Get 3 Months FREE with any 3-Month Subscription
Get 3 Months FREE with any 3-Month Subscription
ChineseClass101.com Blog
Learn Chinese with Free Daily
Audio and Video Lessons!
Start Your Free Trial 6 FREE Features

Chinese Words with no English Equivalent

Have you ever had an expression in your language that you couldn’t find an accurate translation for in another language? Don’t worry, as this is common for every language learner. The art of a language is way beyond words, as it’s also based on the culture and history of a country.

Each well-developed language has its own essence that cannot be fully integrated into another language. Chinese is no exception. There are many Chinese words with no English equivalent, words you may never know exist though they’re spoken daily in China.

There are many Chinese words with no English equivalent waiting for you to explore! If you want to sound like a native, be sure to grasp these words and try to integrate these untranslatable Chinese words into your daily conversation! Knowing how to use these Chinese words with no translation will surely give you an advantage when communicating in Chinese!

Table of Contents

  1. 热闹 (rè nao)
  2. 撒娇 (sā jiāo)
  3. 加油 (jiā yóu)
  4. 缘分 (yuán ​fèn)
  5. 冤枉 (yuān wǎng)
  6. 孝顺 (xiào​ shùn)
  7. 辛苦 (xīn kǔ)
  8. 见外 (jiàn wài)
  9. 失恋 (shī liàn)
  10. 追… (zhuī)
  11. 下台阶 (xià táijiē)
  12. Conclusion

Start with a bonus, and download the Must-Know Beginner Vocabulary PDF for FREE! (Logged-In Member Only)
Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Chinese


1. 热闹 (rè nao)

Look at how full of people this place is! This exactly describes the word we’re going to introduce.

Crowd Carrying Flags

  • Literal translation: Bustling
  • Meaning: Fun and lively
  • Example situation: If there’s a place that has a lot of people, a lively vibe, and you like it, that place is 热闹 (rè nao).
  • Usage in a sentence:
    In Chinese: 这条街真是热闹,人山人海的。
    Pinyin: Zhè tiáo jiē zhēn shì rè nào, rén shān rén hǎi de.
    In English: This street is so fun and lively, it’s full of people.
  • Additional notes: 热闹 is a very common descriptive word for an atmosphere that makes people feel fun and lively due to the large amount of people involved, and often gives people an urge to get involved in the atmosphere with others.

A fun fact is that the word 人山人海 is a form of a Chinese idiom called 成语 (chéng yǔ). Here, its literal translation is “people mountain people ocean,” which means “people are like mountain and ocean,” which utilizes exaggeration to make the image more vivid and accurate. You’ll learn a lot more 成语 like this along the way as you climb the ladder higher and higher in studying Chinese.


2. 撒娇 (sā jiāo)

Has your girlfriend ever acted cute in a childish way? This is the right word for that moment!

Woman Wrapping Arms Around Man from Behind

  • Literal translation: Showcase cuteness
  • Meaning: Act like a spoiled child
  • Example situation: If your girlfriend is doing something adorable and childish to get your attention, (for example, being pouty) she is 撒娇 to you.
  • Usage in a sentence:
    In Chinese: 我的女友正撅着嘴用她水汪汪的大眼睛看着我,正在冲我撒娇。
    Pinyin: Wǒ de nǚ yǒu zhèng juē zhe zuǐ yòng tā shuǐ wāng wāng de dà yǎn jīng kàn zhe wǒ, zhèng zài chòng wǒ sā jiāo.
    In English: My girlfriend is being pouty and looking at me with her watery eyes, she is acting like a child to me.
  • Additional notes:
    This is a very common word in Chinese that people use to describe the special type of childlike cuteness that’s usually done to get attention, typically used for children, girlfriends, pets, etc.


3. 加油 (jiā yóu)

What should you do when your friend needs to be encouraged? Just give them a thumbs-up and say this to them. It’ll certainly give them some energy!

Man Giving Thumbs-Up Sign

  • Literal translation: Add gas
  • Meaning: Go for it
  • Example situation: If your friend needs to be encouraged before giving her presentation, you
    can say 加油 to her.
  • Usage in a sentence:
    In Chinese: 待会的比赛加油哦,我支持你。
    Pinyin: Dài huì de bǐ sài jiā yóu o, wǒ zhī chí nǐ.
    In English: Just go for the competition later, you have my full support.


4. 缘分 (yuán ​fèn)

  • Literal translation: Fate
  • Meaning: Somehow, a force drives things or people together in a desired and meaningful way
  • Example situation: If your teacher from elementary school happens to become your mother-in-law in the future, there is a 缘分 between you guys.
  • Usage in a sentence:
    In Chinese: 没想到这么多年之后我又遇见你了,咱们真是有缘分。
    Pinyin: Méi xiǎng dào zhè me duō nián zhī hòu wǒ yòu yù jiàn nǐ le, zán men zhēn shì yǒu yuán fèn.
    In English: I can’t believe I met you again after all those years, this is such a fate between us.


5. 冤枉 (yuān wǎng)

Have you ever felt extremely upset like the man in this photo because of being wrongly accused of something? Don’t worry, as the word we’re about to show you can help you point out your sorrowful feelings in a moment like this!

Man in Cell Expressing Deep Sorrow

  • Literal translation: To wrongly accuse
  • Meaning: Unjustly judged
  • Example situation: If you accused your little brother of eating your snacks because they’re gone, and later found out you put them somewhere else, you 冤枉 your brother.
  • Usage in a sentence:
    In Chinese: 你冤枉他了,他没有拿你的橡皮,是我刚才临时借用了你的橡皮。
    Pinyin: Nǐ yuān wǎng tā le, tā méi yǒu ná nǐ de xiàng pí, shì wǒ gāng cái lín shí jiè yòng le nǐ de xiàng pí.
    In English: You unjustly judged him, he didn’t take your eraser, it was me who just borrowed it.


