My Top-Ten Favorite Vague Chinese Words – Part One

Vague words are awesome for language learners. Keep a few in your pocket and you can pull them out any time you’re in need of “beating around the bush”, or you simply can’t find the specific word in Mandarin. These same words native speakers also use to talk around a subject or get out of giving the details.

#1 有事 yǒu shì = to have some matters (to tend to)
Man, I love this word! You can use it for almost anything. You can’t make it to a party; you cancel an appointment; you want ‘out’ of doing something; any time is a good yǒushì time. In Chinese, this is a universally accepted vague answer:

Usage: Subject + yǒu shì.

Example Sentences:

对不起, 我不能来,因为我有事。
Duìbùqǐ, wǒ bù néng lái yīnwèi wǒ yǒu shì.
Sorry, I can’t come, because I’ve got something going on.

Wǒ xīngqīwǔ wǎnshàng bù xíng yīnwèi wǒ yǒu shì.
Friday night isn’t possible for me; I’ve got something going on.

#2 这样(子) Zhè yàng (zì) = like so, as such, in such a way, things like that
I remember the day I discovered the “zhè yàng” trick and have been a “zhè yàng zì” addict every since. It is so non-specific you can use it in many situations from responding vaguely to something someone said to showing somebody how to do something (without having to say the details):

The “like so” zhè yàng
Nǐ kěyǐ zhè yàng zuò.
You can do it like this.

The “In that a way” zhè yàng
哦, 结果你是这样做的。
O, jiěguǒ nǐ shì zhè yàng zuò de.
Oh, so in the end that’s the way you did it.

“oh, so that’s the way it is” Zhè yàng zì
(in response to something someone said)
Zhè yàng zì.
“Oh I see” / “So it was like that”/ “Ah that’s what happened”/ “So that’s the way it gonna be.”

“things like that” Zhè yàng
Zhè yàng de shìqing zhēn ràng rén shēngqì.
Things like that really can make a person angry.

“like that” Zhè yàng
Rú nǐ zhè yàng zuò wǒ bú huì bǎ nǐ dāng péngyǒu.
If you are going to do it like that, then I’m not going to be your friend.

#3 那个,那个 nà ge, nà ge = ummmm (expression to buy time while speaker thinks)

Need time to think because the Chinese isn’t flowing out of your mouth at the moment? Look no further. Just like our “ummmm” in English, this word can be repeated two or more times to show you are searching for the word or to not leave blank air time during your conversation.


他说他要请我吃饭, 然后带我去… 那个,那个,那个… 新的博物馆。
Tā shuō tā yào qǐng wǒ chīfàn , ránhòu dài wǒ qù … nàgè ,nàgè ,nàgè … xīn de
He said he wants to take me out to dinner, and then take me to that new, ummmm, museum.

More to come… stay tuned for Part Two

How to say “and” in Chinese: Part One

How to say “and”: Part One

Connecting words or phrases and clauses in Chinese is a tricky thing for learners. Teachers hear all the time students trying to force “hé” to serve the role that “and” would in English. Unfortunately, “hé” is only meant to connect nouns/pronouns and nothing else. The English “and” is a handy-dandy, multi-purpose word that can connect just about anything. It can even dangle in the air on it’s own when one is thinking of the next thought you want to connect as in “and, so…” And, so, westerners have a problem replacing this concept as we move beyond the beginner level in Mandarin and hope to string together more complex sentences. It is something I tackle in my textbook “Chit-Chat Chinese” (to be published by Far East Publishers in 2009) in two parts. (I also have a handy table I created with all the top connectors, but I can’t seem to upload it here). Here we go:

Conjunction Concept #1:

The “Skip It” Approach: Don’t use a conjunction at all

Here is a radical concept: In Chinese you can often just skip the “and” conjunction. Places where in English you are required to say “and” in Chinese you can often just skip. Here is how ‘skipping it’ works:

Example 1: 我爸爸妈妈去吃饭看电影。
Wǒ bàbamāma qù chī fàn kàn diànyǐng.
My father and mother are going out to eat and going to
the movies.

Example 2: 他不会看书不会写字。
Tā bú huì kàn shū bú huì xǐezi.
He doesn’t know how to read and doesn’t know how to write.

Conjunction Concept #2:

Use a popular conjunction to express “and”


Hé is commonly translated as “and”; however, it can only be used to connect pronouns, nouns and noun phrases. It may not be used to connect verbs, verb phrases and clauses, as you would be able to do with “and” in English.

Examples of how “hé” may be used

Tā bàba hé māma dōu shì měiguórén.
His mother and father are both American.

Tā huì shuō zhōngwén hé yīngwén.
He knows how to speak Chinese and English.

Example of how “hé” may not be used

 Wrong: Wǒ qù tā jiā hé chīfàn.
Wrong way to say “I go to his house and eat dinner”

To correct this simply use the “skip it” approach

√ Correct Wǒ qù tā jiā chīfàn.
I go to his house and eat dinner.

Conjunction Concept #3:

Use another popular onjunction to express “and”

You learned this conjunction in chapter 5 to mean “also have” (háiyǒu). It also can mean “and”

and, in addition, else, also have

Háiyǒu is similar to hé in that it is used to connect nouns; however, it is not commonly used to connect pronouns. Also, like hé, it may not be used to connect verbs and clauses. It has an additional use of expressing “and” as in the tag “And, what else?” or “And who else”:

Examples of how “háiyǒu” is used like “hé”

我有一个姐姐, 两个妹妹,还有一个弟弟。
Wǒ yoǔ yíge jiějie, liǎngge mèimei, háiyǒu yíge dìdi.
I have an older sister, two younger sisters and one younger brother.

Examples of “háiyǒu” expressing “And, (what else)…?”
Additionally háiyǒu may be colloqially used to express “And, what else?”, or simply “And?” as shown below:

Háiyǒu ne?
And (what else)?

Háiyǒu shéi?
And, who else?

Nǐ yǒu zhège háiyǒu shénme?
You have this and what else?

Conjunction Concept #4:

Use yě (also) to express “and”

The word “also” in Chinese can be used like the English conjunction “and”. This should be done to connect verbs and verb phrases only. Here are some examples:

Tā bù dǒng zhōngwén yě bù dǒng yīngwén.
He doesn’t understand Chinese and he doesn’t understand English.

Tāmen yào qù Běijīng xué zhōngwén yě yào qù shànghǎi wǎnr.
They want to go to Beijing to study Chinese and they want to go to Shanghai to have fun..

Summary –
Handy Rules of Thumb

• When in doubt just use nothing – you’ll often be right.
• When connecting pronouns at the beginning of a sentence use hé
• When listing things or people use hǎiyǒu

Stay tuned for Part 2!