In this article, I’ve chosen ten phrases which are commonly used in Chinese people’s daily lives. I have provided the situations in which these phrases are used, as well as vocabulary and grammar explanations for each phrase.
I will explain the most basic things so that even beginners will have no problems understanding these phrases.
This article goes together with my video on Youtube, which presents the ten phrases in the context of real life situations. For beginners, I suggest reading this article first and then watching the video for listening practice. More advanced learners should try watching the video first and then reading my article.
Meaning: I’m back.
Situation: When you come back from somewhere.
When we want to say that we are “returning to a place,” we use 回 / huí + place. For example:
Sometimes, instead of using a place after 回 / huí, we use 来 / lái (to come) or 去 / qù (to go) after it. 回来 / huílai means to come back, 回去 / huíqù means to go back.
The last word 了/ le is a particle used at the end of a sentence to indicate the emergence of a new situation. For example: 天冷了/ tiān lěng le (it was not cold before, but it is cold now.)
Meaning: Hello, where are you?
Situation: When you are talking to somebody on the phone and you want to know their location.
When we refer to a location, we use 在 / zài + place. For example:
When we ask about the location, we use:
呢 / ne is a modal particle which is used at the end of a question. It has no specific meaning; it just makes the tone more friendly.
Meaning: What time is it now?
Situation: When you want to know the time.
We have two question words for numbers: 几 / jǐ and 多少 / duōshao. 几 / jǐ is used for small numbers, commonly those under ten, while 多少 / duōshao is used for bigger ones. When asking about times or dates, we only use 几 / jǐ. For example:
Here, 了 is an optional particle. The usage is similar to that in the first phrase 我回来了/ wǒ huílai le. However, when talking about time, its use is optional.
Meaning: Do you have time this weekend? I want to treat you to a meal.
Situation: When you want to ask somebody out for a meal on the weekend.
The character 空 can be pronounced two different ways. When we say kōng, it means empty, like in the phrase 这个房子是空的 / Zhège fángzi shì kōngde (this house is empty). When we read it as kòng, it means free time. Expressions like 没空 / méikòng (to have no free time) and 有空 / yǒukòng (to have free time) are commonly used in daily life.
吗 / ma is used at the end of a sentence to make it a yes-or-no question. When asking questions in Chinese, you don’t need to change the word order. So the answer to 周末你有空吗？/ Zhōumò nǐ yǒu kòng ma? (Do you have time this weekend?) is 周末我有空 / Zhōumò wǒ yǒu kòng (I have time this weekend).
The structure 请 / qǐng + somebody + do something conveys inviting somebody to do something. 请 / qǐng + somebody + 吃饭 / chīfàn is a popular phrase in Chinese daily life because for us, having a meal together is an important way to enhance our relationship, and treating other people to a meal demonstrates the positive quality of being generous.
Meaning: What happened?
Situation: When something happened, but you have no idea what happened.
This is simply a fixed expression. It is difficult to explain exactly why these words appear together.
In Northern China, people prefer to add 儿 / er after some nouns or verbs. For example:
They sometimes add it to location pronouns as well. For example:
Meaning: I’m very tired.
Situation: When you have finished doing something that has made you very tired.
Adjective + 死我了/ sǐwǒ le is an exaggerated way to express a feeling. The literal meaning is “I’m so … that I could almost die”. Other common expressions are:
Meaning: What you said is so right!
Situation: When you hear other people’s words and you can’t agree more.
The structure subject + verb + 的 / de is like a subject clause in English. For example:
太 / tài + adjective +了/ le is a fixed structure that demonstrates the high degree of the adjective.
Meaning: How much did you pay for this?
Situation: When you see that your friend has something amazing and you want to know how much it cost.
When asking about price, we use 多少钱 / duōshao qián.
The complete form of this sentence is 这个是多少钱买的？/ Zhège shì duōshao qián mǎide? 是 / shì is omitted in informal speech. The structure subject + 是 / shì + place/time/means/price + verb + 的 / de implies that the action has happened in the past and it emphasizes a feature of that action. Other examples are:
Meaning: Sir, may I ask where the washroom is? Over there!
Situation: When you want to find the washroom.
叔叔 / shūshu basically refers to your father’s younger brother, but in China, we have a culture of using terms for family members to address people outside of our families; even strangers! So, we call any male whose age is similar to our parents’ 叔叔 / shūshu (uncle), any female whose age is similar to our parents’ 阿姨 / āyí (aunt), any old lady whose age is similar our grandma’s 奶奶 / nǎinai (grandma), and any old man whose age is similar to our grandpa’s 爷爷 / yéye (grandpa).
请 / qǐng + 问 / wèn together literally means “may I ask.” It is used like “excuse me” in English. We use it before a question to show politeness.
The three characters in 洗手间 / xǐshǒujiān actually have their own separate meanings:
Together, they mean washroom.You may sometimes see 卫生间 / wèishēngjiān which refers to the same thing. 卫生 / wèishēng means “hygiene.”
Meaning: The weather is so good today!
Situation: When you see that the weather is great.
In Chinese, we don’t use the structure subject + am/is/are + adjective. Instead, we use the structure subject+ adverb + adjective. So you should never say, for example:
You should use an adverb before the adjective.
Literally, 真 / zhēn means “really,” but it also implies a kind of exclamation. If you have a strong feeling when you see or hear something, then you can say 真 / zhēn + adjective. It can also be used in praise. For example:
These phrases were chosen from my personal experience, not according to any research or survey, so they may not be the most commonly used ones. The aim of this article is simply to present some useful words and expressions in a practical way.
I hope that all of my work may help more people understand and use Chinese correctly.
Please leave a comment below if you have any questions or suggestions!