Exclamations in Chinese Posted by sasha on May 23, 2018 in Culture, Vocabulary
Once you’ve gotten to an intermediate level of Chinese, you’ll want to start improving your fluency. After getting down the basics – the tones, the pinyin system, introductions – you can start learning how to speak Chinese more naturally. Picking up some different exclamations in Chinese is a good idea, as it allows you to react and keep the conversation going. In this post we’ll take a look at a few common Chinese exclamations and how you can use them.
zhēn de ma
This is a great exclamation to use when you’re surprised by something you hear. I found myself using it all the time when I lived in China as it’s a good way to show that you’re interested in hearing more.
Oh my god!
You can use this one when you’re really shocked by something. It’s a pretty strong exclamation, but it’s not considered offensive at all like how some in the West feel about using “Oh my god!”
Sometimes you use this phrase to mean “too…” as in “too hot” or “too expensive.” However, it can also mean “how…!” as an exclamation. For example, “How great!” (太好了 – tài hǎo le) “How awesome!” (太棒了 – tài bàng le).
dāng rán le
You can use this Chinese exclamation when you want to emphatically agree with someone.
hěn lì hài
This is one of those Chinese exclamations that’s not easily to directly translate. That’s because 厉害 on its own actually means “powerful.” However, it’s often used to indicate someone or something’s awesomeness. For example, when I told a group of my students that I camped on the Great Wall, they responded with “很厉害!”
hái bù cuò
Chinese people aren’t known to be very forthcoming with their praise. As such, this is actually a great compliment. I always enjoyed when someone told me “Your Chinese isn’t bad!” (你的中文还不错！- nǐ de zhōng wén hái bù cuò).
zhēn tǎo yàn
This is what people probably said when they saw me eating a silkworm larvae on a stick at the Wangfujing Night Market. In case you were wondering, it was pretty disgusting. The scorpions on the other hand weren’t half bad.
This is a good one to use when you do something like spill your coffee or stub your toe. This is one of the most common exclamations you’ll hear in China. I probably heard it several times a day for all my years living there.
This one is easy to remember as it sounds pretty close to its English equivalent. You can toss out a 哇! when you’re amazed or impressed by something.
This is probably my favorite Chinese exclamation of them all. Yes, it literally translates to “Very cow.” Actually, the full phrase is one of the worst Chinese swear words out there. For some reason, saying “cow’s vagina” (牛屄 – niú bī) means “f***ing awesome!” Since it’s such a dirty word, many just say 很牛! instead. Some simply say “NB” in English to get the point across.
While this is definitely considered a super dirty word, that doesn’t stop fans of the Beijing Guoan football team from chanting it and even making t-shirts with it above the Nike logo. That’s a double whammy – copyright infringement and incredibly offensive! Of course I had to buy one at a game and wear it out a few times just to see what kind of reactions I would get. Younger people tended to laugh and high-five me, while older folks simply shook their head in disgust…
Well there you go, folks – ten common Chinese exclamations you can start incorporating into your conversations with people. Just be careful with that last one and stick to the PG version if you want to get some laughs but don’t want to offend people.