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Start Strong with These Cantonese Words for Beginners

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There are over 10,000 Cantonese characters. Considering the vast number of ways these characters can be combined, it would be an understatement to say that this language has a lot of words! 

    → If you want to learn more about Cantonese characters and the language’s writing system, visit our guide on CantoneseClass101.com.

A Pencil and Plastic ABC Letters on Top of an Open Notebook

Feeling overwhelmed? Keep in mind that even native Cantonese speakers only know a fraction of these words! To start having conversations, you’ll only need a few hundred basic Cantonese words. 

In this article, we’ll list the most useful Cantonese words for beginners. Knowing these words will allow you to handle many everyday situations, whether you want to talk, listen, or both. Keep reading!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese Table of Contents
  1. Pronouns
  2. Numbers
  3. Nouns
  4. Verbs
  5. Adjectives
  6. Conjunctions
  7. Bonus: Cantonese Final Particles
  8. How CantoneseClass101.com Can Help You Learn More Cantonese

1. Pronouns

Let’s start with a list of pronouns you should learn as a beginner.

We’ve listed below the basic personal, demonstrative, and interrogative pronouns. As you continue forward in your studies, you’ll be adding a few more to your arsenal.


A Group of People

Personal Pronouns

#Chinese CharactersRomanizationMeaning

Singular:
1ngo5I
2nei5you
3keoi5he / she / it

*There are no differences between “he,” “she,” or “it” in Cantonese. You can use 佢  in each case.
4我嘅ngo5 ge3my / mine
5你嘅nei5 ge3your / yours
6佢嘅keoi5 ge3his / her / hers / its 

Plural:
7我哋ngo5 dei6we / us
8你哋nei5 dei6you guys
9佢哋keoi5 dei6they / them
10我哋嘅ngo5 dei6 ge3our / ours 
11你哋嘅nei5 dei6 ge3your / yours
12佢哋嘅keoi5 dei6 ge3their / theirs

Demonstrative Pronouns

#Chinese CharactersRomanizationMeaning
1呢個ni1 go3this
2嗰個go2 go3that
3呢啲ni1 di1these
4嗰啲go2 di1

Interrogative Pronouns

#Chinese CharactersRomanizationMeaning
1乜嘢mat1 je5what
2邊個bin1 go3who
3邊個嘅bin1 go3 ge3whose
4幾時gei2 si4when
5邊度bin1 dou6 where
6點樣dim2 joeng2how
7點解dim2 gaai2 why

2. Numbers

As a beginner, you should be able to get by using the numbers one through ten.

    → Should you need more digits, you could check out our article on Cantonese numbers. There, you’ll find everything you need to count from 1-100 and beyond!

A Calculator
  • 1:     一 (jat1)
  • 2:     二 (ji6)
  • 3:     三 (saam1)
  • 4:     四 (sei3)
  • 5:     五 (ng5)
  • 6:     六 (luk6)
  • 7:     七 (cat1)
  • 8:     八 (baat3)
  • 9:     九 (gau2)
  • 10:    十 (sap6)

3. Nouns

Nouns are vital in our everyday conversations and we need them for effective communication. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to talk about people, objects, places, or ideas. 

Below, you’ll find several basic Cantonese nouns divided into categories.

    → The more Cantonese nouns you know, the closer you’ll be to mastering the Cantonese language! If you want to learn more nouns, check out our top 100 Cantonese nouns list!

Noun

Time

#Chinese CharactersRomanizationMeaning
1星期sing1 kei4week
2nin4year
3今日gam1 jat6today
4聽日ting1 jat6tomorrow
5噚日cam4 jat6yesterday
6日曆jat6 lik6calendar
7miu5second
8zung1hour
9分鐘fan1 zung1minute
10dim2o’clock

People

#Chinese CharactersRomanizationMeaning
1媽媽maa4 maa1mother
2爸爸baa4 baa1father
3老婆lou5 po4wife
4老公lou5 gung1husband
5neoi2daughter
6zai2son
7醫生ji1 sang1doctor
8律師leot6 si1lawyer 
9護士wu6 si6nurse 
10經理ging1 lei5manager 

Places Around Town

#Chinese CharactersRomanizationMeaning
1便利店bin6 lei6 dim3convenience store
2藥房joek6 fong4drugstore
3商場soeng1 coeng4shopping mall
4超市ciu1 si5supermarket
5咖啡室gaa3 fe1 sat1coffee shop / cafe
6山頂saan1 deng2The Peak
7維港wai4 gong2Victoria Harbor
8星光大道sing1 gwong1 daai6 dou6Avenue of Stars
9海洋公園hoi2 joeng4 gung1 jyun2Ocean Park
10天壇大佛tin1 taan4 daai6 fat6Tian Tan Buddha

School/Office Essentials

#Chinese CharactersRomanizationMeaning
1作業zok3 jip6homework
2筆記簿bat1 gei3 bou2notebook
3同學tung4 hok6classmate
4大學daai6 hok6university
5背囊bui3 nong4backpack
6鉛筆jyun4 bat1pencil
7原子筆jyun4 zi2 bat1pen
8數學sou3 hok6math
9考試haau2 si3exam
10學生hok6 saang1student

Body Parts

#Chinese CharactersRomanizationMeaning
1goek3foot
2teoi2leg
3tau4head
4手臂sau2 bei3arm
5sau2hand
6手指sau2 zi2finger
7身體san1 tai2body
8tou5stomach
9背脊bui3 zek3back
10hung1chest

Food

#Chinese CharactersRomanizationMeaning
1水果seoi2 gwo2fruit
2蘋果ping4 gwo2apple
3香蕉hoeng1 ziu1banana
4西瓜sai1 gwaa1watermelon
5提子tai4 zi2grape
6菠蘿bo1 lo4pineapple
7蜜瓜mat6 gwaa1melon
8西柚sai1 jau2grapefruit
9蔬菜so1 coi3vegetable
10薯仔syu4 zai2potato
11粟米suk1 mai5corn
12大豆daai6 dau2soybean
13蕃薯faan1 syu2sweet potato
14紅蘿蔔hung4 lo4 baak6carrot
15洋葱joeng4 cung1onion
16胡椒wu4 ziu1peppers
17西蘭花sai1 laan4 faa1broccoli
18蕃茄faan1 ke2tomato
19蘑菇mo4 gu1mushroom
20腰果jiu1 gwo2cashew nut

4. Verbs

Below is a list of the 50 most useful Cantonese verbs for beginners. Of course, depending on whether you’re studying, working, or just visiting, you might have different needs. But in any case, this list is a good place to start!


Verb

#Chinese CharactersRomanizationMeaning
1去 heoi3go
2sik6eat
3jam2drink
4haan4walk
5ming4understand
6lam2think
7瞓覺fan3 gaau3sleep
8daap3answer
9ling1take
10做嘢zou6 je5work
11gong2talk
12tai2watch
13man6ask
14paau2run
15teng1hear
16waan2play
17認識jing6 sik1know
18bong1help
19鍾意zung6 ji3like
20sau1receive
21jung6use
22計劃gai3 waak6plan
23解釋gaai2 sik1explain
24tiu3jump
25gaau3teach
26maai5buy
27duk6read
28開始hoi1 ci2begin
29tek3 kick
30maai6sell
31離開lei4 hoi1leave 
32成為sing4 wai4become
33邀請jiu1 cing2invite
34se2write
35dang2wait
36hok6study
37分享fan1 hoeng2share
38daa2call
39記得gei3 dak1remember
40相信soeng1 seon3believe
41解決gaai2 kyut3solve
42介紹gaai3 siu6introduce
43取消ceoi2 siu1cancel
44dou3arrive
45coeng3sing
46siu3smile
47休息 jau1 sik1rest
48zyu2cook
49覺得gok3 dak1feel
50畫畫waat6 waa2draw

5. Adjectives

Another set of Cantonese beginner words you should study are basic adjectives. 

Adjectives are very important in our everyday conversations and in writing. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to describe how pretty the girl sitting next to you is or how spectacular the scenery is.


Adjective

Describing Objects

#Chinese CharactersRomanizationMeaning
1gou1  tall        
2dyun2 short  
3daai6big / huge
4fut3    wide
5coeng4 long
6厚 hau5thick
7sai3   small / little
8sau3 thin  
9sam1 deep        
10zaak3 narrow  

Describing People

#Chinese CharactersRomanizationMeaning
1勤力kan4 lik6diligent
2幽默jau1 mak6humorous
3誠實sing4 sat6honest
4有趣 jau5 ceoi3funny
5冷靜laang5 zing6calm
6怕醜paa3 cau2shy
7善良sin6 loeng4kind
8有活力jau5 wut6 lik6energetic
9親切can1 cit3friendly
10聰明cung1 ming4smart

Describing Emotions

#Chinese CharactersRomanizationMeaning
1不安bat1 on1anxious
2驕傲giu1 ou6proud
3gui6tired
4肚餓tou5 ngo6hungry
5baau2full
6開心hoi1 sam1happy
7傷心soeng1 sam1sad
8mun6bored
9nau1angry
10興奮hing1 fan5excited

Describing Weather

#Chinese CharactersRomanizationMeaning
1dung3cold
2jit6hot
3溫暖wan1 nyun5warm
4潮濕ciu4 sap1humid
5saai3sunny
6有風jau5 fung1windy
7天晴tin1 cing4sunny
8密雲mat6 wan4cloudy

6. Conjunctions

There’s a lot to say and explain when it comes to Cantonese conjunctions, but luckily, you don’t need many when you first start learning Cantonese.

→ As you progress in your studies, you might want to have a look at our complete guide on Cantonese conjunctions. You’ll learn everything about how to connect phrases, express conditions, talk about consequences, and much more.
Putting Two Puzzle Pieces Together

#Chinese CharactersRomanizationMeaning
1wo4and
2或者waak6 ze2or
3即使zik1 si2even if
4因為jan1 wai6since
5於是jyu1 si6so
6但係daan6 hai6but
7除非ceoi4 fei1 unless
8而且ji4 ce2also
9雖然seoi1 jin4although
10如果jyu4 gwo2if

7. Bonus: Cantonese Final Particles

In Cantonese we have a special type of word called final particles. Final particles are meaningless by themselves, but when placed at the end of a sentence, they indicate the mood or attitude of the speaker. They also serve to make speech more colloquial. Here are the top five Cantonese final particles:

#Chinese CharactersRomanizationFunction
1aa3Indicates enthusiasm and friendliness (usually in a softer tone); can also be used as a sarcastic retort
2laa3Indicates an exclamation with an emphasis on the past; “already”
3ge3Indicates humbleness or understanding; emphasis on raising the fact in a subtle way
4gaa3Emphasizes a fact that’s being raised
5lo1Indicates discontentment or sarcasm

    → Intrigued by how useful these “meaningless” final particles can be? Have a look at our full article here to see what other Cantonese final particles there are!

8. How CantoneseClass101.com Can Help You Learn More Cantonese

Ready to move on to the next level after learning all of these Cantonese beginner words? We recommend starting with our series of Cantonese beginner lessons: 

With CantoneseClass101.com, you can have your daily dose of Cantonese whenever and wherever you want, through mobile apps, desktop software, and our website. We offer entertaining, engaging, and effective lessons on various aspects of the Cantonese language and culture.

Until now, we’ve delivered more than 750,000,000 lessons to thousands of happy students from all around the globe. You can learn Cantonese with over 1060 audio and video lessons delivered by our knowledgeable and energetic hosts, detailed PDF lesson notes, an abundance of vocabulary learning tools, spaced repetition flashcards, and a lively community where you can discuss lessons with fellow learners. What are you waiting for? Download our lessons, enjoy our audio and video files, and start learning now!

Keep in mind that if you prefer a 1-on-1 learning approach and want to further accelerate your Cantonese learning, you can take advantage of our MyTeacher program

Know that your hard work will pay off, and before you know it, you’ll be speaking Cantonese like a native! 

Before you go: How many of these words did you know already? Were most of them new to you? We look forward to hearing from you in the comments!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese

Your Guide to Cantonese Filler Words

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Um… Hmm… Well…

Have you ever heard or used these words in a conversation? In linguistics, they’re called “filler words.” While they may seem meaningless, and while many associate them with uncertainty and nervousness, filler words can actually be useful. For example, they can help your speech sound more genuine and diplomatic, and even help you jump into a conversation.

Woman Thinking about Something

Cantonese filler words have the potential to make or break a conversation, depending on when and how you use them. In this article, you’ll learn what the most common Cantonese filler words are and how to use them properly. Let’s dive in!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese Table of Contents
  1. Filler Words Explained
  2. The Top 10 Cantonese Filler Words
  3. Pros and Cons of Filler Words
  4. Bonus: Cantonese Final Particles
  5. How CantoneseClass101.com Can Help You Learn More Cantonese

1. Filler Words Explained

Before going through our list of Cantonese filler words, let’s talk more about what filler words are and why we use them in the first place. 

What are filler words?

In linguistics, filler words are sounds or words uttered in conversation to signal that the speaker needs time to think and is not yet finished speaking. Filler words are usually meaningless, and are also known as “fillers,” “filled pauses,” “hesitation markers,” or “planners.” Some common filler words in English are:

  • Hm
  • Ah
  • Er
  • Um
  • You know
  • Right
  • Like

In Cantonese, common examples are:

  • 即係 (zik1 hai6)
  • 呢 (ne1
  •  誒 (e6)

Why do we use them?

There are plenty of reasons we use filler words:

1 – They can make the speaker sound more polite.

Imagine that someone has asked for a favor or invited you to a party. If you were to say “no” immediately without any filler words, you would probably appear rude. It would be much more polite to say something like: “Um, well, you know, sorry. I don’t think I can go.” In this way, filler words play an important role in politeness.

2 – They can help listeners catch up when the speaker is elaborating on complicated issues.

