Greetings are an important part of any culture and you need to be well aware of the right ways to greet someone. In the Chinese culture, they have their own greetings and how to say “hello in Chinese” to different people. It can either be a family member, friend, an acquaintance or a stranger. There is always a nice way to address people and pass on Chinese greetings as it is the norm. Addressing people in different cultures is often associated with respect which needs to be upheld at all times. While in some cultures, such as Korea, titles are prominent to greetings. The Chinese culture concentrate more on the age, status and job of the person.
Evolution of greetings in the Chinese culture
Back in the days, the citizens would call each other 同志 (tóngzhì) almost ubiquitously. However, the use of 同志 has been fading away ever since the the 80’s. But, it is still used in certain occasions, for example, when addressing management and staff in enterprises owned by the state.
Terms that were used before 1949 have slowly been creeping back into Chinese culture, such as terms used in addressing people with respect. Some of these titles include:
- 先生 (xiān sheng, Mr.)
- 女士 (nǚ shì, Ms.)
- 太太 (tài tai, Mrs.)
- 小姐 (xiǎojiě, Miss
As much as they are used in the current time for greetings and addressing people in China, greeting words have evolved over time.
The right way ask someone’s name
There are common words used to ask someone their name in a polite manner. It can either be formal or informal. When asking someone their name, it can also be with respect to the family name. This should be given importance because, if you ask in the wrong way, it can be perceived as rude and offensive.
How to ask someone their name
- 姓名 (xìng míng) – Full name
- 姓 (xìng) – Family name
- 名字 (míng zi) – Name
- 你叫什么名字 ？ (nǐ jiào shén me míng zi) – What are you called?
- 我叫 。。。(wǒ jiào…) - I’m called…
How to ask someone’s family name in Chinese in a polite manner
- 您贵姓 ？ (nín guì xìng) – What is your family name?
- 怎么称呼您 ？ (zěnme chēnghu nín) – What should I call you?
Addressing males in Chinese
先生 (xiān shēng) – Mr., is the proper way to address a male in Chinese. A married woman can use the same wording to mean husband. But, it is dependent on the perspective in which it is used. 先生 (xiān shēng) is also used when referring to proficient scholars – women or men – as a way of showing respect.
Addressing females in Chinese
女士 (nǚ shì) – Ms., is the right way to refer to a female. As for a married woman, 太太 (tài tai) – Mrs., is the best word to use when addressing her. 太太 (tài tai) is also used to mean wife when the husband says it. In addition to addressing females in Chinese, you can use 小姐 (xiǎo jiě), which means miss. This is widely used when addressing females including flight attendants or waitresses, depending on the environment.
Family names in Chinese
For family names, different names are applied when referring to different sides of the family. There is the right way to say ‘hello’ in Chinese to immediate family, the father’s family as well as the mother’s family. Some of the Chinese family titles that are used include...
Chinese family titles for immediate family
- 父亲 (fù qīn) – Father
- 爸爸 (bà ba) – Dad
- 哥哥 (gē ge) – Older brother
- 弟弟 (dì di) – Younger brother
- 母亲 (mǔ qīn) – Mother
- 妈妈 (mā ma) – Mum
- 姐姐 (jiě jie) – Older Sister
- 妹妹 (mèi mei) –Younger sister
- 老婆 (lǎo pó) – Wife
- 老公 (lǎo gōng) – Husband
- 未婚夫 (wèi hūn fū) – Fiancé (man who will be married)
- 未婚妻 (wèi hūn qī) – Fiancée (woman who will be married)
- 婆婆 (pó po) Mother-in-law – (husband’s mother)
- 公公 (gōng gong) Father-in-law – (husband’s mother)
- 岳母 (yuè mǔ) Mother-in-law – (wife’s mother)
- 岳父 (yuè fù) Father-in-law – (wife’s father)
- 儿子 (ér zi) – Son
- 女儿 (nǚ ér) – Daughter
- 侄女 (zhí nǚ) Niece – (brother’s daughter)
- 甥女 (shēng nǚ) Niece – (sister’s daughter)
- 侄子 (zhí zi) Nephew – (brother’s son)
