Chinese Greetings: The Complete Guide to Greeting Anyone at Any Time in Chinese
你好 is one of the first words we learn in a Chinese classroom. But of course, it is not the only way to greet people in Chinese.
Choosing an appropriate greeting is an important step towards proficiency and a good way to make a good impression.
In any language, there are various greetings you can use depending on the situation you’re in, the relationship you have with the person you want to greet, and the occasion.
If you are learning Chinese and are on a quest to sound like a native Chinese speaker, you better learn how to greet someone in Chinese!
你好 nǐ hǎo—you can’t go wrong with it (or can you?)
Let’s talk about nǐ hǎo: the most basic way of saying hello in Chinese. Especially if you are a beginner, there’s nothing wrong with using it, but it’s not used between friends, especially between young people. Nǐ hǎo sometimes can sound a little weird in everyday life—for example: using 你好 all the time, no matter what, indicates you are a beginner.
你好 is still acceptable to use, but it should not be the only greeting in your Chinese vocabulary.
There are other Chinese greetings that will help you sound more like a native speaker. These are worth learning and will definitely impress your Chinese friends, teachers, or colleagues.
您好 nín hǎo—the formal way
您好 is a more formal version of 你好, and it is used to greet your superiors at work or people older than you.
Even though 您好 still considered a basic Chinese greeting, it’s okay to use it in professional settings, when you are in formal situations, or when you want to show respect.
You can also replace 您 with other words. You may have already heard students say: 老师好! to their Chinese teacher.
大家好 dàjiā hǎo—when you have an audience
大家好 literally means “Hello everyone,” and you can use it when greeting a crowd.
This phrase comes in handy when giving a speech in front of an audience, in class, at work, etc.
嗨 hāi, 哈喽 hā lou, 嘿 hēi—fashionable and easy to remember
That’s because these Chinese words come directly from English:
- 嗨 hāi = hi
- 哈喽 hā lou = hello
- 嘿 hēi = hey
Words like these are very popular among young people in China, and you can use them to say hello to your Chinese friends, classmates, and coworkers.
It’s better not to use them in a formal setting or when trying to show respect.
Chinese greetings—according to the time of the day
早上好 zǎoshang hǎo and 早 zǎo
Both are greetings Chinese people use to say “Good morning” and are used early in the morning. If you want to say good morning, 早 zǎo is a more casual form of 早上好 zǎoshang hǎo, and it’s similar to saying “mornin’.” In China, my Chinese teachers used it all the time and told us you could say 早 to friends, classmates, and people you meet regularly.
上午好 shàngwǔ hǎo
This phrase also means “Good morning,” but should be used later in the day than 早上好. Between 10-12 pm, you can use 上午好.
下午好 xiàwǔ hǎo
This phrase means “Good afternoon,” and you can use it until 6:00 pm.
晚上好 wǎnshang hǎo
When you meet someone after sunset, you can say 晚上好 wǎnshang hǎo, which means “good evening.”
晚安 wǎn’ān is used to wish a good night. You can say it when announcing you’re going to sleep. Note that the other phrases are only used when meeting someone rather than when you are leaving.
Speaking of leaving, here are a few ways to say goodbye in Chinese.
再见 zài jiàn, 拜拜 bái bái, ___见 ___jiàn—farewell
再见 zài jiàn and 拜拜 bái bái are two common ways to say goodbye and can be used both in person and on the phone. Young people use 拜拜 bái bái, it’s the transliteration of the English word bye-bye, and it’s used in a more informal context.
You can also say the time you’re going to meet the person again and then add 见. For example, 明天见 means “See you tomorrow,” 晚上见 means “See you in the evening,” 会(儿)见 means “see you later,” and so on.
You could also say 下个星期见 Xià ge xīngqī jiàn (See you next week).
There’s nothing wrong with 再见, but it’s better to diversify. Plus, using these other phrases will also remind the other person the next time you will see them—killing two birds with one stone.
This Chinese word is used when answering the phone.
You will likely hear this one a lot in China, loud and clear, usually on the bus, early in the morning.
好久不见 hǎojiǔ bùjiàn—long time no see
You can use this chengyu when greeting people you haven’t seen in a while, especially someone you’re familiar with.
It’s a great phrase to know. It would help if you repeated it every now and then and try to use it to remember it even though it’s a bit longer word compared to your go-to 你好.
Being able to say this one will make you sound more fluent.
你最近怎么样? nǐ zuìjìn zěnmeyàng?—how are you recently?
You can use this sentence when you last saw someone a while ago to ask what they have been up to lately. It’s a Chinese version of “What’s up?” or “How are you?” and you can use it with people you are already familiar with.
