Learn Basic Chinese Words

Are you thinking of visiting China or finding ways to connect with your Mandarin-speaking friend? Whatever your reasons are for learning basic Chinese expressions, CLI has your back. To help you get started, we have compiled a list of commonly searched basic words in Chinese!

1. How do you say ‘Hello’ in Chinese?

This is probably the most used Chinese phrase. In Chinese, 你 (nǐ) means ‘you’, and 好 (hǎo) means ‘good’. A slight variation of this greeting is 你好吗?, which translates to mean “How are you?”

2. How do you say ‘Thank you’ in Chinese?

Giving thanks in Chinese is easy, just say 谢谢 (xièxie). If you are saying thanks to your teacher, boss or an older person, you can say 谢谢您 (xièxie nín) to show respect towards them. 您 (nín) is the respectful form of 你 (nǐ) which means ‘you’.

3. How do you say ‘I love you’ in Chinese?

爱 (ài) is the word for love in Chinese. Just like in English, it can be used in various situations, from expressing love to your partner, family members, or just to express that you really like something. For example, I love ice cream = 我爱冰淇淋 (wǒ ài bīngqílín).

4. How do you say ‘Yes’ in Chinese?

If someone asks you something and the answer is “yes” you can say 是 (shì). However, bear in mind that you can only use 是 (shì) if the question is phrased “Are you …?”. Whereas, if the question is “Do you …”, you cannot answer affirmatively with 是 (shì), instead you need to use the verb itself.

For example,



  • Are you an American? 你是美国人吗?(nǐ shì měiguó rén ma?)

  • Yes. 是。(shì.)

    In this case, you can say 是 (shì).

  • Question:

  • Do you like ice cream? 你喜欢冰淇淋吗?(nǐ xǐhuān bīngqílín ma?)

  • Yes. 喜欢。(xǐhuān.)

    In this case you cannot say 是 (shì), instead you have to say the verb affirmatively. ie: Like. 喜欢。 (xǐhuān)

5. How do you say ‘No’ in Chinese?

If someone asks you something and the answer is “no” you can say 不是 (bú shì). However, bear in mind that you can only use this if the question is phrased “Are you …?”. Whereas, if the question is “Do you …”, you cannot answer with 不是 (bú shì). Instead, you need to use 不 followed by the verb itself.

For example,



  • Are you an American? 你是美国人吗?(nǐ shì měiguó rén ma?)

  • No. 不是。(bú shì.)


  • Do you like ice cream? 你喜欢冰淇淋吗? (nǐ xǐhuan bīngqílín ma?)

  • No. 不喜欢。(bù xǐhuān.)

    In this case you have to say the 不bù, followed by the verb. ie: Don’t like. 不喜欢冰淇淋。(bùxǐhuan bīngqílín.)

6. How do you say ‘Sorry’ in Chinese?

For a lower degree of error, you can also say不好意思 (bù hǎoyìsi), which means “excuse me”. For example, if you come into a room and realize that you are interrupting someone, you can say 不好意思 (bù hǎoyìsi).

7. How do you say ‘Good’ in Chinese?

好 (hǎo) is a very versatile character. Besides its literal meaning, ‘good’, it can also be an affirmative word the equivalent of ‘okay’ in English.

Moreover, this word can also be combined with other words (verbs) to give them a positive meaning.

For example,


  • 好吃(hǎo chī)= delicious    (吃 / chī = to eat)

  • 好看(hǎokàn)= beautiful    (看 / kàn = to look)

8. How do you say ‘Aunt’ in Chinese?

Compared with other languages, Mandarin has complex terminology for family members. There’s not just one translation for the word aunt. For example, your mother’s sister is 姨妈 (yímā), your father’s sister is 姑妈 (gūmā), your mother’s brother’s wife is 舅妈 – jiùmā, and so on. To make matters more complicated, there are variations of these terminologies in different regions in China. But don’t worry! As a foreigner you don’t need to know everything. You can just use阿姨 (āyí) for most situation. 阿姨 (āyí) is a general term that you can use for any older Chinese lady, whether in the family, a neighbor, an acquaintance, or a shopkeeper.

9. How do you say ‘Grandma’ in Chinese?

Similar to what has just been said about the translation for aunt, there are also many ways you can say for grandma. Your father’s mother is 奶奶 (nǎinai), or 祖母 (zǔmǔ), which is more formal. On the other hand, your mother’s mother is 外婆 (wàipó) if you are in south China and 姥姥 (lǎolao) if you are in north China. However, if you meet an elderly lady who you’re not related to, you can just call them 奶奶 (nǎinai).

