Names & Greetings

1.2 Names & Greetings

In this Unit, we will learn about questions that require a Yes or No answer. We will also learn about two more questions about people’s names and how to exchange polite greetings. All you have to do is listen but listen as actively as you can.

But first a quick review – In Unit 1, we learned how to ask questions using shéi who and shénme what.

Here are two live examples:

Nǐ shì shuí?你是谁 Who are you?
Wǒ shì Hú Měilíng我是胡美玲 I am Hu Meiling.
Nǐ xìng shénme?你姓什么 What is your surname?
Wǒ xìng Wáng.我姓王 My surname is Wang.

Now let’s look at another kind of question that can be answered Yes or No. Listen to this exchange:

Tā shi Wáng Tàitai ma?她是王太太吗 Is she Mrs. Wang?
Tā shi Wáng Tàitai.她是王太太 She is Mrs. Wang.

Notice that the question is exactly the same as the answer except for the syllable ma at the end. Any statement may be turned into a Yes and No question by adding ma at the end.

Here is the exchange live:

Here’s another example of a Yes/No question with ma:

Nǐ shi Wáng Xiānsheng ma?你是王先生吗 Are you Mr. Wang?
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián.我是王大年 I am Wang Danian.

Notice that Mr. Wang doesn’t refer to himself as Wáng Xiānsheng. One seldom uses the title Xiānsheng when referring to oneself. A married woman however, will refer to herself by her husband’s name with Tàitai.

Here is the exchange live. Listen and review.

Another way to reply if the answer is No is with a negative sentence.

Let’s listen.

Nǐ shi Mǎ Xiānsheng ma?你是马先生吗 Are you Mr. Ma?
Wǒ bú shi Mǎ Xiānsheng.我不是马先生 I’m not Mr. Ma.

The negative of shi is

bú shi不是 not

The negative of the verb shi to be, is bú shi not to be. The equivalent of not is the syllable . The tone for the syllable bu depends on the tone of the following syllable. When followed by a syllable with a High, Rising, or Low tone, a Falling tone is used . When followed by a syllable with a Falling or Neutral tone, a Rising tone is used .

bù fēi不飞 not to fly
bù féi不肥 not to be fat
bù fěi不诽 not to slander
bú fèi不费 not to waste

Almost all of the first few verbs you learn happen to be in the Falling tone, and so take . But remember that is the basic form. That is the form the syllable takes when it stands alone as a short no answer and when it is discussed, as in means not.

Notice that even though shì to be, is usually pronounced in the Neutral tone in the phrase bú shi, the original Falling tone of shì still causes to be pronounced with a Rising tone .

Now let’s compare the statement with it’s negative. Listen and review afterwards.

Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián.我是王大年 I am Wang Danian.
Wǒ bú shi Wáng Dànián.我不是王大年 I’m not Wang Danian.

In the following exchanges, let’s listen carefully for whether the answer is in the affirmative shì in the negative bú shi.

The negative of xìng surname works the same way as the negative of shì.

Let’s listen:

Nǐ xìng Fāng ma?你姓房吗 Is your surname Fang?
Wǒ bú xìng Fāng.我不行房 My surname isn’t Fang.

Here’s the negative of xìng:

bú xìng不姓 not surnamed

Let’s compare a statement with xìng and its negative with bú xìng. Review afterwards.

Wǒ xìng Wáng.我姓王 My surname is Wang.
Wǒ bú xìng Wáng.我不姓王 My surname is Wang.

Notice that in the question Nǐ xìng Mǎ ma, the word is a surname, while the word ma is a yes/no question marker. Notice also that Mr. Ma doesn’t bother to supply the subject for his sentences. It obvious from the question that the subject must be I. It is quite common in Chinese—much commoner than in English–to omit the subject of a sentence when it is clear from the context.

Here is a word for word translation using not or . Listen and review afterwards.

Bú xìng Mǎ.不姓马 Not am surnamed ma?
Xìng Wáng.姓王 Am surnamed Wang.

So far we have learned one way to ask one’s surname, Nǐ xìng shénme. This is a straighforward way to ask someone’s surname but it is considered somewhat blunt. Even in an official setting you are quite likely to be asked your surname in a more respectful way – the way that would be required in a more social situation. Listen to this polite exchange.

Nín gùixìng?你贵姓 Your surname? (POLITE)
Wǒ xìng Wáng.我姓王 My surname is Wang.

Here is the polite word for you.

Nín You (polite)

Nín is the polite equivalent of , you.

Gùixìng is a polite noun, surname. Gùi means honorable. Xìng, which you have learned as the verb to be surnamed, is in this case a noun, surname.

Literally, Nín gùixìng? is Your honorable surname? The implied question is understood, and the “sentence” consists of the subject alone.

