How to ask and reply to “How Are You” in Chinese

March 31, 2014

You may have read somewhere that “how are you?” in Chinese is “你好吗 Nǐ hǎo ma?”, but in reality, different situations call for different ways of expressing concern in Chinese.

Keep reading to learn 15 ways to ask how are you in Chinese, when to ask them and how to respond to them.

How to say “how are you” in Chinese to ask about someone’s overall well-being

These following phrases are all good ways to show concern for the listener at the start of a conversation.

1-你怎么样 Nǐ zěnme yang?
Sorry to break it to you but the most common way to ask, “how are you” is “你怎么样 Nǐ zěnme yàng?”, not “你好吗 Nǐ hǎo ma?”. This question is usually used to ask about someone’s general well-being.

2-(你)最近怎么样 (Nǐ) zuìjìn zěnme yàng?
If you’re speaking with someone that you haven’t seen or talked to for a while, adding 最近 zuìjìn to the first phrase will change it to “how are you doing recently?”.

3-(你)身体怎么样 (Nǐ) shēntǐ zěnme yang?
身体 Shēntǐ means “body” in Chinese. The phrase 你身体怎么样 Nǐ shēntǐ zěnme yàng? is best used with someone you’re familiar with but that you haven’t seen in a while or with older people, to enquire about their physical health.

4-(你)最近忙些什么 Nǐ zuìjìn máng xiē shénme?
你最近忙些什么? can be interpreted as “What have you been up to recently?” in English.

asset57

Responding to 你怎么样 in Chinese when speaking with an acquaintance

Although 怎么样 zěnme yàng indicates an open-ended question, bear in mind that oftentimes the question 你怎么样 is only used as a pleasantry, and therefore does not require a detailed response unless the speaker is someone close to you.

Instead, neutral replies are more popular. The same applies to 你最近怎么样 and 你身体怎么样.

Here are a few responses you may practice:

Character Pinyin English Character Pinyin English
(我)还好吧 (Wǒ) hái hǎo ba I’m alright 凑合 Còuhé Not too bad
(我)还行吧 (Wǒ) hái xíng ba I’m fine 混日子吧 Hùn rìzi ba Just the same old daily grind
(我)还不错 (Wǒ) hái bùcuò I’m pretty good 不好不坏 Bù hǎobù huài Not good or bad
(我)挺好的 (Wǒ) tǐng hǎo de I’m good 一切都好 Yīqiè dōu hǎo All is well
一般/一般般 Yībān/ Yībān bān So-so 老样子 Lǎo yàngzi Same as usual
就那样 Jiù nàyàng Just as usual
    Bonus: Colloquial habit means native Chinese speakers often omit subjects of a sentence, such as 我, when in a conversation between two people. As they are optional, you can decide if you want to use them or not.

Responding to 你怎么样 in Chinese when speaking with friends and family

If you’re being asked any of the first three questions we covered above by a close friend or relative, feel free to give a more specific reply, followed by a short explanation. For example:

我很累.我昨天晚上谁的不太好.
Wǒ hěn lèi. Wǒ zuótiān wǎnshàng shuì dé bù tài hǎo.
I am very tired. I didn't sleep well last night.

很忙.我天天写毕业论文呢.
Hěn máng. Wǒ tiāntiān xiě bìyè lùnwén ne.
Very busy. I write my graduation thesis every day.

Alternatively, you may also choose to deflect the question by saying:

Character Pinyin English
一言难尽 Yìyán nánjìn It’s a long story/ hard to explain
别提了 Biétíle Don’t even ask

Regardless of how you choose to reply, be sure to follow up with 你呢 Nǐ ne? (How about you?), to keep the conversation flowing, and in case you only see them a couple of times a year, end the conversation with “保重 Bǎozhòng! “(English meaning: “Take care!”).

Responding to 你最近忙些什么 in Chinese

Just as with any question with the question word 什么shénme, all you need to is restate the subject, followed by the verb describing your answer, to respond to this question.

Since answers vary from one person to another and can change anytime, I highly recommend taking some online Chinese courses to help improve your Chinese speaking skills if you have difficulty crafting a reply of your own.

Now that we’ve looked at how to ask “how are you” in Chinese to start a conversation, let’s explore Chinese phrases to say “how are you?” as a greeting.

CY green square separator 5050

How to ask “how are you” in Chinese as a casual greeting

Sometimes you may want to greet someone and show concern without initiating a conversation. These are some useful phrases for such situations.

5-你好 Nǐ hǎo
你好 is undoubtedly one of the very first phrases every Chinese learner picks up. Although not a question, I included this standard Chinese “hello” as it also conveys a feeling of concern for others, because it literally means “you good”.

Still, you would want to save this one for strangers and people you’re not very familiar with as it sounds a bit formal.

6-(你)吃(饭)了吗 (Nǐ) chī(fàn)le ma?
The Chinese greeting 你吃饭了吗? means “have you eaten?” or “have you had food?” in English. It is a quick and informal question typically exchanged between acquaintances to greet each other in passing, without having to stop for a conversation. You may use it if you run into someone close to standard meal times.

Another variant of the same phrase is 你吃饭了没 Nǐ chīfànle méi?.

Oftentimes, the locals tend to drop the word饭 in addition to omitting the subject, so don’t be surprised if someone asks you 吃了吗 Chīle ma? or 吃了没 Chīle méi?

Asking the obvious

It is customary among Chinese people, especially in Northern China, to ask the obvious when greeting others. Some examples include:

7-出去啊 Chūqù a?
English: Going out?

8-上班啊 Shàngbān a?
English: Going to work?

9-买菜啊 Mǎi cài a?
English: Buying groceries?

This habit took me some time to get used to but, living in Beijing, I picked up rather quickly that these are not genuine questions, and that the purpose of the exchange is simply to acknowledge someone’s presence.

Answering 你吃饭了吗 in Chinese

As with most 吗 ma questions about a verb, you can simply respond to this phrase using the verb mentioned in the question:

Character Pinyin English
(我)吃了 (Wǒ) chīle I have eaten
(我)还没(吃)呢 (Wǒ) hái méi (chī) ne I haven’t eaten

Generally speaking, the locals tend to respond that they have eaten, regardless of whether it’s true or not.

Since the particle 吗 indicates a yes-no question, refrain from rambling about everything you ate. Again, this is a merely pleasantry, not a way to start a full-on conversation.

Answering obvious greeting questions in Chinese

Think of the Chinese interjection 啊 a in 出去啊, 上班啊, 买菜啊 or other similar questions as a replacement for the question tag 是吗 Shì ma or 是吧 Shì ba. Therefore, you can respond with either 是 shì or 不是 bùshì.

Having said that, you will more likely hear the locals respond with a short 嗯 en (like the affirmative sound “mhm”) most of the time.

CY green square separator 5050

How to ask how are you in Chinese when someone seems unwell

10-你好吗Nǐ hǎo ma?
As aforementioned, 你好吗 Nǐ hǎo ma doesn’t really mean how are you in Chinese, and you will almost never hear native Chinese speakers use it. But if 你好吗 is a poor Chinese translation of “how are you?” and is culturally inaccurate, then why is it often taught to beginner Chinese learners?

I picked the brain of Culture Yard’s teacher Qi Laoshi about this very question. Qi Laoshi explained that it is probably due to a mistake in early teaching materials for Chinese as a foreign language that was kept over the years because it is still grammatically correct and can be helpful in teaching the basic Chinese sentence structure Subject+ adjective+吗.

In addition to sounding odd and unnatural, the question 你好吗 also carries a negative connotation, as if you suspect the listener is not doing well. If someone appears unwell and you wish to confirm your doubts out of concern, try one of these alternatives instead:

11-你还好吗 Nǐ hái hǎo ma?
English: Are you alright?

12-你还好吧 Nǐ hái hǎo ba?
English: Are you ok?

13-你没事吧 Nǐ méishì ba?
English: Are you alright?

14-(你)怎么了 (Nǐ) zěnmele?
English: What’s wrong/what’s the matter (with you)?

Answering 你还好吗 in Chinese

If someone wants to confirm whether you’re doing okay, you can answer using any of the following:

Character Pinyin English
(我)没事 (Wǒ) méishì I’m fine
(我)不舒服 (Wǒ) bú shūfú I don’t feel well
(我) 很累 (Wǒ) hěn lèi I am very tired
(我)病了 Wǒ bìngle I am sick

CY green square separator 5050

How to ask about an event’s success in Chinese

15-一切都顺利吗 Yīqiè dōu shùnlì ma?
Asking someone “一切都顺利吗?” would be similar to asking them whether everything went smoothly in English following an important activity, such as an exam, an interview, or a contest.

So, if you just sat the HSK exam, your Chinese teacher or friends might ask you 一切都顺利吗?, and hopefully you can confirm and say一切都很顺利 Yīqiè dōu hěn shùnlì (English: Everything went well).

CY green square separator 5050

There you have it! Now you know how to say “how are you” in Chinese like a native. Whether you live in China or plan to travel to China soon, I am sure that these phrases will surely come in handy.

Check out this page for more useful Chinese phrases, or get in touch for a free online Chinese trial class.

About the Author

Juli Mboty has called China home for over 11 years where she became passionate about the Chinese culture, language, and history.

Juli Author Culture Yard