28 Basic Chinese words and phrases that every beginner should learn


Whether you’re planning a trip to China, looking to expand your cultural horizons, or simply seeking to challenge yourself with a new language, learning some basic Mandarin words and phrases is an excellent place to start. In this blog post, we’ll provide a comprehensive list of 28 essential Chinese words and phrases that every beginner should learn. These words and phrases will help you go from being a complete beginner to engaging in basic conversations.

Table of Contents:

  1. Pronouns in Chinese
  2. Question Words in Chinese
  3. Chinese Phrases in Social Situations
  4. Key Verbs in Chinese
  5. Basics of the Chinese Language a. Tones b. Writing in Chinese c. Chinese Word Formation
  6. A Quick Test
  7. Final Thoughts on Basic Chinese Words and Phrases

Pronouns in Chinese:

1. I/me – 我 (wǒ)

In Chinese, there is no accusative case. Therefore, when referring to oneself, you can continue using the pronoun “我” (wǒ) instead of switching to the pronoun “我” (wǒ) to mean “me” instead of “I”.

2. You – 你 (nǐ)

In Chinese, you will come across the phrase “你好” (nǐ hǎo), which means “hello.” It is commonly used in informal situations when addressing someone casually in social settings. However, if you want to convey a sense of formality, particularly in a business setting, the more appropriate form of address would be “您” (nín).

3. He/she/it – (tā)

When listening to someone speak Chinese, you might have to rely on context to understand the meaning of pronouns. However, in written form, there are distinct characters for ‘he’ (他), ‘she’ (她), and ‘it’ (它).

To form plural pronouns, simply add 们 (men). For instance, “us” is translated as 我们 (wǒ men), and “they” for a male or mixed group is 他们 (tā men). There are no irregularities, unlike with “I” and “us”.

If you want to indicate possession, you can add 的 (de) after the pronoun. This is similar to adding an apostrophe and “s” in English and is a versatile word in Chinese, making it quite common.

The words “this” and “that” function the same way as in English. You need to determine whether the object you’re referring to is near or far from you. Pay attention to the plural marker 些 (xiē), which is different from English.

4. This – 这 (zhè)

Employ this term when referring to something in close proximity to you or when you need to highlight a specific instance of a particular thing.

5. That – 那 (nà)

This fundamental term proves valuable when referring to something that is not in proximity to you. To express the plurals of “this” and “that” as “these” and “those,” simply add 些 (xiē) afterward. For instance, if you wish to discuss the individuals (人 / rén) located over there, you would refer to them as “those people” 那些人 (nà xiē rén).

Question Words in Chinese:

Here are the common question words in Chinese:

6. What – 什么 (shén me)

The functioning of this term is similar to the English word “what,” with the difference that it can be placed in various positions within the sentence. For example, to ask “What is that?” in Chinese, you would say 那是什么?(Nà shì shénme?), which literally translates to “That is (是) what?”. To provide an answer, you simply replace the question word with the appropriate term for “that.”

7. When – 什么时候 (shén me shí hòu) 

This literally translates as “what time wait”.

8. How many – 几 (jǐ)

Use this for countable things like objects.

9. How much – 多少 (duō shao) 

This literally translates as “many few”. Use this to ask about money and prices.

10. Who – 谁 (shéi)

Utilize this term in a manner similar to how you would employ the question word “who” in English. Additionally, when inquiring about the identity of the person knocking at your door, you can also use the term 谁 (shuí).

11. Where – 哪里 (nǎ lǐ)

The second character, 里 (lǐ), is also used as a preposition to mean “in”.

12. Yes/no indicator – 吗 (mā)

 Place this at the end of a sentence to make it into a yes/no question.

Chinese Phrases in Social Situations:

13. My name is – 我叫 (wǒ jiào)

The verb 叫 (jiào) signifies “to be called,” and it is employed when you wish to inform someone of your name. For instance, “我叫 Noreen” translates to “my name is Noreen.

14. Please – 请 (qǐng)

Put it at the start of your sentences to say “please”. It is also a verb to mean invite or request.

15. Sorry – 对不起 (duì bù qǐ)

Use this to apologize to someone.

