Vocabulary (Review)

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Lesson Transcript

Amber: Hey everyone. Welcome back to ChineseClass101, our All About Chinese Series. I’m Amber.
Victor: 大家好 (dàjiā hǎo), I’m Victor.

Lesson focus

Amber: And today, Victor, what is our topic? We’re going to teach everyone the top five…
Victor: Pet phrases.
Amber: Victor and I, after years of China living, we have some pet phrases.
Victor: Mostly you, but I like them too.
Amber: You lived there longer than me. So after some time, everyone will get their own pet phrases, we’re sure. But for now, we’re going to give you some to latch on to right away, that you’ll be able to use.
Victor: Right. And these are the phrases the locals use a lot.
Amber: Yeah, they’re kind of like the “cool” and “awesome” of English, although when I think about “cool” and “awesome” I think even those words are a bit outdated probably. You’ve lived in New York longer than me, what’s the cool words in English now?
Victor: I’m not sure. I don’t know.
Amber: Something like… I don’t know, anyway. But our favorite phrases in Chinese are things that are pretty modern and everyone uses them. So let’s have the phrases. Ok, so we’ll give you the phrases first in English and then Victor’s going to translate into Chinese. Ok, the first one is kind of like we say in English “I’ve troubled you.
Victor: 麻烦你了 (máfan nǐ le).
Amber: Good. Now the second one kind of like “It’s no big deal”, “Don’t worry about it”.
Victor: “No problem”. And it’s 没事 (méi shì).
Amber: Good. The third one is sort of a word when you want to be ambiguous or just say something is so-so, possible, it’s alright.
Victor: 还可以 (hái kěyǐ).
Amber: Good. Number four – this is a great one. It’s actually the prelude to a phrase, you’re going to say something after. But the meaning is kind of like “How can it be so…”
Victor: Yeah, “Why is it like that”. So it’s 怎么这么... (zěnme zhème...) and something else follows. So 怎么这么... (zěnme zhème...).
Amber: Right. And the fifth one is “Really?”
Victor: 真的吗? (zhēn de ma)
Amber: This one is very useful. I think of all the five, I think it’s very handy.
Victor: Yeah, you say “really” in English a lot, so in Chinese they do the same thing.
Amber: Yeah, so we’re going to teach you… Everyone needs a few interjections in their language, so these are all going to help you. Even if you can’t understand what people are saying, if you just say 真的吗? (zhēn de ma) “Really?” It always works. When you have nothing else to say. Ok, so let’s take a closer look at how to use these Chinese expressions. Let’s start with our pet phrase number one, Victor. What was it again?
Victor: 麻烦你了 (máfan nǐ le)
Amber: 麻烦你了 (máfan nǐ le)
Victor: 麻烦你了 (máfan nǐ le)
Amber: So let’s go through the tones. The first word is 麻烦 (máfan).
Victor: It’s 麻烦 (máfan) and it is second tone and neutral tone.
Amber: And that word means “to trouble”.
Victor: “To trouble”, right.
Amber: Or “have trouble” or even it can be a noun that means “trouble”. Ok, so the next word is the word for “you” in Chinese.
Victor: It’s 你 (nǐ) and it’s the third tone.
Amber: And then, after that, we have the particle 了 (le).
Victor: 了 (le) And that’s the neutral tone.
Amber: So, put it all together. In English it’s “trouble you” and 麻烦你了 (máfan nǐ le) has no meaning.
Victor: Right. 麻烦你了 (máfan nǐ le)
Amber: Yeah, so basically it means “I’ve troubled you”. I think, Victor, these are basically the magic words in Chinese. You could get away with a lot if you follow it with 麻烦你了 (máfan nǐ le).
Victor: Right. Usually you use this when you ask someone for a favor and then they did it for you. And then you just say thank you, and then 麻烦你了 (máfan nǐ le). It’s a very polite way to express gratitude.
Amber: Yeah, so basically you’re just acknowledging that you’ve hassled them. And then just the fact that you acknowledge it probably makes people feel better.
Victor: It works very well, yeah. It’s pretty magical word. So usually, for example, if you go to a clothing store and you look for something of your size, and they don’t have it on the display, you probably ask the clerk to go into the back and look for a different size for you. And then when they come back, either way you can say “thank you” and 麻烦你了 (máfan nǐ le). That’s a pretty good example of when we use it.
Amber: It’s true. It’s a very good way to kind of butter people up and get better customer service. Cause even when you think about in a restaurant or something, there’s no tipping in China. So sometimes the customer service might not be overly courteous. So if you just add this 麻烦你了 (máfan nǐ le) at the end, it can kind of make things go smoother for you.
Victor: Yeah, it’s a very courteous phrase. It means that you know you’re asking for a favor.
Amber: It kind of greases the wheels.
Victor: Right, it works very well.
Amber: Ok, good. Now the next one is our pet phrase number two, Victor.
Victor: 没事 (méi shì)
