The following is a collection of sentences in Mandarin which I believe are special in some way.
What do I mean by “special”? Well, let’s just say grammatically and structurally they’re not exactly typical, and in most cases they stand-alone as independent expressions. Plus, many of them contain elements of Chinese culture that set them apart from regular sentences.
I’ve broken these up into beginners, intermediate and advanced levels and tried to explain not only the literal meaning of each sentence, but its function and near-equivalent translation in English. Of course your comments and constructive feedback are always welcome in the comments section. Enjoy!
Part two: Another 45 Mandarin Sentences with Chinese Characteristics.
1. 你吃饭了吗？ Nǐ chīfàn le ma?
Literally: “Have you eaten?”
Function: Expresses one’s concern for someone else.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “How’s it going?” or “How are you?”
2. 你多吃一点。Nǐ duō chī yīdiǎn.
Literally: “Eat some more.”
Function: Expresses one’s hospitality for a guest.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Have some more.”
3. 慢慢吃。Màn man chī.
Literally: “Eat slowly.”
Function: Expresses politeness to someone when eating.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Bon appétit” or “enjoy your meal” (American English).
4. 慢走。Màn zǒu.
Literally: “Walk slowly.”
Function: Expresses politeness to someone when they leave someone’s house or a hotel, restaurant, etc.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Take care” or “Have a good day” (American English).
5. 慢慢来。Màn màn lái.
Literally: “Come slowly.”
Function: Expresses to someone to take it easy.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Take it easy”, “Take your time” or “Easy does it”.
6. 我跟你讲。Wǒ gēn nǐ jiǎng.
Literally: “I speak to you.”
Similar phrase in Chinese: 你听我讲 nǐ tīng wǒ jiǎng (Literally: “Listen to what I say”). Note that 讲 jiǎng can always be replaced by 说 shuō.
Function: Used to get someone to listen to you when you want to tell them something you think is important.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Look, …” or “Listen, …”
7. 我先走了。Wǒ xiān zǒu le.
Literally: “I go first.”
Function: Used to tell someone that you are leaving, and that they can stay in the same place if they wish.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “I’m off.” or “I gotta run.”
8. 请问一下。Qǐng wèn yīxià.
Literally: “Please [let me] ask.”
Function: Used when you wish to ask someone (usually a stranger) a question.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Excuse me.”
9. 别送了。Bié sòng le.
Literally: “Don’t see me out.”
Similar phrase in Chinese: 请回 qǐnghuí (“Please return.”) and 请留步 Qǐng liúbù (“Please stop here.”)
Function: Very polite. The guest says this to the host when the guest feels it’s not necessary for the host to see them out.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “You don’t need to see me out.” or “No need to walk me out.”
10. 我敬你一杯。Wǒ jìng nǐ yī bēi.
Literally: This phrase is difficult to translate literally. 敬 jìng here symbolises respect given to the second party.
Function: Said when you wish to raise your drink to someone, to drink with them or propose a toast.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “I drink to you” or just “Cheers”.
11. 我会考虑一下的。Wǒ huì kǎolǜ yīxià de.
Literally: “I will consider [it].”
Function: Used to let someone know that you’ll think about something they have suggested, especially if you’re not really sure you accept it.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “I’ll think about it.”
12. 你去忙你的吧。Nǐ qù máng nǐ de ba.
Literally: “You go do what you are busy with.”
Function: Used to let someone know that they can continue doing what they are doing, while you go and do something else.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Please carry on with what you’re doing.”
13. 我不是说你。Wǒ bù shì shuō nǐ.
Literally: “I’m not criticising you.”
Similar phrase in Chinese: 我不怪你 Wǒ bù guài nǐ (“I’m not blaming you.”)
Function: Used to preface something critical you’re about to say and urge the other person not to be offended by it.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “I’m not criticising you.” or “I’m not having a go at you.” (Aussie English) or “No offense.”
14. 至于吗？ Zhìyú ma?
Literally: Difficult to translate literally; 至于 zhìyú is a verb used to indicate that something has reached a certain level, while 吗 ma creates a question structure.
Function: Used to express doubt about what someone says. You may reply as 至于 zhìyú or 不至于 bù zhìyú.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Is that really the case?” or “Has it come to that?” (depending on situation)
15. 你吓死我了。Nǐ xià sǐ wǒ le.