When you’re speaking of complicated matters, your listeners may have trouble understanding the subject matter if you go too quickly. Sometimes we unconsciously use filler words to help the listeners process what we’re trying to say.

3 – They can buy you a minute to think.

Have you ever run out of words or had your mind go blank? When you need time to think of what to say or how to phrase it, you can use filler words to “fill” the time gap.

4 – They can signal to others that you have not finished your points yet.

When you hear the word “well,” you know that the speaker has not finished yet. We use filler words to let others know that we’re not done speaking, and that even if we’ve paused for a second, we have more to say.

5 – They can add emphasis.

We can use filler words to grab listeners’ attention or to emphasize something. You could say, for example: “You know, this will eventually hurt you and put you in danger.” The filler at the beginning would stress the importance of what you’re about to say.

2. The Top 10 Cantonese Filler Words

1 – 即係 (zik1 hai6)

Function / Indication: “like” [used to add emphasis]

Example Dialogue

Person A:

  • Chinese: 唔知點解會搞成咁。
  • Romanization: m4 zi1 dim2 gaai2 wui5 gaau2 seng4 gam2.
  • Meaning: I don’t know why it will end this way.

Person B:

  • Chinese: 衰咗咪認囉,即係你又唔係第一次。
  • Romanization: seoi1 zo2 mai6 jing6 lo1, zik1 hai6 nei5 jau6 m4 hai6 dai6 jat1 ci3.
  • Meaning: You should just admit it if you’ve made a fool of yourself, like it’s not the first time.

2 – 誒 (e6)

Function / Indication: “oh” [indicates hesitation]

Example Dialogue

Person A:

  • Chinese: 邊個食咗我啲朱古力?
  • Romanization: bin1 go3 sik6 zo2 ngo5 di1 zyu1 gu1 lik1?
  • Meaning: Who ate my chocolate?

Person B:

  • Chinese: 誒,係我呀。
  • Romanization: e6, hai6 ngo5 aa3.
  • Meaning: Oh… it was me.
A Square of Chocolate Sinking in Melted Chocolate

Who Doesn’t Want a Bite of Chocolate?

3 – 咁 (gam2)

Function / Indication: “if that’s the case,” “then” [indicates that you understood the other party; use it before replying or making suggestions based on what they’ve just said]

Example Dialogue

Person A:

  • Chinese: 我唔想食牛肉麵。
  • Romanization: ngo5 m4 soeng2 sik6 ngau4 juk6 min6.
  • Meaning: I don’t want beef noodles.

Person B:

  • Chinese: 咁一係我哋食雲吞
  • Romanization: gam2 jat1 hai6 ngo5 dei6 sik6 wan4 tan1?
  • Meaning: Then how about wonton?

4 – 咁呀 (gam2 aa4)

Function / Indication: indicates you’re thinking (the “aa4” sound is usually prolonged)

Example Dialogue

Person A:

  • Chinese: 我唔想食燒鵝
  • Romanization: ngo5 m4 soeng2 sik6 siu1 ngo2.
  • Meaning: I don’t want to get roast goose.

Person B:

  • Chinese: 咁呀,不如我哋食日本菜?
  • Romanization: gam2 aa4, bat1 jyu4 ngo5 dei6 sik6 jat6 bun2 coi3?
  • Meaning: Well…how about Japanese (cuisine) then?

5 – 其實呢 (kei4 sat6 ne1)

Function / Indication: “well”

Example Dialogue

Person A:

  • Chinese: 我使唔使再減肥?
  • Romanization: ngo5 sai2 m4 sai2 zoi3 gaam2 fei4?
  • Meaning: Do you think I need to lose more weight?

Person B:

  • Chinese: 其實呢唔使太誇張,唔係暴飲暴食我覺得無問題。
  • Romanization: kei4 sat6 ne1 m4 sai2 taai3 kwaa1 zoeng1, m4 hai6 bou6 jam2 bou6 sik6 ngo5 gok3 dak1 mou5 man6 tai4.
  • Meaning: Well, don’t exaggerate. I think you will be fine as long as you don’t eat like a horse.

6 – 咁呢 (gam2 ne1)

Function / Indication: “well” [indicates that you want to catch someone’s attention] (stronger than #5)

Example Dialogue

Person A:

  • Chinese: 咁呢我就投咗票啦,你呢?
  • Romanization: gam2 ne1 ngo5 zau6 tau4 zo2 piu3 laa3, nei5 ne1?
  • Meaning: Well, I have voted. How about you?

Person B:

  • Chinese: 我都投咗啦。
  • Romanization: ngo5 dou1 tau4 zo2 laa3.
  • Meaning: Me too.

7 – 嗯 (ng6)

Function / Indication: “understood” [indicates that you’re about to reply to what the other person’s saying; indicates you’re thinking]

Note: a short is a “yes”; a prolonged is a filler word

Example Dialogue

Person A:

  • Chinese: 我想睇戲。
  • Romanization: ngo5 soeng2 tai2 hei3.
  • Meaning: I want to go watch a movie.

Person B:

  • Chinese: 嗯,我睇吓聽日場次點。
  • Romanization: ng6, ngo5 tai2 haa5 ting1 jat6 coeng4 ci3 dim2.
  • Meaning: I will go check the tickets. 

8 – 哦 (o5)

Function / Indication: “okay,” “fine,” “I will take your word for it”

Example Dialogue

Person A:

  • Chinese: 我唔得閒呀。
  • Romanization: ngo5 m4 dak1 haan4 aa3.
  • Meaning: I am not free.

Person B:

  • Chinese: 哦,好啦,咁算啦。
  • Romanization: o5, hou2 laa1, gam2 syun3 laa1.
  • Meaning: Okay, never mind.

9 – 唉 (aai2)

Function / Indication: “alas” [indicates you’re sad]

Example Dialogue

Person A:

  • Chinese: 我失敗咗。
  • Romanization: ngo5 sat1 baai6 zo2.
  • Meaning: I failed.

Person B:

  • Chinese: 唉,點會咁㗎。
  • Romanization: aai2, dim2 wui5 gam2 gaa3.
  • Meaning: Alas, how could that possibly have happened.

10 – 呣 (m2)

Function / Indication: indicates that you’re unsure or indecisive about something

Example Dialogue

Person A:

  • Chinese: 我可唔可以做你女朋友?
  • Romanization: ngo5 ho2 m4 ho2 ji5 zou6 nei5 neoi5 pang4 jau5?
  • Meaning: Can I be your girlfriend?

Person B:

  • Chinese: 呣,我諗諗。
  • Romanization: m2, ngo5 lam2 lam2.
  • Meaning: I will think about it.

3. Pros and Cons of Filler Words

Now that you’ve learned the most common Cantonese filler words, how often should you use them and when is it appropriate? To answer these questions, let’s take a look at the pros and cons below. 

You can use filler words to sound like a local…

Thumbs-up

When you start using filler words, it will instantly increase how “authentic” you sound. Some people might not even realize it, but it will have an effect on how they perceive you and your speech. 

If you’ve attained a beginner or intermediate level of Cantonese, using fillers will make you sound a bit cooler and might boost your confidence. As an advanced learner, you’re getting one step closer to truly blending in; if your pronunciation is good enough, you could even start fooling your new local friends by sounding just like a native Cantonese speaker.


…but you shouldn’t overuse them.

Stop Hand Gesture

However, this is a double-edged sword. If you overdo it, it might make you sound too hesitant or less confident. If you’re being interviewed or presenting to your clients, constantly mumbling 誒 (e6) doesn’t make a good impression.

The rule of thumb is: Only use filler words when they’re needed.

4. Bonus: Cantonese Final Particles

In Cantonese, we have a special type of word that is similar to filler words: final particles. Final particles are also meaningless when used by themselves, but when placed at the end of a sentence or a question, they indicate the mood or attitude of the speaker and make the speech more colloquial. Here are the top 5 Cantonese final particles:

1 – 呀 (aa3)

Function / Indication: indicates enthusiasm and friendliness (usually in a softer tone), or a sarcastic retort 

Example Sentence

  • Chinese: 係我呀。
  • Romanization: hai6 ngo5 aa3.
  • Meaning: “It’s me.”

2 – 喇 (laa3)

Function / Indication: “already” [indicates an exclamation with an emphasis on the past]

Example Sentence

  • Chinese: 佢返咗屋企喇。
  • Romanization: keoi5 faan1 zo2 uk1 kei2 laa3.
  • Meaning: “He already got back home.”

3 – 嘅 (ge3)

Function / Indication: indicates humbleness or understanding; emphasis on raising the fact in a subtle way

Example Sentence

  • Chinese: 唔係是必要你講嘅。
  • Romanization: m4 hai6 si6 bit1 jiu3 nei5 gong2 ge3.
  • Meaning: “You are not obliged to say anything unless you wish to do so.”

4 – 㗎 (gaa3)

Function / Indication: emphasis on a fact being raised

Example Sentence

  • Chinese: 得㗎。
  • Romanization: dak1 gaa3.
  • Meaning: “It can be done.”

5 – 囉 (lo1)

Function / Indication: indicates discontentment or sarcasm

Example Sentence

  • Chinese: 我錯囉。
  • Romanization: ngo5 co3 lo1.
  • Meaning: “Fine, I was wrong.”

5. How CantoneseClass101.com Can Help You Learn More Cantonese

Do you want to take your Cantonese to the next level after learning these Cantonese filler words? With CantoneseClass101.com, you can have your daily dose of Cantonese whenever and wherever you want, through mobile apps, desktop software, and our website. We offer entertaining, engaging, and effective lessons on various aspects of the Cantonese language and culture.

CantoneseClass101.com

Until now, we’ve delivered more than 750,000,000 lessons to thousands of happy students from all around the globe. You can learn Cantonese with over 1060 audio and video lessons delivered by our knowledgeable and energetic hosts, detailed PDF lesson notes, an abundance of vocabulary learning tools, spaced repetition flashcards, and a lively community to discuss the lessons with fellow learners. What are you waiting for? Download our lessons, enjoy our audio and video files, and start learning now!

And keep in mind that if you prefer a one-on-one learning approach and want to further accelerate your Cantonese learning, you can take advantage of our MyTeacher program.

Know that your hard work will pay off, and before you know it, you’ll be speaking Cantonese like a native.

Before you go, let us know in the comments which filler words are common in your native language. We look forward to hearing from you!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese

How to Say “I Love You,” in Cantonese

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Love is quite an unexplainable matter—it can cause you to feel happy, excited, and a number of other emotions. Considering the vast breadth of feelings you’re experiencing, how can you properly express your love in Cantonese to that special someone? 

In this article, we’ll not only cover the most common love phrases like “I miss you,” and “I love you,” in Cantonese, but we’ll also teach you how to express your interest and affection during each stage of your relationship. As a bonus, we’ll share some love quotes at the end (but we don’t recommend using them in your dating life unless you want to sound…cheesy).

Do note that most Hongkongers (and other people living in the Cantonese-speaking regions) are more subtle and reserved when it comes to love and dating compared to Westerners. So pay attention to the cultural differences, practice patience, and be gentle. 

By the way: If you want to keep things casual at first, there are many dating apps out there for you to try. 

Without further ado, our list of love phrases in Cantonese for every dating stage.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese Table of Contents
  1. Before a Date
  2. On a Date
  3. After a Date
  4. Fall in Deeper: “I Love You,” and More
  5. Take it One Step Further: “Will You Marry Me?” and More
  6. Bonus: Endearment Terms and Love Quotes
  7. How CantoneseClass101.com Can Help You Learn More Cantonese

1. Before a Date

Valentine’s Day

You just saw your crush! Now’s the time to gather your courage and talk to him or her. 

We’ve compiled a list of phrases that could help you express your interest and finally ask your crush out. You shouldn’t feel too uncomfortable making your move, as having lunch or dinner with someone of the opposite sex is quite normal in Hong Kong.

Are you free this weekend?

Chinese Characters: 你今個禮拜尾得唔得閒?
Romanization: nei5 gam1 go3 lai5 baai3 mei5 dak1 m4 dak1 haan4

Would you like to hang out with me?

Chinese Characters: 我哋去玩好唔好?
Romanization: ngo5 dei6 heoi3 waan2 hou2 m4 hou2

Would you like to go out to dinner with me?

Chinese Characters: 賞面同我食餐飯嗎?
Romanization: soeng2 min2 tung4 ngo5 sik6 caan1 faan6 maa3

I know a good place.

Chinese Characters: 我知道一個好地方。
Romanization: ngo5 zi1 dou3 jat1 go3 hou2 dei6 fong1

What time shall we meet tomorrow?

Chinese Characters: 我哋聽日約幾點?
Romanization: ngo5 dei6 ting1 jat6 joek3 gei2 dim2

Where shall we meet?

Chinese Characters: 我哋喺邊度等?
Romanization: ngo5 dei6 hai2 bin1 dou6 dang2


2. On a Date

A Couple Having Dinner

Hurray! You guys are on your first date and having a great time. And what better way to make a great date even better than by offering him or her some genuine compliments? Here are some phrases you can use:

You’re so handsome.

Chinese Characters: 你好靚仔。
Romanization: nei5 hou2 leng3 zai2
Additional Note: This is only to be said to males.

You’re so beautiful. 

Chinese Characters: 你好靚。
Romanization: nei5 hou2 leng3
Additional Note: This is only to be said to females.

You look great today.

Chinese Characters: 你今日好精神。
Romanization: nei5 gam1 jat6 hou2 zing1 san4

That jacket looks nice on you.

Chinese Characters: 件外套好襯你。
Romanization: gin6 ngoi6 tou3 hou2 can3 nei5

You have a great sense of humor.

Chinese Characters: 你好幽默。
Romanization: nei5 hou2 jau1 mak6

Your smile is beautiful.

