In Mandarin, it is Minnan hua (閩南話), which translates as Southern Min (Fujian) speech. The same language is widely spoken in Taiwan where it is referred to as Taiwanese (臺彎話 tâi-oan-ōe), in the Philippines where it is referred to as Lan Nang Oe (咱人話 lán-lâng-ōe), and in Southeast Asia where it is called Hokkien (福建話 hok-kiàn-ōe), the Minnan pronunciation of 'Fujian'.

"Minnan", "Hokkien" and "Taiwanese" are all used in English, and all refer to basically the same language. This article calls it Minnan, and is based on the language as spoken in Xiamen, often considered the Modern Standard Minnan of today.

All these variants are mutually intelligible but have some differences, due to borrowing of words from different languages and sometimes language evolution due to relative isolation. Most notably, Taiwanese has borrowed some words from Japanese, so "uncle" would be known as "ojisan" in Taiwan instead of 阿伯 "a-pek" (father's elder brother), 阿叔 "a-chek" or 阿舅 "a-kū" (mother's brother) as in Xiamen. The variant spoken in Zhangzhou has some subtle differences from the Xiamen variant but is largely mutually intelligible (eg. kiam nui instead of kiam neng for salted egg). The variants spoken in Singapore and Malaysia have extensive borrowing from Malay and to a lesser extent Cantonese and English.

Minnan is related to Teochew (or Chiuchao), spoken around Chaozhou and Shantou in Guangdong, and to Hainanese, spoken on the island of Hainan, but is only mutually intelligible with the former to a certain extent, and barely at all with the latter.

Minnan is not mutually intelligible with standard Mandarin or other Chinese languages, not even other Min (Fujian) languages such as Mindong (Fuzhou Hua), Minbei and Puxian. This is not only due to the pronunciation differences but also because of the irregular word/character conversion i.e. a non-native Minnan speaker can only understand the language to a small extent even when it is presented in written form (e.g. "吃甲尚好驚血壓高,水姆兌人走" : 《陳雷.歡喜就好》). That said, most Minnan speakers in mainland China, as well as the younger ones in Taiwan, are usually able to speak Mandarin as well.


Like all other Chinese languages, Minnan uses Chinese characters but employs its own 'unique' pronunciation. However, it should be noted that similar to Japanese kanji, most characters have two or more pronunciations in Minnan, which means that many characters would be pronounced differently depending on context, even if their Mandarin pronunciation remains the same in both instances. A Romanized written language, known as Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ) was created by Christian missionaries in the 19th century, and is useful for foreign language learners trying to learn the pronunciation of words. It is virtually never used by native speakers though, so Chinese characters are what you should stick to for written communication.

This is partly due to the fact that, because standard written Chinese is based on Mandarin, many words in Minnan are written with characters of the same meaning in standard written Chinese.

For example, the words ài and beh both roughly mean 'want', so they are usually written with the character 要 (although they are also written with 愛 and 欲 respectively). Consequently, the pronouncation of the character 要 can change between ài, beh and iàu depending on context.

The ordinary word for person, lâng, is usually written with the character 人, which also has the reading jı̂n or lîn. The character 生 is pronounced seⁿ or siⁿ as a verb used alone, but the word 人生 is pronounced lı̂n-seng.

Also, note how the words m̄ (is not, does not) and bē/bōe (cannot) are all often written with 不, so while 不要 might be read as m̄-ài or m̄-beh, 不能/不可 can be read as bē-sái or bōe-sái.

For referring to oneself, 我 góa is used in more informal context while 阮 gún is more formal and 恁爸 lı́n-pē (with Male)/恁祖嬤 lı́n-chó͘-má (with female) is very derogatory but used very commonly. (No cognates exist in Mandarin or Cantonese although phrases with the same meaning do.) Similar to Malay, there are two equivalents of the English word "we", with lan-nang including the listener in the group, and goa-nang used to exclude the listener from the group.

Pronunciation varies from region to region (e.g. 你 (you) can be either lı́ and ). This can make comprehension difficult sometimes even between 'native' speakers from different regions. It should also be kept in mind that most speakers of the language often mix Mandarin phrases into their speech due to the influence of Standard Mandarin.


