You might be surprised to learn that in Chinese, there is no single word that translates directly to the English word "Yes". Instead, Chinese has multiple ways of confirming, approving, and agreeing that vary with context. Speakers of many Romance and other languages can answer a wide variety of questions with just one handy syllable, so it might take time for learners to wrap their heads around this fundamental difference between their native language and Chinese.
Chinese isn't the only language with this quirk. And don't forget, English also contains many phrases to agree or offer confirmation beyond just the word "yes": "sure", "no problem", and "of course" are just a few examples. In fact, if you replied with a one-word response to every single question in English, people would probably think you sounded stiff or even rude! When you think about it this way, it seems natural for Chinese to contain a variety of phrases to offer confirmation or agree with someone. The guide below covers the most common options and examples of how to use them. Read on, and you'll be able to agree like a native Mandarin speaker in no time!
1. Giving Confirmation in Mandarin: Restate the Main Verb or Adjective in the Question
In English, we think of questions like "Can you swim?" or "Is he handsome?" as "Yes No Questions", because we can answer them with either of those two simple words. Even though Chinese doesn't have a direct translation for "yes", there's still a very simple way to answer this type of question in Mandarin: restate the main word in the sentence. That's right, a one-word answer is still acceptable, and even sounds more fluent than a long and detailed reply.
You might be wondering what counts as the "main word" in a question. Typically, it's either a verb or an adjective, and luckily Chinese sentence structure makes it pretty straightforward to identify these parts of speech in a sentence. Once you identify the main word, simply repeat that verb or adjective to confirm what the speaker wants to know. Let's look at some examples.
Restate the Main Verb
- A: 你明天要吃火锅吗？(Nǐ míngtiān yào chī huǒguō ma?) Do you want to eat hotpot tomorrow?
- B: 要! (Yào!）Yes!
- A: 这本书挺有意思，你想借吗? (Zhè běn shū tǐng yǒuyìsi, nǐ xiǎng jiè ma?) This book is very interesting. Would you like to borrow it?
- B: 想! (Xiǎng!) Yes!
- A: 今天有没有时间帮我一个忙？ (Jīntiān yǒu méiyǒu shíjiān bāng wǒ yīgè máng?) Do you have time to help me out with something today?
- B: 有。 (Yǒu.) Yes.
- A: 你会不会游泳? (Nǐ huì bù huì yóuyǒng?) Can you swim?
- B: 会。 (Huì.) Yes, I can.
Restate the Main Adjective
- A: 她的男朋友帅不帅？(Tā de nán péngyǒu shuài bù shuài?) Is her boyfriend handsome?
- B: 帅! (Shuài!) Yes, he's handsome!
- A: 这个菜辣吗？ (Zhè gè cài là ma?) Is this dish spicy?
- B: 辣。 (Là.) Yes, it’s spicy.
- A: 图书馆远吗？ (Túshūguǎn yuǎn ma?) Is the library far?
- B: 远。 (Yuǎn.) Yes, it’s far.
2. Affirmative Replies with 是 | shì and 是的 | shìde
Some people will tell you 是 means yes in Chinese. However, the direct translation is "to be". Just like in English, "to be" is one of the most commonly-used verbs in Mandarin. If someone asks you a question with this verb, you can follow rule #1 above to answer in the affirmative by repeating 是. In fact, it's very uncommon to use 是 to respond to a question that does not contain 是. Here are a few examples:
是 | shì | to be; yes
- A: 您是王教授吗？ (Nín shì wáng jiàoshòu ma?) Are you professor Wang?
- B: 是。 (Shì.) Yes, I am.
Sometimes 是 appears alongside another verb as a helping or auxiliary verb. In this case, it's still correct to respond to the question with 是.
- A: 你是在中国学了中文吗？ (Nǐ shì zài zhōngguó xuéle zhōngwén ma?) Did you learn Chinese in China?
- B: 是。 (Shì.) Yes.
是的 | shìde | yes, that’s right
是的 is a more polite way of responding to questions that contain 是. You can use it to respond when someone is checking a fact. Subordinates can also use it when responding politely to their boss.
- A: 这是不是你写的报告？ (Zhè shì bùshì nǐ xiě de bàogào?) Is this the report you wrote?
- B: 是的。 (Shìde.) Yes, that’s right.