Chinese Characters: 你嘅笑容好靚。
Romanization: nei5 ge3 siu3 jung4 hou2 leng3

You have good taste.

Chinese Characters: 你好有品味。
Romanization: nei5 hou2 jau5 ban2 mei6

You have a way with words.

Chinese Characters: 你好識得講嘢。
Romanization: nei5 hou2 sik1 dak1 gong2 je5

You are cute.

Chinese Characters: 你好可愛。
Romanization: nei5 hou2 ho2 oi3


3. After a Date

A Cute Couple Looking into Each Other’s Eyes

You guys had a blast! You want to end the date well and leave a good impression—and you hope to see them more. Here are some phrases you can use: 

That was a great evening.

Chinese Characters: 今晚好開心。
Romanization: gam1 maan5 hou2 hoi1 sam1

I will drive you home.

Chinese Characters: 我車你返屋企。
Romanization: ngo5 ce1 nei5 faan1 uk1 kei2

What do you think of this place?

Chinese Characters: 你覺得呢度點?
Romanization: nei5 gok3 dak1 ni1 dou6 dim2

Can I see you again?

Chinese Characters: 我可唔可以再約你?
Romanization: ngo5 ho2 m4 ho2 ji5 zoi3 joek3 nei5

When can I see you again?

Chinese Characters: 幾時可以再見你?
Romanization: gei2 si4 ho2 ji5 zoi3 gin3 nei5

I’ll call you.

Chinese Characters: 我打畀你。
Romanization: ngo5 daa2 bei2 nei5

4. Fall in Deeper: “I Love You,” and More

A Couple Being Intimate

Your relationship has progressed well since your first date. In fact, you’ve completely fallen for him or her! Try using the following love expressions in Cantonese to show how much you adore them.

I like you.

Chinese Characters: 我鍾意你。
Romanization: ngo5 zung1 ji3 nei5

I love you.

Chinese Characters: 我愛你。
Romanization: ngo5 ngoi3 nei5

Note that Cantonese speakers rarely use the exact phrase for “I love you,” as it’s considered too formal. Instead, we use the first phrase—我鍾意你 (ngo5 zung1 ji3 nei5), or “I like you”—to express our love. The word 鍾意 conveys a feeling of fondness without coming across as too strong. In fact, we can also use this phrase to talk about some of our favorite things. For example: 

我鍾意食蛋撻 (ngo5 zung1 ji3 sik6 daan6 taat1) – “I like egg tarts.”

I miss you.

Chinese Characters: 我好掛住你。
Romanization: ngo5 hou2 gwaa3 zyu6 nei5

You made me a better person.

Chinese Characters: 你令我成為一個更好嘅人。
Romanization: nei5 ling6 ngo5 sing4 wai4 jat1 go3 gang3 hou2 ge3 jan4


5. Take it One Step Further: “Will You Marry Me?” and More

A Wedding

Things have been going so well, and you know that he or she is the one. How do you tell them that you want to spend your life with them? Check out the proposal lines and other romantic phrases below!

Let’s spend the rest of our lives together.

Chinese Characters: 我想同你過埋下半世。
Romanization: ngo5 soeng2 tung4 nei5 gwo3 maai4 haa6 bun3 sai3

I want to grow old with you.

Chinese Characters: 我想同你白頭到老。
Romanization: ngo5 soeng2 tung4 nei5 baak6 tau4 dou3 lou5

I can’t imagine my life without you. / I can’t afford to lose you.

Chinese Characters: 我唔可以冇咗你。
Romanization: ngo5 m4 ho2 ji5 mou5 zo2 nei5

Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?

Chinese Characters: 你願唔願意做我老婆?
Romanization: nei5 jyun6 m4 jyun6 ji3 zou6 ngo5 lou5 po4

I want to be with you forever.

Chinese Characters: 我想永遠同你一齊。
Romanization: ngo5 soeng2 wing5 jyun5 tung4 nei5 jat1 cai4

Will you marry me?

Chinese Characters: 你願唔願意嫁俾我嗎?
Romanization: nei5 jyun6 m4 jyun6 ji3 gaa3 bei2 ngo5

Having you by my side completes me.

Chinese Characters: 有你喺我身邊,我嘅世界先算完整。
Romanization: jau5 nei5 hai2 ngo5 san1 bin1, ngo5 ge3 sai3 gaai3 sin1 syun3 jyun4 zing2


6. Bonus: Endearment Terms and Love Quotes

A Lovely Kiss

There are two common endearment terms you can use to address your boyfriend or girlfriend:

  • BB (bi4 bi1) – “Babe” [can be used in both text messages and face-to-face conversations]
  • 傻豬 (so4 zyu1) “Silly”

And if you two are married, you may call each other:

  • 老婆 (lou5 po4) – “Wifey”
  • 老公 (lou5 gung1) “Hubby”

To conclude the article, we would like to share our favorite Cantonese love quotes:

Love is great….

1 – 人世間所有嘅相遇,都係久別重逢。

Romanization: jan4 sai3 gaan1 so2 jau5 ge3 soeng1 jyu6, dou1 hai6 gau2 bit6 cung4 fung4 
Literal Translation: All encounters in life are reunions after long times apart.

More about the quote

  • Meaning: The quote explains Yuanfen, a concept similar to Karma. The message behind it is that we should cherish the ones we love, but if we’ve tried our very best and still end up being separated, all we can do is accept the fact. 
  • Elaboration: It’s a famous quote from The Grandmaster, a movie directed by the internationally renowned Hong Kong film director Wong Kar-Wai. We use the quote to console a friend who is having relationship issues.
  • Additional Notes: The Grandmaster is Wong’s most expensive production to date—watch the trailer of the movie here!

…and yes, you may get hurt a few times…

2 – 成世人流流長,總會愛上幾個人渣。

Romanization: seng4 sai3 jan4 lau4 lau4 coeng4, zung2 wui5 oi3 soeng5 gei2 go3 jan4 zaa1
Literal Translation: Life is long, no wonder we would fall in love with a few scoundrels in our lifetimes.

More about the quote

  • Elaboration: It’s a famous quote from the movie Love in the Puff. We use this quote to console a friend who has been betrayed by her lover.
  • Additional Notes: You can learn more about love and relationships in Hong Kong by watching the sequel to this movie, Love in the Buff—you can view its trailer here!
  • Equivalent Quote: “We are all fools in love.” (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)

…but you need to be brave, for love is the greatest thing in the world!

3 – 世界上最遙遠嘅距離,唔係生同死,而係我企喺你面前,你卻唔知道我愛你。

Romanization: sai3 gaai3 soeng6 zeoi3 jiu4 jyun5 ge3 keoi5 lei4, m4 hai6 sang1 tung4 sei2, ji4 hai6 ngo5 kei5 hai2 nei5 min6 cin4, nei5 koek3 m4 zi1 dou3 ngo5 oi3 nei5 
Literal Translation: The furthest distance in this world is not life and death. It is that I am standing in front of you, but you don’t know I love you.

More about the quote

  • Elaboration: This quote is from Hong Kong author Amy Cheung. We use this quote to encourage a friend to express his or her love.
  • Additional Notes: Amy Cheung is one of Hong Kong’s most popular writers, and she’s very well-known in Chinese communities for her books on love and relationships. She was named one of the ten richest Chinese authors in 2013!
  • Equivalent Quote: If you love someone, tell them. For hearts are often broken by words left unspoken. (Stephanie Roogle)

7. How CantoneseClass101.com Can Help You Learn More Cantonese

By now, you should be well-equipped to express your love in the Cantonese language! Which of these phrases or quotes is your favorite? Let us know in the comments! 

After mastering these love phrases, would you like to pick up even more Cantonese to better communicate with your lover? 

With CantoneseClass101.com, you can have your daily dose of Cantonese whenever and wherever you want, through mobile apps, desktop software, and our website. We offer entertaining, engaging, and effective lessons on various aspects of the Cantonese language and culture.

Until now, we’ve delivered more than 750,000,000 lessons to thousands of happy students from all around the globe. You can learn Cantonese with over 1060 audio and video lessons delivered by our knowledgeable and energetic hosts, detailed PDF lesson notes, an abundance of vocabulary learning tools, spaced repetition flashcards, and a lively community to discuss the lessons with fellow learners. What are you waiting for? Download our lessons, enjoy our audio and video files, and start learning now!

Keep in mind that if you prefer a 1-on-1 learning approach and want to further accelerate your Cantonese learning, you can take advantage of our MyTeacher program!

Know that your hard work will pay off, and before you know it, you’ll be speaking Cantonese like a native!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese

Cantonese Negation: Learn How to Form Negative Sentences

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There seems to be a stigma attached to saying “no” nowadays. In certain cultures and social circles, it’s even considered rude or inappropriate to do so!

But contrary to popular belief, saying no is a powerful way to safeguard your emotional health. It shows that you take responsibility for yourself and that you respect your own desires, wishes, and emotions. Expressing negative statements or rejection appropriately is also vital to effective communication.

A Woman Holding Her Hands in Front of Her to Say No or Stop

Wondering how to express “no” and negate statements in Cantonese? In this article, we’ll guide you through the most important aspects of Cantonese negation so that you can start asserting yourself with confidence! 

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese Table of Contents
  1. Negate a Statement
  2. Give a Negative Response
  3. Other Negating Words and Phrases
  4. Double Negatives
  5. Bonus: How to Tell “Past”, “Present” and “Future” in Cantonese
  6. Why is CantoneseClass101 the Best Place to Learn Cantonese?

1. Negate a Statement

Cantonese negation is quite simple. Depending on the context—whether you’re referring to the past, present, or future—there are four main ways you can negate a sentence.

1 – Negating the past

To make a past-tense sentence negative in Cantonese, we add a character both before and after the verb. There are two sets of characters we can add to show negation:

The 1st Way

  • Chinese: 未 + verb + 過
  • Romanization: mei6 + verb + gwo3

Example 1: 

我未去過英國。
ngo5 mei6 heoi3 gwo3 jing1 gwok3
I have never been to the U.K.

Example 2: 

我未食過烏冬。
ngo5 mei6 sik6 gwo3 wu1 dung1
I have never had udon.

Udon

The 2nd Way:

  • Chinese: 冇 + verb + 過
  • Romanization: mou5 + verb + gwo3

Example 1: 

我冇試過嗰間餐廳。
ngo5 mou5 si3 gwo3 go2 gaan1 caan1 teng1
I have never tried that restaurant.

Example 2: 

我冇食過嘢。
ngo5 mou5 sik6 gwo3 je5
I didn’t eat.

There is a subtle difference between these two methods of Cantonese negation: The first method puts an emphasis on “never ever,” while the second one focuses on the “no” part. You may use either one to express negation in the past tense.

2 – Negating the present

To negate a sentence about the present, we just need to add a character for “no” or “negation,” in front of the verb. This character is 唔 (m4).

  • Chinese: 唔 + verb
  • Romanization: m4 + verb

Example 1: 

我唔識講普通話。
ngo5 m4 sik1 gong2 pou2 tung1 waa2
I don’t know how to speak Mandarin.

Example 2: 

我唔食蘋果。
ngo5 m4 sik6 ping4 gwo2
I don’t eat apple.

3 – Negating the future

To negate a sentence about the future, we add 唔會 (m4 wui5) in front of the verb. 

  • Chinese: 唔會 + verb
  • Romanization: m4 wui5 + verb

Example 1:

 我之後唔會繼續讀書喇。
ngo5 zi1 hau6 m4 wui5 gai3 zuk6 duk6 syu1 laa3
I will not pursue my studies.

Example 2: 

我唔會返屋企。
ngo5 m4 wui5 faan1 uk1 kei2
I am not going back home.

2. Give a Negative Response

We also use the character 唔 (m4) to give negative responses to questions. We simply put 唔 before the verb.

  • Chinese: 唔 + verb
  • Romanization: m4 + verb

For example, the Cantonese equivalent for “No, it isn’t,” is 唔係 (m4 hai6). Here, 唔 is “no” and 係 is “be.”

Question: 

你係唔係Mary啊?
nei5 hai6 m4 hai6 Mary aa3
Are you Mary?

Answer: 

唔係。
m4 hai6
No, I am not.

A Group Conversation

Let’s take a look at one more example. The Cantonese equivalent of “No, I don’t want it,” is 唔想 (m4 soeng2). Here, 唔 is “no” and 想 is “want.”

Question: 

你想唔想食麵啊?
nei5 soeng2 m4 soeng2 sik6 min6 aa3
Do you want to get noodles?

Answer: 

唔想。
m4 soeng2
No, I don’t want to.

3. Other Negating Words and Phrases

Of course, there are some other words and phrases used for negation in Cantonese. Feel free to try using these as well to liven up your conversations, to make a point clearer, or to give a stronger negative response.

1. 好少

  • Romanization: hou2 siu2
  • Meaning: barely / hardly / seldom

Example:

我返學好少遲到。
ngo5 faan1 hok6 hou2 siu2 ci4 dou3
I seldom go to school late.

2. 從來唔

  • Romanization: cung4 loi4 m4
  • Meaning: never

Example:

我從來唔飲酒。
ngo5 cung4 loi4 m4 jam2 zau2
I don’t drink. / I never drink.

3. 無再

  • Romanization: mou3 zoi3
  • Meaning: no more / not anymore

Example:

我哋無再聯絡喇。
ngo5 dei6 mou3 zoi3 lyun4 lok3 laa3
We don’t talk anymore.

An Exclamation Mark

4. 唔會再

  • Romanization: m4 wui5 zoi3
  • Meaning: no longer

Example:

佢唔會再喺你身邊。
keoi5 m4 wui5 zoi3 hai2 nei5 san1 bin1
He will no longer be there for you.

5. 冇人

  • Romanization: mou5 jan4
  • Meaning: no one / nobody

Example:

嗰度偏僻冇人住。
go2 dou6 pin1 pik1 mou5 jan4 zyu6
No one lives there; it’s too far away.