Like other varieties of Chinese, Minnan is tonal; tones must be correct in order to convey the correct meaning. Tone sandhi is particularly common and non-standardised in Minnan, which makes it a little harder to learn than Mandarin, where tone sandhi is standardised, and Cantonese, where tone sandhi is used sparingly.

The following table shows the values of the different tones in some places, and does not show the pronuncation of the tones or tone sandhi of many areas, but may give an idea of the approximate values.

Tones of Minnan
Number Name POJ Pitch Description After tone sandhi
1 yin level a 55 high 7
2 yin rising á 51 falling 1
3 yin departing à 31~21 low falling 2
4 yin entering ah 32 mid stopped 2 (h final), 8 (otherwise)
5 yang level â 14~24 rising 3 (Taipei), 7 (Tainan)
6 yang rising á 51 falling 1
7 yang departing ā 33 mid 3
8 yang entering a̍h 4 high stopped 3 (h final), 4 (otherwise)


Minnan has many different consonants, even more so than standard Mandarin or Cantonese, and pronouncing them all correctly is a challenge for English, or even Mandarin speakers. While Mandarin only distinguishes between aspirated and unaspirated (unvoiced) consonants, and English only distinguishes between voiced and unvoiced consonants meaning-wise, Minnan makes a distinction in both cases. This means that aspirated unvoiced (pʰ, tʰ, kʰ), unaspirated unvoiced (p, t, k), and unaspirated voiced (b, d, g) are all separate phonemic consonants in Minnan.

To highlight the distinction, the words for "open" (開) and "close" (關), in some pronuncations (khui and kui respectively) sound almost identical to a native English speaker, only difference being that "open" uses an aspirated initial k while "close" uses an unaspirated initial k. The j sound in English is also used along with the j sound in Mandarin hanyu pinyin. Labial initials such as the m sound are also present. However, unlike in Mandarin, there is no "tongue rolling" (pinyin zh, ch, sh, r) initial consonant.

Initial consonanats of POJ
Letter IPA English example Notes
b b ban voiced pinyin 'b'
p p span pinyin 'b'
ph pan pinyin 'p'
j dz/ʑ jam voiced pinyin 'z'
ch ts/tɕ cats pinyin 'z' or 'j'
chh tsʰ/tɕʰ - pinyin 'c' or 'q'
s s/ɕ sun pinyin 's' or 'x'
g g get voiced pinyin 'g'
k k skin pinyin 'g'
kh kin pinyin 'k'
t t Stan pinyin 'd'
th tan pinyin 't'
h h hat English 'h'
m m map English 'm'
n n net English 'n'
l l line English 'l'

Like Cantonese but unlike Mandarin, Minnan retains all the final consonants (m, n, ŋ, p, t, and k) of Middle Chinese. In POJ, the nasal consonants m, n and ng are pronounced the same as English, but the others are different.

The stop consonants p, t and k are unreleased. This means that the mouth moves into the position of making the consonant, but no burst of air is released.

Furthermore, an h at the end of a syllable in POJ represents a glottal stop (ʔ); this is the sound in the middle of the English word 'uh-oh'.


The vowels a, e, i, o, u are pronounced as they are in many languages, such as Spanish. Minnan also has the vowel [ɔ] written as (with a dot) or oo.

Vowels of POJ
Letter IPA English example Notes
a a father
e e whey
i i see
o o soap
ɔ law also written 'oo'
u u goose

Vowels in Minnan can be nasalized, and in POJ this is indicated with a superscript n 'ⁿ' after the vowel. It can also be indicated with a capital n (N) or a double n (nn). IPA notes this with a tilde (~) above the last vowel.

Common diphthongs[edit]

There are many diphthongs in Minnan, and there pronunciation from the POJ spelling is generally fairly obvious. However, note that oe is "ui/uei" and oai is "uai".