10. How do you say ‘welcome’ in Chinese?

This would probably be one of the first Chinese characters you will come across when you arrive in China’s airport. “Welcome to China” is translated as 欢迎你来中国 (huānyíng nǐ lái zhōngguó).

11. How do you say ‘cat’ in Chinese?

The Chinese word for ‘cat’ is 猫 (māo). You should find this one easy to remember as the sound of the word resembles the sound of a cat. In China people often also use the word 小猫 (xiǎo māo), literally “little cat” to refer to cats, just like “kitten” in English.

12. How do you say ‘water’ in Chinese?

水 (shuǐ) means water. If you want to ask for drinking water, you can say 白开水 (Báikāishuǐ) for boiled water, or 矿泉水 (Kuàngquán shuǐ) for mineral water.

13. How do you say ‘what’ in Chinese?

什么 (shénme) is commonly used to ask what questions. It is placed after the verb. For example, What are you looking at? = 你在看什么 (nǐ zài kàn shénme)? When combined with other words, it can make other question words.

For example,


  • 为什么 (wèishéme) = Why
  • 什么时候 (shénme shíhòu) = When

    You can also use 什么 to express surprise just like how you would use “what” in English.

  • 什么 (shénme) = What!

14. How do you say ‘Family’ in Chinese?

家庭 (jiātíng) means family, but sometimes people also use 家 (jiā) to refer to family. 家 (jiā) by itself can also take on the meaning of home or house.

Here are some common combinations for 家 (jiā):


  • 回家 (huí jiā) = 回 huí (return) + 家 jiā (home) = Go home

  • 家人 jiārén = 家 jiā (family) + 人 rén (people) = Family members

  • 大家 dàjiā = 大 dà (big) + 家 jiā (family) = Everyone

15. How do you say ‘Friend’ in Chinese?

朋 (péng) means “friend” or to have a good relation with someone. 友 (yǒu) also means “friend” or “partner”. 好友 (hǎoyǒu) means “good friend”.

16. How do you say ‘Happy’ in Chinese?

There are three ways of saying happy in Chinese: 开心 (kāixīn),快乐 (kuàilè),高兴 (gāoxìng).


  • 开心 (kāixīn) = 开 kāi (open) + 心 xīn (heart)

  • 快乐 (kuàilè) = 快 kuài (fast) + 乐 lè (pleasure)

  • 高兴 (gāoxìng) = 高 gāo (high) + 兴 xìng (mood)

While they are similar and can be interchangeable, there are differences between them which means that some situation and more suited to one than the other. Both 开心 (kāixīn) and 高兴 (gāoxìng) can mean temporary feeling of happiness, while 快乐 (kuàilè) is a long term state of happiness. 快乐 (kuàilè) is also often used for greetings such as “新年快乐 xīn nián kuàilè!”, which means Happy New Year.

17. How do you say ‘Moon’ in Chinese?

Moon in Chinese is made up of two characters, 月 (yuè), which means month, and 亮 (liàng), which means light or bright.

  • 月亮 (yuèliàng) = moon

18. How do you say ‘Here,’ ‘There,’ and ‘Where,’ in Chinese?

‘Here’ is 这儿 (zhè’er). ‘There’ is 那儿 (nà’er). Where is 哪儿 (nǎ’er). You need to be careful with 那儿 (nà’er) and 哪儿 (nǎ’er) because the only spoken differentiation between them is the tone. If you get the tone wrong, your listener will be confused.

For example,


  • 我的朋友在哪儿? Wǒ de péngyǒu zài nǎ’er? : Where is my friend?

  • 我的朋友在那儿。 Wǒ de péngyǒu zài nà’er. : My friend is there.

Note: You can also replace 儿 (er) with 里 (lǐ) or 边 (biān). You will find 儿 (er) more commonly used by northern Chinese, while 里 (lǐ) by southern Chinese.

No doubt, Mandarin is not something you can learn overnight or through a few blog posts. If you would like to study the language further, read up on our Chinese language immersion program in Guilin.

May this be the start of your happy learning journey!