6. 都唔係

  • Romanization: dou1 m4 hai6
  • Meaning: neither

Example:

呢個都唔係我嘅錯。
ni1 go3 dou1 m4 hai6 ngo5 ge3 co3
Neither is it my fault.

4. Double Negatives

Cantonese also has double negatives. We add the characters 唔係唔 (m4 hai6 m4) in front of the verb.

  • Chinese: 唔係唔 + verb
  • Romanization: m4 hai6 m4 + verb

Example 1: 

唔係唔想覆,而係對覆訊息有恐懼。
m4 hai6 m4 soeng2 fuk1, ji4 hai6 deoi3 fuk1 seon3 sik1 jau5 hung2 geoi6
It’s not that I don’t want to reply (to you), it’s more like I’m scared about messages and alerts in general.

Example 2: 

唔係唔想覆你電話,係未有時間呀。
m4 hai6 m4 soeng2 fuk1 nei5 din6 waa2, hai6 mei6 jau5 si4 gaan3 aa3
It’s not that I don’t want to call back, I just don’t have the time yet.

5. Bonus: How to Tell “Past”, “Present” and “Future” in Cantonese

We negate a sentence differently based on the time we’re referring to—but how can you tell whether a sentence is “past,” “present,” or “future” in Cantonese?

Unlike in English, there is no such concept as “tenses” or verb conjugation in Cantonese. Instead, we use additional words to indicate the time of an event or action when necessary.

A Clock

Keep in mind, however, that these additional words aren’t always necessary. We can usually tell whether an event happened in the past, present, or future from the context. 

Let’s take a look at a few of these words: 

Indicating “the past”:

  • Additional words to be placed after the verb to indicate the past:
    • 咗 (zo2) – have done
    • 過 (gwo3) – tried
    • 完 (jyun4) – did
    • 曬 (saai3) – completed
  • Additional words to be placed at the beginning of a sentence or right after the subject:
    • 啱啱 (aam1 aam1) – just now
    • 頭先 (tau4 sin1) – a moment ago
    • 前排 (cin4 paai2) – a while back
    • 幾個禮拜之前 (gei2 go3 lai5 baai3 zi1 cin4) – a few weeks ago
    • 上個月 (soeng6 go3 jyut6) – last month
    • 舊年 (gau6 nin2) – last year

Indicating “the present” / “the present continuous”:

  • Additional word to be placed before the verb to indicate the present:
    • 喺度 (hai2 dou6) – be / doing
  • Additional words to be placed after the verb to indicate the present:
    • 緊 (gan2) – in progress
    • 住 (zyu6) – doing
  • Additional word to be placed at the beginning of a sentence or right after the subject:
    • 而家 (ji4 gaa1) – now

Indicating “the future”:

  • Additional word to be placed before the verb to indicate the future:
    • 會 (wui5) – will
  • Additional words to be placed at the beginning of a sentence or right after the subject:
    • 到時 (dou3 si4) – then
    • 陣間 (zan6 gaan1) – later
    • 跟住 (gan1 zyu6) – and then
    • 之後 (zi1 hau6) after
    • 聽日 (ting1 jat6) – tomorrow
    • 後日 (hau6 jat6) – the day after tomorrow
    • 下個禮拜 (haa6 go3 lai5 baai3) – next week
    • 下個月 (haa6 go3 jyut6) – next month
    • 出年 (ceot1 nin2) – next year

6. Why is CantoneseClass101 the Best Place to Learn Cantonese?

CantoneseClass101.com

Learning how to say no is just one part of learning a language—there’s so much more to study and practice! 

With CantoneseClass101.com, you can have your daily dose of Cantonese whenever and wherever you want, through mobile apps, desktop software, and our website. We offer entertaining, engaging, and effective lessons on various aspects of the Cantonese language and culture.

Until now, we’ve delivered more than 750,000,000 lessons to thousands of happy students from all around the globe. You can learn Cantonese with over 1060 audio and video lessons delivered by our knowledgeable and energetic hosts, detailed PDF lesson notes, an abundance of vocabulary learning tools, spaced repetition flashcards, and a lively community where you can discuss the lessons with fellow learners. What are you waiting for? Download our lessons, enjoy our audio and video files, and start learning now!

And keep in mind that if you prefer a one-on-one learning approach and want to further accelerate your Cantonese learning, you can take advantage of our MyTeacher program for Premium PLUS students! 

Know that your hard work will pay off, and before you know it, you’ll be speaking Cantonese like a native.

Before you go, we’d love to hear from you! What did you think of this lesson, and did we help you gain the confidence to say no in Cantonese? 

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese

Why learn Cantonese? Here are 10 compelling reasons.

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Considering the huge number of languages in the world, why learn Cantonese?

You might already be aware of how different Cantonese is compared to Western languages. After all, Cantonese is a tonal language with its own writing system based on 3000-4000 Chinese characters

Even though Cantonese sounds complicated, it’s not that hard to master when you’re using the right tools and approach. Plus, learning Cantonese can open up lots of opportunities and enable you to fully experience the local culture.

Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong

Still not convinced? Let CantoneseClass101.com share with you our top 10 reasons why you should learn Cantonese!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese Table of Contents
  1. Knowing Cantonese will unlock more career options.
  2. It will help you navigate the city.
  3. Learning the language will broaden your horizons.
  4. Cantonese will connect you with others.
  5. It will enable you to try out local (and delicious) dishes.
  6. Cantonese will enrich your travel experience.
  7. Knowing Cantonese will facilitate friendships with the locals.
  8. It will make Cantonese movies and songs more enjoyable.
  9. Learning a new language trains your brain.
  10. Cantonese is easy to learn.
  11. Why is CantoneseClass101 Great for Learning Cantonese?

1. Knowing Cantonese will unlock more career options.

Did you know that Hong Kong ranks third as a global financial center (after New York and London), and it’s the richest city in the world?

Not only is Hong Kong an important financial hub in Asia, but it also has the highest Financial Development Index score and was ranked as the world’s most competitive economy. Most international institutions and businesses have footprints—or even their Asian headquarters—in Hong Kong. Being familiar with the Cantonese language, culture, and business environment can be key in settling important negotiations, making major deals, or even opening up new career opportunities.

2. It will help you navigate the city.

Have you ever struggled to find a place while you travel? It will help a lot if you know the local language so that you can ask for directions!

Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

Even though English is widely spoken in Hong Kong, learning Cantonese can still be of great benefit to you. Not only will it help you navigate through the world’s greatest city better (check out our top 30 Cantonese travel phrases), but it can also serve as a conversation starter with the locals and help you understand the culture better. 

3. Learning the language will broaden your horizons.

Hong Kong’s “East meets West” culture is unique:

Hong Kong became a British colony in 1842 and was handed back over to China in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” arrangement. Under this arrangement, Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China—it enjoys a greater freedom of speech, a separate legal and judicial system, and has its own government, customs, and currency. Even mainland Chinese have to go through Immigration checks upon arriving in Hong Kong.

20 Hong Kong Dollar Notes

A long-lived entrepot and once a colony of the British empire, Hong Kong has a diverse mix of culture that has fascinated travelers and attracted expats from around the globe. You can find people of all races and religions in Hong Kong, and they’re all treated equally with respect. From Central to Chungking Mansion, you can see how people of different races interact, work together, and build friendships. We pride ourselves in religious liberty, freedom of speech, and diversity. 

The interesting cultural dynamic here is rare and worth experiencing for yourself, through traveling, working, or even living in Hong Kong. And learning Cantonese is the way to go!

4. Cantonese will connect you with others.

Students Pointing at a Globe

Cantonese is the oldest and most popular Chinese dialect spoken in Guangdong, Hong Kong, Macau, and some neighboring areas around the eastern part of Guangxi. It’s the official language in Hong Kong and Macau, and is historically the most popular form of Chinese spoken outside of mainland China.

I’m not kidding about Cantonese being spoken everywhere. It’s the most widely spoken dialect among Chinese communities in Canada, the United States of America, and Australia, as well as Europe and Southeast Asia.

5. It will enable you to try out local (and delicious) dishes.

Hong Kong is a food paradise! Not only does it have the highest density of restaurants in the world and all types of international cuisines, but there are also a great variety of local dishes and mouth-watering delicacies worth trying. On top of the famous dim sum, other Cantonese foods and snacks like egg tarts and fish balls are also too good to miss.

Dim Sum

Knowing Cantonese will make your visits to local food stalls and restaurants more enjoyable—you’ll know how to order! Many of the more local food stalls are operated by the older generation who might not know English, so learning how to pronounce 雞蛋仔 (meaning: egg waffle; romanization: gai1 daan6 zai2) and order 魚蛋 (meaning: fish ball; romanization: jyu4 daan2) will surely help! 

6. Cantonese will enrich your travel experience.

Hong Kong is a colorful city with lots to offer. With a breathtaking skyline, numerous shopping arcades and markets, and a great deal of bustling bars, this tiny city has it all. This crowded city also attracts millions of visitors every year (we are 293 times smaller than Norway with 1.4 times the population). The robust and cosmopolitan nightlife has also seduced the hearts of many foreigners and expats. 

But there’s more to that! 

Hong Kong is also culturally rich with its own unique history. If you’re culturally curious and enjoy in-depth travel, learning Cantonese will make your travel experience much more enjoyable. You can really explore and get to know the city, and immerse yourself culturally. It will also unlock so many cool local places and hidden gems that most travelers would find difficult to get to!

7. Knowing Cantonese will facilitate friendships with the locals.

Want to make local friends and know more about the everyday life of Hong Kongers? Even though English is one of the official languages in Hong Kong, Cantonese is the go-to language in the everyday lives of locals. Not to mention the fact that people from the more rural areas may not even speak English at all.

A Group of Friends

A solid understanding of Cantonese can make your experience in the local Hong Kong markets, rural areas, and restaurants so much smoother and a lot more fun! And you’ll be able to make new local friends along the way and hone your friendships (or even a new romance!) with the local language.

8. It will make Cantonese movies and songs more enjoyable.

Another reason why you should learn Cantonese is that it will allow you to enjoy movies and other media in the native language.

Have you ever heard of Bruce Lee? Jackie Chan? Chow Yun-fat? Wong Kar Wai? Well, they all came from Hong Kong!

There are many movies, dramas, and songs created in Hong Kong that are loved by people all over the world. Not everything gets translated, either. So unless you know Cantonese, you’re missing out on a lot of the amazing things that Cantonese pop culture has to offer.

9. Learning a new language trains your brain.

Studies have shown that studying another language can improve memory and keep one’s brain in good condition. This, in turn, may prevent the early onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia, giving the language-learner up to five additional years of quality life to live!

Plus, because Cantonese has nine tones, it trains your musical abilities too! 

10. Cantonese is easy to learn.

Cantonese is straightforward!

For example, Cantonese grammar rules are simpler than those of many other languages. We don’t have tenses (past, future, past perfect, etc.) like English does, nor do we have grammatical gender like French.

Also, we’re quite direct when expressing ourselves. Many Cantonese learners, in an attempt to translate what is polite in their own language, actually make a mess of a sentence in Cantonese by adding a lot of unnecessary words. 

For example, take this sentence: “Would you mind going to the store for me, please?”

  • A native Cantonese speaker would ask: 你去士多? (nei5 heoi3 si6 do1)
  • Literal translation: “You go store?”

Many Westerners find it strange to be so concise, since this would feel rude to say in English. But finding places to add superfluous words (such as “please” and other common English niceties) is unnecessary. 

11. Why is CantoneseClass101 Great for Learning Cantonese?

Excited to embark on your Cantonese journey, but wondering where to learn Cantonese online?

CantoneseClass101.com

With CantoneseClass101.com, you can have your daily dose of Cantonese whenever and wherever you want, through mobile apps, desktop software, and our website. We offer entertaining, engaging, and effective lessons on various aspects of the Cantonese language and culture.

Until now, we’ve delivered more than 750,000,000 lessons to thousands of happy students from all around the globe. You can learn Cantonese with over 1060 audio and video lessons delivered by our knowledgeable and energetic hosts, detailed PDF lesson notes, an abundance of vocabulary learning tools, spaced repetition flashcards, and a lively community to discuss the lessons with fellow learners. What are you waiting for? Download our lessons, enjoy our audio and video files, and start learning now!

And keep in mind that if you prefer a 1-on-1 learning approach and want to further accelerate your Cantonese learning, you can take advantage of our MyTeacher program

Know that your hard work will pay off, and before you know it, you’ll be speaking Cantonese like a native! 

Before you go, let us know in the comments if you’re convinced yet! Also feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns you have about the language, and we’ll be glad to get back to you.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese

Are There Tenses in Cantonese?

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Depending on how long you’ve been learning Cantonese, you may already have an idea of how simple Cantonese grammar is. You may have even heard that Cantonese is “tenseless.”

A Sand Glass

But if that’s the case, how does one express the past, present, or future? In this article, CantoneseClass101.com will cover everything you need to know about expressing the different tenses in Cantonese—it’s easier than you think!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese Table of Contents
  1. Cantonese “Tenses”
  2. How to Express the Past
  3. How to Express the Present
  4. How to Express the Future
  5. How CantoneseClass101.com Can Help You Learn More Cantonese

1. Cantonese “Tenses”

A Signpost with Signs for Now, Tomorrow, and Yesterday

Cantonese is considered a tenseless language. In contrast to European languages like English or French, it has neither conjugation nor the concept of tenses. We don’t modify verbs to express the timing of an action; instead, we use additional words to serve this function when necessary. That said, we can usually tell from the context whether an event happened in the past, present, or future. 

2. How to Express the Past

Below, you’ll find different words you can use to express the past tense in Cantonese along with examples.

