8 Chinese phrases you should know

In our daily life, we always hear some frequently used phrases such as “Sure” “No problem” “You know” “Oh my god” etc. These phrases are called “口头禅 [kǒu tóu chán]”in Chinese. Don’t underestimate these phrases: they can reflect one’s personality, values and attitude about their work or life. If you always start your sentences with “I don’t know…maybe…”, it would give people an impression that you are not sure about everything, including yourself. On the contrary, if you always answer people with “no problem”, people would think you are decisive and confident.

Of course in the end it is your action and behaviors that decide how people look at you, but we need to pay attention to the phrases we use frequently so that they wouldn’t “betray” our thoughts and give other people the wrong messages. In this blog we will introduce a few popular phrases which are commonly used in Chinese and the possible implications they may have in a conversation.

1. 随便 [suí biàn]: whatever, whichever or it doesn’t matter

In different contexts, it may have either neutral or negative tones. For example, if you go visit a friend, and as the host he asks you what you would like to drink, you can say:

“随便, 什么都行[suí biàn, shén me dōu xíng] (It’s doesn’t matter, anything is good)”.

In this case it is neutral and has the implication that you leave the decisions to others. In another context, if someone annoys you or threatens you with something such as “if you leave now, we won’t see each other again!”, then you can also say:

“随便!”.

Here “随便”means “whatever” and the subtext is “I don’t care”.

2. 不知道 [bù zhī dào]: I don’t know

Besides using this phrase as a matter of fact that you really don’t know about something, some people also use it when they don’t feel like explaining things to other people, or they don’t want to answer the question. Different intonations will let people know if you really don’t know or you simply do not want to talk about it.

3. 无聊 [wú liáo]: Literally it means “no talk”, which can be further stretched into “boring” or “bored”.

People use this phrase not to tell their mental state, but rather try to start a conversation or make a proposal to initiate some activities. For example:

“好无聊啊,我们去看电影吧。[hǎo wú liáo a, wǒ mén qù kàn diàn yǐng ba.] So boring/nothing to do, let’s go see a movie.”

While in some other situations, “无聊”can also be used as a comment to what other people just said, and it means “nonsense”, or something useless. For example:

“你不觉得新来的老师很性感吗?[nǐ bù jué de xīn lái de lǎo shī hěn xìng gǎn mā?] Don’t you think our new teacher is super hot?”

“无聊。”

Here it implies that you have no interest in this topic and you do not want to be a part of this conversation.

4. 不是吧 [bú shì ba]: No way

The emotion behind this phrase is surprise and often also with a bit of frustration. “不是 (not this)”, is a denial of fact or the ongoing incident, and therefore, it is often negative. Example:

不是吧,有人偷了我的三明治! [yǒu rén tōu le wǒ de sān míng zhì] (No way, someone stole my sandwich! )

5. 真的假的 [zhēn de jiǎ de]: “True or fake?”

This phrase is often used when you hear something shocking and you need confirmation of this information. The emotion behind it could be exciting or skeptical, depending on the way the person says it. Example:

– “你听说了么,我们老板怀孕了。[nǐ tīng shuō le me, wǒ mén lǎo bǎn huái yùn le] (Have you heard that our boss is pregnant?)”

– “ 真的假的?[zhēn de jiǎ de] (For real?)”

6. 不靠谱 [bú kào pǔ]: not reliable

Originally it refers to the situation that musician improvises during performance and does not perform according to the notes. However, recently it is used to describe someone or something less acceptable by the common sense or social standards, and therefore “not reliable”. For example:

– “你觉得他这个人怎么样?[nǐ jué de tā zhè gè rén zěn me yàng] What do you think of him?”

– “ 不靠谱![bú kào pǔ] (Not reliable/trustworthy!)”

7. 我看行 [wǒ kàn xíng]: “I see (it is) OK”, or “I think it can do/will work”

It has a strong sense of confirmation and a very positive tone. For example:

– “我们现在去看电影怎么样?[wǒ mén xiàn zài qù kàn diàn yǐng zěn me yàng?] (How about we go see a movie now?)”

– “我看行![wǒ kàn xíng! ] (I’m up for it!)”

8. 讨厌 [tǎo yàn]: annoying

This is a frequently used phrase by girls. But if used by girls with a bit of twitching in the tones, then it has the effect of saying “you are such a bad boy”. When a girl says this, it is often the case that she is pretending to be “upset” or “unpleased” by what you have said, but her true emotion could be “very pleased”(unless she is really upset about your comment, which you surely can sense from the tone). For example, if you give a girl a compliment by saying:

– “你今天比昨天还漂亮。 [nǐ jīn tiān bǐ zuó tiān hái piào liàng] You look even more beautiful than yesterday.”

– Then she may say: “讨厌,又笑话人家。[tǎo yàn , yòu xiào huà rén jiā.] What, making fun of me again?” But actually she is pretty happy about your comment.

Do you recognize some of these phrases in the conversations with/of Chinese people? Just try to use them in your chat. They will make your Chinese more natural and original. If you discover more phrases from TV shows or movies, please don’t hesitate to share with us.

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