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Saying Goodbye in Chinese Posted by on Jan 21, 2019 in festivals, Vocabulary

Chinese New Year (春节, chūn jié, literally means “spring festival”) will be celebrated this February 5th.

Image via Pixabay

春节 has many interesting traditions. One of them is the friendly custom of 拜年 (bài nián) – wishing family and friends happy new year. Nowadays, you can easily and quickly congratulate your relatives and acquaintances by mail, phone, or internet. But originally this custom meant to make a visit and bless your loved ones personally (亲自 qīn zì). In this post we’ll concentrate on a specific part of 拜年: when you should take your leave.

In a different post we’ve learned how to say goodbye. Today we’ll learn what to say before the goodbyes. When you are a guest and need to take your leave (告辞 gào cí).


If you look at the watch and realize what time it is you can say: 时间不早了 (shí jiān bù zǎo le), means “it’s getting late”. Another way to mention it’s getting late is by saying: 都这时候了 (dōu zhè shí hòu le). Chinese beginner learners are usually introduced to the character 都 (dōu) as means “all”. But 都 also means “already”, 已经 (yǐ jīng). To exhort someone to eat, for example, you can say:


Fàn dōu liáng le, kuài chī ba.

The food is already cold, come on eat.

Or, for example, when it’s already winter and you are surprised to see someone still wearing short pants:


Dōu dào dōng tiān le, nǐ zěn me hái chuān duǎn kù chū lái ne?

都 can be used to mention a specific time.  都八点了 (dōu bā diǎn le, means “it’s already eight o’clock”), you can tell your host. If your host wish you to stay, he will probably answer with: 还早呢 (hái zǎo ne, “it’ is still early”).


Another way to take your leave is to admit you have something else to do:


Wǒ yǒu diǎn shì qíng yào qù bàn.

The English equivalent of this sentence could be “I have some errands to do”. The verb 办 (bàn, “to handle, to run”) can be omitted, and you can shortly say: 我还有事 (wǒ hái yǒu shì, “I have errands/a thing”). It can be another 拜年 (New Year visit), or anything else. As long as you are not being asked, there’s no need to elaborate. If you had a pleasant time together your host will probably wish you will come again soon: 以后常来玩儿 (yǐ hòu cháng lái wán er, “come visit often in the future”), or 有空再来吧 (yǒu kòng zài lái ba , “come again when you have time”).


The direct way to take your leave is to simply say: 我回去了 (wǒ huí qù le, “I’ll return now”), or 我走吧 (wǒ zǒu ba, “I’ll leave now”). You can also say: 我该走了 (wǒ gāi zǒu le), means “I should go”. 该 (gāi) means “should” as in 应该 (yīng gāi), or “ought to”, and it refers to anything that need or should be done. A job that must be finished today:


Gōng zuò jīn tiān gāi wán chéng le.

The work should be finished today.

Home work that need to be hand over:


Lǎo shī qīng chǔ dì zhǐ chū, xué shēng men dōu gāi àn shí jiāo zuò yè.

The teacher makes it clear that everyone should hand in their homework on time.

Or a special request from your girlfriend:


Wǒ de nǚ péng yǒu shuō hú zi gāi guā ba.

My girlfriend said I should shave my mustache.

Even if you need to leave – and use 该 to indicate it – there’s still a chance your host will try to convince you to tarry with him for a while: 再坐会儿吧 (zài zuò huì er ba, “stay a little longer”).


Until next time 再见! (zàijiàn, “goodbye”)


Text vocabulary

春节 chūn jié = spring festival, Chinese New Year

拜年 bài nián = make a New Year visit, wish happy new year

亲自 qīn zì = personally

告辞 gào cí = take your leave

时间shí jiān = time

都 dōu = all, already

办 bàn = to handle, to run

事情 shì qíng = matter

该 gāi = should, ought to

走 zǒu = to walk, to leave

再 zài = again, more

吧 ba = a particle used at the end of the sentence to indicate suggestion

呢 ne = a particle used at the end of an interrogative sentence




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