Diphthongs of POJ
Letter IPA English example Notes
ai my pinyin 'ai'
au cow pinyin 'ao'
ia ɪa -
iu iu -
io ɪo -
oa ua - pinyin 'wa'
oe ui way pinyin 'wei'
iau ɪaʊ - piyin 'yao'
oai uai why pinyin 'wai'

Phrase list[edit]

For some of the following phrases, there is an unconventional romanization shown in parentheses and this does not describe tones, but just tries to be phonetically accurate from an (American) English speaking standpoint. Goal is to have an English speaker's first try be fairly close, without reading a bunch of rules for phonetization nor trying to distinguish between the 7 tones in Taiwanese. Unfortunately, it is difficult to cover all tones this way, especially nasal and breath differences, and thus cannot be completely accurate.

  • Asterisks precede words that are very hard to phonetize. It would be nice to get some audio on here for these.
  • Also to note is the sound of "l" used below. Linguists call this sound a "flap": it is similar to the "tt" sound in Standard American pronunciation of "butter". It is also similar to the Japanese "r" and the Spanish "single-r" sounds.


你好。 lı́ hó (Li huh)
Hello (informal
How are you? 
你好無? lı́ hó bô?
How are you? 
呷飽無? chia̍h-pá-bô (jia bah bo) or 呷飽未? chia̍h-pá-bē (jia bah be) ("have you eaten?")
Not bad 
不歹 bōe-phái (buay pai)
Fine, thank you. (informal) 
好,多謝 hó,to͘-siā (Hoh, duh shiah.)
Fine, thank you. (formal)
好,感謝 hó,kám-siā. (Hoh, gahm shiah)
Thank you
多謝 to͘-siā
What is your name? 
你叫啥物名? lı́ kiò siáⁿ-mı̍h miâ?
My name is ... . 
我的名是... góa ê miâ sı̄...
Nice to meet you. 
Please... (before a request)
請... chhiáⁿ...
拜託 Pài-thok (Bai-toh) or 好心ㄟ(hó-sim ē)
You're welcome 
免客氣 bián kheh-khı̀ ("don't be polite")
是 sı̄ (Note: Only some questions are answered with this. As with other varieties of Chinese, affirmation is generally done by repeating the verb in the question.)
毋是 m̄-sı̄
Excuse me. (getting attention
勞駕 lô-kà
Excuse me. (begging pardon
否勢 phái-sè (pai say)
I'm sorry. (informal) 
否勢 phái-sè (pai-say)
I'm sorry. (formal)
失禮。sit lé. (shit-leh)
再見 chài-kiàn (tsai gian).
Goodbye (informal
I can't speak... [well]. 
我袂曉講... góa bōe-hiáu kóng...
I don't know how to speak English 
我[?]曉講英語 (Wah mbay hyow gong eng-yee)
Do you speak English? 
你敢會曉講英語? lı́ kám-ē-hiáu kóng eng-gı́? (Li gah-ay-hyow gong eng-yee)
Is there someone here who speaks English? 
遐敢有人會曉講英語?chia kám-ū lâng ē hiáu kóng ing-gú? (Jiah gam ou lung eh hiao gong eng gyi?)
救人! kìu-lâng!
Look out! 
小心! sió sim!
Good morning. 
賢早。 gâu-chá.
Good evening. 
好暗暝。 hó-àm-mî (Amoy Hokkien)
Good night. 
Good night (to sleep
好睏。 hó khùn (sleep well)
I don't understand. 
我聽無。góa thiaⁿ bô.
Where's the bathroom? 
便所佇佗? Piān-só· tī toh? (Ben so dee-da)
You are beautiful 
你真媠 lı́ chin suí