Literally: “You scared me to death.”
Similar phrase in Chinese: 你吓了我一跳 Nǐ xià le wǒ yī tiào (similar, but not as strong)
Function: Used to express one’s fear or concern about someone.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “You scared the crap outta me” or “You freaked me out” or “You made me concerned” depending on situation.
16. 随你了。Suí nǐ le.
Literally: “I sui [follow? go with?] you.”
Similar phrase in Chinese: 随便 Suíbiàn
Function: Used to express that, when it comes to making a particular decision, you don’t really mind either way.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Up to you” or “I’m easy.” “Whatever/I don’t care” depending on the situation.
17. 来来来… 坐坐坐… 吃吃吃… Lái lái lái…zuò zuò zuò …chī chī chī…
Literally: “Come come come… sit sit sit… eat eat eat
Function: These three different phrases are used in different situations, though they may be said after one another. They are normally used when greeting a guest and you wish to show them your hospitality – to come in and/or take a seat and/or eat.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Make yourself at home… Please, take a seat… Tuck in.”
18. [某人]不在状态。[Somebody] bù zài zhuàngtài.
Literally: “Somebody is not in [a normal] state.”
Function: Used to explain that someone – perhaps a friend or a family member – is not feeling very well.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Somebody is not him/herself.”
19. 我失陪了。Wǒ shīpéi le.
Literally: “I lose [your] company.”
Function: Used to politely let someone know that you are leaving.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “I’m sorry but I must take my leave” (very formal) or “Sorry but I have to run” (informal).
20. 请教一下。Qǐngjiào yīxià.
Literally: “Please instruct [me].”
Function: Used to let someone know that you welcome comments and criticism, particularly about a project you have been working on, your performance, etc.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “I’d love to hear some feedback from you.”, “I look forward to hearing your advice.”, “Feel free to leave some comments.” etc.
21. 你辛苦了。Nǐ xīnkǔ le.
Literally: “You’ve tasted bitterness/hardship.”
Function: Used to express gratitude for the help someone has given you.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: No real equivalent in English. The translation “You’ve worked so hard.” is acceptable, but probably sounds a little strange. In this situation an English speaker would probably just say, “Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.”
22. [某人]吃了很多苦。[Somebody] chī le hěn duō kǔ.
Literally: “Somebody has eaten a lot of bitterness (hardship).”
Function: Used to state that someone has gone through many hardships.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Somebody‘s been through a lot.” or “Somebody has gone through a rough time.”
23. 我听你的。Wǒ tīng nǐ de.
Literally: “I’ll listen to you.”
Function: Used to express that you will listen and follow what someone does, usually for our own good.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “You’re the boss.”
24. [某人]都还给老师了。 [Something] dōu huán gěi lǎoshī le.
Literally: “Something has all been given back to the teacher.”
Function: Used to indicate that everything that you’ve learnt has been forgotten.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: As far as I know, no real equivalent. “I’ve forgotten it all” would suffice as a reference translation. A native English speaker may say something like, “My French/mathematics/etc is a bit rusty” though this is not as strong as the original Chinese sentence.
25. A生了B的气。A shēng le B de qì.
Literally: “A generated anger because of B.”
Function: Used to express that you have made somebody angry. Notable because this structure in Mandarin is unusual and a little confusing for Chinese learners.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “A is angry at B.” or “A is pissed off with B.” or “B made A angry.”
26. [某事]不关[某人]的事。[Something] bù guān [somebody] de shì.
Literally: “Something does not relate to the affairs of somebody.”
Function: Used to (quite rudely) point out that something is not the business of someone else.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Something is not someone’s business.”. When used as an interjection the phrases “None of your business!” or “What’s it to you?” come to mind – that’s 关你屁事？Guān nǐ pì shì? in Mandarin.
27. [某人]真够朋友。[Somebody] zhēn gòu péngyǒu.
Literally: “Somebody is really an adequate friend.”
Function: Used to let someone know that you really value their friendship.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Somebody is a true friend” or “Somebody is a real mate” in Aussie English.
28. 话不是这么说。Huà bù shì zhème shuō.
Literally: “It is not said like this.”
Function: Used to gently disagree with someone.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “I don’t really think that’s the case.”
29. 可不是吗？ Kě bù shì ma?
Literally:“How can it not be?”
