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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

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

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.

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

Must-Try Cantonese Foods, Dishes, and Snacks!

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Hong Kong is a food paradise! Not only does it have the highest density of restaurants in the world, but there is also a great variety of local dishes and mouth-watering delicacies worth trying. On top of the famous dim sum (which we have an entire section on later), there are other Cantonese foods, such as egg tarts and fish balls, that are too good to be missed.

A Happy Face

There’s a saying in Cantonese that reveals how much we care about food:

  • 民以食為天 (man4 ji5 sik6 wai4 tin1) – “Food is god to people.” 

Indeed, food is one of the most important aspects of life: it brings you energy and joy, and you need it every single day. It’s also a great way to experience another culture and it makes for a lovely conversation starter. 

Can’t wait to learn more? Let’s get started!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Let's Cook in Cantonese Table of Contents
  1. The Top 5 Must-Try Dishes
  2. The Top 8 Dim Sum Dishes
  3. At the Restaurant
  4. The Top 5 Hong Kong Snacks
  5. Bonus: The Top 5 “Bizarre” Foods
  6. How CantoneseClass101.com Can Help You Learn More Cantonese

1. The Top 5 Must-Try Dishes

Visiting Hong Kong soon? Then you need to try these delectable Cantonese dishes!

1 – Char siu egg rice

Made famous by Stephen Chow’s movie The God of Cookery, char siu egg rice is now one of Hong Kong’s signature dishes. The combined texture and flavor of runny eggs, tender char siu (flavored barbecued pork), and soy sauce is a heavenly pleasure.

2 – Roasted goose

Roasted Goose

燒鵝 (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.

3 – Stir-fried beef with flat rice noodles

Stir-fried beef with flat rice noodles

乾炒牛河  (gon1 caau2 ngau4 ho2) – Photo by N509FZ, under CC BY-SA 4.0

Made with soy sauce, onions, bean sprouts, and rice noodles, this classic dish is a bit oily but super-delicious. A great dish to have after a day of hard work.

 4 – Clay pot rice

Clay Pot Rice

煲仔飯  (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 the slightly burnt rice at the bottom of the clay pot. Common toppings for clay pot rice include pork, chicken, beef, and Chinese sausages.

5 – Wonton noodles

Wonton Noodles

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

A staple of Cantonese cuisine, wontons are Chinese dumplings filled with shrimp or meat. Served with clear broth along with thin egg noodles, this is a must-try Hong Kong dish. 

2. The Top 8 Dim Sum Dishes

The most famous Cantonese-style cuisine has got to be dim sum, or 點心 (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 go to Cantonese tea houses for dim sum dishes. In Hong Kong, we call the action of going to a Cantonese tea house for dim sum 飲茶 (jam2 caa4), which means “drink tea.” This is because Chinese tea is usually served with dim sum dishes.

1 – Roasted pork buns

Roasted Pork Buns

叉燒包  (caa1 siu1 baau1) – Photo by Takeaway, under CC BY-SA 3.0

The roasted pork bun is one of the most popular dim sum dishes, consisting of fluffy bread with flavored barbecued pork (char siu) inside. Traditionally we steam the bun, but baked buns are getting more and more popular. 

2 – Steamed shrimp dumplings

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings

蝦餃 (haa1 gaau2) – Photo by Simon Law, under CC BY-SA 2.0

Steamed shrimp dumplings is another signature dim sum dish in Hong Kong. The wrapper of a good steamed shrimp dumpling must be thin yet strong enough to withstand being picked up with chopsticks. The shrimp inside should be fresh with a little juice.

3 – Rice noodle rolls

Rice Noodle Rolls

腸粉 (coeng2 fan2) – Photo by Ewan Monro, under CC BY-SA 2.0

Rice noodle rolls consist of a sheet made of rice filled with things like beef, shrimp, or char siu inside. We eat it with soy sauce.