Go away 
走 cháu/chó͘ (tzow/zao)
Don't touch me! 
莫摸我 mài mo góa (mai mo1 wa) / (Mai gah-wah mbong)
I'll call the police. (Informal)
我叫警察 (Wah kah gien tsah.)
I'll call the police (Formal)
(Wah ay kah hoh gien tsah.)
警察 kéng-chhat (gien tsah) / ma-ta (from malay)
擋 tòng (dohng) / 停 thêng (tng2)
I need your help. 
我需要你的幫忙 góa su-iàu lı́-ê pang-bâng (Wah soo-yow *dee-ay bahm-mahng) or 我需要你替我斗相共 óa su-iàu lı́ tek góa tau sann kang
I'm lost. 
(Wah mbo-key)
I lost my purse/wallet. 
我不見[?]我的皮包 Wah pahng-key wah-ay pay-bow
I'm sick. 
Wah pwah bee or Wah gahng koh
I've been injured. 
我著傷 (Wah dyuh shohng)
I need a doctor. 
我[?]醫生 (Wah dah-ai ee-sheng)
Can I use your phone? 
我甘可用你的電話[?] (Wah gah-ay sai yen * li-ay dyeng-way)
Don't lie to me! 
勿假! mài ké!


Numbers in Minnan are basically the same as numbers in other varieties of Chinese.

Please note the rules about when to use the two different words for 2 (nn̄g and jī). Jī is used in the ones, tens and hundreds place, whereas nn̄g is used for multiples of numbers 100 and greater, as well as before counter words. This is analogous to the use of 兩 and 二 in mandarin.

空 khong (kong)
一 it / chi̍t (chjit)
二 jī (li/ji/di) / 兩 nn̄g (nng)
三 saⁿ (sa)
四 sì (si)
五 gō (go)
六 la̍k (lak)
七 chhit (chit)
八 pueh / peh (bpui)
九 káu (kau)
十 cha̍p (tzhap)
十一 cha̍p-it (tzhap-it)
十二 cha̍p-jī (tzhap-li)
十三 cha̍p-saⁿ (tzhap-sa)
十四 cha̍p-sì (tzhap-si)
十五 cha̍p-gō· (tzhap-go)
十六 cha̍p-la̍k (tzhap-lak)
十七 cha̍p-chhit (tzhap-chit)
十八 cha̍p-peh (tzhap-peh)
十九 cha̍p-káu (tzhap-kau)
二十 jī-cha̍p (li-tzhap)
二十一 jī-cha̍p-it (li-tzhap-it)
二十二 jī-cha̍p-jī (li-tzhap-li)
一百 chi̍t-pah (chit-pah)
兩百 nn̄g-pah (nng-pah)
兩百二十二 nn̄g-pah-jī-cha̍p-jī (nng-pah-li-chap-li)
一千 chi̍t-chhien (chit-chien)
兩千 nn̄g-chhien
一萬 chi̍t-bān
兩萬 nn̄g-bān
十萬 cha̍p-bān
一百萬 chi̍t-pah bān
一千萬 chi̍t-chhing bān
一億 chi̍t-ik
十億 cha̍p-ik
一百億 chi̍t-pah ik
一千億 chi̍t-chhing ik
一兆 chi̍t-tiāu
number _____ (train, bus, etc.) 
_____號 hō
半 pua
少 síu
多 tzui

Ordinal numbers[edit]

Ordinal numbers in Chinese are expressed by prepending the number with '第', pronounced in Minnan.

第一 tē-it (day-it)
第二 tē-jı̄ (day-ji)
第三 tē-saⁿ (day-sa)
第四 tē-sı̀ (day-si)
第五 tē-gō͘ (day-go)

And so on, for any number:

Twentieth 第二十 tē-jı̄-cha̍p (day ji-tzap)
第一百 tē-chı̍t-pah (day chit-pah)
第一千 tē-chı̍t-chhian (day chit-chien)


what time is it? 
幾點 kúi tiám (kwee tiam)?
這馬 chit-má (jeemah) / 這陣 chit-tsūn (jeetzoon)
kah dahng-ay or shuh dahng
ee jun
早 chá (dtsah)
較早 kah chá (kah dtsah)

下晡 / (tao dtsah)
in the morning 
早起 chá-khí (tzai kee)
tomorrow morning 
明仔載 bîn-á-tsá-khí miyah tsai kee tao dtsah
下晡 (ay boh)
in the afternoon 
ay ahm
In the evening 
暗 àm
In the night 
暗時 àm-sî (ahm-sheea)
今暗 kim-àm / 今暝 kim-mı̂ (kim mi)