Basic Chinese Vocabulary:

No. English pīnyīn Chinese
1 Hello nǐ hǎo 你好
2 Thank you xièxiè 谢谢
3 I love you wǒ ài nǐ 我爱你
4 Yes shì
5 No
6 Sorry duìbùqǐ 对不起
7 Good hǎo
8 Aunt āyí 阿姨
9 Grandma nǎinai 奶奶
10 Welcome huānyíng 欢迎
11 Cat māo
12 Water shuǐ
13 What shénme 什么
14 Family jiā
15 Friend péngyǒu 朋友
16 Happy kāixīn, kuàilè, gāoxìng 开心, 快乐, 高兴
17 Moon yuèliàng 月亮
18 Here, There, Where zhè’er, nà’er, nǎ’er 这儿, 那儿, 哪儿

Additional Chinese Learning Resources:

How well do you know the Chinese radicals? Review the 40 most common Chinese radicals. Learn more about the Anatomy of Chinese Characters.

The 100 Most Common Chinese Characters

Have you ever wondered what the most common Chinese characters are? In a language of approximately 20,000 words, mastering the most crucial characters will benefit you on your path to language greatness. Whether you’re a newbie ready to begin reading and writing in Chinese, or a seasoned student brushing up on your basics, learners of all levels benefit from reviewing the most essential Chinese characters. CLI has put together the following list of 100 need-to-know words in Mandarin.


The following list of 100 most common Chinese characters is based on data from classical and modern Chinese writings collected by linguist Jun Da.

The 100 Most Common Chinese characters:

No. Character pīnyīn Eng­lish
1 de (possessive particle), of / really and truly / aim, clear
2 yī / yì /yí one / single / a(n)
3 shì is, are, am, yes to be
4 (negative prefix) no, not
5 le/liǎo (modal particle intensifying preceding clause), (past tense marker) / to know, to understand, to know
6 rén man, person, people
7 I, me, myself
8 zài (located) at, in, exist
9 yǒu to have, there is, there are, to exist, to be
10 he, him
11 zhè this/ these
12 wéi / wèi act as, take…to be, to be, to do, to serve as, to become / because of, for, to
13 zhī him, her, it
14 big, huge, large, major, great, wide, deep, oldest, eldest / doctor
15 lái to come
16 to use, take, according to, because of, in order to
17 (a measure word), individual
18 zhōng within, among, in, middle, center, while (doing something), during
19 shàng above, on, over, top, (go) up, last, previous
20 men (plural marker for pronouns and a few animate nouns)

No. Character pīnyīn Eng­lish
21 dào to (a place), until (a time), up to, to go, to arrive
22 shuō to speak, to say
23 guó country, state, nation
24 hé / huò and, together, with, peace / harmony
25 de / dì -ly / earth, ground, field, place, land
26 too, also, as well
27 child, son
28 shí time, when, hour, period, season
29 dào direction, way, method, road, path, principle, truth, reason, skill, method, Tao (of Taoism), a measure word, to say, to speak, to talk
30 chū to go out, to come out, to occur, to produce, to go beyond, to rise, to put forth, to occur, to happen
31 ér and, as well as, but (not), yet (not), (shows causal relation), (shows change of state), (shows contrast)
32 yào / yāo vital, to want, to be going to, must / demand, ask, request
33 at, in, in regard to
34 jiù at once, then, right away, only, just
35 xià below, under, (go) down, next (as opposed to previous/last)
36 dé / de / děi obtain, get, gain, to have to, must, ought to, to need to
37 can, may, able to, certain(ly), (particle used for emphasis)
38 you
39 nián year
40 shēng to be born, to give birth, life, to grow

No. Character pīnyīn Eng­lish
41 from, self, oneself, since
42 huì can, able, meet, meeting, society, union, party
43 that,those
44 hòu back, behind, rear, afterwards, after, later
45 néng can, may, capable, energy, able
46 duì couple, pair, to be opposite, to oppose, to face, for, to, correct (answer), to answer, to reply, to direct (towards something), right
47 zhe/zhuó/zhāo/zháo verb particle marking a continuing progress/state
48 shì matter, thing, item, work, affair
49 his, her, its, theirs, that, such, it (refers to something preceding it)
50 within, inside
51 suǒ actually,place
52 to go, to leave, to depart
53 háng / xíng a row, profession, professional / all right, capable, competent, okay, to go, to do, to travel, temporary, to walk, to go, will do / behavior, conduct
54 guò (past tense marker), to cross, to go over, to pass (time), to live, to get along, (surname)
55 jiā home, family, a person engaged in a certain art or profession
56 shí ten
57 yòng to use
58 fā/fà to send out, to show (one‘s feeling), to issue, to develop / hair
59 tiān day, sky, heaven
60 as (if), such as

