Another 45 Mandarin Sentences with Chinese Characteristics

(This post is a continuation from my previous article “45 Mandarin Sentences with Chinese Characteristics“.)

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!

Beginners Level

1. 加油!Jiāyóu!

Literally: “Add oil!”
Function: Used to encourage someone to make extra effort, to do better or to cheer someone on.
Near-equivalent in English: “
You can do it!” or “Go John/Mary/etc.!” depending on context.

2. 我肚子饿了。Wǒ dùzi è le.

Literally: “My belly is hungry.”
Function: Used to let the other person know you are hungry.
Near-equivalent in English:
“I’m hungry.” or “I’m starving.”

3. 你早点休息。Nǐ zǎo diǎn xiūxi.

Literally: “You [better] rest early.”
Function: Used to show concern for someone late at night, to urge them to go to bed early.
Near-equivalent in English:
“You better get to bed early” or “Don’t have a late one.”

4. 原来如此。Yuánlái rúcǐ.

Literally: “It was like this all along.”
Function: Used to indicate that you have just realised something to be true.
Near-equivalent in English:
“I see.” or “Now I got you.”

5. 算了吧。Suàn le ba.

Literally:  算 (“count; regard”) + 了 (verb completion particle) + 吧 (particle indicating suggestion)
Function: Used to let the other person know that you don’t care anymore about what was being talked about.
Near-equivalent in English:
“Forget about it.” or “Nevermind.”

6. 怎么办呢?Zěnme bàn ne?

Literally: “How to do?”
Function: Used to express frustration at not knowing what to do in a certain situation.
Near-equivalent in English:
“What do I do?” or “What should I do?”
Synonyms: 这如何是好?

7. 真是的。Zhēn shì de.

Literally: 真 (“really”) + 是 (“is”) + 的 (grammatical particle, used for emphasis)
Function: Used to express displeasure or annoyance at the actions of someone else.
Near-equivalent in English:
“Oh come on!”, “Seriously!” or “Jesus!” depending on context.

8. 不会吧。Bù huì ba.

Literally: “Can’t be.”
Function: Used to express a feeling that the likelihood of something happening is very low.
Near-equivalent in English:
“No way.”, “I doubt it.” or “You’re kidding me.” depending on context.

9. 改天再说吧。Gǎitiān zàishuō ba.

Literally: “Change day, speak again.”
Function: Used when you wish to cancelled a plan with someone, and reschedule it for another day.
Near-equivalent in English:
“Let’s try for another day.” or “Let’s take a rain check.”

10. 不用急。Bù yòng jí.

Literally: “Don’t use urgent.” (“No use for urgency.”)
Function: Used to reassure someone that what is being discussed is not urgent.
Near-equivalent in English:
“No rush.” or “Take your time.”
Synonyms: 不急。

11. 真的假的?Zhēn de jiǎ de?

Literally: “Real, fake?”
Function: Used to express surprise or doubt about something just discussed or discovered.
Near-equivalent in English:
“Really?” or “No way!”

12. 你真棒!Nǐ zhēn bàng!

Literally: “You’re really excellent!”
Function: Used to praise someone for their talent, behaviour or actions.
Near-equivalent in English:
“You’re awesome” or “You’re really something.”
Synonyms: 你真行;你可以的。

13. 我想了解一下。 Wǒ xiǎng liǎojiě yīxià.

Literally: “I want to understand/know.”
Function:
Used to politely enquire about something.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “I was just wondering…” or “I’d like to know more about…”

14. 有事可以找我。Yǒu shì kěyǐ zhǎo wǒ.

Literally: “[If] you have a matter you can try to find me.”
Function:
Used to express your willingness to help someone.
Near-equivalent phrase in English:
“Contact me if you need any help.”

 

Intermediate Level

15. 不带这样的。Bù dài zhèyàng de.

Literally: “Not look after like this.”
Function:
Used to state that the way someone is treating you is unacceptable or unfair.
Near-equivalent phrase in English:
“How could you do this to me?”, “Oh, come on!” or “That’s not cool.”

16. 我也说不好。Wǒ yě shuō bù hǎo.

Literally: 我 (“I”) + 也 (“also”) + 说 (“speak”) + 不好 (“not good”)
Function: Used to state that you cannot make a comment about a topic or situation as  you are not very certain about it.
Near-equivalent in English:
“I’m not sure about that.”
Synonym: 很难说。

17. 那怎么行啊?Nà zěnme xíng a?

Literally: “How is that OK?”
Function: Used to state that a situation is not acceptable.
Near-equivalent in English:
“That won’t do” or “How could that work?”

18. 我赶时间。Wǒ gǎn shíjiān.

Literally: “I’m rushing for time.”
Function: Used to indicate that you are in a hurry.
Near-equivalent in English:
“I’m in a hurry” or “I’m in a rush”.

19. 但愿吧。Dànyuàn ba.

Literally: 但愿 (“to wish”) + 吧 (particle indicating suggestion)
Function: Used to indicate that you wish what someone has just said turns out to be the case.
Near-equivalent in English:
“I hope so.”
Synonyms:
希望如此。

20. 那倒是。Nà dào shì.

Literally: “That actually is.”
Function: Used to acknowledge that what someone has just said is in fact the case.
Near-equivalent in English:
“That’s right” or “This is true”.

21. 谁说的?Shéi shuō de?

Literally: “Who said?”
Function: Used to indicate that you doubt what someone has just said is true.
Near-equivalent in English:
“Yeah, right…!” or “On what planet?”

22. 这事已经过去了。Zhè shì yǐjīng guòqu le.

Literally: “This matter has already passed.”
Function: Used to advise someone that what has happened belongs to the past and so should no longer be a concern anymore.
Near-equivalent in English:
“That’s in the past now.”, “That’s a thing of the past.” or “It’s all over now.”

23. 她有了。Tā yǒu le.

Literally: “She has.”
Function: Used to state that a woman is pregnant. Used as a euphemism.
Near-equivalent in English:
“She’s got a bun in the oven.” or “She’s expecting.”

24. [某人]真有两下子。[Somebody] zhēn yǒu liǎngxiàzi.

Literally: Somebody really has a couple of times.”
Function: Used to state that someone is skillful, with a high level of ability.
Near-equivalent in English:
“Somebody has real skill.” or “S/he really knows her/his stuff.”

25. 真是个悲剧哦。Zhēn shì ge bēijù o.

Literally: “Really is a tragedy.”
Function: Used to complain about something which disappointed you. Has a melodramatic tone. The word 悲剧 is often typed as the pun 杯具 (“cup”). By extension, the word 茶几 (“tea table”) is also used to describe someone you think leads a particularly sucky life.
Near-equivalent in English:
“That really sucks.”, “What a bummer.” or “Fail.” (American slang)
Synonyms: 好悲剧哦。

26. 别激动。 Bié jīdòng.

Literally: “Don’t get agitated/excited.”
Function:
Used to tell someone to calm down.
Near-equivalent phrase in English: “Calm down.” or “Settle down.”

27. [某人]最小了。Shǔ [somebody] zuì xiǎo le.

Literally: “Count somebody as the littlest.”
Function: Used to state that someone is the youngest in their family, or in a group of people.
Near-equivalent in English:
“Somebody is the youngest here.” or “Somebody is the baby of the family.”

28. 这事明摆着的呀。Zhè shì míngbǎi zhe ya.

Literally: “This matter is obvious.”
Function: Used to state that something is obvious so does not need further explanation.
Near-equivalent in English:
“It’s obvious.”

29. [某人]心里有数。[Somebody] xīnli yǒushù.

Literally: “In somebody’s heart there is a number.”
Function: Used to express confidence that someone knows what to do to achieve something, especially when others worries that they can’t.
Near-equivalent in English:
Somebody is confident about it.” or “Somebody is certain about it” depending on the context.
Synonyms: 心中有数;心里有底;胸中有数。

30. 茶都等凉了。Chá dōu děng liáng le.

