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Oh My God, So That’s What “我的妈呀!” Means!”

Dec. 16, 2015

Every language has colloquial expressions that have a literal meaning that’s different from what the sentence is used for. As a Mandarin learner, you may often hear expressions that confuse you. Usually these expressions are just a part of spoken language or “口语 (kǒuyǔ)” and are not found in “书面语 (shūmiànyǔ)” or written language as much. Learning these phrases is great for your spoken Chinese and will allow you to express yourself more colorfully.
How to say'oh, my god' in Chinese

After seeing the phrase “我的妈呀! (Wǒde mā ya!)” in the photo, you are probably thinking that something is wrong with that person’s mother, since “我的妈呀! (Wǒde mā ya!)” literally translates into “oh, my mother!”.

But this isn’t what the phrase means and, in fact, this colloquial exclamation doesn’t have a practical meaning. Instead, it equates to “我的天哪! (Wǒde tiān na!)” which means, “Oh, my god!” It works the same in Chinese as it does in English, and is used to express the speaker’s state of mind; it is mainly used to express astonishment.

Examples:

Nǐ zěnme bù qiāomén jiù jìnlái le,   wǒde mā ya,  xià sǐ wǒ le.
你怎么不敲门就进来了,我的妈呀,吓死我了。
How can you enter without knocking on the door, oh my god, you scared me to death.

Wǒde mā ya!   Nǐ chuān de tài qíguài le!
我的妈呀!你穿得太奇怪了!
Oh, my god! What you’re wearing is too weird!

Wǒ de mā ya!  Nǐ zhōngwén shuō de zhème hǎo,   tài lìhai le!
我的妈呀!你中文说得这么好,太厉害了!
Oh, my god! You speak Chinese so well! Amazing!

Wǒ de mā ya,  nǐ tài néng chī le!
我的妈呀,你太能吃了! (If You Like Eating Very Much, You Will Be Called: “吃货 (Chīhuò)” in Chinese)
Oh, my god! You can eat way too much!

So why is the expression different in Chinese and English? Why don’t Chinese people say “我的上帝啊! (Wǒde shàngdì a!)” which literally means, “oh, my god”?  The reason is that when a person is very surprised, the first reaction they have is usually based on their core faith or beliefs.

For example, Chinese mothers pay close attention to their child’s deepest feelings and energies. This becomes something that is unforgettable for the child’s entire life. So when they feel surprised, they unintentionally call out, “oh, my mother!” and not, “oh, my father!” It is possible that “oh, my god” came about in the same way from westerners believe in God, so when they are feeling surprised, it is natural for them to exclaim, “oh, my god!”

Nowadays, both the Chinese and English phrases are just used as an expression of surprise or shock, much like the use of an exclamation point. Using this phrase is a great way to make your Chinese sound more local, and allows you to better express yourself!

Dialogue:

Jié Kè: Líng Líng,  nǐ xiànzài měitiān dōu jiānchí pǎobù ma?
杰 克:玲玲,你现在每天都坚持跑步吗?
Jack: Lingling, do you insist on jogging every day now?

Líng Líng:   Shì a,   wǒ yào jiǎnféi.
玲玲: 是啊,我要减肥。 (How Do Chinese People Lose Weight—不吃饱哪有力气减肥.)
Lingling: Yes, I want to lose weight.

Jié Kè:   Nà xiàoguǒ hǎo ma?
杰 克:那效果好吗?
Jack: Have you gotten good results?

Líng Líng: Dāngrán, wǒ yígè xīngqī jiù shòu le 10 jīn.
玲玲: 当然,我一个星期就瘦了10斤。
Lingling: Of course, I have lost 5 kg in one week.

Jié Kè: Wǒde mā ya!  Nǐ zhēn lìhai.
杰 克:我的妈呀!你真厉害。
Jack: Oh, my god! You’re awesome.

Quiz:

1. “我的妈呀! (Wǒde mā ya!)” is used to express:
A. Boredom.
B. Astonishment.
C. Unease.

2. “我的妈呀! (Wǒde mā ya!)” means:
A. Oh, my god!
B. Oh, my father!
C. Oh, thank goodness!
See Answer Analysis

Other Ways to Express “Surprise” in Chinese:
哎呀,Oh, My God
我的神啊 My God

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Comments

Hey, thanks for this article! Needed help with the dialogue in my Chinese story. This website is really amazing, wow.

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