4 – Pork dumplings

Pork Dumplings

燒賣  (siu1 maai2) – Photo by Geoffreyrabbit, under CC BY-SA 4.0

Pork dumplings is one of the best dim sum dishes, featuring pork and mushroom wrapped in a thin yellow skin and topped with crab roe.

5 – Turnip cake

Made with turnips, mushrooms, and meat (usually Chinese sausages), turnip cakes are great steamed, pan-fried, or stir-fried with XO sauce.

6 – Spring rolls

Spring rolls are one of the best Cantonese cuisine items, and one you’re probably familiar with. A spring roll consists of vegetables and sometimes meat rolled inside a sheet of dough and deep-fried until crispy (but still juicy inside). Who wouldn’t want one?

7 – Steamed beef tripe

Steamed Beef Tripe

牛柏葉  (ngau4 paak3 jip6) – Photo by gigijin, under CC BY-SA 2.0

Steamed beef tripe is a common dim sum dish in Hong Kong, but it’s less well-known internationally compared to the ones above. It’s prepared by steaming the omasum of a cow in small slices of garlic and ginger. The unique appearance and texture of this dish wows many foreigners.

8 – Dumpling soup

Dumpling Soup

灌湯餃  (gun3 tong1 gaau2) – Photo by Kent Wang, under CC BY-SA 2.0

A prime example of Cantonese-style cuisine, this is simply a large dumpling filled with meat, shrimp, dried scallops, and mushrooms, served with broth. It’s a pricier dim sum dish, but the complex texture and flavor make it worth a try.

3. At the Restaurant

Now that you’re good and hungry for some exquisite Cantonese cuisine, it’s time to learn some phrases you can use at the restaurant!

  •  Phrase 1: 你有乜嘢好介紹呀? 
    • Romanization: nei5 jau5 mat1 je5 hou2 gaai3 siu6 aa3
    • Meaning: What do you recommend?
  •  Phrase 2: 我可唔可以睇下menu?
    • Romanization: ngo5 ho2 m4 ho2 ji5 tai2 haa5 menu
    • Meaning: Can I see the menu? 
  •  Phrase 3: 我想要呢個,唔該。
    • Romanization: ngo5 soeng2 jiu3 ni1 go3, m4 goi1
    • Meaning: I will have this one, please. 
  •  Phrase 4: 我可唔可以要杯水?
    • Romanization: ngo5 ho2 m4 ho2 ji5 jiu3 bui1 seoi2
    • Meaning: Can I have a glass of water, please?
  •  Phrase 5: 呢道菜有啲咩? 
    • Romanization:  ni1 dou6 coi3 jau5 di1 me1 
    • Meaning: What does this dish contain?
  •  Phrase 6: 呢道菜有冇肉?
    • Romanization: ni1 dou6 coi3 jau5 mou5 juk6
    • Meaning: Does it contain meat? 

4. The Top 5 Hong Kong Snacks

Hong Kong street food is my personal favorite! You can easily find these snacks at food stalls on the streets of Hong Kong.

1 – Fish balls

Fish balls are a typical Hong Kong snack made of fish. They can be found in almost every food stall on the street and are sold with either spicy (curry) sauces or soy sauce.

2 – Egg tarts

Egg Tarts

蛋撻  (daan6 taat1)

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

3 – Egg waffle

This snack goes by many names: egg waffles, eggettes, egglets… This sweet egg-based snack is available in several flavors, including chocolate and berry. Some people even eat it with ice cream!

4 – Pineapple bun

The combination of sugar, eggs, flour, and lard makes pineapple bun one of the most beloved foods in Hong Kong. There’s no pineapple, though—it’s named for its surface, which looks like a pineapple. Pineapple bun has a crispy skin and soft bread inside, and can be found in nearly every bakery in the city.

5 – Roasted sweet potatoes and chestnuts

Roasted sweet potatoes and chestnuts are great snacks. You can find street carts selling both items side by side during winter. They smell good and taste even better. Grabbing a bag of roasted sweet potatoes and chestnuts during the freezing winter is just heartwarming. Most of these vendors sell salt-baked quail eggs, too.