Literally: “The tea has gone cold from waiting.”
Function: Used to express impatience with someone who has made you wait a long time.
Near-equivalent in English:
“We’ve been waiting forever.”

31. 生不如死 Shēng bùrú sǐ!

Literally: “Life is not as good as death!”
Function: Used to complain that the terrible things in one’s life are too much to bear, that it would be better to die than to keep on living. Melodramatic in tone.
Near-equivalent in English:
“Kill me now!

32. [某人][某人]有意思。[Somebody] duì [somebody] yǒu yìsi.

Literally: Somebody is interested in somebody.”
Function: Used to state that someone has a romantic interest in someone else.
Near-equivalent in English:
Somebody is into somebody” or “somebody has a thing for somebody”.

33. [某人][某人]有缘分。[Somebody] gēn [somebody] yǒu yuánfèn.

Literally: Somebody has a destiny with somebody.
Function: Used to state that two people have a predestined affinity, that they were fated to meet.
Near-equivalent in English:
“We were fated to meet.” or “We were meant to be.” in a romantic context.

34. [某人][某事]有研究。[Somebody] duì [something] yǒu yánjiū.

Literally: Somebody has done research about something.
Function: Used to state that somebody knows or is informed about a topic or matter.
Near-equivalent in English:
Somebody knows a thing or two about something.” or “Somebody is informed about something.”

35. 我想碰碰运气。Wǒ xiǎng pèng pèng yùnqì.

Literally: “I’d like to touch/knock [my] luck.”
Function: Used to state that you would like to try and see if you can succeed in something, even if the odds may be against you.
Near-equivalent in English:
“I’d like to try my luck.”

36. 我走狗屎运了。Wǒ zǒu gǒushǐ yùn le.

Literally: “I stepped on dog-shit luck.”
Function: Used to state that you unexpectedly got lucky, or that you achieved something by fluke.
Near-equivalent in English: “I fluked it.” or “I lucked out.” depending on context.
Synonyms: 侥幸 (adverb)

37. 我都快崩溃了。Wǒ dōu kuài bēngkuì le.

Literally: “I’m about to collapse.”
Function: Used to state that someone is psychologically exhausted, or devastated.
Near-equivalent in English:
“I’m going to pieces.” or “I’m near the point of breakdown.”

38. 怎么搞的?Zěnme gǎo de

Literally: “How could that have been done?”
Function: Used to show confusion about something that has happened that you don’t understand, or dissatisfaction or blame about what someone has done, or failed to do.
Near-equivalent in English: “What’s going on?” or “What’s going on with you?” depending on context.

 

Advanced Level

39. [某人] [某人]穿小鞋[Somebody] gěi [somebody] chuān xiǎoxié le.

Literally: Somebody gave somebody small shoes to wear.”
Function:
Used to indicate that someone, usually of a higher position, is deliberately making life difficult for someone else.
Near-equivalent phrase in English:
Somebody is making life difficult for somebody.” or “Somebody has put somebody in a difficult situation.”

40. 放马过来吧Fàng mǎ guòlái ba!

Literally: “Set your horses on me!”
Function: Used to show that you are ready for a challenge or fight.
Near-equivalent in English:
“Bring it on!” or “Gimme all you got!”

41. [某人][某人]肚子里的虫子。[Somebody] shì [somebody] dùzi lǐ de chóngzi.

Literally: Somebody is somebody’s belly bug.”
Function: Used to indicate that someone knows someone else so well that s/he knows exactly what they are thinking.
Near-equivalent in English:
Somebody can read somebody’s mind/thoughts.”

42. [某人]放了[某人]的鸽子。[Somebody] fàng le [somebody] de gēzi.

Literally: Somebody released a pigeon on somebody.”
Function: Used to indicate that someone has failed to show up to a meeting, date or other engagement.
Near-equivalent in English:
Somebody stood somebody up.”

43. 什么风把你给吹到这儿来啦?Shénme fēng bǎ nǐ gěi chuī dào zhèr lái la?

Literally: “What wind blew you here?”
Function: Used to greet an acquaintance who you have bumped into, or who has turned up to your home unannounced.
Near-equivalent in English:
“What brings you here?” Can also be translated as “Look what the cat dragged in.” though this is usually used between friends only as it can be offensive.

