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How to Shop for Clothes in Mandarin (Part One) Posted by on Mar 6, 2014 in bargaining, Culture, grammar, Leisure, Shopping, Uncategorized, Vocabulary

In our last post, we taught you 20 useful Mandarin Chinese words for clothing. These words will help you get started in your quest to do your clothes shopping yourself in China, but you’ve still got a long way to go. While the vocabulary is useful, you need to be able to ask and answer questions as well, which involves learning a bit of Chinese grammar.

When you enter a shop, you’ll usually be greeted with this phrase:

Welcome! (欢迎光临 – huān yíng guāng lín)

After the pleasantries, you can expect to be asked a question. Here are a few examples:

What do you want? (你要什么?- nǐ yào shén me)

What are you looking for? (你在找什么? – nǐ zài zhǎo shén me)

For some, the idea that a shopkeeper might outright ask you “What do you want?” may seem a bit rude, but this is just the way things are done in China. It’s not rude at all – it’s just a direct language!

Perhaps you want an awesome Chinglish t-shirt?

Perhaps you want an awesome Chinglish t-shirt?

Sometimes you know exactly what you’re looking for, while other times you may have no idea. Here are some useful phrases for those situations:

I’m just looking. (我随便看看 – wǒ suí biàn kàn kàn)

I just want to have a look. (我只要看一下 – wǒ zhǐ yào kàn yī xià)

I’m looking for… (我在找… – wǒ zài zhǎo…)

I’m looking for a pair of pants. (我在找一条裤子 – wǒ zài zhǎo yī tiáo kù zi)

Remember your measure words when shopping for clothes! If you need to brush up on those, we recently posted 10 Must Know Chinese Measure Words, so go back and check it out. As a little helper, here are a few of those measure words that you’ll probably use:

个 – gè (generic catch-all measure word)
件 – jiàn (for articles of clothing, i.e. shirt, coat, etc.)
双 – shuāng (for pairs, i.e. shoes, boots, socks)
条 – tiáo (for long things, like pants or jeans)

Inside one of many clothing markets in China.

Inside one of many clothing markets in China.

Of course, you’ll also need to know your colors. Watch this video and practice a bit:

Now let’s try to put all of this together and make a few sentences:

I want a green shirt.

(我要一件绿色的衬衫 – wǒ yào yī jiàn lǜ sè de chèn shān)

I’d like to buy a pair of black pants.

(我想买一条黑色的裤子 – wǒ xiǎng mǎi yī tiáo hēi sè de kù zi)

I’m looking for a red pair of shoes.

(我在找一双红色的鞋 – wǒ zài zhǎo yī shuāng hóng sè de xié)

Notice that the formula you use for making sentences is (measure word + color + item of clothing). Keep this in mind and shopping will be much easier!

In addition to color, the size is important. When you’re in a shop looking for something, the person working there will most likely ask you:

What size do you wear? (你穿多大号?- nǐ chuān duō dà hào)

When talking about some items of clothing, such as t-shirts, we just use S, M, L, etc. It’s the same in Chinese. You just need to add one character:

small (小号 – xiǎo hào)

medium (中号 – zhōng hào)

large (大号 – dà hào)

extra large (特大号 – tè dà hào)

For other items, such as pants or shoes, you need to use specific numbers. First of all, you’ll need to learn how shoe size is measured in China. This website is helpful for shoe size conversions. Just state the number of your size plus the character 号 when shopping. Say I like a pair of shoes in a shop but they are a bit too small. Here’s what I might say:

I like this pair of shoes, but they’re a little small. Do you have a size 38?

我喜欢这双鞋,但是有点小。有没有三十八号?

wǒ xǐ huan zhè shuāng xié, dàn shì yǒu diǎn xiǎo. yǒu méi yǒu sān shí bā hào?

That’s a lot to take in for one post, so we’ll leave it there for today. Next time, we’ll talk about trying things on, bargaining, and paying. In the meantime, get some more practice on YouTube!

These videos are a bit old, but if you can ignore the few minutes in part two where 大山 talks about the 2008 Olympic venues, you’ll find tons of useful stuff for shopping and bargaining in Chinese.

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


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