- 外甥 (wài shēng) Nephew – (sister’s son)
- 孙子 (sūn zi) Grandson – (son’s son)
- 外孙 (wài sūn) Grandson – (daughter’s son)
- 曾孙 (zēng sūn) – Great-grandson
- 孙女 (sūn nǚ) Granddaughter – (son’s daughter)
- 外孙女 (wài sūn nǚ) Granddaughter – (daughter’s daughter)
- 曾孙女 (zēng sūn nǚ) –Great-granddaughter
Chinese family titles for paternal family
- 爷爷 (yé ye) – Paternal Grandfather
- 奶奶 (nǎi nai) – Paternal Grandmother
- 伯伯 (bó bo) – Uncle (older brother of father)
- 伯母 (bó mǔ) – Aunt (older brother of father’s wife)
- 叔叔 (shū shu) – Uncle (younger brother of father)
- 婶婶 (shěn shen) – Aunt (younger brother of father’s wife)
- 姑姑 (gū gu) – Aunt (father’s side)
- 姑父 (gū fu) – Uncle (father’s sister’s husband)
- 堂哥 (táng gē) – Older Male Cousin (father’s side)
- 堂弟 (táng dì) – Younger Male Cousin (father’s side)
- 堂姐 (táng jiě) – Older Female Cousin (father’s side)
- 堂妹 (táng mèi) – Younger Female Cousin (father’s side)
Chinese family titles for maternal family
- 外公 (wài gōng) – Maternal Grandfather
- 外婆 (wài pó) – Maternal Grandmother
- 舅舅 (jiù jiu) – Uncle (mother’s side)
- 舅妈 (jiù mā) – Aunt (mother’s brother’s wife)
- 姨妈 (yí mā) – Aunt (mother’s side)
- 姨父 (yí fu) – Uncle (mother’s sister’s husband)
- 表哥 (biǎo gē) – Older Male Cousin (mother’s side)
- 表弟 (biǎo dì) – Younger Male Cousin (mother’s side)
- 表姐 (biǎo jiě) – Older Female Cousin (mother’s side)
- 表妹 (biǎo mèi) – Younger Female Cousin (mother’s side)
Addressing people in a work setting
While you’re at work, it is right that you address people by their correct title. Titles are basically meant to refer to gender, marital status, education, and profession of a person. The commonly used titles include…
Introducing your ‘other half’
- 先生 (xiān sheng) – Mr.
- 太太 (tài tai) – Mrs.
- 小姐 (xiǎo jie) – Miss
- 男朋友 (nán péng you) – Boyfriend
- 女朋友 (nǚ péng you) – Girlfriend
- 医生 (yī shēng) – Doctor
- 大夫 (dài fu) – Doctor
- 护士 (hù shi) – Nurse
- 师傅 (shī fu) – Master (skilled worker)
- 师傅 (shī fu) – Can also be used for taxi driver
- 老师 (lǎo shī) – Teacher
- 教授 (jiào shòu) – Professor
- 律师 (lǜ shī) – Lawyer
- 法官 (fǎ guān) – Judge
- 主席 (zhǔ xí) – Chairperson
- 校长 (xiào zhǎng) – Principal
- 警察 (jǐng chá) – Police officer
- 秘书 (mì shū) – Secretary
- 主任 (zhǔ rèn) – Director of a government department
- 司机 (sī jī) – Driver
- 总统 (zǒng tǒng) – President
- 经理 (jīng lǐ) – Manager
- 总经理 (zǒng jīng lǐ) – General Manager (shortened to 总 (zǒng))
- 博士 (bó shì) – Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)
How to address friends and acquaintances
When it comes to close friends and acquaintances, there is also a right way of saying hello. For close friends, you can address each other by asking:
- 最近怎么样 ? (…zuì jìn zěnme yàng) – How’re you doing?
In a family, there are terms which sometimes are replaced with kinship terms, but, can also be used by people who are not related. They include:
- 大哥 (dà gē) – Older brother (close to your age, but older)
- 大姐 (dà jiě) – Older sister (close to your age, but older)
- 叔叔 (shū shu) – Uncle (title for a man of around your father’s age)
- 阿姨 (ā yí) – Aunt (title for a woman who is around you mother’s age)
- 爷爷 (yé ye) – Grandfather (title for a man who is around your grandfather’s age)
- 奶奶 (nǎi nai) – Grandmother (title for a woman who is around your grandmother’s age)
How to address strangers
When addressing strangers, even if you do not know them, you can politely say hello to them in Chinese.
- 先生 (xiān sheng) – Mr.
- 太太 (tài tai) – Mrs.
- 小姐 (xiǎo jie) – Miss
- 阿姨 (ā yí) – Aunt
- 大爷 (dà ye) – Uncle
- 师傅 (shī fu) – Master
If you want to practice Chinese greetings, you can try to greet a Chinese instructor on italki. You can have interactive sessions with native Chinese teachers and inquire from them all the questions you have. Ask them about Chinese greetings for different people including strangers, Chinese family titles, as well as both informal and respectful ways.
Hero image by Jeremy Wong on Unsplash