Ancient Civilization

 1 – Word(s) to be placed before the verb

  • 有 (jau5) – did
    • Example sentence: 我有返學。
    • Romanization: ngo5 jau5 faan1 hok6.
    • Meaning: I did go to school.

Note: We use the word “有” the same way we use the word “did” in Englishwe add it in front of the verb to add emphasis to it.

2 – Word(s) to be placed after the verb

  • 咗 (zo2) – have done
    • Example sentence: 我同朋友一齊喺戲院睇咗場戲。
    • Romanization: ngo5 tung4 pang4 jau5 jat1 cai4 hai2 hei3 jyun2 tai2 zo2 coeng4 hei3.
    • Meaning: I have watched a movie at the cinema with my friends.
  • 過 (gwo3) – tried
    • Example sentence: 試過但係失敗咗。
    • Romanization: si3 gwo3 daan6 hai6 sat1 baai6 zo2.
    • Meaning: (I) tried but failed.
  • 完 (jyun4) – did
    • Example sentence: 我做完功課喇。
    • Romanization: ngo5 zou6 jyun4 gung1 fo3 laa3.
    • Meaning: I finished my homework.
  • 晒 (saai3) – completed
    • Example sentence: 我做晒啲嘢喇。
    • Romanization: ngo5 zou6 saai3 di1 je5 laa3.
    • Meaning: I completed all my work.

Note: “完” and “晒” are quite similarand in the examples above, they are interchangeable. You could say “我做晒功課喇” or  “我做完啲嘢喇.” The subtle difference between the two is that we tend to use “完” to emphasize the completion/end of something, whereas we use “晒” to imply the effort involved in finishing the work.

3 – Word(s) to be placed at the beginning of the sentence or right after the subject

Each of the following words can be placed either at the beginning of a sentence or after the subject. For example, for the first word below (啱啱), you could say “我啱啱同朋友一齊喺戲院睇戲” or “啱啱我同朋友一齊喺戲院睇戲.” They are the same.

  • 啱啱 (aam1 aam1) – just now
    • Example sentence: 我啱啱同朋友一齊喺戲院睇戲。
    • Romanization: ngo5 aam1 aam1 tung4 pang4 jau5 jat1 cai4 hai2 hei3 jyun2 tai2 hei3.
    • Meaning: My friend and I went to the cinema for movies just now.
  • 頭先 (tau4 sin1) – just now
    • Example sentence: 頭先唔小心撞到你,唔好意思。
    • Romanization: tau4 sin1 m4 siu2 sam1 zong6 dou2 nei5, m4 hou2 ji3 si3.
    • Meaning: Sorry for hitting you just now.

Note: “啱啱” and “頭先” are the same and can be used interchangeably.

  • 前排 (cin4 paai2) – a while back
    • Example sentence: 前排我識咗個好有趣嘅人。
    • Romanization: cin4 paai2 ngo5 sik1 zo2 go3 hou2 jau5 ceoi3 ge3 jan4.
    • Meaning: I met an interesting person a while back.
  • 以前 (ji5 cin4) – before
    • Example sentence: 我以前見過你。
    • Romanization: ngo5 ji5 cin4 gin3 gwo3 nei5. 
    • Meaning: I saw you (before).
  • 之前 (zi1 cin4) – before
    • Example sentence: 我之前喺度做野。
    • Romanization: ngo5 zi1 cin4 hai2 dou6 zou6 je5. 
    • Meaning: I used to work here (before).

Note: “以前” and “之前” are similar and they both mean “before.” The subtle difference between the two is that “以前” usually refers to things that happened years ago, while “之前” tends to be about things that happened a few weeks/months ago.

  • 幾個禮拜之前 (gei2 go3 lai5 baai3 zi1 cin4) – a few weeks ago
    • Example sentence: 幾個禮拜之前我同一位網上紅人食晚飯。
    • Romanization: gei2 go3 lai5 baai3 zi1 cin4 ngo5 tung4 jat1 wai2 mong5 soeng6 hung4 jan4 sik6 maan5 faan6.
    • Meaning: I had dinner with an Internet celebrity a few weeks ago.
  • 上個月 (soeng6 go3 jyut6) – last month
    • Example sentence: 我上個月考咗英文能力檢定試。
    • Romanization: ngo5 soeng6 go3 jyut6 haau2 zo2 jing1 man4 nang4 lik6 gim2 ding6 si3.
    • Meaning: I took an English proficiency test last month.
  • 舊年 (gau6 nin2) – last year
    • Example sentence: 我舊年去咗加拿大。
    • Romanization: ngo5 gau6 nin2 heoi3 zo2 gaa1 naa4 daai6.
    • Meaning: I went to Canada last year.

3. How to Express the Present

And now it’s time to learn how to express the present in Cantonese. There are four words in total that are used to represent “present,” so read on to find out what they are and how to use them!

A Man Pointing to His Wristwatch

1 – Word(s) to be placed before the verb

  • 喺度 (hai2 dou6) – be / doing
    • Example sentence: 喺度諗緊咩呀?
    • Romanization: hai2 dou6 nam2 gan2 me1 aa3?
    • Meaning: What are you thinking about?

2 – Word(s) to be placed after the verb

  • 緊 (gan2) – in progress
    • Example sentence: 我等緊你。
    • Romanization: ngo5 dang2 gan2 nei5.
    • Meaning: I am waiting (for you).
  • 住 (zyu6) – doing
    • Example sentence: 佢攞住個咪唱歌
    • Romanization: keoi5 lo2 zyu6 go3 mai1 coeng3 go1.
    • Meaning: He is singing while holding a mic.

3 – Word(s) to be placed at the beginning of the sentence or right after the subject

  • 而家 (ji4 gaa1) – now
    • Example sentence: 你而家去邊?
    • Romanization: nei5 ji4 gaa1 heoi3 bin1?
    • Meaning: Where are you going now?

4. How to Express the Future

Last but not least, let’s learn how to express the future in Cantonese.

A Group of Children

1 – Word(s) to be placed before the verb

  • 會 (wui5) – will
    • Example sentence: 今個禮拜六我哋會結婚。
    • Romanization: gam1 go3 lai5 baai3 luk6 ngo5 dei6 wui5 git3 fan1.
    • Meaning: We will get married this Saturday.

2 – Word(s) to be placed at the beginning of the sentence or right after the subject

  • 到時 (dou3 si4) – then
    • Example sentence: 到時再講。
    • Romanization: dou3 si4 zoi3 gong2.
    • Meaning: (We) will talk then.
  • 陣間 (zan6 gaan1) – later
    • Example sentence: 陣間去邊食飯好?
    • Romanization: zan6 gaan1 heoi3 bin1 sik6 faan6 hou2?
    • Meaning: Where shall we go for lunch?
  • 跟住 (gan1 zyu6) – and then
    • Example sentence: 司機,唔該先去旺角,跟住去油麻地。
    • Romanization: si1 gei1, m4 goi1 sin1 heoi3 wong6 gok3, gan1 zyu6 heoi3 jau4 maa4 dei2.
    • Meaning: Mr. Driver, please first go to Mongkok and then to Yau Ma Tei.
  • 之後 (zi1 hau6) – after
    • Example sentence: 聽日之後就要走。
    • Romanization: ting1 jat6 zi1 hau6 zau6 jiu3 zau2.
    • Meaning: (I) will have to leave after tomorrow.
  • 聽日 (ting1 jat6) – tomorrow
    • Example sentence: 聽日又到星期一要返工。
    • Romanization: ting1 jat6 jau6 dou3 sing1 kei4 jat1 jiu3 faan1 gung1.
    • Meaning: Tomorrow is Monday and we gotta go to work again.
  • 後日 (hau6 jat6) – the day after tomorrow
    • Example sentence: 我後日會同朋友出去玩。
    • Romanization: ngo5 hau6 jat6 wui5 tung4 pang4 jau5 ceot1 heoi3 waan2.
    • Meaning: I will be hanging out with friends the day after tomorrow.
  • 下個禮拜 (haa6 go3 lai5 baai3) – next week
    • Example sentence: 下個禮拜就端午節喇。
    • Romanization: haa6 go3 lai5 baai3 zau6 dyun1 ng5 zit3 laa3.
    • Meaning: It’s Mid-Autumn Festival next week.
  • 下個月 (haa6 go3 jyut6) – next month
    • Example sentence: 我下個月會去英國。
    • Romanization: ngo5 haa6 go3 jyut6 wui5 heoi3 jing1 gwok3.
    • Meaning: I will be going to the UK next month.
  • 出年 (ceot1 nin2) – next year
    • Example sentence: 出年我就十八歲喇。
    • Romanization: ceot1 nin2 ngo5 zau6 sap6 baat3 seoi3 laa3.
    • Meaning: I will be eighteen next year.

5. How CantoneseClass101.com Can Help You Learn More Cantonese

Fascinated by the Cantonese language and want to learn more? With CantoneseClass101.com, you can have your daily dose of Cantonese whenever and wherever you want, through mobile apps, desktop software, and our website. We offer entertaining, engaging, and effective lessons on various aspects of the Cantonese language and culture.

Until now, we’ve delivered more than 750,000,000 lessons to thousands of happy students from all around the globe. You can learn Cantonese with over 1060 audio and video lessons delivered by our knowledgeable and energetic hosts, detailed PDF lesson notes, an abundance of vocabulary learning tools, spaced repetition flashcards, and a lively community to discuss the lessons with fellow learners. What are you waiting for? Download our lessons, enjoy our audio and video lessons, and start learning now!

And keep in mind that if you prefer a one-on-one learning approach and want to further accelerate your Cantonese learning, you can take advantage of our MyTeacher program

Know that your hard work will pay off, and before you know it, you’ll be speaking Cantonese like a native! 

Before you go, let us know in the comments how you feel about expressing tenses in Cantonese now. More confident, or do you still have some questions? We’ll do our best to help.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese

How Long Does it Take to Learn Cantonese?

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Some of you might have heard about how difficult it is to learn Cantonese. After all, Cantonese is a tonal language with its own writing system based on thousands of Chinese characters

Do you fancy to learn Cantonese but want to get a rough idea of how long it’s gonna take? Or maybe you’ve already passed the beginner stage and would like to see how your progress compares to that of your peers?

A Timer

Today at CantoneseClass101, we’ll answer the question: How long does it take to learn Cantonese? 

Our answers will be based on the three levels of Cantonese proficiency: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. This will give you a rough idea of what to expect throughout your Cantonese learning journey and serve as a benchmark. 

Let’s get to it!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese Table of Contents
  1. The Many Factors Involved
  2. How Long Does it Take to Achieve a Beginner Level?
  3. How Long Does it Take to Achieve an Intermediate Level?
  4. How Long Does it Take to Achieve an Advanced Level?
  5. Tools to Facilitate Your Language Learning Journey
  6. Why is CantoneseClass101 Great for Learning Cantonese?

1. The Many Factors Involved

Before we talk about how long it will take to reach each level, there are a few key factors we need to consider. They’ll impact how fast you can learn Cantonese, so keep them in mind when coming up with your own estimate!

Cantonese vs. the languages you know

Cantonese is quite different from most languages. For one, it’s a tonal language that relies on pitches to distinguish between words. It also uses a completely different writing system than English does. Cantonese uses characters that are composed of parts that depict physical objects or abstract ideas—there are thousands of characters and each one carries a sound and a meaning. 

If you know Mandarin, which is also a tonal language that uses characters, chances are that you’ll pick Cantonese up much faster!

Your motivation

How much time and effort you’re willing to spend makes a huge difference. Are you learning Cantonese because of your partner? Or are you a big fan of Cantonese movies? Having a goal or a strong reason will help you strive for success and overcome any hurdles along the way!

Your language learning resumé & age

A Resume

It’s not easy to learn a new language, but having previous experience will speed up your progress. This is because you’ll already know how and where to start! Also, the more languages you’re exposed to, the easier it gets to decipher their logic and understand the inner workings of their grammar and structures.

Of course, age matters too. It’s easier to memorize new words and rules while you’re young. Studies have found that language-learning ability declines at age 18. The sooner you learn a language, the better!

Are you planning to learn the Chinese characters too?

Chinese characters are logograms. Each Chinese character is unique with its own pronunciation, and you’ll need to memorize 2000-3000 of them to read a newspaper. It does take a bit of time to recognize how the characters look and how to write them. 

If you only want to learn how to speak Cantonese, you might want to consider studying only the romanization (i.e. the jyutping system) and bypass the learning of Chinese characters. This will speed up the learning curve a lot.

2. How Long Does it Take to Achieve a Beginner Level?

A Baby with Some Books

Beginner-Level Skills

  • CEFR Equivalent: A1-A2

Speaking & Listening

You should be able to conduct basic and simple conversations (self-introductions, asking for directions, ordering food) and know some survival Cantonese.

Reading & Writing

At this level, you will only need to know some jyutping.

Duration

So how long will it take to learn Cantonese if you only want to achieve this level? Assuming you spend at least an hour per day studying…

  • Average: 2-3 months 
  • If you know Mandarin: 2 months or even less

Tips

The most important thing for Cantonese beginners is to accumulate vocabulary. So, make good use of flashcards! You can use them to remember words, simple phrases, and anything else you want. A simple search for “flashcards” on your phone’s app store should give you plenty of options.

Another tip is to learn the romanization system. Literacy in Cantonese requires the memorization of thousands of components and characters, which can be daunting for new Cantonese learners. To start learning the sounds of Cantonese without the baggage of characters, Cantonese jyutping (also referred to as Cantonese romanization) is the perfect place to start. This is essentially a way to help translate Cantonese pronunciation into English pronunciation. 

With the romanization system, you’ll be able to learn the correct pronunciation of a word easily. No guessing and no Chinese characters needed!

