How to Say "Hello" in Chinese
The first step to starting a conversation in Mandarin Chinese is to say "hello!" Learn how to greet people in Mandarin Chinese with the help of audio files to ensure your pronunciation is correct. Audio links are marked with ►.
The Chinese phrase for "hello" is made of two characters: 你好 ►nǐ hǎo. The first character 你 (nǐ) means "you." The second character 好 (hǎo) means "good". Thus, the literal translation of 你好 (nǐ hǎo) is "you good".
Note that Mandarin Chinese uses four tones. The tones used in 你好 are two third tones. When 2 first tone characters are placed next to each other, the tones slightly change. The first character is pronounced as a rising tone second tone, while the second character shifts into a low, dipping tone.
Take another listen, and read more about tone changes.
INFORMAL VS FORMAL USE
你 (ǐ) is the informal form of "you" and is used for greeting friends and associates. The formal "you" is 您 (nín). Thus, the formal form of "hello" is ►nín hǎo - 您好.
您好(nín hǎo) is used when speaking to superiors, people in authority, and elders.
The more casual 你好 (nǐ hǎo) should be used when speaking to friends, colleagues, and children.
CHINA & TAIWAN
The use of 您好 (nín hǎo) is more common in Mainland China than in Taiwan. The informal 你好 (nǐ hǎo) is the most common greeting in Taiwan, no matter what the rank of the person you are addressing.
You may also be wondering why there are two Chinese written versions of this phrase: 你好嗎 and 你好吗. The first version is in traditional characters which are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and many overseas Chinese communities. The second version is simplified characters, the official writing system in Mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia.
"HOW ARE YOU?"
You can extend 你好 (nǐ hǎo) by adding the question particle 嗎 / 吗 ►ma. The question particle 嗎 (traditional form) / 吗 (simplified form) can be added to the end of sentences and phrases to change them from statements into questions.
The literal translation of 你好嗎? / 你好吗 (nǐ hǎo ma)? is "you good?", which means "how are you?" This greeting should only be said to close friends or family members. It is not a common greeting for associates or strangers.
The answer to 你好嗎 / 你好吗 (nǐ hǎo ma)? can be:
hěn hǎo - 很好 - very good
bù hǎo - 不好 - not good
hái hǎo - 還好 / 还好 - so so