You've probably heard the phrase "你好 nǐ hǎo" numerous times whilst traveling in China or Taiwan. This phrase is used as an introductory greeting on the phone, in a letter, or meeting someone for the first time. However, native Mandarin speakers actually have a few different ways to greet a close friend or family member. Review the ten greetings below and impress your fellow learners!
General Greetings for Beginners
This short list is intended for the newbie speaker who is in the beginning of their Mandarin learning journey. These are common ways to say 'Hello' in Chinese that you may come across frequently.
1) 你好 nǐ hǎo - Hello
This is considered the "catch-all" greeting, common for a variety of scenarios one may come across. When you meet someone for the first time, you can say 你好 (nǐ hǎo). This also works for strangers at the store, grocery clerks, or any stranger you may not know on a personal level. Check out the pronunciation in Speechling's audio directory.
2) 您好 nín hǎo - Hello (formal)
While it may sound similar to the one above, this expression is intended for a formal audience. Pronunciation for this phrase differs between 你 (nǐ) and 您 (nín). The latter is the dignified way of addressing someone directly. For example, you'd use this phrase when speaking to an elder, your parent's acquaintances, or anyone in a respectable position.
3) 大家好 dàjiā hǎo - Hello everyone
If you've taken a Mandarin class or will start one soon, your teacher will most likely address the entire class with "大家好" (dàjiā hǎo). This is a way to speak to a group and greet them as a whole. It's a versatile expression that can be used towards friends, classmates, an audience, and more.
4) 早安/晚安 zǎo ān/wǎn ān - Good morning/goodnight
These two common phrases are useful to greet people in the morning or at night. 早安 (zǎo ān) quite literally translates to "morning peace" and 晚安 (wǎn'ān) translates to "evening peace." There are many variations of the two such as 早， 早啊(zǎo a)，or 晚上好(wǎnshàng hǎo).
Say 'Hello' in Chinese Like a True Native
If you're past the beginner's level while learning Chinese, then these next greetings are for you. These are proper expressions that indicate a native speaker. Chinese culture can be indirect, so a true native's way of addressing someone may not necessarily be straightforward. Phrases that show care and concern are used in place of a direct 'hello' if the relationship is there.
5) 喂 wéi - Hey/Hello?
This unique word is typically used in special cases only, such as answering the phone or testing audio/visual equipment. One rarely writes 喂 (wèi) in text or during a face-to-face conversation. For example, if you receive a phone call you can say "喂 (wéi)?" or if you're testing a mic for karaoke, you can say "喂 (wéi), 喂 (wéi), 喂 (wéi)?" This is a true native phrase as you'd rarely see or hear it during a Chinese course.
6) 嗨 hāi & 哈羅/哈罗 hā luó - Hi/Hello
These two greetings are transliterated from English. They are intended to sound exactly like the English phonetic pronunciations. These are casual expressions that the younger generation love to use while texting, chatting, or commenting online. Another one common one is "拜拜 bāi bāi" or "88" to represent "bye-bye."
7) 吃了嗎/吃了吗 chī le ma? - Did you eat yet?
Asking if someone ate is a frequented expression to acknowledge someone. However, there is a time and place to use this, as it may seem odd out of context. For example, if you bump into a classmate right before meal time or are hosting someone over at your house, you would ask: 吃了嗎/吃了吗 chī le ma？ If someone asks you this question, take it as a surface level invitation. You'd never really hear this phrase coming from a stranger.
8) 最近怎麼樣啊/最近怎么样啊 zuìjìn zěnme yàng a? - How have you been lately?
This is another way for a friend or acquaintance to say hello. If a person asks you how you have been, it's not an invitation to dissect on personal details. It's simply a casual way to say "Hey, how are you?" without using those exact words.
9) 好久不見/好久不见 hǎojiǔ bùjiàn! - Long time no see!
Similar to those above, out of context this expression may not make sense. People choose to use this phrase when they haven't seen a friend in awhile and have a random encounter. Another phrase that you can use in these scenarios is "你怎麼會在這/你怎么会在这? (nǐ zěnme huì zài zhè?)" which translates to "What are you doing here?" Think of it being said with an endearing voice with a hint of surprise. In English, you can think of it being said like "Oh my gosh, what are you doing here!"
10) 去哪? qù nǎ? - Where are you going?
While this may seem nosy to non-native speakers, this can be seen as an expression of concern and care. This is a very casual way of asking where someone's been or has gone. These types of questions are used in passing with family members or friends. It's a way to be invested in their day without needing an hour long conversation.
Saying Hello Can Be Fun & Different
You'll never get tired of repeating the same greetings in Chinese, that's for sure! Using different greetings for different people and scenarios is a common practice across cultures. If you want more insight on this topic, check out this Quora discussion or this Medium article.
If you're ready to take your Chinese learning to the next step, learn a few Mandarin slang phrases like 加油 (jiāyóu) or practice your speaking with these five conversation topics for Chinese beginners.