Some Common Responses to the Greeting “How are you?”

We are going to start by introducing several common responses to the greeting “How are you?.” Once you have mastered the unit, you will be able to use Chinese to reply to the question and inquire about how someone is.

Welcome to our new column- One Minute Chines (OMC), the title of which suggests the old Chinese idea that a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. If you are perseverant and never give up, even if just for only a very short time like one minute per day, you can speak fluent Chinese.

Firstly, we are going to start by introducing several common responses to the greeting “How are you?.” Once you have mastered the unit, you will be able to use Chinese to reply to the question and inquire about how someone is.

Responses to “Nǐ hǎo ma?”

The intensity of responses to Nǐ hǎo ma? (How are you?) from positive to negative is:

+ good

– not good

hěn hǎo

(very good)
hái búcuò

(not bad)
(pretty good)

hái xíng
hái kěyǐ


(same as usual)

(so so)
bútài hǎo

(not so good)
bù hǎo

(not good)

Hěn hǎo. (Very good.)

If you are fine, you respond to this question by saying (Wǒ) hěn hǎo. (I’m fine/okay.). (In Mandarin Chinese, it is common to leave out the subject or object of a sentence people already know given the context. We can omit the subject “wǒ” here.)

Hǎo in English by itself translates to the adjective “good,” but in Mandarin Chinese, it is one of many words that can function as the main verb in the sentence. In such situations, it is called an adjective, an adjectival verb or a stative verb. (Here, we will use “adjectival verb (AV).”) Most English adjectives are AVs in Mandarin Chinese, which can stand alone. In other words, it is wrong to say Wǒ shì hǎo to mean “I am good,” and much better to say Wǒ hěn hǎo. And so, generally, is “Wǒ hǎo.” In Chinese, when a single-character AV is used a word of degree has to be added before it, otherwise it sounds strange. The most common one is hěn, which like others occurs right before an AV, often to indicate the intensity of the AV. When intensity is not emphasized, the intensifier hěn is the default. But hěn sometimes explicitly means “very,” in which case it is usually stressed in speech.

Hái búcuò. (Pretty good.)

The expression hái búcuò, literally “still not bad,” can be translated in a number of more idiomatic ways: “it is still all right,” “not too bad,” “pretty good.” Other expressions mean about the same as “hái búcuò” are “hái xíng (still be okay, pretty good)” and “hái kěyǐ (still be okay, acceptable).” The difference is that “hái xíng” is used mostly in northern China and Beijing, while “hái kěyǐ” can be used anywhere Chinese is spoken.

Lǎoyàngzi. (Same as usual. / Same old.)

If you are as the same as usual, you can say “lǎoyàngzi.” In Mandarin Chinese, one-syllable adjectival verbs can be placed directly before a noun as an adjective. In this pattern, lǎo describes yàngzi, creating “lǎoyàngzi (old way),” which means “same as usual” or “same old, same old.”

Mǎmǎhūhū. (So-so. / Fair, not too bad.)

In Chinese culture, for reasons of modesty, sometimes when things are going well people prefer to avoid saying so directly. Even if the speaker feels very well or responds to a compliment such as “You speak Chinese really well!”, mǎmǎhūhū is one of these indirect expressions. Literally,
mǎmǎhūhū means “horse-horse tiger-tiger” and can be used when people wish to express “okay,” ”so-so,” or “not particularly bad.”

Bútài hǎo. (Not so good. / Not too well.)

Another common softening or less-precise expression is the combination “bútài+ adjectival verb (not very …).” For example, in English we might say something is “pretty bad” or “not great,” but the normal Chinese way to say this would be “bútài hǎo.”

Bù hǎo. (Not good. / Not well.)

The negative adverb bù is one of the two main negative adverbs in Chinese. It is placed before verbs (or adjectival verbs) and used to negate adjectival verbs and verbs with the exception of the verb yǒu (to have), which is negated by méi (not, no).

In addition to “Nǐ hǎo ma?,” question “How are you?” can also be asked as “(Nǐ)(Zuìjìn) Zěnmeyàng (a)? (How have you been (lately)?). ” This form is very common, but quite informal and often used among people of approximately equal status, such as classmates or colleagues, instead of being used by an inferior to a superior, like a teacher or someone significantly older.

More generally, beyond “Nǐ hǎo!” and “Nǐ hǎo ma?,” there are some other common greetings, such as “hǎo jiǔ bú jiàn (long time no see).” But this is an idiomatic expression that is only used when one has not seen someone else for a long time. As with “Nǐ hǎo!,” just repeat the same greeting “hǎo jiǔ bú jiàn” to respond. (To learn other common greetings in Chinese, feel free to visit “How to Greet in Chinese” and “How to Take your Greetings to the Next Level”!)

Finally, note that in Chinese culture, do not feel uncomfortable if someone asks you “Nǐ chī le ma? (Have you eaten?)” or “Nǐ qù nǎr? (Where are you going?)”. Both are just ways to ask acquaintances how they are doing. Actually, Chinese people who ask this do not really care about whether you had a meal or where you are going. They just want to say hi and to know whether you have been well. If you get these questions, just respond, “Duì, nǐ ne? (Yes, and you?)” or “Wǒ chūqù. (I am going out.)”.

(adverb): not, no
búcuò (adjectival verb): not bad
bútài (adverb): not very
hái (adverb): still
hǎo (adjectival verb): fine, good, nice, okay, it’s settled
hěn (adverb) : very
kěyǐ (adjectival verb): passable, not bad,
pretty good, good enough

lǎo (adjectival verb): old
(lǎo)hǔ (noun): tiger
(noun): horse
xíng (adjectival verb): be all right, okay
yàngzi (noun): way, appearance, shape

Posted by BOLICC

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