Chinese language : Lesson 3
Following on from lesson 2 here are some everyday useful phrases that you might need when traveling in China.
Shenzhen vegetable market, Guangdong Copyright © Dreamstime see image license
At the store and market
When learning Chinese it is important to use the correct tone. As an example, consider mai which can mean either buy or sell just depending on the tone. Let's introduce some things you might want to buy.
We have already introduced some of the colors, here is a more complete set. Colors are often used symbolically in China, for a guide to the meaning and history of the use of colors please read our color symbolism guide.
Buying a ticket
Hello, I want to buy a ticket. Don’t forget the measure word zhang, it is needed in this context. Also note that verbs in Chinese are often strung together as in ‘want-buy’.
Where do you want to go?. The response by the ticket seller will be to ask where you want to go to. The question is implied in this case there is no need to add ma at the end. This is another double verb form ‘want-go’ there is no need for a want ‘to’ go construction as there is in English.
Go to Shanghai. Shanghai literally means ‘on Sea’ or ‘by Sea’.
"At what time?". This phrase was included in lesson 2, hou implies a wait.
bā diǎn shí fēn
Tomorrow morning at 8:10. Our date and time guide explains how to express times in Chinese. The largest units come first and the time of day (morning, afternoon, evening) is needed in place of 'am' or 'pm'.
děng yī děng
Please wait... Yes I have a ticket. By repeating a verb separated with yi softens a word and makes it more informal and colloquial.
How much does it cost?. One way of asking a question in Chinese is to give the two opposite extremes, so how much is literally 'many-few'. This is a common and useful phrase when out shopping.
wǔ bǎi wǔ shí sān
What color do you want?. While shopping you might be asked which color of fabric or other thing you want.
The red one or yellow one. You can say red one by using the possessive 'de' combined with the color.
Eating dimsum dumplings on the street in gongguan; pictures by tashenka. February 2007. Photo by brappy! from Gongguan Market in Zhongzheng ➚ available under a Creative Commons license ➚.
Ordering food and drink
We want two cups of coffee. To ask for 2 of anything you need liang rather than the number 2 er as this is only used for counting.
Please sit down. An important instruction to learn.
Please bring us some dumplings. The use of please is not essential as it would be in English ‘we want’ is good enough. Jiaozis are not to be confused with ‘English dumplings’ they are more like ravioli - meat or vegetable wrapped up in dough and usually steamed.
What about you?. This a shorthand way of repeating the same question to someone else. In this case it is asking whether someone else would also like a drink.
Are there any more vegetables?. Qingcai can stand for vegetables in general.
pú táo jiǔ
You want how many bottles of wine?. Many-few can be used to ask a how much or how many question for anything not just about money.
We have drunk four cups of green tea. Adding le to a verb puts it into the past tense.
Please bring me a pair of chopsticks. The correct measure word needs to be used for chopsticks. ‘shuang’ is used for objects that come in pairs (socks, shoes, gloves etc.).
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