3. How to Say “Right” in Mandarin: 对 | duì and 没错 | méicuò
There are other ways to answer affirmatively in Mandarin besides restating the main verb or adjective. 对 and 没错 are two ways of saying "right" or "correct" that correspond closely to English usage. You can use them to answer questions and also to agree with someone else's opinion or statement of fact. Let's look at some examples of each:
对 | duì | right; correct
If the original question contains 对, you can repeat it to respond in the affirmative.
- A: 这是你的手机，对吗? (Zhè shì nǐ de shǒujī, duì ma?) This is your cellphone, right?
- B: 对。 (Duì.) Right.
Here's how you can use 对 to agree with a statement, rather than answer a question.
- A: 我觉得这家饭馆的菜很好吃。(Wǒ juédé zhè jiā fànguǎn de cài hěn hào chī.) I think the food at this restaurant is great.
- B: 对. (Duì) Yes.
For a slightly longer response, you can use 你说得很对。 (Nǐ shuō dé hěn duì.) You are right.
没错 | méicuò | not wrong
没错 can be used in a similar way to the English phrases "that's right" or "that's true". Like 对, you can use it to agree with a statement.
- A: 去机场应该坐地铁。（Qù jīchǎng yīnggāi zuò dìtiě.） We should take the subway to get to the airport.
- B: 没错。 (Méicuò.) Right.
Here are a few common longer phrases containing 没错：
- 没错，我也觉得。 (Méi cuò, wǒ yě juédé.) Right, I think so too.
- 你说的没错! (Nǐ shuō de méi cuò!) You’re right / You can say that again!
4. Giving Permission or Agreeing to do Something: 可以 | kěyǐ, 行 | xíng and 没问题 | méiwèntí
Most of us tend to say yes to requests from others, even when there's nothing in it for us. It can be a way to make a good impression or begin a friendship with someone. Chinese includes the following phrases to give someone permission or agree to a request:
可以 | kěyǐ | can; may
可以 is used to indicate permission when someone asks whether they are allowed to do something. You can also use 可以 to agree to do someone a favor. Again, if the question contains 可以, responding with 可以 is a good way to answer.
- A: 这里可以拍照吗？ (Zhèlǐ kěyǐ pāizhào ma?) Can I take pictures here?
- B: 可以。 (Kěyǐ.) Yes, you can.
- A: 我的手机没有电，可以借你的吗？ (Wǒ de shǒujī méiyǒu diàn, kěyǐ jiè nǐ de ma?) My phone is dead, can I borrow yours?
- B: 可以。 (Kěyǐ.) Yes, you can.
行 | xíng | ok; alright
Although the literal translation of 行 is "to go", you can use it to give someone permission or respond affirmatively to a request, similar to 可以. However, the original question doesn't necessarily need to contain 行 for it to be an appropriate answer.
- A: 我们星期六可以去看电影吗？ (Wǒmen xīngqíliù kěyǐ qù kàn diànyǐng ma?) Can we go see a movie on Saturday?
- B: 行。 (Xíng.) Sure, alright.
没问题 | méiwèntí | no problem
没问题 is used in almost the exact same way as the English phrase "no problem": it's an informal way to agree to do something.
- A: 我来找王太太。请告诉她我来了。 (Wǒ lái zhǎo Wáng Tàitai. qǐng gàosù tā wǒ lái le.) I came to see Mrs. Wang. Please tell her I’m here.
- B: 没问题。请稍等。 (Méi wèntí. Qǐng shāo děng.) No problem. Just one moment.
5. Saying Okay with 好 | hǎo
The literal translation of 好 is “good”. You can use it by itself to mean "okay", or with a variety of particles to adjust the tone and meaning.
好 | hǎo | good
By itself, 好 is similar to “okay” in English, for example when responding to a proposal or suggestion.
- A: 我们今天下午去公园吧。(Wǒmen jīntiān xiàwǔ qù gōngyuán ba.) Let’s go to the park this afternoon.
- B: 好。(Hǎo.) Okay.
好的 | hǎo de | sure, will do
好的 is a polite agreement or acknowledgment of a request which translates into “will do”.
- A: 师傅，你八点来接我，好吗？ (Shīfù, nǐ bā diǎn lái jiē wǒ, hǎo ma?) Driver, could you pick me up at 8 o’clock?
- B: 好的。 (Hǎo de.) Sure, will do.
好呀 | hǎo ya | okay!
The 呀 at the end shows excitement or enthusiasm for a proposal.
- A: 我明天过来送给你生日礼物吧。(Wǒ míngtiān guòlái sòng gěi nǐ shēngrì lǐwù ba.) I’ll come by tomorrow to give you your birthday present.
- B: 好呀！(Hǎo ya!) Okay!
