When beginning to learn Chinese, the first sentence most people learn is 你好 (nǐhǎo), “hello.” They also learn that literally 你 (nǐ) means “you” and 好 (hǎo) means “good.” It is true that 好 (hǎo) means “good” most of the time; however, when used in some compounds, 好 (hǎo) takes on different meanings. Let’s take a look at the following conversations between Sally and Lucy, and see the many usages of 好 (hǎo).
1. Sally always quarreled with her boyfriend for no reason. Finally, he broke up with her. Now Sally is depressed, and she is talking about her sorrows to her friend Lucy.
Ài! Tā gēn wǒ fēnshǒu le.
Sally：唉！他 跟 我 分手 了。
Oh! He broke up with me.
Zhè xià hǎo le, nǐ mǎnyì le.
了，你 满意 了。
2. Sally ate Lucy’s apple without telling her. After returning to her room, Lucy can’t find her apple.
Wǒ de píngguǒ ne?
Lucy：我 的 苹果 呢？
Where is my apple?
Wǒ chī le.
Sally：我 吃 了。
I ate it.
Hǎo a! Nǐ yòu tōu chī wǒ de píngguǒ!
啊！你 又 偷 吃 我 的 苹果！
… ! You stole my apple again!
Why does Lucy say “这下好了，(Zhè xià hǎo le,)” after hearing about Sally’s breakup? Is being dumped a good thing? And why does Sally say “好啊 (hǎo a)” when she found her apple was eaten by Lucy?
Actually, in the first conversation, the meaning of “好 (hǎo)” is ironic. It is Sally’s fault that her boyfriend broke up with her, so her friend said, “这下
，你满意了。(Zhè xià hǎo le, nǐ mǎnyì le.).” It means “Well, you got what you wanted.” This is a very popular way to express irony in Chinese.
In the second conversation, Sally took Lucy’s apple. Obviously, what Sally did was not good, so here, “好啊！(hǎo a!)” is also ironic. So the whole sentence actually means “You bad girl! You stole my apple again!”
Maybe you’re wondering how to know when “好 (hǎo)” means “good” and when it means “bad.” Usually, people can tell if someone is being sarcastic based on the context of the situation. For example, if your mother told you to finish homework before dinner but you forgot it, you might say, “这下好了，又该挨骂了。(Zhè xià hǎo le, yòu gāi áimà le. I’m over now; Mom will scold me again.).”
Now, can you use “好 (hǎo)” to express irony? Will “好 (hǎo)” mean “good” if we don’t use it in an ironic tone? Not always. Let’s have a look at the following conversation to learn more meanings of the character “好 (hǎo).”
Kàn, wǒ mǎi de xīn yīfu.
Lucy：看， 我 买 的 新 衣服。
Look, I bought new clothes.
Nǐ chuān yí xià. Wǒ xiǎng kànyikàn.
Sally：你 穿 一 下。我 想 看一看。
Put them on. I want to see.
A few minutes later…
Chuān hǎo le ma?
Zhēn hǎokàn. Zhèjiàn yīfu duōshao qián?
看。 这件 衣服 多少 钱？
… How much is it?
Hǎo guì a!
1. 好 (hǎo) + particle 的 (de), means OK
The first boldfaced word, “好的 (hǎo de),” means “OK.” Sally wants to see Lucy’s clothes, so Lucy says, “好的 (hǎo de).” It means “OK, I will put them on.”
Qǐng nǐ kāi yíxià mén, hǎoma?
A：请 你 开 一下 门， 好吗？
Could you open the door for me, please?
No problem. / OK.
2. verb + 好 (hǎo)+了 (le), to show completion of an action
In the sentence “穿
吗？(Chuān hǎo le ma?),” “穿 (chuān)”is a verb meaning “to dress.” The whole sentence means “have you completed the action of dressing?” or, “have you put them on?” Lucy’s response is “好了 (hǎo le, Yes.).” This means that she has finished.
Nǐ de zuòyè zuò hǎo le ma?
你 的 作业 做
Have you finished your homework?
3. 好 (hǎo) + verb
Sally says that the clothes are “好看 (hǎokàn),” meaning beautiful. 看 (kàn) is a verb meaning “look;” when modified by 好(hǎo), 好看 (hǎokàn) functions as an adjective. Similar constructions are:
“好吃 (hǎochī): delicious (to eat)
“好玩儿 (hǎowánr): funny
Zhèzhǒng bǐnggān hěn hǎochī.
这种 饼干 很
This kind of cookie is delicious.
Zhège yóuxì hěn hǎowánr.
这个 游戏 很
4. 好 (hǎo) + adjective, means “very …” or “so …”
“好贵(hǎo guì)” means “so expensive.” Here, “好 (hǎo)” is an adverb, modifying the adjective “贵(guì).”
Tā yǒu hǎo duō shū.
He has a lot of books.