In this post I want to explain how you say please, thank you, sorry and excuse me in Chinese.
These may seem like very simple words that should have simple equivalents, but there are a few things you need to know about how they are used, and different phrases to know.
How to say thank you in Chinese
Thank you is the easiest of these phrases to learn.
In most situations, you can just use 谢谢 xièxie or 谢谢 xièxie nǐ (the nǐ means ‘you)
The first syllable is pronounced in the 4th tone, where the pitch of your voice should drop from a high to a low level, and the second syllable is simply uttered, it’s not stressed at all.
Chinese learners often get the ‘X’ sound in Pinyin wrong, and it can be difficult to master.
The tip of your tongue should be at the front of your mouth in the middle, in the middle of your teeth. The top of your tongue should be curled over and part of it will probably be touching the top of your mouth. Keep practising it until you get it more accurate – it’s definitely not ‘sheeah sheeah’ or ‘she she’, the x sound is much softer than a ‘sh’ sound in English.
非常感谢 fēicháng gǎnxiè means ‘thank you very much’ – it’s much more formal, and a bit over the top for everyday casual use.
And there’s also 多谢 duōxiè, which means ‘thanks a lot’. The 多 means ‘a lot’ and 谢 means ‘to thank’.
If you’re in China or another Chinese speaking region, it’s a good idea to pay attention to when people say thank you. You may find that it is not said in some situations where you might have expected it, for example in the UK you would often thank the bus driver when you get off the bus, but in China this is not common.
How to say please in Chinese
The character that is often taught and listed in dictionaries for please is 请 qǐng.
It literally means ‘request’ or ‘invite’, but is commonly used at the beginning of phrases to mean ‘please.’
请开门 qǐng kāi mén – please open the door
这边请 zhèbiān qǐng – this way, please
请 is also used on its own. For example, if you have opened the door and you want to invite somebody to go first, you could say 请 qǐng – you go first.
Another way to say please is 麻烦你 máfan nǐ – literally ‘trouble you’.
máfan nǐ bāng wǒ kāi yīxià mén
Could you help me to open the door?
In all these examples you will see that the ‘please’ has come at the beginning of the phrase in Chinese. You wouldn’t say ‘could you please..’ or ‘Could I please..’, and there is no exact translated equivalent for ‘yes, please’ in Chinese.
How to say sorry in Chinese
There are a few different phrases that are used for ‘sorry’ in Chinese.
对不起 duìbuqǐ is a colloquial way to say sorry if you have made a mistake. It’s also the word that is most commonly used by children.
A common response to this would be 没关系 méi guānxi – it doesn’t matter (literally ‘no connection’).
A more formal way of saying sorry is 抱歉 bàoqiàn.
不好意思 bùhǎoyìsi can also be used to mean sorry for a mistake you may feel embarrassed about, or which has put the other person to trouble. It can also be used at the beginning of a phrase to mean ‘excuse me’, and it’s especially common in Taiwan.
How to say excuse me
How you say excuse me in Chinese depends on the situation. I just mentioned 不好意思 bùhǎoyìsi, but there are others as well.
If you are starting off a conversation with a stranger or asking a passer by or a member of staff for something, it’s useful to start with an excuse me phrase, because the person may not be listening to you at the beginning and it may take them a second or two to focus in on what you are saying, especially if you are distracting their attention by being a foreigner speaking Chinese! 🙂
If you are walking up to somebody and interrupting them, you can say 打扰一下 dǎrǎo yīxià, which literally means ‘interrupt for a moment’.
If you have to push past somebody, for example on the subway or on the bus, you can say 借过一下 jièguò yīxià – literally ‘borrow pass for a moment’.
If you want to ask a question, you can start off by saying
我想问一下 wǒ xiǎng wèn yīxià - literally ‘I want to ask for a moment’, and then follow it with a question.
You can also use 请问 qǐngwèn, which is taught in a lot of textbooks and means ‘may I ask’ or ‘request to ask’.
qǐngwèn tiānānmén guǎngchǎng zài nǎli?
Excuse me, where is Tiananmen Square?
It may seem very complicated to learn several options for phrases like ‘sorry’ or ‘excuse me’, but if you really want to make sure you are using the right turn of phrase at the right time and be culturally savvy as well as ‘knowing the words’, then it’s really important to know what to say in what situation. This cultural awareness is part of learning any language, and it’s especially important with Chinese!
As always, if you have any questions, please, leave me a comment below.