Clock time[edit]

One o'clock AM 
 ?一點 (tao tza jeet/yi4 diam)
Two o'clock AM 
 ?兩點 (tao tza nen/di3 diam)
中晝 tiong-tàu (dyong dow) / (ey3 bpo1)


半暝 puàⁿ-mî (bpua mi)


_____ minute(s) 
_____ 分鐘 hun-ching (whhun-ching)
_____ hour(s) 
_____ 點鐘 tiám-ching / (diam-jun)
_____ day(s) 
_____ 日 ji̍t (*leet)
_____ week(s) 
_____ 禮拜 lé-pài (*lay bai)
_____ month(s) 
_____ 月 gue̍h (whay)
_____ year(s) 
_____ 年 nî (nee)


今日 今仔日 kin-á-jit / (gyah *de *deet)
昨昏 chah-hng (dtsah-ung)
明仔載 bîn-á-chài (miyah tsai)
the day before last 
昨日 cho̍h--ji̍t (tzuh *leet)
the day after tomorrow 
後日 āu--ji̍t (ow *leet)
this week 
這禮拜 chit lé-pài (tsi *lay bai)
last week 
(den *lay-bai)
next week 
後禮拜 āu lé-pài (ow *lay-bai)
禮拜日 lé-pài-jı̍t (le-bai-*leet)
拜一 pài-it (bai-eet)
拜二 pài-jı̄ (bai-*dee)
拜三 pài-saⁿ (bai-sa)
拜四 pài-sı̀ (bai-shee)
拜五 pài-gō͘ (bai-go)
拜六 pài-la̍k (bai-*lahk)


一月 it-go̍eh
二月 jı̄-go̍eh
三月 saⁿ-go̍eh
四月 sı̀-go̍eh
五月 gō͘-go̍eh
六月 la̍k-go̍eh
七月 chhit-go̍eh
八月 poeh-go̍eh
九月 káu-go̍eh
十月 cha̍p-go̍eh
十一月 cha̍p-it-go̍eh
十二月 cha̍p-jı̄-go̍eh


色 sek
烏色 o·-sek
白色 pe̍h-sek
灰色 hoe-sek
紅色 âng-sek
藍色 nâ-sek
黃色 n̂g-sek
青色 chhiⁿ-sek
柑仔色 kam-á-sek : ("mandarin orange color")
茄色 kiô-sek : ("eggplant color")
土色 thó·-sek : ("dirt color")


Bus and train[edit]

[?]票 phiò (dyu pyuh)
One ticket 
一票 chit phiò (jeet-pyuh)
How much is one ticket? 
一票是幾箍? chit phiò sī kuí khoo (Jeet-pyuh shee gwee-koh?)
公車 / 客運 (kay-wun)
火車 hóe-chhia (whey-chiah)
Where does this bus go? 
chit-ê (Dze-day kay-wun kee-dah?)
Does this train go to ____? 
(Dze-day whey-chiah gah-oo kee ____?)
What time does this train leave? 
(Dze-day whey-chiah gwee diam tsooh-whaht?)
What time will this bus arrive? 
(Dze-day kay-wun gwee diam ay gow-wee?)
Please stop! 
拜託,擋! pài thok,tòng (Pbai-toh, dong!)


How do I get to ____? 
[?] 按怎去 (mbay ahndswah kee ____?)
...the train station? 
火車站 hué-chhia-chām / (whey chiah dyoo?)
...the bus station? 
(kay-wun dyoo?)
...the airport? 
(whey-deng-gee dyoo?)
(chee dyong sheemg?)
...the hotel? 
旅館 lú-kuán (*lee-guang?)
...the restaurant? 
飯店 pn̄g-tiàm (bung-diam?)
Where are there a lot of ____? 
(Dway oo jote-tsay ____?)
Do you have a map? 
(*lee gah-oo day-doh?)
路 lō͘/lo̍h (*loh)
倒 tò (duh) / 左 chó
正 chiàⁿ (jyah)
turn left 
倒[?] (duh wah)
straight ahead 
直直去 tı̍t-tı̍t khı̀ (dee-deet kee) / 直直行 ti̍t-ti̍t kiâⁿ (dee-deet gyah)


計程車(gay-dyen chiah)
Drive me to ____ 
載我去____ 。 dzai wah kee ____
How much to go ____ 
[?]去幾箍? mbay kee ____ gwee koh?