Similar phrase in Chinese: 谁说不是呢 Shéi shuō bu shì ne (“Who doesn’t say that’s the case?”) or 就是 jiùshì (“Indeed!”)
Function: Used to express your strong agreement about something.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Definitely!” or “Absolutely!”
30. 哪儿跟哪儿？ Nǎr gēn nǎr?
Literally: “Where compared to where?”
Function: Used to express doubt about the relationship of two things which you think are not related.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “I don’t see the connection” or “What’s that got to do with it?”
31. 真有你的。Zhēn yǒu nǐ de.
Literally: 真 (“really”) + 有 (“you”) + 你的 (“your [skill; talent]”)
Function: Used to express your admiration of someone’s skill or talent.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “You’re really awesome.” or “You’re really something else.”
32. 看情况。Kàn qíngkuàng.
Literally: “Look at the situation.”
Function: Used to express uncertainty about a certain situation.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Play it by ear” or “It depends” depending on situation
33. 谁跟谁啊？Shéi gēn shéi a?
Literally: “Who with who ah?”
Similar phrase in Chinese: 别见外 Bié jiànwài (“Don’t act like an outsider.”)
Function: Used to remind the other person that you are good friends with them, to get them to stop being so polite or to get them to reveal to you something you want to know.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Come on, we’re friends aren’t we?”
34. [某事]包在我身上。[Something] bāo zài wǒ shēnshang.
Literally: “Something‘s package is on my person.”
Function: Used to let someone know that you will take absolute responsibility for a certain task.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Leave it all to me and I’ll make it happen.”
35. [某人]不是东西。[Somebody] bù shì dōngxi.
Literally: “Somebody is not a thing.”
Function: Used to insult someone.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Somebody is good-for-nothing.”
36. 就那么回事。Jiù nàme huí shì.
Literally: “That’s how it was.”
Function: To state that something is mediocre or average.
Near-equivalent phrases in English: “Not that great.” or “Average.”
37. [某人]死的心都有。[Somebody] sǐ de xīn dōu yǒu.
Literally:“Somebody even has a dead heart.” (As if their heart is dead.)
Function: Used to express somebody’s desperation, disappointment and/or grief.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Somebody is torn apart.”
38. 爱谁谁！ Ài shéishéi!
Literally: “Love who who!”
Function: Used to express indifference.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Whatever!” or “Who cares!”
39. [某人]不好那口。[Somebody] bù hào nà kǒu.
Literally: “Somebody is not well (used to) that mouth.”
Function: Used to express that someone does not share a particular hobby or fondness for something.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Somebody is not into that.” or “That’s not somebody’s thing.”
40. 不要放在心上。Bù yào fàng zài xīn shàng.
Literally: “Don’t put [it] in [your] heart.”
Function: Used to advise someone to not continue thinking about an unpleasant topic.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Don’t take it to heart.”
41. 请你多多包涵。Qǐng nǐ duōduō bāohan.
Literally: “Please forgive [me] much.”
Function: Said before or after you do or say something which you think may hurt or offend others.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Please forgive me.” or “Please bear with me.”
42. 给[某人]点儿颜色看看。Gěi [somebody] diǎnr yánsè kàn kàn.
Literally: “Give somebody a little colour (facial expression) to see.”
Function: Used to express someone’s ferociousness, to intimidate someone, usually to warn them that they are tough and not to be offended.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Teach someone a lesson.”
43. [某人]的鼻子气歪了。[Somebody] de bízi qì wāi le.
Literally: “Somebody‘s nose is crooked with anger.”
Function: Used to express how angry someone is.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “He’s really pissed off.”
44. [关于某事]打一个问号。[About something] dǎ yī gè wènhào.
Literally: “About something [I] write a question mark.”
Function: Used to express doubt about something.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: Not sure of an idiomatic equivalent; a basic translation is “to be unsure about something.”
45. [某人]也有今天。[Somebody] yě yǒu jīntiān.
Literally: “Somebody also has today.”
Function: Used to state that someone has gotten comeuppance for a wrong deed.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Somebody will get his/her just deserts.” or “Somebody has got what he/she deserves.”
Is it a pattern destined to repeat itself?
A new student of Chinese discovers Chinese idioms (aka Chengyu).
She becomes enamored.
She goes to town with her newfound discovery…
…Only to find that a misused Chinese idiom can be worse than having said nothing at all.
