When I first got to China, I didn’t know how to greet people. I wanted to just say “good morning” in Chinese to my co-workers at Groupon (then called Gaopeng), and didn’t know how!
Saying “Good evening” in Chinese was a more rare necessity, but an important one when I was meeting clients.
Note: this article is about how to say “good morning” and “good evening” in Chinese (by which I mean Mandarin, as it’s spoken in Mainland China and Taiwan). The umbrella term Chinese includes many other languages, including Cantonese as the major other spoken dialect. For a discussion of the meaning of the word “Chinese” see Being and Speaking Chinese.
The Swiss-Army Knife of Ni Hao (你好, nǐ hǎo)
The first word anyone learns in Chinese is nǐ hǎo, which means “hello”.
The greatest thing about the phrase nǐ hǎo is just how versatile it is. You can use nǐ hǎo in just about any greeting situation!
You can use it to say
- How are you? (which people don’t really ask)
- How’s it going (ditto)
It’s formal, informal, casual… everything. You can use it at work, with dignitaries, and with friends. It works everywhere.
Good Morning in Chinese: Two ways
The formal way to say “good morning” in Chinese is 早上好, zǎoshang hǎo.
But in practice, people often simplify this to just one character: 早, zǎo. This just means “morning”.
When starting a day at a school or workplace it’s more rare to hear someone saying zǎoshang hǎo unless they’re speaking quite formally. You might greet the school headmistress that way. Or she might greet you that way.
There’s nothing wrong with saying it the formal way. It just skews formal; it’s not actually formal.
Usually, with people with whom they are more familiar, people just walk around nodding to people and saying zǎo, zǎo, zǎo, to everyone they pass.
Good Evening in Chinese (but does anybody say it?)
In theory, “good evening” in Chinese is 晚上好, wǎnshàng hǎo.
But in practice, the expression “good evening” is used very rarely in Chinese. People just don’t often say “good evening” in Chinese unless they’re starting a formal presentation.
That’s why the example in Speechling ends with “sir”. That’s the kind of situations in which you say “good evening”!
In most social situations greeting people in Chinese in the evening you normally just say nǐ hǎo. It’s really useful!
Want to learn more useful phrases? Try Speechling!
Speechling is our favourite new language-learning app. It’s a really awesome way of learning sentences instead of words in isolation.
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