44. [某人]心都提到嗓子眼儿了。[Somebody] de xīn dōu tí dào sǎngziyǎnr le.

Literally: Somebody’s heart has rose up into their throat.”
Function: Used to state that someone has extremely nervous or scared.
Near-equivalent in English:
Somebody’s heart is racing.”

45. [某人][某人]个台阶下。[Somebody] gěi [somebody] ge táijiē xià.

Literally: “Give somebody a flight of steps to get on.”
Function: Used to state that someone has given someone an opportunity to get out of an awkward or embarrassing situation.
Near-equivalent in English:
No exact equivalent; consider: “Give somebody a way out of an awkward situation.”

If you have suggestions, particularly in relation to how some of these sentences can be better translated into English, please leave them in the comments section!

15 Comments to "Another 45 Mandarin Sentences with Chinese Characteristics"

  1. Lan Jie Ming's Gravatar Lan Jie Ming
    28/05/2013 - 4:35 am | Permalink

    The Ren in da school meeting loved this!!

  2. Diane's Gravatar Diane
    28/05/2013 - 2:14 pm | Permalink

    她有了, 哈哈!

    Thanks for translating these typical Chinese sentences, they are very useful in everyday life 🙂

  3. 29/05/2013 - 6:39 am | Permalink

    Wow, these are great- thanks for this!

  4. Allie's Gravatar Allie
    31/05/2013 - 12:48 pm | Permalink

    For #45, a good English equivalent might be “Give him an out.” or “Help him out.” Of course this has to be in the right context, but those are the words I tend to use in English when I’m in a similar situation to that which I would use the Chinese phrase “给他一个台阶下。”

  5. David Gale's Gravatar David Gale
    08/06/2013 - 1:55 pm | Permalink

    For #43, I’ve often seen in books 什么香风把你吹来? … I feel that adding the “香” is more polite, although I’m guessing it can also be used sarcastically…

    As a more formal translation (but one which is equally susceptible to sarcasm) I would suggest” “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

  6. Martin's Gravatar Martin
    24/06/2013 - 4:49 am | Permalink

    I have a friend who uses #37 (崩溃) as an interjection in the sense of “No way!” or “That’s really weird/messed up!” I’m guessing there are a million variations of these expressions.

  7. Chris's Gravatar Chris
    17/12/2013 - 4:29 pm | Permalink

    原来如此 “So that explains it!”
    生不如死 “better off dead”

  8. jeff's Gravatar jeff
    18/04/2014 - 9:37 pm | Permalink

    this is really good stuff mate

  9. 09/05/2014 - 6:09 pm | Permalink

    [某人]给 [某人]穿小鞋了 还真是第一次看到

  10. Hajra's Gravatar Hajra
    14/12/2014 - 7:54 pm | Permalink

    Can you tell me something about how Chinese express their feeling first in their sentences? For example 啊,天气不错,今天。

  11. Hajra's Gravatar Hajra
    14/12/2014 - 8:01 pm | Permalink

    Also tell me something about major difference between the means of construction of new words in chinese and English explain with 打 and act.

  12. Jon's Gravatar Jon
    07/01/2015 - 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Great list!

  13. 06/06/2015 - 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for another good post!

    I had a good laugh at some Literally translation, so funny!

    this one for example:
    加油!Jiāyóu!
    Literally: “Add oil!”

  14. Paul's Gravatar Paul
    10/09/2015 - 6:08 am | Permalink

    Hello!

    Thanks for sharing. Even though I’ve studied Chinese for about 6 years a good number of expressions I didn’t know! I especially like the phrase “你放了我的鸽子” as this is an expression I can remember encountering a few times while my study abroad in China and it’s a great way to express a little bit of frustration if someone’s stiffed you up 😛 Number 43 is also kind of a mouth full but I like that one too.

  15. David's Gravatar David
    14/02/2017 - 10:53 pm | Permalink

    very nice
    am very happy
    am going to study hard
    I need someone who can help me

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