Amber: Ok, this one… I mean, all these are so great. And I'm not just saying that cause I picked them, but they’re really high frequency. There’s a million situations, basically it’s the Chinese equivalent of “Forget about it”, “Don’t worry”.
Victor: “No problem”. Yeah, it’s kind of like the response to 麻烦你了 (máfan nǐ le). If somebody says that to you, you can just say 没事 (méi shì). “It’s no problem”.
Amber: Like it wasn’t a big deal, you didn’t hassle me. So let’s break down the tones.
Victor: 没 (méi) is the second tone and 事 (shì) is the fourth tone.
Amber: And basically 没 (méi) is a negator, it means “no” basically. And 事 (shì) is the word for “matter” or “thing”, so it’s just basically “no thing”. Nothing. It’s nothing. So, for example, if someone stepped on your foot and they apologize, you can be like 没事 (méi shì).
Victor: Yeah, you hear this a lot.
Amber: I remember, honestly, even in Taiwan, there was a time where I saw a motor bike accident take place. Someone came out, hit the other woman, she went flying and the woman was like 没事 (méi shì). She’s so nice. She’s like “Don’t worry about it. No problem”. She’s picking up her belongings off the ground. So yeah, it can be for something more severe just to dismiss it, or it can be a small thing as well. Ok, now the next one was the mentioned was really good for when you kind of want to be not committal or ambiguous, sort of so-so... What was that, Victor?
Victor: And it’s 还可以 (hái kěyǐ).
Amber: Ok, so what are the tones there?
Victor: 还 (hái) is second tone and 可 (kě) is a third tone. And 以 (yǐ) is also third tone.
Amber: Yeah, but in this case, when two third tone are together, the first one is pronounced in second tone, so let’s hear it again, Victor, how it sounds?
Victor: 还可以 (hái kěyǐ)
Amber: Now it’s kind of weird to directly translate this phrase because what it means directly is not at all what it means in actuality. It basically 还 (hái) means “still” and 可以 (kěyǐ) means “can”.
Victor: Right.
Amber: “Still can”.
Victor: “Still can”.
Amber: But really, in English, it’s basically… I would say a more close definition would be “alright, not bad”, “so-so”.
Victor: “It’s ok.”
Amber: “Possible”. Or maybe it’s when you have nothing nice to say, so you don’t say anything at all. You can say 还可以 (hái kěyǐ). So where are some situations that you hear people use this. I mean, Victor, people use it all the time.
Victor: Yeah, if someone asks you your opinion for something. Maybe how an interview went or how you met a new friend or you bought something new, and you’re not too satisfied, you just say 还可以 (hái kěyǐ).
Amber: Perfect. I remember it can be also when you’re giving your opinion on something. For example, I knew these business men in China. They went on a tour. Their company or their partners in America sponsored a trip for them to go to America, and they went to like Las Vegas, New York, Los Angeles, all these big cities. So when they came back I was asking them, “It must’ve been amazing, this tour… I haven’t even been to all those places.” So I’m like, “How was it?” And they’re like 还可以 (hái kěyǐ). And I’m like, “What’s wrong? What was wrong?” And they’re like, “The food was terrible.”
Victor: They couldn’t get any real Chinese food. I think that’s the problem.
Amber: Exactly. And the thing is what makes a trip for a Chinese person, I think, is the food, a big part of it.
Victor: Yeah, definitely.
Amber: I mean, even within China, when people travel, they always go and eat the famous food from that region. I have a feeling the buffets of Las Vegas were not up to par.
Victor: The food is very important. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Amber: So they were like 还可以 (hái kěyǐ). “Yeah, I mean it was alright, but nothing to write home about.”
Victor: All these big cities, international cities, it’s ok.
Amber: Yeah, so it’s a great word for when you want to have that vague, generic response. Ok, on to number four. What is it? Our pet phrase number four.
Victor: 怎么这么... (zěnme zhème...)
Amber: Right. And this is like the front half of a phrase. So let’s break it down for us before we tell what comes after.
Victor: 怎么这么... (zěnme zhème...). 怎 is third tone, 么 is neutral tone, 这 fourth tone, and 么, again, is neutral tone. It sounds kind of funny, doesn’t it?
Amber: It is. I think it rolls off the tongue. Quite like saying it. I would always look for occasions to say this phrase. 怎么这么... (zěnme zhème...) and you can really put a lot of emphasis. It can be used either to be mad or it could be surprised.
Victor: Usually not in a very good way.
Amber: Yeah, so basically what it means is kind of like “how can it be so…”
Victor: Yeah, why is it like this? Why is it this… whatever.
Amber: Well, maybe the people who went to the States not heir city tour, they’d be like “How can the food be so bad?” So there does the thing come 怎么这么...(zěnme zhème). Maybe they’re talking about the food and then they say…
Victor: 饭怎么这么难吃 (fàn zěnme zhème nánchī). 饭 (fàn) is “food”, “meal” and 怎么这么 is like “how can it be so”. 难吃 (nánchī) is “not delicious”.
