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Mandarin Go | Addressing someone politely in Chinese

In this new Chinese lesson, we will explain you everything you need to know about Chinese expressions, you will learn vocabulary to express yourself politely in Chinese.

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So, we start right away with the most useful situation, which is the situation in which you are on the street and you want to address someone in a formal way.


So to address someone in Chinese in a formal way, you have 2 things to take into account. The first is that this person is younger or older than you, and the 2nd is "is it a man or a woman".

So if it is a man who is older than you you will address him by calling him 叔叔 shūshu. And if it is a woman who is older than you, you will call her 阿姨 (ā yí). So be careful of course that the person is actually older than you when you address him with these terms otherwise you will embarrass him.

If the age gap is less obvious, in this case you either address the person by saying 哥哥 gēge which means big brother if it is a man, or you address him by saying 姐姐 jiějie which means big sister if it is a woman.

Talking to someone in a professional setting

If you don't know the person :

So if you don't work together yet and it's like the first time you meet, very often the person will give you a business card. So here one thing you can do is read the person's name aloud by adding the word 先生 if it's a man.

So let's imagine that the person is called 张, I keep this surname because it is one of the most common in China, well you will address him by saying:

张先生 to say Mr. 张

Funny little thing to note with the word 先生, is that literally it means the first born. It's like you're putting the person higher than you in the hierarchy of ages. So it's a respectful term since I remind you that in China, we have more respect for people who are more old than you.

And on the contrary if it is a woman, you will address her by saying:

张女士 which means Madame 张.

Be careful not to confuse the term 女士 with the term 太太 which is often seen in textbooks and which also means "madame" in Chinese but which is only used to talk about a married woman.

For example if you say 张太太 , in fact it actually means "Mrs. Zhang" but implies Mr. Zhang's wife.

It should also be noted that Chinese women are not obliged to change their surname when they get married. So sometimes it will happen that a woman has a different name than her husband.

If you know the person

Now we will see how to address someone with whom you will be brought to work every day and that therefore you will potentially greet but always in formal ways.

So the rule if you want to address your colleagues in polite and formal ways in Chinese, for example, is to use the prefix 老followed by his last name if the person is older than you, or the prefix 小 if the person is younger.

For example, let's imagine that your colleague's last name is 张 and that this person is older than you, well you will address him by calling him : 老张

And if this person is younger than you you will address him by saying小张

As you know, the Chinese place a lot of importance on hierarchy so you have to add the person's title as a suffix after their name.

For example, if your boss is called 张, you will address him by saying: 张总

With 总 which is a formal way of referring to a ruler in Chinese. And if he's a manager, you'll go to him and say:

张经理 With 经理 which means manager

Talk to a professional especially in Chinese

Doctors also have a title. For example, if you want to talk to a doctor in China called 张 you will have to address him and say: 张医生

Another exception is also when you talk to a professional, such as a craftsman or even a taxi driver, you will address him saying: 师傅

Which means "Master" at the base and which is a respectful way to refer to a professional.


For more lessons, scan the QR code below and enjoy a FREE TRIAL with us:

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