5. Bonus: The Top 5 “Bizarre” Foods

To wrap up, let’s look at a few Cantonese food dishes that may surprise you!

1 – Steamed chicken feet

Steamed Chicken Feet

鳳爪  (fung6 zaau2) – Photo by Bryan, under CC BY-SA 2.0

Many foreigners avoid this dish, shocked by the idea of eating chicken feet. But steamed chicken feet are actually quite delicious in black bean sauce. You can find this dish in Cantonese tea houses.

2 – Snake soup

Snake Soup

蛇羹 (se4 gang1) – Photo by Shankar S., under CC BY 2.0

Yes, snake soup is made with snake. But don’t worry: you won’t see anything that resembles a snake in the soup bowl. Snake soup is a delicacy in Hong Kong, famous for its medicinal benefits (from the perspective of Chinese medicine, it “warms up” your body) and its high nutritional value. 

3 – Beef entrails

A beef entrails dish is prepared by stewing good-quality beef with its entrails (such as the tripe and liver) for a couple of hours. You can spot it in most food stalls on the streets of Hong Kong.

 4 – Soy-braised cuttlefish or chicken’s kidney

It may look a little weird, but it’s surely delicious! The cuttlefish and chicken’s kidneys are boiled quickly before being dipped in a soy-based sauce. They’re spongy and chewy, and taste best with mustard.

5 – Stinky tofu

Although it doesn’t smell good, the mixture of creamy tofu and the crisp outer skin is a delight. If you can stand the smell, make sure you try some in Hong Kong! 

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

Amazed by Cantonese food and want to pick up some 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 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

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 Cantonese food you most want to try. We look forward to hearing from you.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Let's Cook in Cantonese

Your Guide to Basic Cantonese Grammar

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Grammar is critical to every language—it is the needle that sews the bits and pieces of a language together. As a language learner, understanding the grammar will help you better express yourself and communicate with others in your target language.

Cantonese has its own (relatively simple!) grammar rules. It’s vital to learn basic Cantonese grammar if you want to master this interesting language in full. You need to know the right words and sentence structure to speak fluent Cantonese and effectively communicate with native speakers. 

Read on and learn about the most important Cantonese grammar rules!

    → Also keep in mind that we offer several other Cantonese grammar lessons on our website that go into much more detail. If you’re thirsty for more knowledge, make sure to check them out!
Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese Table of Contents
  1. General Principle – Simple is Best!
  2. Basic Sentence Structure
  3. Final Particles
  4. Cantonese Tenses
  5. Cantonese Negation
  6. Why is CantoneseClass101 Great for Learning Cantonese?

1. General Principle – Simple is Best!

Eraser

Cantonese is straightforward! 

Cantonese grammar rules are much simpler than those of many other languages. For example, we do not have tenses (past, present, future, etc.) like English does, nor do we have grammatical gender like French does. We don’t have conjugations, honorifics, nor syllabary changes either.

Also, we like to get straight to the point when expressing ourselves. Take “Would you mind going to the store?” as an example:

  • A native Cantonese speaker would ask with: 你去士多? 
  • Romanization: nei5 heoi3 si6 do1
  • Literal translation of 你去士多: You go store?
  • Meaning: Would you mind going to the store?

2. Basic Sentence Structure

A Person Writing

Cantonese has the same basic sentence structure as English: subject (S), verb (V), and object (O).

To illustrate the SVO format, take the English sentence “I watch a movie,” as an example. We can see that the subject “I” is presented first. This is followed by the verb “watch.” Finally, the object “a movie” is positioned last. 

Now let’s compare the same sentence with the Cantonese translation: 我睇戲 (ngo5 tai2 hei3). If we break down the Cantonese sentence, we see that the subject 我 (ngo5), meaning “I,” comes first. Then comes the verb 睇 (tai2), meaning “watch.” And finally, we have the object 戲 (hei3), meaning “movie.”

