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The Top 10 Chinese Filler Words to Flavor Your Speech

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As dedicated a language learner as you are, there are probably still situations where you don’t have your next sentence prepared during a conversation. 

The question is: What should you do? 

On the one hand, you don’t want to pause for so long that the conversation becomes awkward. But on the other hand, it’s only natural to pause and think sometimes, even in your mother tongue. 

Chinese filler words are a magical set of tools that will empower your conversations and help you sound more like a native speaker. Using them will definitely make it feel easier to organize and share your thoughts. 

Today, we’re going to introduce you to the top 10 most useful Chinese filler words. However, remember not to overwhelm your conversation partner with too many of them—after all, they’re used to smoothen a conversation, not to abuse one. 

Now without further ado, let’s dive straight into it!

A Woman Trying to Comprehend What a Man Is Saying

Sometimes, taking a proper pause to organize your thoughts is the right thing to do.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Chinese Table of Contents
  1. What are filler words and why do we use them?
  2. Top 10 Common Chinese Filler Words
  3. Pros and Cons of Filler Words
  4. Conclusion

1. What are filler words and why do we use them?

Hmmm…let me think about it… What exactly is a filler word and how do we use it? 

Well, that’s a pretty difficult question to answer, but I believe you’re smart enough to have guessed after reading this far. 😉 

At one point or another, we all use filler words in our conversations. They can be used to buy us some time as we search for the right expression or figure out what to say next. Even in your native language, it’s likely that you sprinkle your daily convos with the occasional filler word. It’s just natural. 

Although filler words might not sound important, they indeed play a major role in the Chinese language. We use them in several different contexts and for a variety of reasons, such as adding emphasis or showing that we’re embarrassed or hesitant to say something out loud. 

If you’re familiar with Chinese culture, you may have heard that Chinese people greatly value the concept of “face.” Well, having filler words at your disposal can encourage you to speak up and help you do so with grace.

2. Top 10 Common Chinese Filler Words

A Group of Four Friends Chatting with Drinks

Use your words properly and make everyone happy during a conversation!

#1 

In Chinese: 那个…
Pinyin: nà gè…
Literal meaning in English: “That…”

You can use this Chinese filler word when you’re speaking about something difficult or awkward, or when you’re thinking about what to say next. 

Keep in mind that although the official pronunciation is nà gè, native Chinese speakers prefer to pronounce it nèi gè in their everyday conversations because it’s easier to say.

Example

A: “那个……我想跟你说个秘密,你能不能不要告诉别人?”
B: “当然了,放心吧。”

A: “Nà gè …wǒ xiǎng gēn nǐ shuō gè mì mì, nǐ néng bu néng bú yào gào sù bié rén.” 
B: “Dāng rán le, fàng xīn ba.” 

A: “Uh… I want to let you in on a secret, can you please not tell anyone else?”
B: “Of course, just rest assured.”

#2 

In Chinese: 然后…
Pinyin: rán hòu…
Literal meaning in English: “Then…”

This filler can be used to connect a series of events that happened in a more natural way.  然后 is actually a pet phrase for many Chinese people, especially when it comes to describing a long sequence of events, so feel free to use it as needed.

Example

“我没想到事情发生的这么突然,然后我就一下子愣住了, 再然后我就晕过去了。”
“Wǒ méi xiǎng dào shì qíng fā shēng de zhè me tū rán, rán hòu wǒ jiù yī xià zi lèng zhù le, zài rán hòu wǒ jiù yūn guò qù le.”
“I didn’t expect it to happen so fast, then I just froze from the shock, and then I passed out.”

#3

In Chinese: 就是…
Pinyin: jiù shì…
In English: “It’s like…” / “Actually…”

This is a great filler to use if you’re talking about something difficult or awkward, especially if you need to make your point clear. 

Example

A: “你到底想和我说什么?”
B: “就是吧……我其实一直都很喜欢你,你愿意和我在一起吗?”

A: “Nǐ dào dǐ xiǎng hé wǒ shuō shén me?” 
B: “Jiù shì ba …wǒ qí shí yī zhí dōu hěn xǐ huān nǐ, nǐ yuàn yì hé wǒ zài yī qǐ ma?”

A: “What do you exactly want to tell me?”
B: “Actually… I have always had a crush on you. Do you want to be with me?”

#4 

In Chinese: 对了…
Pinyin: duì le… 
In English: “By the way…”

Like its English equivalent, you would use this filler in case you wanted to add something to a previous conversation or if you wanted to say something that just came to mind. 

Example

A: “早上好。”
B: “早上好。对了,今天要不要一起吃午饭?”

A: “Zǎo shàng hǎo.” 
B: “Zǎo shàng hǎo. Duì le, jīn tiān yào bú yào yī qǐ chī wǔ fàn?”

A: “Good morning.”
B: “Good morning. By the way, do you want to have lunch with me today?”

#5 

In Chinese: 呃…
Pinyin: e…
In English: “Hm…”

You can use this Chinese filler when you’re hesitant or unsure about what to say.

Example

A: “你想和我结婚吗?”
B: “呃……我觉得我们应该再考虑一段时间。”

A: “Nǐ xiǎng hé wǒ jié hūn ma?” 
B: “E …wǒ jué de wǒ men yīng gāi zài kǎo lǜ yī duàn shí jiān.”

A: “Do you want to get married?”
B: “Hmm… I think we should take a little bit more time.”

