Expressing gratitude in Chinese
Any traveler will tell you, if there’s one phrase vital to learn before visiting a foreign country, it’s “thank you” in the local language. Those words and a nice smile can get you a long way when seeking help in restaurants and when buying train tickets. But there’s more than one way to express gratitude in Chinese, with variations for all sorts of different occasions, from the most formal situations at work, to sending thank you memes online.
Below we take you through a variety of ways to say “thank you,” so you can express your gratitude in any situation.
In travel guides and introductory Chinese class, this is almost guaranteed to be taught as the go-to “thank you” phrase. It’s casual and widely used, and perfect between family and friends, or when accepting gifts. You can add a name or pronoun according to the situation, for example, 谢谢大家 (xièxiè dàjiā, thanks everyone).
This translates to “thanks a lot” and is almost the same as “谢谢 (xiè xiè).” Usually, it’s used when texting or during informal conversations with friends.
感谢 (gǎn xiè)
感谢 (gǎn xiè) is often used on more formal occasions to express one’s heartfelt gratitude.
十分感谢(shífēn gǎn xiè) / 万分感谢(wànfēn gǎnxiè)/ 非常感谢(fēicháng gǎnxiè)
If 感谢 (gǎnxiè) doesn’t adequately express just how thankful you are, then these terms take this to the next level. Whilst 非常感谢 (fēicháng gǎnxiè) is normally translated to “thank you very much,” 十分感谢 (shífēn gǎn xiè) and 万分感谢 (wànfēn gǎnxiè) are the equivalent of “thank you very very very much.” As you might expect, these are reserved for when one couldn’t possibly be more grateful.
麻烦你了(máfán nǐ le) / 给你添麻烦了(gěi nǐ tiān máfán le)
These phrases are commonly used in China but rarely taught in beginner Mandarin classes. The translation is close to “sorry to have troubled you,” but although this sounds like an apology, these phrases are used to express gratitude and emphasize that one recognizes the trouble another person has gone to in order to help.
辛苦了(xīn kǔ le)
This is another common phrase that you will often hear in Chinese offices and means “thanks for the hard work.” Similar to 麻烦你了(máfán nǐ le), 辛苦了(xīn kǔ le) expresses gratitude whilst acknowledging the target’s efforts. The phrase is casual.
欠你一个人情 (qiàn nǐ yīgè rénqíng)
Equivalent to “I owe you one,” this phrase is perfect for thanking someone for a favor.
你太好啦 (nǐ tàihǎo la) / 没有你我该怎么办(méiyǒu nǐ wǒ gāi zěnme bàn)
Similar to 欠你一个人情 (qiàn nǐ yīgè rénqíng), these phrases are expressions of gratitude for someone’s help. Translated to “you’re the best” and “what would I do without you,” respectively, these are informal yet intimate ways of expressing thanks.
改天请您吃饭 (gǎi tiān qǐng nín chī fàn)
Sometimes, words alone aren’t enough to express one’s thanks. Offering to treat someone to dinner is a common way of showing ones gratitude in China. 改天请你吃饭 (gǎi tiān qǐng nín chī fàn, I’ll treat you to a meal some day) does exactly that.
A loanword transliterated from English and now commonly used online. Inappropriate for formal occasions in the non-virtual world.
In the past, the lower classes would kneel before those of higher social status to show deference and express gratitude. Nowadays, 跪谢(guì xiè, to kneel down and say thank you) is often used as internet slang to say thanks in a comically excessive way. The phrase has become something of a meme, with various stickers depicting the gesture.
哪里哪里 (nǎlǐ nǎlǐ) / 不不 (bùbù) / 没有没有 (méiyǒu méiyǒu) / 过奖了 (guòjiǎng le)
These phrases are used to express humility when one receives a compliment. In most cases, Chinese people believe that simply saying “thank you” when complimented on one’s work/dress sense/homework can come off as overconfident. In this situation, better to take a classically Chinese approach and say “哪里哪里 (nǎlǐ nǎlǐ, where? where?)” to deflect (but also impress with your more complex Chinese). 不不 (bùbù, no no) and 没有没有 (méiyǒu méiyǒu, don’t have, don’t have) have similar meanings, whilst 过奖了 (guòjiǎng le) means “to flatter or “to overpraise.”
Cover Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay