How to Address Chinese People — Tips You Must Know


If you read my posts: How to greet people in Mandarin-Chinese (I) and How to greet people in Mandarin-Chinese ( II), I hope you know how to say hello and good bye like a Chinese insider now.

In this post, I will show you how to address Chinese people like a native Chinese speaker does.

In Chinese culture, how to address a person appropriately is very important. If you don’t know how to address a person in a right way, you are regarded as a rude person.

Unlike English culture, we rarely call someone’s first name.

In our culture, only a close person like a family or a good friend has the privilege to call someone’s first name to show the closeness.

By the way, if a Chinese person has a two-word first name, for example, 美丽 (měi lì ) (beautiful), her good friend might just her first name “美丽”.

If she has a one-word first name, for example, 丽 ( lì ), her good friend might not call her as “丽”, instead, her friend will call her with two words by adding one more word, for example, 小丽 (xiǎo lì ) or 丽丽 ( lì lì) or just her full name.

To be honest, I don’t know why. I guess, maybe Chinese people feel not comfortable to address someone with only one word?

Then who has the right to address a Chinese person with only one word? Usually, his spouse or his very close family.

Now you know, unless the Chinese person is the one you are close to, it is not a good idea to just call his first name.

Then someone might ask: Can I address a Chinese person’s full name instead?

Sure, you can call someone’s full name. However, in formal situations, it is better to address his full name with his job title.

For example, if a Chinese person named 李文天 ( lǐ wén tiān ) come to visit your company, then how do you address him?

文天? Not an option if he is not your close friend. 李文天? Hmm, a bit rude. Then what should you do in this situation?

If 李文天 has a job title, then call his full name followed by his job title. For example, if 李文天 is a general manager (总经理) ( zǒng jīng lǐ ), then it is appropriate to address him as: 李文天总经理.

The better, if you just address him as: 李总经理, his last name plus his job title, or even better, address him as 李总 like many Chinese people do in today’s China society.

Here, 总 is the an abbreviation of 总经理. By the way, if you have no idea about a Chinese person’s exact title but you know he is the one in charge, then it is always safe to address him like this: The Chinese person’s last name + 总.

If the Chinese person is a owner of a small business, you can address him as: last name + 老板 ( lǎo bǎn )  (boss)  or  just 老板 if you don’t know his last name.

The interesting thing is, 老板娘 ( lǎo bǎn niáng ) is the title for the small business owner’s wife or a female small business owner. In this  case, you don’t need add any last name.

By the way, these days, in China, some Chinese people tend to use the title “总” or “老板” too much. If you were in China, don’t feel surprised to hear “总” or “老板” everywhere.

Anyway, it is always a good idea to address a Chinese person’s last name and his job title together. For example, 李老师 ( lǐ lǎo shī ) (teacher Li), 李教授, ( lǐ jiāo shòu ) (professor Li), 李医生 ( lǐ yī shēng ) (doctor Li), 李会计 ( kuài jì ) (account Li).

Now you know how to address a Chinese person with a job title, then how to address an ordinary Chinese person that you meet on the street?

It is easy. If the Chinese person is a kid, you just say: 小朋友 (  xiǎo péng yǒu ) ( little friend).

Some people might say: 小孩 ( xiǎo hái ) (little kid), 小姑娘 ( xiǎo gū niáng ) (little girl), 小男孩 ( xiǎo nán hái ) (little boy), 小妹妹 ( xiǎo mèi mèi ) (little sister), 小弟弟 ( xiǎo dì dì ) (little brother) etc.

If the Chinese person is an old man, you say: 大爷 ( dà yé ) or 老爷爷 ( lǎo yé yé ) . 大: big, older,爷: a respectful title for an old man. 老: old, 爷爷: grandfather on your father’s side. Here, 大爷 or 老爷爷 is a polite way to address a Chinese old man.

If the Chinese person is an old woman, you say: 大娘 ( dà niáng ), 大妈 ( dà mā ) or 老奶奶 ( lǎo nǎi nǎi ). 娘 or 妈 both means: mom, mother. 奶奶: grandmother on your father’s side.

If the Chinese person is a middle-aged Chinese man, you say: 大哥 ( dà gē ) or 大叔 ( dà shū ). 哥: older brother. 叔: uncle.

If the Chinese person is a middle-aged Chinese woman, you say: 大姐 ( dà jiě ) or 大嫂 ( dà sǎo ). 姐: older sister. 嫂: older brother’s wife. 大嫂 is a respected title for a married woman.

In some areas of China, it is OK to address a middle-aged woman as: 阿姨 ( ā yí ) (aunt). A child often addresses a woman who is close to his mom’s age as: 阿姨.

By the way, it is always polite to add the woman’s last name if you know her last name. For example, 李阿姨.

If the Chinese person is a young girl or a young woman, you say: 小姐 ( xiǎo jiě ). 小: small, little, young. 姐: older sister.

By the way, these days, in China, 小姐 has an alternative meaning: hooker.

Some Chinese girls might not like this title, then you can say: 姑娘 ( gū niáng ). 姑娘 means: a young girl or woman.

However, most of time, it is OK and it is polite to address a young woman as 小姐.

If you know her last name, it is better to address her last name and 小姐 together. For example, 李小姐.

If you can’t remember all of these kind of titles and you wish to ask a direction or need help on the street, then you can just say: 你好 ( nǐ hǎo ) ( hello ) to every one.

If you try to show your respect to a Chinese woman, you can address her with her last name and title “女士”  ( nǚ shì ) ( lady), for example, 李女士.

Sometimes, it is more respectful to address an accomplished female as: 先生 ( xiān shēng ), here 先生 is a very respectful title for the teacher.

A respectful way to address a Chinese man is: his last name + title “先生”, for example, 李先生. Here, 先生 means: gentleman.

If you meet a couple in a formal meeting, you can address the man with his last name + title “先生”.

An address for his wife would be: The man’s last name + title “太太” ( tài tài ). For example, 李太太. 太太 is a formal way to address someone’s wife.

If you meet an acquaintances on the street, you can just address him as: 老 + his last name if he is close to your age or older.

For example, 老李. Or 小 + his last name if he is younger. For example, 小李.

Now you know how to address Chinese people like a Chinese.

In my future post, I will teach you how to address family members in Mandarin Chinese. Enjoy your learning.

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