Let’s compare the polite word for you Nín with the plain word for you . There are two differences in pronunciation. First, the polite word has a final n sound while the plain word doesn’t. Second, the polite word is in the rising tone while the plain word is in the low tone. Listen to the polite and plain words for you.

Here’s the polite word for surname. Literally honorable surname .

gùixìng贵姓 surname (honorable)

You’ll recognize the element xìng, which you already have as a verb to be surnamed. Here it is the noun surname. Gùi, by itself, means precious or expensive hence honorable. Listen for the polite words Nín you and gùixìng surname in the following exchange.

Like the question nǐ xìng shénme, the question nǐ shi shéi, is also felt to be straightforward to the point of being blunt. Even if someone wants to know your full name, he’s only likely to hint at it by asking your surname. If you catch the hint, you can supply the full name.

Let’s listen to this live exchange.

When you are asked Nín gùixìng?, take the question in its literal sense and answer with surname alone. But you should also be aware that it is common and sometimes even more appropriate to answer with the fullname. Don’t be surprised if you hear the fuller answer in the some of the dialogue.

After you have said your surname, you might be asked for your given name alone. Let’s listen to the following exchange.

Nǐ jiào shénme?你叫什么 What is your given name?
Wǒ jiào Dànián.我叫大年 My given name is Danian.

The verb jiào means to be called. In this context we might say that needs to be given named.

Listen to the verb to be called for jiào.

jiào to be called/to be given named

Listen to the whole conversation again live and try translating it.

You may have noticed the parallel between xìng to be surnamed and jiào to be given named. They function just the same way in the sentence.

Here is a similar exchange live and try translating it.

Let’s review the various ways we’ve covered, of asking for the fullname, surname alone, or given name alone. In the following exchanges, use the pause between question and answer to predict to yourself whether the answer will contain the fullname Wáng Dànián, the surname alone Wáng or the given name Dànián alone.

Now let’s take a look at greetings. Let’s listen to Mr. Hu ask Mr. Wang how he is.

Ní hǎo a?你好啊 How are you?
Wó hǎo.我好 I’m fine.

Notice that the Low tones of and change to Rising tones before the Low tone of hǎo: Ní hǎo a? Wó hǎo.

Note, despite this change in tones when speaking, these changes are generally not shown when writing pinyin. So although Nǐ hǎo is pronounced as Ní hǎo it is still written as Nǐ hǎo. It is up to the student to remember to apply the tone change.

Hǎo is a verb to be good, to be well, to be fine. Since it functions like the verb “to be” plus an adjective in English, we will call it an adjectival verb.

hǎo. Iam fine.
hǎo a? Youare fine?

Here is the word we translated as am fine in the answer.

hǎo to be fine, to be well

Notice that there are three words in the English sentence I am fine but only two in the Chinese sentence Wǒ hǎo. Since is I, hǎo is equivalent to am fine. Although the English sentence contains the verb ‘to be’, the Chinese sentence does not contain the verb shi.

Let’s listen to the exchange again.

Nǐ hǎo a?你好啊 How are you?

The unstressed syllable a is added as a carrier of a rising tone which signals a question. You might consider the high-pitched syllable a as a spoken question mark.

Let’s listen to the exchange with word for word translation.

The best idiomatic equivalent for Nǐ hǎo a?, what you would probably say in English in the same situations is, How are you?. Although as you can see the Chinese is literally something like You are fine?. Besides meaning the be fine or to be well, the word hǎo can also mean to be good or to be okay.

Let’s translate this exchange.

We mentioned that the added syllalbe a could carry a rising intonation to signal a question. A question formed in this way is found to be somewhat softer than the one formed with the yes/no marker ma. In our dialogues, you’ll hear this added syllable a used to carry a variety of different intonation contours but subtly modulate the message in different ways.

Now let’s complete the exchange of greetings. Let’s listen.

Nǐ hǎo a?你好啊 How are you?
Wǒ hǎo. Nǐ ne?我好。你呢 I’m fine. And you?
Hǎo, xièxie.好,谢谢 Fine, thanks.

The marker ne makes a question out of the single word , you, And you? or How about you?

Instead of repeating the full question, Nǐ hǎo a?, Mr. Wang just asks And you? Nǐ ne?. Adding the syllable ne turns the single word into a question And you?, How about you?.

Now here is the word for thank you.

xièxie谢谢 thank you

Xièxie is the verb to thank. I thank you would be Wǒ xièxie nǐ. Xièxie is often repeated: Xièxie, xièxie.

Let’s listen and translate.

Now let’s review what we have coverved in this lesson. Listen to the following live conversation and try to translate it. Ms. Hu and Mr. Wang have not yet met. She has been sent to this hotel to act as his guide. She approaches the only American in the lobby.

Now try giving the English for the following random sentences.

Pronunciation Practice