She makes the alarming realization that she can’t identify which Chinese idioms are good and which aren’t.
After a brief struggle, she resigns herself to the fate that she’ll never be able to know which Chinese idioms are “safe” (or how to use them) until going through a painful trial and error process every time.
Should learners just generally avoid Chinese idioms, which after all aren’t really necessary for learning Chinese?
No. Not if they really want to be fluent. They say brevity is the soul of wit, and nothing really beats the impact of a Chinese idiom delivered with precision.
I’d like to identify and explain 15 common and highly useful Chinese idioms so that you can use them like a boss, without having to look like a fool beforehand.
These are excerpts from our $9 ebook on 50 commonly used, super practical Chinese idioms.
Learn more about our super useful Chinese idioms ebook
15 Common and Highly Useful Chinese Idioms (aka Chengyu)
15. 脚踏实地 (jiǎo tà shí dì)
脚踏实地 literally means “to step on solid ground.” It means that, like Warren Buffet, you work hard, focus on the fundamentals, and proceed in a steady and stable fashion. It’s an extremely positive chengyu. Here’s an example : “现在我们要继续脚踏实地” “xiànzài wǒmen yào jìxù jiǎotàshídì” “Right now we need to continue staying grounded and pushing ahead”
14. 九牛一毛 (jiǔ niú yì máo)
九牛一毛 literally means “9 cows and 1 strand of cow hair.” It indicates something that’s so small that it’s like one strand of cow hair among 9 cows. Here’s an example: “电子商务的盈利在中国整体商业环境中简直是九牛一毛.” “diànzǐ shāngwù de yínglì zài zhōngguó zhěngtǐ shāngyè huánjìng zhōng jiǎnzhí shì jiǔniúyìmáo.” “In the entire Chinese commercial environment, the profits from E-commerce are simply just a drop in the bucket.”
一无所有 means to have absolutely nothing at all. It’s basically being penniless. Here’s an example: “他无家可归，一无所有” “tā wújiākěguī， yìwúsuǒyǒu” “He was homeless, and didn’t have a penny to his name”
12. 一见钟情(yí jiàn zhōng qíng)
一见钟情 means “love at first sight.” It’s generally used for people, but you can also use it for other physical objects. Here’s an example: “她就是我的一见钟情 “ “tā jiùshì wǒ de yíjiànzhōngqíng“ “She is my love at first sight.”
11. 自由自在 (zì yóu zì zài)
自由自在 means that something is free and easy. It can be used to describe someone’s personality, how someone behaves, or how a place makes people feel. For example: “这是一个自由自在的地方。” “zhè shì yī gè zì yóu zì zai de dì fāng” “This is a free and easy place”
10. 莫名其妙 (mò míng qí miào)莫名其妙 literally means that it’s hard to articulate the profoundness or mystery or something. It basically means that something is baffling. For example: “他说了几句莫名其妙的话。” “tā shuì le jī gōu mò míng qí miào de huà” “He said some mysterious words. ”
9. 半途而废 (bàn tú ér fèi)
半途而废 means to start doing something, only to give up halfway. Literally, it means to walk half the road and give up. (Don’t do that with chengyu!) Here’s an example: “我不是半途而废的人” “wǒ búshì bàntúérfèi de rén” “I’m not someone who gives up halfway”
8. 抛砖引玉 (pāo zhuān yǐn yù)
抛砖引玉 (pāo zhuān yǐn yù) basically means you’re “just tossing an idea out there.” It literally means “to cast a brick to attract jade.” You’re basically saying, “this idea I’m tossing out there is garbage, but perhaps it will lead one of you to make a better contribution.” It’s a humble way to contribute to a conversation. Here’s an example: “我的建议还不够成熟，算是抛砖引玉吧 “ “wǒ de jiàn yì hái bú gòu chéng shú, suàn shì pāo zhuān yǐn yù ba “ “My suggestion is still half-baked — you could see it as just me tossing an idea out there“
7. 豁然开朗 (huò rán kāi lǎng)
豁然开朗 (huò rán kāi lǎng) has two meanings which are linked. The first meaning is the refreshing and liberating feeling you get when you see a beautiful, open area. Typically, immediately before this moment, the beautiful area is not visible and you might be feeling a little stuffy. Second, it’s also used for the feeling you get when you achieve an “aha” or “eureka!” moment. Here’s an example: “大学时期，乔尼开始有机会用Mac做设计，那是一种豁然开朗的体验“ “dàxué shíqí, qiáoní kāishǐ yǒujīhuì yòng Mac zuò shèjì, nàshì yīzhǒng huòránkāilǎng de tǐyàn” “During college, Jony began to have opportunities to use a Mac to design, and that was a refreshing, eye-opening experience”