3. How Long Does it Take to Achieve an Intermediate Level?

Middle School Students

Intermediate-Level Skills

  • CEFR Equivalent: B1

Speaking & Listening

At the intermediate level, you should be able to…

  • …articulate more complex thoughts.
  • …use different sentence patterns to some degree.
  • …handle short conversations or discussions with locals.
  • …pronounce words more accurately (not mixing up the 9 tones!).

Reading & Writing

Your reading and writing skills will still be quite limited, though you’ll be more familiar with how jyutping works. 

Duration

Assuming you spend at least an hour per day studying, here’s how long it might take you to reach intermediate-level Cantonese. 

  • Average: 6 months 
  • If you know Mandarin: 3-4 months

Tips

The crucial element required to reach an intermediate level is “practice.” 

By now, you should have accumulated some additional vocabulary, phrases, and even sentence patterns. You’ll need to practice speaking more so that you can put all of that knowledge to good use! Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, and start chatting with local friends! If you don’t have Cantonese-speaking friends, you could try finding study partners online or an online coach. Through making mistakes, you’ll figure out where and what you should improve.

4. How Long Does it Take to Achieve an Advanced Level?

A Group of Adults in Discussion

Advanced-Level Skills

  • CEFR Equivalent: C1

Speaking & Listening

Upon reaching an advanced level of Cantonese, you should be able to…

  • …converse with locals with ease.
  • …give fluent speeches.

Reading & Writing

Being an advanced Cantonese student means that you can recognize roughly 2000-3000 Chinese characters in addition to the jyutping. This will allow you to read newspapers and other short, simple texts. 

Duration

So how long would it take to learn Cantonese to this level of fluency? Assuming you spend at least an hour per day studying…

  • Average: 1-3 years**
  • If you know Mandarin: 6-12 months

** Learning the language takes 1-2 years on average for those who ignore the Chinese characters and focus solely on speaking. If you decide to pick up the Chinese characters as well and want to read a newspaper, the average time needed is 3 years.

Tips

Deep immersion (like living in a Cantonese-speaking region) is the ideal path for reaching the advanced level. Through daily usage and conversation, you’ll learn the various ways to articulate ideas in Cantonese—not just through textbook examples, but also through local slang terms and idioms. Make local friends, speak the local language, and experience life locally!

If staying in a Cantonese-speaking city is not an option, why not watch Cantonese movies and TV shows? This would be a fun way to learn the language, plus it can teach you more about the local culture!

5. Tools to Facilitate Your Language Learning Journey

Wondering how to learn Cantonese faster? While effort and time count, there are also some tools you can use to smoothen your path and speed up your progress! 

Online lessons

When it comes to learning a language anywhere and anytime, online classes are your bread and butter. They’re usually fit for any level and are much more affordable than schools or private lessons.

For example, you can watch and listen to over a thousand videos and audio lessons from CantoneseClass101 through our mobile app, desktop software, or website.

CantoneseClass101.com

Private schools and teachers 

Private schools and teachers are usually the most effective resources, as they can tailor the course just for you—but they’re also the most expensive. We would suggest carefully reading feedback and reviews from students before committing to anything. Stay away from courses with too many students per teacher and beware of scams!

Immersion

Immigration Entry Card

Immersion is truly the best way to learn a language, whether it’s deep immersion like living/working/studying in the local country or soft immersion like watching Netflix/TV/movies in your target language. Immersion is helpful because it’s much more authentic and you can observe how the language is being used in different scenarios—the underlying rules of the language. Over time, you’ll also know much more about the language and culture. If you’re engaging in deep immersion, you can make local friends too!

Why is CantoneseClass101 Great for Learning Cantonese?

With CantoneseClass101.com, you can have your daily dose of Cantonese whenever and wherever you want, through mobile apps, desktop software, and our website. We offer entertaining, engaging, and effective lessons on various aspects of the Cantonese language and culture.

Until now, we’ve delivered more than 750,000,000 lessons to thousands of happy students from all around the globe. You can learn Cantonese with over 1060 audio and video lessons delivered by our knowledgeable and energetic hosts, detailed PDF lesson notes, an abundance of vocabulary learning tools, spaced repetition flashcards, and a lively community where you can discuss the lessons with fellow learners. What are you waiting for? Download our lessons, enjoy our audio and video files, and start learning now!

And keep in mind that if you prefer a one-on-one learning approach and want to further accelerate your Cantonese learning, you can take advantage of our MyTeacher service with a Premium PLUS account! 

Know that your hard work will pay off, and before you know it, you’ll be speaking Cantonese like a native.

Before you go, let us know in the comments if you feel ready to start learning Cantonese after reading this article. And if you already know some Cantonese, please share with fellow learners how long it took you to get where you are. We look forward to hearing from you!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese

Cantonese Proverbs and Idioms

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Proverbs allow us to articulate our ideas and ways of thinking in a fun way! Like quotes, they provide us with wisdom and insight—they can even serve as a window into other cultures!

Inspiration - a Woman with a Light Bulb above Her Head

Do you want to put some Cantonese proverbs and idioms in your pocket? Without further delay, let’s review our top thirty selections!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese Table of Contents
  1. Animal-Related Idioms
  2. Ghost-Related Sayings
  3. Food-Related Sayings
  4. Sayings About People
  5. Tree-Related Proverbs
  6. Other Sayings
  7. How CantoneseClass101.com Can Help You Learn More Cantonese

1. Animal-Related Idioms

An Elephant

There are plenty of Cantonese proverbs and idioms featuring animals. Below, we’ll introduce you to our favorites! 

豬乸會上樹

  • Romanization: zyu1 naa2 wui5 soeng5 syu6
  • Literal Translation: A sow can climb trees
  • English Equivalent: When pigs fly
  • Meaning: This phrase is used to refer to something that will never happen.

Imagine that Martin is really bad at math, but claims that he’ll get full marks on the upcoming calculus exam. In this situation, you might reply with this phrase. 

掛羊頭賣狗肉

  • Romanization: gwaa3 joeng4 tau4 maai6 gau2 juk6
  • Literal Translation: Hang up a sheep’s head and sell dog meat
  • Meaning: Palm off
  • Additional Notes: Hong Kong prohibits the slaughtering of dogs or cats for use as food; you won’t actually find shops selling dog meat!

If Lucy claims that the designer bags she’s selling are real (but they are indeed fake), you might say this phrase.

大石砸死蟹

  • Romanization: daai6 sek6 zaak6 sei2 haai5
  • Literal Translation: A big rock weighs down on a crab
  • Meaning: To be overpowered by overwhelming force

Imagine that Nick asks you to perform a task that’s totally outside the realm of your job responsibilities, but you still have to do it because he’s a powerful member of the company. You could then express your frustration with this phrase.

牛唔飲水唔撳得牛頭低

  • Romanization: ngau4 m4 jam2 seoi2 m4 gam6 dak1 ngau4 tau4 dai1
  • Literal Translation: If a cow doesn’t want to drink, you can’t force its head down.
  • English Equivalent: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. 
  • Meaning: A person is responsible for their own actions. While you can give them advice, it doesn’t mean they’ll take it. 

Imagine that Christy entered a relationship knowing full well that the guy is in love with someone else. She later complains to you that she is the victim, to which you reply with this phrase. 

老貓燒鬚

  • Romanization: lou5 maau1 siu1 sou1
  • Literal Translation: An old cat burns its whiskers.
  • Meaning: This idiom is used when someone makes a careless mistake in their area of expertise.

You might use this phrase after Rick (who’s an English teacher) makes a silly grammatical mistake while giving a lesson. 

拉牛上樹

  • Romanization: laai1 ngau4 soeng5 syu6
  • Literal Translation: To pull a cow up a tree
  • Meaning: This phrase refers to an impossible goal that would simply require too much effort. 

You could use this phrase after being tasked with helping an ignorant coworker become a high-flyer. 

企喺城樓睇馬打交

  • Romanization: kei5 hai2 sing4 lau4 tai2 maa5 daa2 gaau1
  • Literal Translation: Standing on a fort and watching horses fight each other
  • Meaning: This one refers to keeping oneself out of a serious matter.

Imagine that James initiates a fight, but then walks away from it immediately while others continue to argue. This would be the perfect occasion to use this idiom! 

騎牛搵馬

  • Romanization: ke4 ngau4 wan2 maa5
  • Literal Translation: Riding a cow looking for a horse
  • Meaning: This idiom refers to using one’s current job to look for a better opportunity.

You might say this phrase when Shirley accepts a job offer for a position she doesn’t really like, because she needs a stepping stone toward something better. 

扯貓尾

  • Romanization: ce2 maau1 mei5
  • Literal Translation: Pull a cat’s tail
  • Meaning: This refers to putting on a show or colluding. 

Imagine that Anthony knows his project is going to fail, but his friend Ivan covers for him so that everything looks smooth. You could describe the situation with this phrase.

捉到鹿唔識脫角

  • Romanization: zuk1 dou2 luk2 m4 sik1 tyut3 gok3
  • Literal Translation: Got hold of the deer but can’t remove its antlers
  • Meaning: This refers to being unable to make the most of an opportunity.

When Sunny knows the answer to a question but fails to speak up, you could describe her situation with this phrase.

豬籠入水

  • Romanization: zyu1 lung4 jap6 seoi2
  • Literal Translation: Water enters a pig basket
  • English Equivalent: To make a fortune
  • Meaning: This phrase means that someone has made a lot of money. 

You could use this phrase after your friend Gary makes a huge gain in the stock market. 

打蛇隨棍上

  • Romanization: daa2 se4 ceoi4 gwan3 soeng5
  • Literal Translation: Hit a snake and it crawls up the stick
  • Meaning: This phrase means to exploit a situation to one’s advantage.

Imagine that Denise learns her colleague is in a rift with their shared boss, and she volunteers to help out in hopes of getting promoted. This phrase would perfectly describe the situation.  

邊有咁大隻蛤乸隨街跳

  • Romanization: bin1 jau5 gam3 daai6 zek3 gaap3 naa2 ceoi4 gaai1 tiu3
  • Literal Translation: Why would there be such a big frog hopping around the street?
  • Meaning: This is a rhetorical question suggesting that a deal is too good to be true.

When Johnny offers you a million dollars for no apparent reason, you could question his intentions with this phrase.

2. Ghost-Related Sayings

A Ghost

Ghosts come up surprisingly often in Cantonese sayings. Here are just a few examples. 

有錢使得鬼推磨

  • Romanization: jau5 cin2 sai2 dak1 gwai2 teoi1 mo4
  • Literal Translation: If you have money, you can make a ghost push a millstone.
  • English Equivalent: Money makes the world go round.

You and Ian are discussing the importance of money, and this phrase comes up during the conversation. 

多個香爐多隻鬼

  • Romanization: do1 go3 hoeng1 lou4 do1 zek3 gwai2
  • Literal Translation: An extra incense burner would attract an extra ghost.
  • Meaning: This saying refers to inviting losses through giving someone the chance to share in your profit. 

When Jeff asks Michelle whether they should invite Raymond to the meeting, Michelle says no because Raymond is not on the same team. She then backs up her decision by saying this phrase.

鬼揞眼

  • Romanization: gwai2 am2 ngaan5
  • Literal Translation: A ghost covers one’s eyes.
  • Meaning: This phrase refers to a Freudian slip, where a person misspeaks and thus reveals their subconscious thoughts or mindset. 

Imagine that you and Michael are talking, when he accidentally says he’s going to the bar. But you know that he actually needs to go back to work. By using this phrase, you would be implying that what he wants to do is go to the bar. 

呃鬼食豆腐

  • Romanization: aak1 gwai2 sik6 dau6 fu6
  • Literal Translation: Cheating the ghost to eat bean curd
  • Meaning: This refers to tricking someone or luring them into a trap.

You might use this phrase when Ben tells you he loves you, but you know he’s been lying to and exploiting you.

3. Food-Related Sayings

A Table of Food

Considering the significance of food in Cantonese culture (and really, any culture), it should come as no surprise that many Cantonese sayings reference food!

食鹽多過你食米

  • Romanization: sik6 jim4 do1 gwo3 nei5 sik6 mai5
  • Literal Translation: Ate more salt than rice
  • Meaning: This idiom refers to someone who is more experienced at something than another person is.

When Felix says he’s a relationship expert but has only dated once, you might reply with this phrase if you’re more experienced than he is.

食碗面反碗底

  • Romanization: sik6 wun2 min2 faan2 wun2 dai2
  • Literal Translation: Eat from a bowl and then turn it over
  • Meaning: This one refers to betraying someone.

You could use this phrase when Teddy promises you that he’ll come back, but he never does.

禾稈冚珍珠

  • Romanization: wo4 gon2 kam2 zan1 zyu1
  • Literal Translation: Rice stalks covering pearls
  • Meaning: This refers to concealing one’s ability or wealth.

You could say this after Celia shys away from a swimming contest even though she’s the best swimmer in town.

4. Sayings About People

A Group of People

No two people are exactly alike, but we all share some similar life experiences. Here are a few Cantonese idioms and proverbs on the topic! 

和尚擔遮

  • Romanization: wo4 soeng2 daam1 ze1
  • Literal Translation: Monk holding an umbrella
  • Meaning: This means to do whatever one pleases.

When Arthur teases a woman without consent and walks away just because he’s powerful, you could say this in response. 

一竹篙打一船人

  • Romanization: jat1 zuk1 gou1 daa2 jat1 syun4 jan4
  • Literal Translation: Hitting everyone on a boat with a punt pole
  • English Equivalent: Tarred with the same brush

When Queenie claims that Sally is bad just because Sally is friends with Stephen, you could use this phrase.

醜婦終須見家翁

  • Romanization: cau2 fu2 zung1 seoi1 gin3 gaa1 jung1 
  • Literal Translation: An ugly woman still has to meet her husband’s father
  • Meaning: This saying means that one needs to deal with an outstanding issue eventually, even if they don’t want to. 

You might use this phrase when your friend Sophie confides in you that her ex is dating someone new, but she doesn’t want to yet. 