6. 孝顺 (xiào​ shùn)

Look at how close this family is, and guess what the key is for such a great relationship between Chinese parents and children. You’ll see soon.

Chinese Parents with their Children

  • Literal translation: Filial
  • Meaning: Obedient, respectful, loyal, and responsible to their parents and elder families
  • Example situation: If a person listens to his parents about everything and spends as much time with them as he can, he is very 孝顺.
  • Usage in a sentence:
    In Chinese: 他为了陪在自己父母身边放弃了留学的机会,真是个孝顺的儿子。
    Pinyin: Tā wéi le péi zài zì jǐ fù mǔ shēn biān fàng qì le liú xué de jī huì, zhēn shì gè xiào shùn de ér zǐ.
    In English: In order to stay by his parents’ side, he gave up on the opportunity to study abroad, he is such a responsible and great son.
  • Additional notes: 孝顺 is a trait that Chinese attach great value to. China is a country that holds the bond between children and parents very dearly from tradition.


7. 辛苦 (xīn kǔ)

  • Literal meaning: Laborious
  • Meaning: To have worked hard or done a lot for something
  • Example situation: If your friend has spent a long time proofreading your essay for you, you should tell them that you are so 辛苦 and show your gratitude.
  • Usage in a sentence:
    In Chinese: 这么远赶过来给我过生日,真是辛苦你了。
    Pinyin: Zhè me yuǎn gǎn guò lái gěi wǒ guò shēng rì, zhēn shì xīn kǔ nǐ le.
    In English: You have come so far to celebrate my birthday with me, thank you for your effort.


8. 见外 (jiàn wài)

When your friends are being too polite and refuse your courtesy like this, they are being 见外.

Two Women Walking Together in the Snow

  • Literal translation: To look outside
  • Meaning: Being too polite just like an outsider would be
  • Example situation: If your best friend keeps saying “thank you” and wants to treat you with something big for a small favor you did for them, they are being 见外.
  • Usage in a sentence:
    In Chinese: 咱们这么好的朋友,不用跟我见外。
    Pinyin: Zán men zhè me hǎo de péng yǒu, bú yòng gēn wǒ jiàn wài.
    In English: We are such close friends, don’t be so polite to me like you’re a stranger.
  • Additional notes: Although Chinese people attach great importance to manners, they usually don’t say “thank you” to their very close friends or family for small favors, because doing so is viewed as 见外.


9. 失恋 (shī liàn)

Do you know what’s likely to happen when a relationship seems to be broken like this? Well, they might both 失恋 soon!

A Man Behind the Woman

  • Literal translation: To lose love
  • Meaning: Just broke up and felt disappointed in love
  • Example situation: If your friend just got dumped and felt heartbroken, he just 失恋.
  • Usage in a sentence:
    In Chinese: 他最近心情一直很低落,因为他失恋了。
    Pinyin: Tā zuì jìn xīn qíng yī zhí hěn dī luò, yīn wéi tā shī liàn le.
    In English: He has been very frustrated lately, because he just broke up.


10. 追… (zhuī)

  • Literal translation: To chase after someone
  • Meaning: The progress toward winning someone’s heart by a series of actions
  • Example situation: If a guy is giving flowers to a girl he likes, he is chasing after that girl.
  • Usage in a sentence:
    In Chinese: 自从他对那个女孩一见钟情之后,就一直在追她。
    Pinyin: Zì cóng tā duì nà gè nǚ hái yī jiàn zhōng qíng zhī hòu, jiù yī zhí zài zhuī tā.
    In English: Ever since he fell in love with the girl at first sight, he has been chasing after her.
  • Additional notes: This is an interesting expression unique to Chinese culture that focuses on the actions of how an individual wins the heart of another individual. That’s why you’ll often hear people ask a couple questions such as: “Who chased after whom?” or “How long did you chase after him/her for?” This may be one of the most beautiful untranslatable Chinese words.


11. 下台阶 (xià táijiē)

  • Literal translation: To go down a step
  • Meaning: To give someone a chance to save face so as not to be embarrassed
  • Example situation: If someone’s embarrassed because of a conversation and you said something to change the topic, the person is able to 下台阶.
  • Usage in a sentence:
    In Chinese: 刚才他们聊的话题实在是太让我尴尬了,还好我朋友转移话题我才能下台阶。
    Pinyin: Gāng cái tā men liáo de huà tí shí zài shì tài ràng wǒ gān gà le, hái hǎo wǒ péng yǒu zhuǎn yí huà tí wǒ cái néng xià tái jiē.
    In English: What they were talking about made me extremely awkward, thanks to my friend who changed the subject I was able to be saved from the embarrassment.
  • Additional notes: If you’re familiar with Chinese culture, you’ll know that there’s another popular term called 脸面 (liǎn miàn) meaning face, which indicates one’s need to maintain honor for their public image, so 下台阶 can be seen as a course of action to save someone’s face.


12. Conclusion

Now do you have a deeper understanding of the Chinese language by learning all these interesting and unique Chinese untranslatable words? By integrating these words into your daily conversations, you’ll be able to get a better glimpse at how Chinese culture works.

Still feel desperate to learn more? Continue your journey in studying professional Chinese today at ChineseClass101.com. Here we offer a great source of Chinese lessons that’s both fun and entertaining! From blog posts, to helpful vocabulary lists, and online forums, there’s something here just for you!

Start with a bonus, and download the Must-Know Beginner Vocabulary PDF for FREE! (Logged-In Member Only)

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Chinese