Mr Wang (王) and Ms Zhang (张) have been working all morning for a neighborhood cleanup project.
Nín guì xìng?
What is your family name?
Wǒ xìng Wáng，nǐ ne?
My family name is Wang, and you?
A, ní hǎo Wáng xiānsheng ，wǒ xìng Zhāng.
Oh, hello Mr. Wang, I am named Zhang.
Ní hǎo Zhāng xiáojiě. Nǐ lèi ma?
Hello Ms. Zhang, are you tired?
Wǒ bú lèi ，nǐ ne?
I am not tired, how about you?
Wó yě bú lèi.
I am also not tired.
Qǐng wèn, tā jiào shénme míngzi?
May I ask, what is her name?
Tā? Tā jiào Lǐ Měiměi.
Her? She is called Li Meimei.
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A Chinese name starts with family name, followed by given names. This is the opposite of English, so the terms “first name” and “last name” are not helpful when talking about Chinese people. Using the terms “family name” and “given name” will avoid confusion. Names with a title also follow a pattern that differs from English: the title follows the name.
Pronoun, third person singular
Adjective, “to be tired”
Polite title for a man. Like all titles, it comes after the name.
Polite title for a woman.
Verb meaning to have a particular family name
honorable family name
Only used when asking someones name
Verb, meaning “to be called” or “to be named”
Question word, equivalent to “what”
Noun, could mean full name, family name or given name
Verb, meaning “to ask”
May I ask ..
Expression used to preface a question
Pinyin and Pronunciation
Yu, ju, qu, xu are all pronounced with the ü sound, but the dots are omitted for convenience.
Pinyin sounds with the same final generally rhyme, but “i” is a notable exception.
For zi, ci, si the “i” is a lightly voiced “i” as in “hit”.
For zhi, chi, shi and ri the “i” is pronounced like “rrr”
Fort ji, qi, and xi the “i” is pronounced like “eee”
Listen and add the correct tone marks
nin gui xing, xiao jie, xian sheng
qing wen, ming zi, jiao shen me
Zhang, Wang, Shang, Li
Listen and circle the one you hear
ji – zhi, chi – qi, chu – qu, xu – shu,
ce – ci, shi – si, zhu – ju, shi – she,
zhi – chi, re – ri, zhe – zhi, qia – cha
When initiating a conversation with a question, the phrase “Qǐng wèn” is very helpful. The meaning of this phrase is “may I ask ..”. It lets the listener know that you are going to ask a question in Mandarin, which may be unexpected.
Qǐng means something similar to “please” and used to invite someone to do something
wèn is the verb “to ask”. For example “nǐ wèn tā” means “you ask him”.
Asking someone’s name
Not all sentences follow a grammatical pattern. “Nín guì xìng?” is one example. Grammatically speaking, this is not really a question. But it is the appropriate way to inquire about someone’s family name. Literally it means “Your honorable family name”.
A somewhat less polite, but more grammatical, way of asking is “nǐ xìng shénme”. The meaning is “What is your family name”.
nǐ – you
xìng – family name (used as a verb)
shénme – what
Another common way to inquire about someone’s name is to ask “nǐ jiào shénme míngzi?”.
jiào – is called
shénme – what
míngzi – name
The meaning is: “what do you prefer to be called”. This question can be answered with a family name or a given name or both depending on the preference of the one being asked. Chinese use given names only with close friends, so in a work situation the answer to this question might be “Lǐ Měiměi” or just “Lǐ”, but it is not likely to be “Měiměi”.
Use ma for confirmation
You may have noticed that some questions end with ma and others do not. There are two types of questions: confirmation and specific request. Never use ma for a specific request. Always use ma for confirmation. Examples:
Confirmation: “Tā xìng Lǐ ma?”
Specific request: “Tā xìng shénme?”
Some sentences have no verbs
Unlike English, Mandarin has some sentences with no verbs. If the sentence describes a condition and contains only a subject and adjective there will be no “to be” verb connecting them. The examples below illustrates this pattern.