Do you have any rooms available? 
有房間無 ū pâng-king bô? (Oo bahn-gyun mbo?)
How much for one room? 
一間[?]? (Jeet gyun, wah-tsay gyee?)
One person 
一個人 chı̍t-ê-lâng (dzeday lahng)
Two persons 
兩個人 n̄ng-ê-lâng (nungay lahng)
Does it have ____? 
敢有____? kám-ū ____ ? (Gah oo ____ ?)
a bathroom 
便所 piān-só͘? (beng soh?)
a telephone 
電話 tiān-ōe (dyung way?)
a TV 
電視 tiān-sī
May I see it first? 
[?]先看?(Gah-ay-dahng shung kwah?)
Do you have something more ____? 

kám-ū kah|khah (Gah oo kah)

大的 tōa-ê (dwah-ay)
俗的 sio̍k-ê (shohg-ay)
OK, I'll sleep here for ____ nights. 
好,[?]暗 Huh, mbay-kuhng ____ ahm.
Is there another hotel? 
[?]有[?] 旅館 (Gah oo bahg-ay *lee-guang?)
What time is breakfast? 
早頓幾點? (Dzah-dun gwee-diam?)
Please clean my room 
拜託 我的 房間 (Pbai toh kyeng wah-ay bahn-gyun)
Can you wake me at ... ? 
,好無?... gah-way gyuh kiah, huhbuh?


Credit card 
刷卡 (swah kah)
Where can I exchange money? 
(Dway ay-dahng wah gjee?)


Have some tea 
飲茶 lim tê
Make tea 
泡茶 phàu tê
早頓 chá-tǹg (dzah-dun)
中頓 tiong-tǹg
暗頓 àm-tǹg
點心 tiám-sim
I want... 
我欲 góa beh (gwah beh)
茶 tê (teh)
咖啡 ka-pi (kopi)
Chicken Meat
雞肉 ke-bah/koe-bah (bah = meat)
Beef Meat
牛肉 gû-bah
雞卵 ke-nn̄g/koe-nn̄g
水果 chúi-kó, 果子 kóe-chí/ké-chí
菜 chhài
魚仔 hî-á (hee-ah) / 魚 hî/hû (hhu2/hhw2; sounds like a long 'huh' without the vowel)
pahng (from Portuguese) / (bin taw) / 麵包 mī-pau (mee-bao)
麵 mı̄ (mee)
Rice (uncooked) 
米 bı́ (bee)
Rice (cooked) 
飯 pn̄g (buhng)
啤酒 (bee chiu)
鹽 iâm (yahm)
hyahm / 胡椒粉 hô͘-chio-hún (hhoh chjio hun)
Done eating 
呷飽了 chia̍h-pá-liáu (jyah pah lyow)
Good to eat 
好呷 hó-chia̍h (huh jyah)
Good to drink 
好飲 hó-lim (huh lim)



How much? 
偌濟? jōa-chōe (luaa zwuei)
How many dollars/yuan? 
幾箍? kúi kho͘ (gwee koh)
Too much 
傷 shyoo-(gke4) zwuei3
Don't want 
莫/勿 mbwai / mmm...-mai3
I need... 
(Wah dah-ai...)
齒抿 khí-bín (kee-mbeeng)
茶箍 tê-kho͘ (day koh)
洗頭毛 sóe thâu-mn̂g (suay tow-mun) (literally "wash hair")
紙 chóa (dzwah)
筆 pit (mbeetd / pbeet)
書 chu (dzoo) / 冊 chheh (tz-cheh)


I haven't done anything wrong. 
我無做歹代誌。 (góa bô chò phái tāi-chì.)
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