皇帝唔急太監急

  • Romanization: wong4 dai3 m4 gap1 taai3 gaam1 gap1
  • Literal Translation: The emperor is not in a hurry, but the eunuchs are.
  • Meaning: This refers to being more anxious about someone’s business than the person concerned is.

Imagine that Victor has homework to do but is currently relaxing. Kelvin keeps urging him to finish his work, which would be an example of someone being anxious over another’s work. 

5. Tree-Related Proverbs

A Tree

People often look to nature for wisdom and to seek out correlations with our own lives. Here are a couple of Cantonese proverbs that use trees as a metaphor! 

樹大有枯枝

  • Romanization: syu6 daai6 jau5 fu1 zi1
  • Literal Translation: A big tree has some dead branches.
  • Meaning: There are good and bad people in every group.

Sam assumes that all higher-ups within an institution are competent, but you comment otherwise using this saying. 

刀仔鋸大樹

  • Romanization: dou1 zai2 geoi3 daai6 syu6
  • Literal Translation: Use a little knife to saw down a tree.
  • Meaning: This phrase refers to using little capital to make a big profit.

You might say this when Sarah invests money in a stock, and its value increases fivefold. 

6. Other Sayings

To wrap up, here are just a few more Cantonese sayings on a variety of topics. 

打橫行

  • Romanization: daa2 waang4 haang4
  • Literal Translation: Walking across
  • Meaning: This means to do whatever one pleases.

When Richard fires a lady just because she doesn’t brownose, you might describe his action with this phrase. 

過橋抽板

  • Romanization: gwo3 kiu4 cau1 baan2
  • Literal Translation: Pull up the planks after crossing the bridge
  • Meaning: This means to betray one’s friends once the crisis is over, or to abandon one’s friends once one is safe. 

Imagine that you’ve helped Nicky a lot in tough times, but she cuts ties with you once she meets someone richer without any explanation. This phrase would describe her action. 

摸門釘

  • Romanization: mo2 mun4 deng1
  • Literal Translation: Scrape the door nails
  • Meaning: This refers to trying to visit someone, but not being able to find him or her at their place.

Imagine that Simon goes to visit Tony, but Tony isn’t at home. This phrase could be used to describe the situation. 

風水輪流轉

  • Romanization: fung1 seoi2 leon4 lau4 zyun2
  • Literal Translation: The wheel of fortune turns.
  • Meaning: Just because someone is successful now, doesn’t mean they will be in the future. 

You might say this when Rex and Nicholas brag about their achievement and behave cruelly to their teammates.

7. How CantoneseClass101.com Can Help You Learn More Cantonese

Cantonese proverbs and idioms are interesting, aren’t they? Do you want to dive deeper into Cantonese after learning these popular sayings?

With CantoneseClass101.com, you can have your daily dose of Cantonese whenever and wherever you want, through mobile apps, desktop software, and our website. We offer entertaining, engaging, and effective lessons on various aspects of the Cantonese language and culture.

Until now, we’ve delivered more than 750,000,000 lessons to thousands of happy students from all around the globe. You can learn Cantonese with over 1060 audio and video lessons delivered by our knowledgeable and energetic hosts, detailed PDF lesson notes, an abundance of vocabulary learning tools, spaced repetition flashcards, and a lively community to discuss the lessons with fellow learners. What are you waiting for? Download our lessons, enjoy our audio and video files, and start learning now!

And keep in mind that if you prefer a one-on-one learning approach and want to further accelerate your Cantonese learning, you can take advantage of our MyTeacher program!

Know that your hard work will pay off, and before you know it, you’ll be speaking Cantonese like a native!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese

10 Places to Visit in Hong Kong

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Hong Kong is a colorful city with lots to offer. With a breathtaking skyline, numerous shopping arcades and markets, a great deal of bustling bars, and the highest concentration of restaurants offering both international and local cuisines, this tiny city has it all.

Can’t wait to visit Hong Kong and see one of the world’s greatest cities? Then dive into this Hong Kong travel guide from CantoneseClass101.com for practical travel tips, a list of places you just have to see, and some survival phrases in Cantonese to help you make the most of your trip!

Hong Kong Skyline

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese Table of Contents
  1. Before You Go
  2. Must-See Places for a 1-3 Day Trip
  3. Highly Recommended Places for a 4-7 Day Trip (or Longer)
  4. Personal Picks
  5. Cantonese Survival Phrases
  6. How CantoneseClass101.com Can Help You Learn More Cantonese

1. Before You Go

Are you visiting Hong Kong for the first time? Then you’ll greatly benefit from becoming familiar with this magical city and learning how to best prepare for your trip. To give you a head start, here are some quick facts and travel tips for you! 

Quick Facts

Let’s start with a few basic facts you should know…

  • Currency: HKD (the thirteenth most traded currency in the world) 
  • Official Languages: Cantonese and English
  • Ethnicities: Han Chinese (92%), Ethnic Minorities (8%, mostly Filipino or Indonesian)
  • Climate: Subtropical climate zone

Hong Kong is located at the eastern Pearl River Delta of the South China Sea in Southeast Asia. With a land mass of 1,104 km2 and a population of 7 million people, Hong Kong is the world’s most densely populated city. Hong Kong is also highly developed and ranks fourth on the UN Human Development Index.

This city is known for its strong role in the trade, business, and tourism industries, and it ranks third as a global financial center (after New York and London). It’s the richest city in the world.

Hong Kong can be broken down into four main parts: 

  • Hong Kong Island: This island is labeled “the heart of Hong Kong,” and this is where you’ll find the majority of its businesses. You can also find lots and lots of skyscrapers, luxury hotels, and quite a few tourist attractions (including the Victoria Peak).
  • Kowloon: This is where you can find most of the museums and markets.
  • The New Territories: This area is known for its wetland parks and temples.
  • Outlying Islands: Hong Kong also has a couple hundred outlying islands. One such island is Lantau Island, which is home to Ngong Ping (where you can find the Giant Buddha and Po Lin Monastery) and Hong Kong Disneyland.

Background

In 1842, the British made Hong Kong a crown colony; the city was under British rule and influence for over 150 years. Hong Kong was released back to China in 1997, under the “one country, two systems” structure. Today, Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China.

Considering its history, Hong Kong is very different from China socially, culturally, politically, and economically:

  • Socially, Hong Kong enjoys greater freedom of speech. The usage of social media such as Facebook and Twitter are allowed.
  • Culturally, the dominating language in Hong Kong is Cantonese (with Traditional Chinese), as opposed to Mandarin (with Simplified Chinese) in China. Hong Kong also has its own education and legal systems adopting the common law.
  • Politically, Hong Kong has its own government and parliament. It also has its own immigration system, so even people from mainland China have to go through immigration checks upon arriving in Hong Kong.
  • Economically, Hong Kong embraces economic freedom and allows the free flow of capital.

Several HKD10 Bills

Travel Tips

Planning a trip to Hong Kong can be a stressful task, especially if you’ve never been before. Here are a few travel tips to help you plan and make your visit a lot more enjoyable. 

Best Time to Visit 

Hong Kong is situated in the subtropical climate zone and has four seasons: a very humid spring, a rainy summer, an amiable autumn, and a cool winter. Hong Kong is subjected to tropical cyclones from May to September. The average annual temperature is 23°C (73.4°F).

Based on the weather, many would agree that the best time to visit Hong Kong is during the months of October and November, when the temperature is pleasant with ample sunshine. 

Transportation

The transportation system of Hong Kong is highly developed and has great coverage. Most signs are in both Traditional Chinese and English, and you can conveniently access most places via:

  • Mass Transit Railway (or MTR) – This is Hong Kong’s railway system that links Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and New Territories. Trains come in every minute during rush hour.
  • Buses and minibuses
  • Tramways (only on Hong Kong Island)
  • Ferries (between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, and to the Outlying Islands) 
  • Taxis

If you plan to stay overnight in Hong Kong, you can buy an Octopus card. It can be used to pay for almost all public transport (plus many convenience stores and supermarkets).

A Sign Showing the Name of a MTR Station

Cost

How expensive is it to visit Hong Kong? 

You should plan to spend around HKD1,085 (USD 140) per day. This is just an average, and your own expenses will vary based on your dining, transportation, and lodging preferences. On average, people spend…

  • …HKD205 (USD 26) on meals per day.
  • …HKD55 (USD 7.04) on local transportation per day.
  • …HKD959 (USD 124) on hotels per night (for a couple). 

Other

  • Hong Kong is quite safe to travel to.
  • Many shops in Hong Kong close late, and some are even open twenty-four hours (fast food shops, convenience stores,certain supermarkets, etc.). 
  • There are many bars and clubs, so you can look forward to Hong Kong’s vibrant nightlife. 
  • Hong Kong is a Cantonese-speaking society, but most people do speak basic English because English is compulsory in school. Also, due to historical reasons, English is one of the official languages in Hong Kong. 

2. Must-See Places for a 1-3 Day Trip

If you’re only visiting Hong Kong for a day or two, you may want to prioritize the most popular attractions. Here are our recommendations for a shorter trip. 

1 – Victoria Peak (太平山)

Located on Hong Kong Island, Victoria Peak is not only the island’s highest point but also one of the city’s top attractions. From the top, you gain a whimsical view of the cityscape and Victoria Harbour—if you can, visit in the evening for an even more spectacular sight!

Victoria Peak

How to get there: Take MTR to Central Station and exit at Exit J2. Then, cross the Chater Garden and walk along Garden Road. You’ll see the Peak Tram Terminus on your left. Take the tram to get to the peak.

2 – Mong Kok (旺角)

This is one of the more local parts of the city, famous for shopping and food. The streets of Mong Kok are always crammed with people, especially at night. The area’s unique dynamic blends old shops with new ones, and fashionable restaurants with street stalls. You can find everything from clothes and cosmetics to electronics, sports equipment, and more.

Mong Kok

How to get there: Take MTR to Mong Kok Station and exit at Exit B2 or B3.

3 – Star Ferry (天星小輪)

If you want a great view of Victoria Harbour, take the Star Ferry from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui (or vice-versa). It costs only HKD3.7 (~USD 0.5) and takes less than ten minutes. The ferry is also a great place to take a short rest from the bustling metropolitan area of Hong Kong.

Victoria Harbour

How to get there: Take MTR to Central Station/Hong Kong Station and walk to Central Pier 7. Alternatively, you can take MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui Station/East Tsim Sha Tsui Station and walk to the Tsim Sha Tsui Ferry Pier on Salisbury Road.

4 – Ngong Ping / The Giant Buddha (昂坪 / 天壇大佛)

Located on the more relaxing Lantau Island, the Giant Buddha is one of the world’s largest bronze statues of Buddha, at 34 meters tall. Visitors who want to reach the Buddha must climb up a couple hundred steps or take a drive up the road that leads to it. After such a climb, visitors can walk around and rest at Ngong Ping Village and Ngong Ping Tea House.

Ngong Ping 360

How to get there: Take MTR to Tung Chung Station and then take bus no. 23. Alternatively, you can take the cable car Ngong Ping 360 to better enjoy the scenic view of Lantau Island. 

3. Highly Recommended Places for a 4-7 Day Trip (or Longer)

Will you be staying in Hong Kong a little longer? Great! This will give you ample time to see even more of this beautiful city. Here are the places we recommend you visit during a longer stay. 

5 – Ocean Park (海洋公園)

Ocean Park is a marine-life theme park that offers rides, shows, tours, and family-friendly attractions and activities. One of its main attractions is a roller coaster ride that “dives into the sea”! The theme park is also located in a more scenic part of Hong Kong, and you can enjoy a great seaview in the cable car.

How to get there: Take MTR to Ocean Park Station.

6 – Stanley (赤柱)

Stanley is a beautiful little fishing town by the bay. It’s not very big, but it has tons of small shops and a lovely beach. You can suntan on the beach, take a walk through the trees’ shade, and enjoy a great view of the romantic mansions. To unwind, you can also grab a drink at a coffee shop, check out the food markets, or grab a souvenir for your loved ones.

How to get there: Take MTR to Central Station and exit at Exit D, then take bus no. 6, 6A, 6X, 66, or 260 at Central (Exchange Square) Bus Terminus.

7 – Avenue of Stars & Symphony of Lights (星光大道 / 幻彩詠香江)

The Avenue of Stars showcases Hong Kong’s film industry—you can find the names, signatures, and handprints of the city’s greatest stars on the promenade. There’s even a bronze statue of the legendary Bruce Lee!

Another reason to visit the Avenue of Stars is the Symphony of Lights. This is a light show at Victoria Harbour which incorporates a dazzling array of colorful lights accompanied by music, featuring 44 of Hong Kong’s skyscrapers—both in Kowloon and on the Hong Kong Island side of Victoria Harbour. 

How to get there: Take MTR to East Tsim Sha Tsui Station and exit at Exit J. 

8 – Lan Kwai Fong / Central (蘭桂坊 / 中環)

Central is the core of Hong Kong’s finances and businesses (and where you can find the most skyscrapers per capita). Lan Kwai Fong is located in Central and it’s the place to go for a taste of Hong Kong’s nightlife. All the bars on the street are fairly small, but they have great music, colorful lights, and a great atmosphere. Many of the people who work in Central go there to enjoy some drinks and socialize with friends.

How to get there: Take MTR to Central Station and exit at Exit D2, then walk along D’Aguilar Street to Lan Kwai Fong.

4. Personal Picks

Although Hong Kong is a bustling city full of high rises, almost 70% of Hong Kong is covered by natural or forested areas. Below are my personal picks for those who enjoy nature and want to explore the less “city” side of Hong Kong!