6. 津津有味 (jīn jīn yǒu wèi)
津津有味 means to eat something deliciously. Also, it can be used for activities beyond just eating, as long as the person doing the activity finds it engaging. It’s not something that people typically use to describe themselves, but you can liberally use it on your friends as it has a positive tone. Here’s an expressive example: “津津有味地看报” “jīnjīnyǒuwèi de kànbào” “to devour the newspaper”
5. 理所当然 (lǐ suǒ dāng rán)
理所当然 sounds like “to go without saying” or “as a matter of course,” but literally means that “according to reason, it should be the case.” Here’s an example: “Some things which are obvious or natural in the course of a marriage…” “。。。在婚姻中的一些～的事。。。” “。。。zài hūnyīn zhōng de yīxiē ～de shì 。。。”
4. 全力以赴 (quán lì yǐ fù)
全力以赴 basically means to give it your all (literally “exert all your strength”) for a goal. It has a positive tone, and is somewhat formal but can still be used in everyday speech. It’s important to note that 全力以赴 is typically used for actions that haven’t finished yet, rather than actions that have already been completed. Here’s an example: “无论考生的笔试成绩如何，都要全力以赴准备面试” “wúlùn kǎoshēng de bǐshì chéngjì rúhé ，dōuyào quánlìyǐfù zhǔnbèi miànshì” “No matter how the student’s written test score is, he/she needs to give 100% to prepare for the interview”
3. 心血来潮 (xīn xuè lái cháo)
心血来潮 basically means “spur of the moment” or “on a whim.” Literally, it evokes the image of blood rushing to your heart (of course in English we’d say head). It’s a perfect chengyu for when you’re telling a story a friend. For example: “某日他们心血来潮，决定比拼一下各自的脚法“ “mǒu rì tāmen xīnxuèláicháo,juédìng bǐpīn yíxià gèzì de jiǎofǎ” “One day, on a spur of the moment, they decided to compare and compete to see whose footwork was best”
2. 乱七八糟 (luàn qī bā zāo)
乱七八糟 means that something is a total mess. You can use it to describe tangible things like messy rooms, or more abstract things, like a messed up life. For example: 是谁弄得乱七八糟的？ “shì shéi nòng de luàn qī bā zāo de?” “who made this mess?”
1. 不可思议 (bù kě sī yì)
不可思议 means that something is noteworthy or amazing in an unexpected way. It can be used for things which are really amazing (eg. magic or larger phenomena) but also for unexpected, everyday occurrences. For example: “真是不可思议，我的名字跟你一样！” “zhēn shi bù kĕ sī yì wŏ de míng zi gēn nĭ yī yàng” “It’s incredible, I have the same name as you!”
Ebook: “50 Essential Chengyu: Chinese Idioms Made Simple”
And in case you didn’t get enough Chinese idioms, check out our $9 ebook. It’s a compilation of our best blog posts on Chinese idioms.
Learn more about our super useful Chinese idioms ebook
And One More Thing…
If you’ve read this far, I know that you’re someone who takes learning Chinese seriously. And for serious Chinese learners, there’s no better tool than FluentU. FluentU takes real-world videos like music videos, commercials, news, and inspiring talks and turns them into Chinese learning experiences.It uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the Chinese language and culture over time. You’ll learn Chinese as it’s spoken in real life. FluentU has a variety of videos – like music videos (check out below the Chinese version of song “Let It Go” from the hit movie “Frozen”), TV shows, dramas, and TV commercials:
Native Chinese videos are manageable with interactive transcripts. You can tap on any Chinese word and look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that are carefully written to help you easily understand how the word is used. You can add words you’d like to review later to a vocab list.
And there is a personalized review mode that lets you swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of your vocabulary, and it recommends videos and examples according to the words you’ve already learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same videos. Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU App from the iTunes store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.
Experience Chinese immersion online!