No. Character pīnyīn Eng­lish
61 rán correct, right, so, thus, like this, -ly
62 zuò to regard as, to take (somebody) for, to do, to make
63 fāng square, quadrilateral, direction, just
64 chéng finish, complete, accomplish, become, turn into, win, succeed
65 zhě -ist, -er (person), person (who does something)
66 duō many, much, a lot of, numerous, multi-
67 day, sun, date, day of the month
68 dōu all, both (if two things are involved), entirely (due to)each, even, already
69 sān three
70 xiǎo small, tiny, few, young
71 jūn army, military, arms
72 èr two
73 -less, not to have, no, none, not, to lack, un-
74 tóng like, same, similar, together, alike, with
75 me (interrog. suff.)
76 jīng classics, sacred book, pass through, to undergo, scripture
77 law, method, way, Buddhist teaching
78 dāng / dàng to be, to act as, manage, withstand, when, during, ought, should, match equally, equal, same, obstruct, just at (a time or place), on the spot, right, just at / at or in the very same…, to pawn, suitable, adequate, fitting, proper, replace, represent
79 qǐ:to rise, to raise, to get up
80 yú / yǔ / yù (interrog. part.) / and, to give, together with / take part in

No. Character pīnyīn Eng­lish
81 hǎo / hào good, well / be fond of
82 kān / kàn to look after, to take care of, to watch, to guard / it depends, think, to see, to look at
83 xué learn, study, science, -ology
84 jìn advance, enter, to come in
85 zhǒng / zhòng kind, type, race (of people), seed, type / to grow, to plant
86 jiāng / jiàng (will, shall, future tense), ready, prepared, to get, to use / a general
87 hái / huán also, in addition, more, still, else, still, yet, (not) yet / (surname), pay back, return
88 fēn / fèn to divide, minute, (a measure word), (a unit of length = 0.33centimeter) / part
89 this, these
90 xīn heart, mind
91 qián before, in front, ago, former, previous, earlier, front
92 miàn face, side, surface, aspect, top, face, flour, noodles
93 yòu (once) again, also, both… and…, again
94 dìng to set, to fix, to determine, to decide, to order
95 jiàn / xiàn to see, to meet, to appear (to be something), to interview / appear
96 zhī/zhǐ only, just, but, measure word for one of a pair
97 zhǔ to own, to host, master, lord, primary
98 méi/mò (negative prefix for verbs), have not, not / sink, disappear
99 gōng just, honorable (designation), public, common
100 cóng from, since,obey, observe, follow

Additional Chinese Learning Resources:

How well do you know the Chinese radicals? Review the 40 most common Chinese radicals. Learn more about the Anatomy of Chinese Characters.

What is Skritter?

Skritter is a fresh, inventive way to master Chinese characters. If you’re not a current user, take the following steps to get hooked up immediately – trust us, your Chinese skills will thank you. Because each platform offers its own study mode, the first move is to decide if you want to use the tool online or via your mobile device. Skritter for iPhone and iPad strongly emphasizes character writing and stroke order, which is perfect for those looking to solidify their handwriting techniques. The app’s largest advantage is that it provides extremely thorough feedback to help you improve quickly, all the while giving you a feeling like you’re playing an iPhone game.

Want to study from a laptop or desktop computer? Head to www.skritter.com and sign up for a free week-long trial. Once you’re in, hit ‘Browse Lists’ to scroll through user contributed or textbook-based vocabulary decks, then add one to your queue. Select a chapter or set to review, look over the new words in a convenient list-form, and then hit ‘study now’ to begin your session. You’ll see a Chinese character accompanied by its pinyin, an example sentence, an audio option and even the choice to see a mnemonic hint pop up on the screen. Click the character once you’ve got it, and the definition will be revealed, followed by options for you to rate the word between 1 (forgot) to 4 (too easy). A few cards later, you’ll be asked to input the pinyin for the same character.

One of our favorite things about Skritter is the ‘info’ button next to each word which provides a decomposition of the character and a useful list of related words. We’re also huge fans of its user-oriented model, which maximizes your ability to access and retain new information. There are even more benefits, like its clean, appealing interface and a built-in feature which consults all online Mandarin dictionaries at your command. Skritter has truly changed the way that we study and write Chinese characters. Don’t take our word for it – go check out Skritter for yourself!

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