#6

In Chinese: 另外…
Pinyin: lìng wài…
In English: “Also…”

This filler is most often used when you’re thinking of something to add to a conversation you’ve just had. 

Example

A: “今天和我出去逛街怎么样?”
B: “我今天不想出去逛街。另外……我肚子有些不舒服。”

A: “Jīn tiān hé wǒ chū qù guàng jiē zěn me yàng?” 
B: “Wǒ jīn tiān bù xiǎng chū qù guàng jiē. Lìng wài …wǒ dù zi yǒu xiē bù shū fú.”

A: “How about going shopping today?”
B: “I don’t really want to go shopping. Also…my stomach is a little upset.”

#7

In Chinese: 还有就是…
Pinyin: hái yǒu jiù shì…
In English: “What’s more…”

This is another filler you can use when you’re thinking of something to add to the conversation. 

Example

“我有点不好意思告诉你,还有就是……我爸妈不想邀请你来我的生日派对。”
“Wǒ yǒu diǎn bù hǎo yì sī gào sù nǐ, hái yǒu jiù shì …wǒ bà mā bù xiǎng yāo qǐng nǐ lái wǒ de shēng rì pài duì.”
“I feel a little embarrassed to tell you, what’s more is that…my parents don’t want you to come to my birthday party.”

A Woman Making a Phone Call while Holding a Hand to Her Head

Certain topics are embarrassing to talk about, which is where filler words come into play!

#8

In Chinese: 那什么…
Pinyin: nà shén me…
Literal meaning in English: “About that…”

You can use this filler to ease into a topic that may be awkward to speak about, or when you need time to think of what to say next. 

Example

A: “你可以把欠我的钱还给我吗?”
B: “那什么……我最近手头有点紧,下星期可以吗?”

A: “Nǐ kě yǐ bǎ qiàn wǒ de qián huán gěi wǒ ma?” 
B: “Nà shén me …wǒ zuì jìn shǒu tóu yǒu diǎn jǐn, xià xīng qī kě yǐ ma?”

A: “Can you give me back the money you owed me?”
B: “Talking about that… My pocket has been a little empty recently, can we please do it next week?”

#9

In Chinese: 这个…
Pinyin: zhè gè…
In English: “Well…”

This filler is used in much the same way as the previous one. 

Example

A: “你可以把这本书借我吗?”
B: “这个……可能不行。我已经答应借给另一个朋友了。”

A: “Nǐ kě yǐ bǎ zhè běn shū jiè wǒ ma?”  
B: “Zhè gè …kě néng bù xíng. Wǒ yǐ jīng dā yìng jiè gěi lìng yī gè péng yǒu le.”

A: “Can you lend this book to me?”
B: “Well…probably not. I already agreed to lend it to another friend.”

#10 

In Chinese: 怎么说呢…
Pinyin: zěn me shuō ne…
In English: “How do I put this…”

This phrase is best used in situations where you’re talking about something awkward or you aren’t sure of the proper way to say something. 

Example

A: “你喜欢我吗?”
B: “怎么说呢……我只当你是朋友。”

A: “Nǐ xǐ huān wǒ ma?” 
B: “Zěn me shuō ne …wǒ zhī dāng nǐ shì péng yǒu.”

A: “Do you like me?”
B: “How do I put this… I only see you as a friend.”

3. Pros and Cons of Filler Words

7 People Standing Side-by-side with Speech and Thought Bubbles in Their Hands

Speak to people in your unique way with sincerity.

Just as a coin has two sides, so do words. Filler words can only be effective when used properly. Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of using these words, and think about how we can use this information to maximize their effectiveness. 

1 – Pro: Filler words will make your conversations smoother and more natural. 

Each language has its own filler words that only native speakers or advanced learners would know. For this reason, using filler words appropriately will help you sound more fluent and make locals who talk to you feel more comfortable.

In addition, just imagine having a conversation without filler words before you’re completely fluent in a language…wouldn’t a long pause seem a bit awkward? These little words buy us time to think and organize our thoughts before speaking, and they also help the listener understand that we aren’t done talking yet. 

All in all, using filler words in Chinese correctly can help make your conversations flow.

2 – Con: It can become overwhelming if not used properly.

Now it’s time to talk about the disadvantages. 

Hold on, don’t get upset too fast! Chinese fillers can still be your best friends, as long as you use them in the right contexts without overdoing it.

Although filler words in Chinese can help you better structure your conversation, you should avoid using them in formal or professional contexts. If you have a job interview or business presentation coming up, you may want to consider preparing everything in advance in order to avoid overusing Chinese filler words. Otherwise, you may appear to be unprepared and lacking in confidence, which your listeners may also find disrespectful. 

To avoid situations like this, simply practice your speech before the occasion at hand. Remember: Success always comes for those who are prepared! 

Of course, using a couple of filler words in your speech shouldn’t be too much of a problem. So just relax and be confident!

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4. Conclusion

How are you handling these filler words in Chinese? They’re not as difficult as you thought, are they? Just remember to practice them often and to start using them naturally as you think of what to say. They can come in very handy in your conversations. 

Keep in mind that each filler word is unique, so try your best to use them properly. If you have any trouble implementing them into your daily conversations, don’t hesitate to ask the ChineseClass101 team for some help! 

We provide advanced learning tools and entertaining educational materials to keep you motivated on this language learning journey. Here, you’ll be a happy Chinese learner with access to up-to-date info on grammar, culture, slang, and so much more…all in one place! 

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