Amber: Like unpalatable. Like 难吃 (nánchī). 吃 (chī) means “to eat”, 难 (nán) means “difficult”. “How could it be so difficult to eat?”
Victor: Right. So the meal, 怎么这么难吃 (zěnme zhème nánchī)
Amber: I think they did say that. 怎么这么难吃 (zěnme zhème nánchī)
Victor: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Amber: It’s perfect. Or sometimes, I think, for example, maybe if someone scolds you. Maybe there’s someone in the train station or whatever and they’ll be very angry. So maybe you would say, the word for “angry” or “fear” is 兇 (xiōng).
Victor: 怎么这么兇? (zěnme zhème xiōng)
Amber: Yeah, so 怎么这么兇 (zěnme zhème xiōng). So maybe if someone gets angry for something, cause you’re a foreigner and you don’t know what you’re doing, 怎么这么兇? (zěnme zhème xiōng)
Victor: You probably use this a lot. Cause you got to foreign country, you see a lot of different things.
Amber: Yeah, it’s a good exclamation.
Victor: You can always just say that. Or how about, this is kind of a funny one, 怎么这么胖 (zěnme zhème pàng).
Amber: Who are you talking about?
Victor: No one in particular.
Amber: 胖 (pàng) is the word for “fat”. Are you talking about me? So basically means “How could someone be so fat?” In fact maybe those same Chinese guys in Las Vegas said this too, because they all think Americans are so fat. They’d be like 怎么这么胖 (zěnme zhème pàng). I think a lot of Chinese people have said this in America.
Victor: I think so, yeah.
Amber: You might even hear it on the street. Basically, yeah, it just means “How could a person be so fat?”
Victor: When I come back from China, from vacation, you may say to me 怎么这么胖 (zěnme zhème pàng).
Amber: Or maybe when you go back to China, does your mom say that to you? You go to America, 怎么这么胖 (zěnme zhème pàng).
Victor: No, she always thinks I drop weight when I come to the US, cause the food in China is so much better.
Amber: Cause the food here is so 难吃 (nánchī).
Victor: We really can’t emphasize enough how important food is to Chinese people.
Amber: 怎么这么 (zěnme zhème) important.
Victor: Yeah, it’s very important. Chinese people tend to be very obsessed with food, so that’s a little… sidetrack a little bit.
Amber: Not really because we can use this back with our phrase. You could be like “How can the food in China be so good?” How would you say that?
Victor: 中国菜怎么这么好吃 (zhōngguó cài zěnme zhème hàochī) Yeah, there you go.
Amber: Not like the American 难吃 (nánchī). Ok, last but not least, this probably is the one you can use the most. And like we said, even when you don’t understand what’s going on, you can always throw the “Really?” How do you say it, Victor?
Victor: 真的吗? (zhēn de ma)
Amber: So the first word 真 (zhēn) is first tone, and it really means “real” is actually the real meaning of that character. And then the other two characters in the phrase are particles. We add the 的 (de) to mean “really?” and the 吗 (ma) is our question particle.
Victor: Yeah, so again it’s 真的吗? (zhēn de ma)
Amber: Yeah, so it’s “Really?” Like the question “Really?”
Victor: 真的吗? (zhēn de ma)
Amber: 真的吗? (zhēn de ma) So maybe someone will respond to you 真的 (zhēn de).
Victor: Yeah, that would be the answer to that.
Amber: So like “Really?” “Really.” Just like English. So if you want to express surprise or doubt even. For example, when someone said to you 你的中文怎么这么好 (nǐ de zhōngwén zěnme zhème hǎo). Your Chinese, how is it so wonderful?” You can be like 真的吗? (zhēn de ma). “Really?”
Victor: “Really?” And they’ll say 真的 (zhēn de).
Amber: Hopefully they’ll say 真的 (zhēn de). So the difference is the 吗 (ma) is the question particle, so we know it’s the question. 真的 (zhēn de) is just “really” without a question.
Victor: The difference is the 吗 (ma) in the end that makes up a question. So when you don’t say that, it’s just a statement.
Amber: Exactly, really. Should we repeat the phrases one more time then?
Victor: Sure. Let’s do all the phrases once again.
Amber: So we know you guys are going to find a lot of use for these phrases. So let’s try them one more time, Victor. Give them to us.
Victor: The first one is “I have troubled you” or “Thank you” is 麻烦你了 (máfan nǐ le).
Amber: Great. Now, number two.
Victor: Is 没事 (méi shì)
Amber: “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.” “You hit me with your bike. 没事 (méi shì)”
Victor: 没事 (méi shì)
Amber: And the third?
Victor: 还可以 (hái kěyǐ)
Amber: Remember 还可以 (hái kěyǐ) is the one for when you want to be vague or non-committal or if you think that the food in America is not that great. 还可以 (hái kěyǐ)
Victor: 还可以 (hái kěyǐ).
Amber: And the fourth?
Victor: 怎么这么... (zěnme zhème...)
Amber: My personal favorite, I think. Rolls off the tongue. “How can it be?” 怎么这么... (zěnme zhème...)
Victor: 怎么这么... (zěnme zhème...)
Amber: 怎么这么... (zěnme zhème...)
Victor: Yes.
Amber: How is Victor so smart? And number five.
Victor: 真的吗? (zhēn de ma)
Amber: The perfect follow-up. “Really?”
Victor: 真的吗? (zhēn de ma)


Amber: So everybody, make good use of these phrases. Throw them out whenever you can, usually they’ll fit in any situation.