Say Hello in Chinese

Hi! Hello! What's going on? How have you been? There are many ways in English to greet someone, from the acquaintance to you close friends. Mandarin Chinese speakers also have a lot of ways to greet each other. For some extra ideas (and maybe to impress your Chinese speaking friends), try out some of the following common Chinese greetings.

(The standard Pinyin transliteration is given first, with the rough phonetic transcription in brackets.)

Ni hao! [Nee how]

The universal greeting in Chinese, "Ni hao" is what you say in any situation, anywhere. The meaning is "hello," but literally it means "you good." Wishing people well is universal, and it gets you a good response in any situation.

This greeting works well for anyone, of any level of acquaintance. If you want to be polite and use the more formal version, add an 'n' to the first sound: "Neen how."

[Note: do not use the question form "Ni hao ma" for a typical greeting.  It does not translate into the English "How are you?" but rather means something like "Are you ok?" as if something bad happened.]

Zui jin zen me yang?  [Zoy jeen zun muh yawng]

This literally means "lately how are things?" This is a nice alternative to simply saying hello. It's a little akin to saying "What's happening?" Usually you use this greeting if you haven't seen a friend for a period of time.  People will commonly say "not bad" or "busy" in response.  

Chi le ma? [Chir luh ma]

A Chinese specialty greeting, this means "how are you," but literally it translates as "Have you eaten yet?" Why this arose as a greeting is debatable, but in China people live in pretty close quarters as a rule, and so they're likely to know more mundane details about your daily life as in whether or not you've eaten your last meal.

This greeting also works well between friends or closer acquaintances. Don't expect a literal answer- it's the same meaning as "hello," which doesn't mean someone needs to give details in response. Most people will say "I've eaten," or "I haven't" in reply, but again they simply are saying "hello" back to you.

Ni qu nar?  [Nee choo nar]

"Where are you going?" The first few times someone says this to you, you may feel a little taken aback. Why should someone ask about your personal business? The good news is you don't have to feel invaded. This is exactly the same idea as "have you eaten" above, where the person you live close to will naturally greet you with a polite inquiry as to your comings and goings.

The nice thing is you don't have to say anything in particular to respond. People answer "Wo qu kan kan" [whoa choo can can], which means "I'm going to look around."  It's perfectly fine not to be specific.

Ni zao! [Nee zow]  -or- 

Zao shang hao! [Zow shawng how]

These greetings are for the beginning of the day.  When it's around 8am or earlier, you greet people with "Good morning!"  The translation is pretty much literal in this case.  The first one, "Ni zao," is used for informal circumstances.  The second is acceptable in pretty much any instance you see someone for the first time early on in the day.

Extra: Zai jian! [Z-eye jee-ann]

Goodbye!  What greetings would be complete if you can't say goodbye?  This literally means "meet again" and is used by everyone in China.  

Hopefully these greetings will expand your ability for Mandarin chit-chat.  Give them a try and see what happens!