好吧 | hǎo ba | okay
好吧 expresses grudging or reluctant agreement with someone’s proposal. Careful not to say this one to your boss!
- A: 我出差的时候你需要自己弄所有的家务。 (Wǒ chūchāi de shíhòu nǐ xūyào zìjǐ nòng suǒyǒu de jiāwù.) While I’m on my business trip, you’ll have to do all the housework yourself.
- B: 好吧。 (Hǎo ba.) Okay.
好了 | hǎo le | yep; okay
好了 can have a positive connotation similar to “yep” in English:
- A: 你准备好了吗? (Nǐ zhǔnbèi hǎo le ma?) Are you ready?
- B: 好了！ (Hǎo le!) Yep!
But it can also have a more negative or exasperated tone when responding to someone pushing or nagging you to do something:
- A: 你还没准备好吗? (Nǐ hái méi zhǔnbèi hǎo ma?) You’re still not ready?
- B: 好了，好了，我已经好了。(Hǎo le, hǎo le, wǒ yǐjīng hǎo le.) OK, OK, I’m ready now.
6. Casual Ways to Agree in Conversational Mandarin: 嗯 | èn and OK了 | OK le
Just like English, Mandarin has a few very casual ways of saying yes that are barely words. In fact, Chinese speakers have borrowed "OK" from English and use it often, both online and in spoken conversation.
嗯 | èn | yeah; uh-huh
嗯 is a very casual sound, which means "uh-huh" or "yeah" and sounds slightly noncommittal. Chinese speakers use it both online and offline, and you can repeat it for more emphasis (嗯嗯). Be careful of your pronunciation: when pronounced én with second tone, it means “What?” instead!
- A: 你现在有空吗？(Nǐ xiànzài yǒu kòng ma?) Are you free right now?
- B: 嗯。(èn.) Uh-huh.
OK了 | OK le | ok; yes
In Chinese, OK is a colloquial, positive response or confirmation that something has been done:
- A: 你做完作业了吗？ (Nǐ zuò wán zuòyèle ma?) Did you finish your homework?
- B: OK了! (Okay le!) Yep!
7. Agreeing with Someone’s Opinion: 我同意 | wǒ tóngyì and 我正要说这个
我同意 | wǒ tóngyì | I agree
This phrase expresses agreement with someone’s opinion or statement:
- A: 红酒很陪伴牛排。 (Hóngjiǔ hěn péibàn niúpái.) Red wine goes well with steak.
- B: 我同意。(Wǒ tóngyì.) I agree.
我正要说这个! | Wǒ zhèng yào shuō zhège | I was just going to say that!
我正要说这个 is very similar to the corresponding phrase in English: it shows that you and the speaker are completely on the same page:
- A: 这乐队最近的一首歌是他们最好的。(Zhè yuèduì zuìjìn de yī shǒu gē shì tāmen zuì hǎo de.) This band’s most recent song is their best one.
- B: 我正要说这个! (Wǒ zhèng yào shuō zhège!) I was just going to say that!
8. Agree with Extra Enthusiasm: 当然 | dāngrán and 我双手赞成 | Wǒ shuāngshǒu zànchéng
当然 | dāngrán | of course
当然 expresses strong agreement and confidence in your answer. 那当然 is a bit more informal and translates to “obviously” or “duh”.
- A: 你确定了吗？(Nǐ quèdìngle ma?) Are you sure?
- B: 当然！ (Dāngrán!) Yes, of course!
我双手赞成 | Wǒ shuāngshǒu zànchéng | I agree with both hands
我双手赞成 expresses enthusiastic agreement with someone's proposal and corresponds to the English phrases “I agree wholeheartedly” or “I couldn’t agree more”.
- A: 下班之后我们去KTV吧！(Xiàbān zhīhòu wǒmen qù KTV ba!) Let’s go to karaoke after work!
- B: 我双手赞成！(Wǒ shuāngshǒu zànchéng!) I couldn’t agree more!
Agreeing is a Key Part of Mandarin Conversation
Offering confirmation and agreeing with others are key components to conversations in any language. The more comfortable you feel with conversation basics, the more luck you'll have with communicating and making friends in Mandarin! Although it might first seem daunting to learn more than a single word for "yes", we hope this list helps you practice ways to agree in Mandarin across a variety of situations. For extra guidance, be sure to connect with one of Speechling's native speakers, who will give you feedback on your spoken grammar and pronunciation. With a little repetition, you'll soon feel comfortable answering questions and expressing agreement in Mandarin!