Here are a few ways to reply to this greeting:
- 很好 very good
- 挺好的 great
- 不错不错 not bad
- 还行吧 not too bad
- 唉，不怎么样 not very good
It’s common courtesy to reciprocate the question by adding “你呢? nǐ ne?” at the end. If you want to come across as more friendly, you can add something you have done recently, something that’s bothering you, or why you are doing so well lately.
More ways to say hi in Chinese
Here are other greetings that are “particularly Chinese,” meaning they are an expression of Chinese culture.
Although they may sound strange or seem too personal, you should learn and use them to step up your Chinese.
去哪儿? qù nǎ’er/去哪? qù nǎ?—where are you going?
This greeting is how Chinese people greet their acquaintances, classmates, or neighbors when bumping into them on the street.
Don’t be afraid; they will not reply, “Mind your own business.” It’s a common way to say hello in Chinese, and it’s not to be perceived as nosey. Actually, it’s not really a question; more like a short response.
出去玩吗? chūqù wán ma?—another “fake question”
The literal meaning of this sentence is “Are you going out to have fun?” but just as the greetings, this is just a rhetorical question. It’s like asking for confirmation of what you think the person will do.
For example, you can use this phrase when you meet one of your acquaintances on the street or see your neighbor leaving the house. If somebody asks you this, you can say where you’re going to [insert place] or make something up if you don’t want to share your secrets.
It’s not even necessary to reply properly; a simple “嗯” ng is sufficient.
你吃了吗? nǐ chī le ma?—have you eaten yet?
One of my favorites phrase, and it is a very peculiar greeting.
It may sound a little weird to a foreign speaker, but since eating is very important for Chinese people, this question is frequently used to greet a loved one and shows that you care about them.
This sentence is used as a conversation starter. Like in English, we say, “Nice day, isn’t it?”
If someone asks you this question, you can reply by saying “吃了” chī le, or “还没有” hái méiyǒu. Once again, it is advisable to reciprocate the question with a “你呢?” nǐ ne?
Just as in English, people asking “how are you?” aren’t usually looking for a detailed explanation about the state of your health. Chinese people ask this question to avoid hearing details about meals, plans, or your whereabouts.
Saying “去哪儿? 你吃了吗? 出去玩吗?” is simply a common thing to say to show you care.
For first-time meetings
Here are some useful phrases you can use when meeting someone for the first time.
很高兴认识你/您 hěn gāoxìng rènshi nǐ/nín—nice to meet you
This sentence means “nice to meet you” and is perfect for any first meeting and formal occasions. You can even use it while shaking hands and meeting with your business partners for the first time.
It would be best if you chose 你 or 您 based on your relationship with the person you are meeting for the first time.
见到你很高兴 jiàndào nǐ hěn gāoxìng—it’s a pleasure to meet you
This popular Chinese expression means, “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” It’s very similar to 很 高兴 认识你 hěn gāoxìng rènshi nǐ, but there is a slight difference in meaning. We use 见到, meaning “to see,” and not 认识. For this reason, this phrase is more suitable for people you’ve been talking to for quite a long time but haven’t met in person until that point.
A good example would be your first meeting with an internet friend or someone a first date with someone you met on a dating app.
幸会幸会 xìnghuì xìnghuì—it’s an honor
Are you looking for a very polite way of greeting?
幸会幸会 xìnghuì xìnghuì is a common formal Chinese greeting. You can respectfully express your honor o meet someone such as a new boss, a client, or a business partner.
久仰大名 jiǔyǎng dàmíng—I have heard so much about you
Here is another formal way to say nice to meet you, used to show respect and politeness.
You should reserve this one for use towards those whom you have extreme respect for and for first-time encounters.
It’s a chéngyǔ that translates to “Your name is famous.”
So please don’t use this with your friends!
It’s now time to try them out!
These are some ways that greets can be used in different situations: some forms are more polite, some are informal, and others can be used in either case.
As usual, the best way to master Chinese greetings is to use them in real contexts:
- Try to find occasions to speak Chinese with native speakers.
- Notice which kind of greeting they choose to use with you, which they use with older people, or when they want to show respect.
- Follow their lead.
If you only have a few occasions to practice speaking, pay attention to videos and movies in Chinese, and note how they greet each other on different occasions.
Hope this guide was interesting and helpful in providing you with some alternatives to 你好 as well as some insights into Chinese culture.
Elisa Felici has been studying Chinese since 2014. She started her language-learning journey at Italian universities and lived in Beijing while attending Beijing’s Confucius Institute. Elisa passed HSK 4 and 5 and finally, in 2020, HSK 6. She now has a Master’s degree in translation and interpreting and has experience not only as a language learner but also as a Chinese teacher and translator.