Cantonese Grammar 1
Greetings and Thanks

/Neih/ /hou/ ma?

  How are you?

  你好嗎?

/Neih/ /hou/ ma?

  Hi.

  你好嗎?

/Neih/ /hou/.

  Hi.

  你好?

/Hou/ ma?

  Hi.

  好嗎?

/Hou/ /hou/

  Very well.

  好好。

/Gei/ /hou/.

  Ok, not bad.

  幾好。

Mh \goi\

  Thanks

*

\Do\ jeh

  Thank-you

  多謝。

Dialogue Patterns:

Greeting: 

  /Neih/ /hou/ ma?

  Greeting:

  /Hou/ ma?

  Greeting:

  /Neih/ /hou/.

Reply1: 

  /Hou/ /hou/.

  Reply1:

  /Neih/ /hou/.

  Reply1:

  /Hou/ ma?

Reply2: 

  /Gei/ /hou/.

  Reply2:

  /Hou/ ma?

  Reply2:

  /Neih/ /hou/.

Reply3: 

  /Neih/ /hou/.

  Reply3:

  /Hou/.

  Reply3:

  /Hou/.

Reply4: 

  /Hou/ ma?

       

Tones

One of the first things to be learned when learning Cantonese is the tones.  Chinese is tonal, which means that a word must not only be pronounced with the right sound, it must also be given the right pitch or tone.  When pronouncing Cantonese, care must be taken to not only pronounce them with the same sound, but also at the same pitch or tone.  Sounds and Tones Lesson 1 gives a simple introduction to the sounds and tones of Cantonese.

Greetings

The phrase "/Neih/ /hou/ ma?" has two purposes:  both to say "Hi." and to ask "How are you?"  When taken to mean "How are you?" the general reply to this is to say that one is well, "/hou/ /hou/" or fairly well "/gei/ hou/."

When a person is just greeting another rather than really asking how they are, the phrase is often shortened to either "/Neih/ /hou/." or "/Hou/ ma?" which both basically mean "Hi".  The general reply to this is to simply say "/Neih/ /hou/." or "/Hou/ ma?" in return, or to simply say "/hou/".  These responses can also be used to reply to "/Neih/ /hou/ ma?" when it is taken to be an greeting rather than an inquiry.

Thank-you

In Cantonese, there are two forms for "thank-you."  The first is "\mh\ \goi\", which is used to thank someone for a service.  The second is "\do\ jeh", which is used to thank someone for a gift.  If someone lends you a pen, you would thank them with "\mh\ \goi\", but if they give the pen to you to keep, you would thank them with "\do\ jeh".  Mixing the two forms of "thank-you" is not a major mistake, but can lead to some confusion.

Learning Helps

There are a few things to keep in mind when learning Cantonese.  First, do not worry overly much about learning the characters.  While useful in later studies, they do not help the beginning student and add a lot of unnecessary complexity to the learning process.  Characters are primarily listed on this page for the benefit of those who know written Chinese but do not know the Cantonese pronunciations.

Other points brought up in this lesson are the use of sentence ending particles (like ma), initial /n/ sounds becoming /l/ sounds, the use of /hou/ as an adverb, and differences between spoken Cantonese and written Chinese.  These things are covered in other lessons.

For additional suggestions on learning Cantonese, see the language learning suggestions page.


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