16. Thank you – 谢谢 (xiè xiè)

Add emphasis by adding 你 to the end – 谢谢你!

17. Good morning – 早 (zǎo)

This term literally translates to “morning,” and it is the most informal expression to greet someone in the morning. A slightly more formal alternative would be 早安 (zǎo ān), which means “morning peace.” The highest level of formality is 早上好 (zǎoshang hǎo), which literally translates to “early morning good.

18. Good evening or goodnight – 晚上好 (wǎnshang hǎo)

The structure for “good evening” follows a similar pattern as “good morning”. The character for “evening” is 晚 (wǎn), so for a casual greeting, you can simply use 晚 (wǎn). For a more formal evening greeting, you can say 晚上好 (wǎnshang hǎo). However, 晚安 (wǎn ān) is commonly used as a farewell to wish someone goodnight when they are going to bed, rather than as a greeting.

19. Goodbye – 再见 (zàijiàn)

The literal translation of this is “meet again”.

Key Verbs in Chinese:

20. To be – 是 (shì)

Employ this phrase when referring to yourself, particularly when describing your nationality or country of origin. For instance, 我是美国人 (wǒ shì měi guó rén) translates to “I am American” or literally “I am an American person.

21. To have – 有 (yǒu)

This verb is commonly encountered and serves multiple purposes beyond indicating possession. It has various grammatical implications, such as expressing the state of something. For example, 我的家有多人 (wǒ de jiā yǒu duō rén) translates to “There are a lot of people at home” or “There are a lot of people in my family.”

22. To go – 去 (qù)

For example, 我去那里 (wǒ qù nàlǐ) means “I go there”.

23. To eat – 吃 (chī)

This word is of great significance. When you want to express that something tastes delicious, simply combine the verb with “good” to form 好吃 (hǎo chī), which literally means “good eat.”

24. To drink – 喝 (hē)

Notice that eat and drink both have the same radical 口 (kǒu), which means “mouth”.

25. To want or need something – 要 (yào)

For example, 我要水 (wǒ yào shuǐ) means “I want water”.

26. Would like” or “desire” something – 想 (xiǎng)

For example, 我想去喝水 (wǒ xiǎng qù hē shuǐ) means “I would like to go drink water”.

27. To be located somewhere – 在 (zài)

If you need to say something “is somewhere”, you shouldn’t directly translate from English and use 是 (shì). Instead, use 在 (zài).

28. To give – 给 (gěi)

When making a request in Chinese, it is completely polite to use the phrase “给我” (gěi wǒ…) which translates to “give me…” followed by the object you desire. While it may sound somewhat direct or rude to English speakers, it is perfectly acceptable in Chinese.

Chinese doesn’t have a straightforward equivalent for the words “yes” and “no.” Instead, you need to pay attention to the question being asked. If you hear the particle “吗” (ma) at the end of the question, it indicates that a yes/no answer is expected.

Rather than using “yes” or “no” directly, you should repeat the verb used in the question, either in the affirmative or negative form. For example, if someone asks you “你要水吗” (nǐ yào shuǐ ma), meaning “Do you want water?”, the response would simply be “要” (yào) for “yes” or “不要” (bù yào) for “no,” which can be translated as “want” and “do not want” respectively.

Now that you are acquainted with the basic Chinese words and phrases, it’s important to note that there is much more to learn in order to use them correctly. Let’s explore a few essential aspects that Chinese learners should understand about the language.

Basics of the Chinese Language:


Chinese has four tones (plus a neutral tone), which play a crucial role in differentiating the meanings of words.

Writing in Chinese

Chinese characters are composed of radicals, and combining radicals creates words. Pinyin, a system that uses the English alphabet with tone marks, helps with pronunciation.

Chinese Word Formation

Chinese words are formed by combining radicals, and these words can further combine to create new words.

By learning these 28 basic Chinese words and phrases, you’ll have a solid foundation for speaking Mandarin. Remember to pay attention to tones, practice writing characters, and understand the process of word formation. With time and practice, you’ll be able to progress from a beginner to a more fluent speaker. Good luck on your Chinese language journey!

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