9 – Dragon’s Back (龍脊)

Dragon’s Back is the last leg of the Hong Kong Trail. The path on Dragon’s Back is widely deemed as one of the best urban hikes in Hong Kong. It has a sightseeing platform that provides truly spectacular views of Hong Kong Island and its shoreline

How to get there: Take MTR to Shau Kei Wan Station and exit at Exit A3, then take bus no. 9 at the Shau Kei Wan Bus Terminus.

10 – Tai O (大澳)

With roots going back to the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644 A.D.), Tai O Fishing Village is full of history and heritage. Tai O is home to the Tanka, a stilt-house community. You can find boats navigating the channel between houses, cafes offering a relaxing afternoon, and restaurants offering fresh seafood. 

How to get there: Take MTR to Tung Chung Station and then take bus no. 11.

5. Cantonese Survival Phrases

Here are some of the most useful words and phrases for your travels in Hong Kong! 

1. Hello.

Chinese Character: 你好
Romanization: nei5 hou2

2. Thank you.

Chinese Character: 唔該 (when someone offers to help you)
Romanization: m4 goi1

OR

Chinese Character: 多謝 (when someone presents a gift)
Romanization: do1 ze6

3. Bye.

Chinese Character: 再見
Romanization: zoi3 gin3

4. Sorry.

Chinese Character: 對唔住 (to express apology and remorse)
Romanization: deoi3 m4 zyu6

OR

Chinese Character: 唔好意思 (to apologize for minor things or to grab someone’s attention)
Romanization: m4 ho2 ji3 si3

5. Good.

Chinese Character:
Romanization: hou2

6. I don’t understand.

Chinese Character: 我唔明
Romanization: ngo5 m4 ming4

7. Where is the washroom?

Chinese Character: 廁所喺邊呀?
Romanization: ci3 so2 hai2 bin1 aa3

8. How much is this?

Chinese Character: 幾多錢呀?
Romanization: gei2 do1 cin2 aa3

9. I want this.

Chinese Character: 我想要呢個
Romanization: ngo5 soeng2 jiu3 ni1 go3 

10. Help!

Chinese Character: 救命!
Romanization: gau3 ming6

Additional Notes:

You can call either 112 or 999 when you encounter an emergency. These are the most common emergency telephone numbers that can be dialed, free of charge, from most mobile telephones—even if they’re locked.

How CantoneseClass101.com Can Help You Learn More Cantonese

Would you like to learn a bit more Cantonese before traveling to Hong Kong? With CantoneseClass101.com, you can have your daily dose of Cantonese whenever and wherever you want, through mobile apps, desktop software, and our website. We offer entertaining, engaging, and effective lessons on various aspects of the Cantonese language and culture.

Until now, we’ve delivered more than 750,000,000 lessons to thousands of happy students from all around the globe. You can learn Cantonese with over 1060 audio and video lessons delivered by our knowledgeable and energetic hosts, detailed PDF lesson notes, an abundance of vocabulary learning tools, spaced repetition flashcards, and a lively community to discuss the lessons with fellow learners. What are you waiting for? Download our lessons, enjoy our audio and video files, and start learning now!

And keep in mind that if you prefer a one-on-one learning approach and want to further accelerate your Cantonese learning, you can take advantage of our MyTeacher program

Know that your hard work will pay off, and before you know it, you’ll be speaking Cantonese like a native! 

Before you go, let us know in the comments which Hong Kong locations you want to visit the most, and why! We look forward to hearing from you.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese

A Brief Overview of Hong Kong Culture

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Hong Kong is truly an amazing place—it’s one of the world’s greatest cities and boasts a unique “East meets West” culture. Wondering why this crowded, tiny city (we’re 293 times smaller than Norway with 1.4 times the population) attracts millions of visitors every year? Or would you like to know a bit more about Hong Kong’s culture before settling here? In either case, you’ve come to the right place. In this lesson from CantoneseClass101, we’ll give you a practical overview of Cantonese culture, so read on!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese Table of Contents
  1. Core Values and Beliefs
  2. Arts
  3. Food
  4. Holidays
  5. Bonus: Our Everyday Lives
  6. Why is CantoneseClass101 the Best Place to Learn Cantonese?

1. Core Values and Beliefs

Common Belief

A key element in understanding the culture of Hong Kong is to become familiar with the values and beliefs of its people. In this section, we’ll talk about what Hong Kongers believe and how this affects their daily lives.

A- The Harmony of East Meets West

A long-time entrepot and once a colony of the British empire, Hong Kong has a diverse mix of cultures that has fascinated travelers from around the globe. You can find people of all races and religions in Hong Kong, and they’re all treated equally with respect. From Central Hong Kong to Chungking Mansion, you can see how people of different races interact, work together, and build friendships. We pride ourselves in our religious liberty, freedom of speech, and diversity. 

The interesting cultural dynamics behind Hong Kong’s mixed culture scene is rare and worth experiencing yourself through traveling, working, and living in Hong Kong. The robust and cosmopolitan nightlife has also seduced the hearts of many foreigners and expats. Read more at CNN Travel and Time Out Hong Kong to see what our vibrant city has to offer. 

B- Family-Oriented

Even though many locals have adopted Western ways of living, Chinese concepts like “family solidarity” and “family glory” are still prevalent. It’s also common for adults to live with their family or parents, partly due to the sky-rocketed property prices and rent, as well as the strong emphasis on family bonding in Hong Kong.

Many HongKongers live in nuclear families, usually with only one or two children, as most living spaces in Hong Kong are small. The traditional role of a mother is to take care of the family, though many HongKongers choose to hire a housemaid to carry out the domestic duties so that the mother can work full-time. 

In Cantonese family culture, age determines hierarchal seniority within a family. Everyone is expected to respect their elders in accordance with filial piety, a deeply rooted virtue in many Southeast Asian countries. HongKongers usually worship their ancestors at least twice a year, which stems from the belief that children are eternally indebted to their parents. This respect for seniority can also be observed through language; for example, the word “brother” can be further divided into the words “elder brother” and “younger brother.”

2. Arts

Hong Kong is well-known for its various art forms, especially in regards to its film, music, and television industries. Many of these Cantonese popular culture items are also popular around the globe. Let’s take a look!

A- Movie & Film

Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Stephen Chow… Even though Hong Kong is a really small city, it’s given birth to quite a few good movies and movie stars!

The movie industry in Hong Kong has been one of the most successful worldwide, especially during the second half of the twentieth century. It remains prominent in Hong Kong despite a severe slump starting in the mid-1990s. Local martial artists and stars, such as Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, are known globally. Many Hong Kong actors have transitioned to Hollywood over the years as well, including Chow Yun Fat and John Woo. Hong Kong cinema has also received international recognition through the work of director Wong Kar Wai, whose 2046 is one of the best films of the last ten years.

Our all-time favorite Cantonese movie: In the Mood for Love (2000). In the Mood for Love is arguably one of the best Hong Kong movies in centuries. Directed by the internationally renowned filmmaker Kar-Wai Wong, the movie paints the love story of two middle-aged Hong Kongers in the 1960s, starring the handsome Tony Leung Chiu-wai and the elegant Maggie Cheung Man-yuk. Both betrayed by their partners, the lonely next-door neighbors are eager to seek comfort in each other—but are hesitant to go further.

B- Music

Cantopop is a colloquialism for “Cantonese pop music” or “Hong Kong popular music.” This well-loved gem of Hong Kong’s pop culture is a strong representation of local Cantonese music. In addition to Cantopop, Hong Kongers also listen to Mandopop from Taiwan and China. Most artists are essentially multilingual these days and sing in both Cantonese and Mandarin.

One popular singer in recent years is Eason Chan Yik-Shun, a male singer from Hong Kong. He has been described as a blast of fresh air in the Hong Kong music scene, and his album U87 has been recommended by Time Magazine as one of the five best Asian albums worth buying.

C- Television

Hong Kong’s main broadcast television stations include RTHK, HKOpenTV, ViuTV, and TVB. The last one, launched in 1967, is currently the most popular television station in Hong Kong and is known for having been Hong Kong’s first commercial station that was free to air. Many Hong Kong households also use paid cable and satellite television. 

Soap operas, comedies, and variety shows produced in Hong Kong now reach mass audiences throughout the Chinese-speaking world. Many international and pan-Asian broadcasters (including News Corporation’s STAR TV) are based in Hong Kong because of its position as a hub broadcaster. Hong Kong’s terrestrial commercial TV networks are also making inroads into mainland China.

Someone pointing a remote at a TV

Recommended Cantonese TV show: Best Selling Secrets (2007).

This famous 364-episode sitcom series revolves around complex office and family politics amongst the characters. Wong Ka Nam, a smart and confident lady, left her son and husband behind for the States. After her husband died in an airplane crash in search of her, their son, Luk Chit, was taken into her mother-in-law’s custody. 

Eighteen years have passed since then, and Ka Nam wants to see her son again. But she’s forbidden by her mother-in-law, as Ka Nam was blamed for the death of her husband. Amusingly, Chit and Ka Nam soon become friends and colleagues. 

The story evolves and touches on the rivalry, friendship, and romance within the office and household.


3. Food

Hong Kong is a food paradise! Not only does it have the highest density of restaurants in the world and all types of international cuisines, but there’s also a great variety of local dishes and mouth-watering delicacies worth trying. On top of the famous dim sum, other Cantonese foods and snacks like egg tart and fish balls are also too good to be missed.

Below are our top five picks for the best Cantonese dishes and snacks:

A- Dim Sum

The most famous Cantonese-style cuisine element has got to be dim sum!

Dimsum

 點心 (romanization: dim2 sam1)

In case you didn’t know, dim sum refers to bite-sized portions of food served in small bamboo baskets or on a small plate. You need to visit a Cantonese teahouse in order to try dim sum dishes. In Hong Kong, we call the action of going to a Cantonese teahouse for dim sum 飲茶” (jam2 caa4), which means “drink tea,” as Chinese tea is usually served with dim sum dishes.

B- Roasted Goose

Roasted Goose

燒鵝 (romanization: siu1 ngo2) – Photo by Simon Law, under CC BY-SA 2.0

Roasted goose is a type of siu mei (Cantonese-style Charcuterie). It has a crispy outer skin with moist meat inside. Coated with flavorful sauce, roasted goose has a unique barbecue flavor that will surely amaze you.

C- Clay Pot Rice

Clay Pot Rice

煲仔飯  (romanization: bou1 zai2 faan6)

Although this dish may look simple—steamed rice in a clay pot with toppings (and of course, a great sauce)—it’s totally worth a try, especially for the slightly burnt rice at the bottom of the clay pot. Common toppings for clay pot rice include pork, chicken, beef, and Chinese sausages.

D- Wonton Noodles

Wonton Noodles

雲吞麵  (romanization: wan4 tan1 min6) – Photo by Alpha, under CC BY-SA 2.0

Wontons are Chinese dumplings filled with shrimp or meat. Served with clear broth along with thin egg noodles, this common Hong Kong dish is a must-try. 

E- Egg Tarts

Egg Tarts

蛋撻  (romanization: daan6 taat1)

This delicious pastry is filled with sweet egg and best served hot. You can find egg tarts in both Cantonese teahouses and local bakeries.


4. Holidays

As a city where East meets West, we celebrate both Chinese and Western holidays. Here are our most celebrated holidays:

A- Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year is the longest celebration on the Chinese calendar, lasting from the final day of the last month to the beginning of the Lantern Festival. During this holiday, it’s common to gather with family, eat rice cakes, and give children red packets filled with money.

B- Christmas

A Christmas Tree

Christmas is celebrated as a major festival and public holiday in Hong Kong. It’s also the best time to do some shopping with all the discounts the shops are offering!

C- Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival takes place on the fifth day of the fifth month on the Chinese calendar. Its origins relate to the suicide of Qu Yuan in 278 BCE. He was a poet and statesman of the Chu Kingdom during the Warring States period. Traditionally, we eat rice dumplings on this date.

D- Mid-Autumn Festival

A Mooncake

The Mid-Autumn Festival takes place on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar, during a full moon. It’s the time to get some traditional mooncakes or snowy mooncakes!

5. Bonus: Our Everyday Lives

Fancy to learn more about how a local HongKonger lives? We’ve selected three Hong Kong culture facts to give you a better picture of what life in Hong Kong is like! 

A- Tai Chi

Martial Arts

Tai Chi is considered an internal Chinese martial art. It’s practiced for self defense as well as its potential health benefits. If you were to walk the streets or parks of Hong Kong in the morning, you would see a lot of elderly people doing Tai Chi. 

B- Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine refers to various medical practices passed down from Ancient China, many of which are still popular today. Some examples include acupuncture, some types of massage, and dietary therapy.

C- Protest

Hong Kong’s protest culture is very much alive, and there are protests in Hong Kong almost every other week. Most of them are led by the Civil Human Rights Front, a Chinese organization which focuses on political issues in Hong Kong. 

6. Why is CantoneseClass101 the Best Place to Learn Cantonese?

CantoneseClass101.com

One important element of the Cantonese culture is, of course, the Cantonese language! With CantoneseClass101.com, you can have your daily dose of Cantonese whenever and wherever you want, through mobile apps, desktop software, and our website. We offer entertaining, engaging, and effective lessons on various aspects of the Cantonese language and culture.

Until now, we’ve delivered more than 750,000,000 lessons to thousands of happy students from all around the globe. You can learn Cantonese with over 1060 audio and video lessons delivered by our knowledgeable and energetic hosts, detailed PDF lesson notes, an abundance of vocabulary learning tools, spaced repetition flashcards, and a lively community to discuss the lessons with fellow learners. What are you waiting for? Download our lessons, enjoy our audio and video files, and start learning now!

And keep in mind that if you prefer a one-on-one learning approach and want to further accelerate your Cantonese learning, you can take advantage of our MyTeacher program

Know that your hard work will pay off, and before you know it, you’ll be speaking Cantonese like a native! 

Before you go, let us know in the comments how Cantonese culture compares to that in your country. We look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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