Courtesy and Politeness in Chinese: Learning Etiquette and Manners for Better Communication

HSK 3 quiz

Compliments, modest remarks, and polite expressions are all forms of respect. We have these in every culture, complimenting the other party or praising them for something they have accomplished, belittling oneself as a form of modesty, as well as terms of respect that express politeness. These are all important parts of an elegant conversation.

Honoring the other party in a conversation consists of “modest speech,” or expressions to show respect and politeness. Using these effectively exhibits that the speaker is charming and polite. Therefore, it is necessary to learn how to use some honorific terms in interpersonal communication.

These terms and phrases are often used in the following situations:

1. Greetings:

• When you greet a teacher, elder or senior, you should say “您好 (nín hǎo) Hello.”

• When you ask someone’s last name, you can say “贵姓 (guìxìng) honorable surname (a formal expression to ask one’s family name)” or you can put these together and say “您好,请问您贵姓? (nǐn hǎo, qǐnwèn nǐn guìxìng?) Hello, may I ask your family name?”

• When you meet someone you have admired or heard good things about for a long time, you can say “久仰 (jiǔyǎng) I have been admiring you for a long time.”

• When meeting someone for the first time, you can say: “幸会 (xìnghuì) Nice to meet you. / I’m very pleased to see you.”

These words convey three things: how much you respect them, how kind you are, and it also expresses that you are expecting a friendship with them. At the same time, it also shows how cultured you are, that you have manners, and you are very polite.

2. Expressing Thanks and Responding to Thanks and Praises Given:

• After others offer help, give support, show care and respect, or praise you, the simplest and most effective response is to say “谢谢 (xièxie) Thanks!”

• How you can respond when someone says “谢谢 (xièxie!):”
“不用谢 (bú yòng xiè) You’re so welcome!” and “不客气 (bú kèqì) My pleasure! /Don’t mention it! / I’m glad to help!” as a polite response.
(How Do We Use the Chinese Phrase “不客气 (bú kèqì)?”)

• How you can respond when someone praises you:
You can say “过奖了 (guòjiǎng le) I don’t deserve it! / You flatter me!”

3. When asking for help:

• When you ask someone for advice, you might say “向您请教 (xiàng nǐn qǐngjiào) consult with you.”
• When you ask someone for help, you could say “拜托 (bàituō) Could you please do something?”
• When you ask someone who is busy with something, you might say “打扰 (dǎrǎo) Excuse me.”

4. Excusing oneself and making an apology:

• When you can’t meet others’ demands, you can say “抱歉 (bàoqiàn) sorry” or “不好意思 (búhǎoyìsī) sorry.”
• When you ask people to tolerate little mistakes we’ve made, we may say “包涵 (bāohán) Please forgive…”
• When we have to leave halfway through a meeting or party, we can say “失陪 (shīpéi) Please excuse me for a minute. / Could you please excuse me for a minute? / Would you please excuse me for a bit?”
• When asking others for understanding, you may say “见谅 (jiànliàng) excuse me/ forgive me.”


Some of these phrases, such as “贵姓 (guìxìng)” “久仰 (jiǔyǎng)” “幸会 (xìnghuì)” “抱歉 (bàoqiàn)” “包涵 (bāohán)” “失陪 (shīpéi)” “见谅 (jiànliàng)are not commonly spoken in daily conversations these days because they are a bit more formal. They are more often used in business situations or while attending important meetings, or you might hear them used in Chinese TV dramas.

In addition to the above four categories, there are many honorific sayings or idioms which are used in social settings to show a person’s charm. For instance “辛苦啦 (xīnkǔ lā) Thanks for hard work” “请多关照 (qǐng duō guānzhào) I appreciate your kind consideration” and so on.

Ok! So now that we’ve learned a lot of very useful phrases, let’s try to apply these in our daily life conversations! These simple cues will win you more understanding and support from others.

Scene: The student Xiao Ming meets a senior Professor.

Xiǎo Míng: “Lǐ jiàoshòu, jiǔyǎng dàmíng, wǒ zhēn de hěn xǐhuān nǐn de wénzhāng ne.”
Xiao Ming: “Professor Li, I have admired you for a long time, and I really like your articles.”

Lǐ jiàoshòu: “Xièxie, guòjiǎng le.”
Professor Li: “Thank you. I’m flattered.”

Scene: Xiao Lei says hello to his colleague on the first day of work.

Xiǎo Léi: “Chūcì jiànmiàn, qǐng duō guānzhào.”
小雷: “初次见面,请多关照。”
Xiao Lei: “Nice to meet you.”

Xiǎo Jūn: “Huānyíng jiārù!”
Xiao Jun: “Welcome aboard!”


1. 久仰 (Jiǔyǎng): I have been admiring you for a long time.

(How to Use the Chinese Word “久仰” in Business Greetings?)
2. 幸会 (Xìnghuì): Nice to meet you. / I’m glad to see you.

3. 过奖了 (Guòjiǎng le): I don’t deserve it! / You flatter me!

4. 不客气 (Bú kèqì): You’re so welcome! /My pleasure! / Don’t mention it! / I’m glad to help!

5. 拜托 (Bàituō): Please do something. / Could you please so somthing?

6. 打扰 (Dǎrǎo): Excuse me

7. 抱歉 (Bàoqiàn): Sorry

(Do You Know the Differences Between “抱歉 (Bàoqiàn)” and “道歉 (Dàoqiàn)?”)
8. 包涵 (Bāohán): Please forgive…

9. 失陪 (Shīpéi): Please excuse me for a minute. / Could you please excuse me for a minute?/ Would you please excuse me for a little bit?

10. 见谅 (Jiànliàng): Excuse me. / Forgive me.


HSK 3 quiz

Please choose the best option and make the dialogue complete:

Lì Li: “Xiǎo Xīn, nǐ zěnme la?”

Xiǎo Xīn: “Duìbuqǐ, wǒ xiān ( ) yí xià, xiànzài yǒu jiàn jǐnjí de shìqíng yào chǔlǐ.”
小新: ”对不起,我先( )一下,现在有件紧急的事情要处理。“

A. 失陪 (Shīpéi)

B. 包涵 (Bāohán)

C. 原谅 (Yuánliàng)

D. 见谅 (Jiànliàng)

―Written by Elena Trevino―
More Chinese Knowledge Points about Courtesy and Politeness:

May I have your name? 您贵姓? (nǐn guìxìng?)
Answer to Why are Chinese Surnames So “贵 (guì)” Expensive?
Learn the Finesse of Asking Age in Chinese
Chinese Culture
General Chinese (Beginner Level) 
General Chinese (Intermediate Level) 

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