Below is a summary of the SVO word order in Cantonese:

  • Chinese Characters: 我睇戲。
  • Romanization: ngo5 tai2 hei3
  • Meaning: I watch (a) movie.

Let’s see one more example sentence in the SVO format:

  • Chinese Characters: 我影相。
  • Romanization: ngo5 jing2 soeng2
  • Meaning: I take photos.

Do you want more information on this topic? Then see our article on The 10 Most Useful Cantonese Sentence Patterns and learn how to communicate like a native!

3. Final Particles

An Exclamation Mark

When looking at the essentials of Cantonese grammar, particles cannot be ignored. They play a huge role in the language!

Final particles are placed at the end of a sentence to indicate the mood or attitude of the speaker, and to make the speech more colloquial.

Final particles are most common in Cantonese and Mandarin, but they’re also present in Japanese and many other East Asian languages such as Thai.

Cantonese speakers love to add final particles to their sentences! Let’s take a look at the examples below:

Example particle 1: 嘅

Romanization: ge3
Function / Indication: Indicates humbleness or understanding; emphasis on raising a fact in a subtle way

Example Sentence

  • Chinese Characters: 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.

Example particle 2: 呀

Romanization: aa3
Function / Indication: Indicates enthusiasm and friendliness (usually in a softer tone), or a sarcastic retort 

Example Sentence

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

Example particle 3: 喇

Romanization: laa3
Function / Indication: Indicates an exclamation with an emphasis on the past; “already”

Example Sentence

  • Chinese Characters: 佢返咗屋企喇。
  • Romanization: keoi5 faan2 zo2 uk1 kei2 laa3
  • Meaning: He already got back home.

Example particle 4: 呢

Romanization: ne1
Function / Indication: Used in questions to soften the tone when inquiring about facts

Example Sentence

  • Chinese Characters: 飛機機艙到底幾耐清潔一次呢?
  • Romanization: fei1 gei1 gei1 cong1 dou3 dai2 gei2 noi6 cing1 git3 jat1 ci3 ne1
  • Meaning: How often would the cabin of a plane be cleaned?

Example particle 5: 之嘛

Romanization: zi1 maa3
Function / Indication: “only”

Example Sentence

  • Chinese Characters: 污糟咗之嘛。
  • Romanization: wu1 zou1 zo2 zi1 maa3
  • Meaning: It (only) got dirty.

Example particle 6: 咋

Romanization: zaa3
Function / Indication: Indicates disapproval; “just”

Example Sentence

  • Chinese Characters: 係因為未見過咋。
  • Romanization: hai6 jan1 wai6 mei6 gin3 gwo3 zaa3
  • Meaning: It’s (just) because this has never been seen.

4. Cantonese Tenses

A Clock

There are no such concepts as tenses or verb conjugation in Cantonese. Instead, we use additional words to indicate the time of an incident when necessary. 

It’s not mandatory to include these additional words as we can usually tell whether an event happened in the past, present, or future from the context. 

Let’s take a look at some common additional words:

Indicating “the past”:

  • Placed after the verb to indicate the past:
    • 咗 (zo2) – have done
    • 過 (gwo3) – tried
    • 完 (jyun4) – did
    • 曬 (saai3) – completed
  • 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” / “present continuous”:

  • Placed before the verb to indicate the present:
    • 喺度 (hai2 dou6) – be / doing
  • Placed after the verb to indicate the present:
    • 緊 (gan2) – in progress
    • 住 (zyu3) – doing
  • Placed at the beginning of a sentence or right after the subject:
    • 而家 (ji4 gaa1) – now

Indicating “the future”:

  • Placed before the verb to indicate the future:
    • 會 (wui5) – will
  • 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

We’ll be introducing this topic in more detail soon—stay tuned!

5. Cantonese Negation

A Woman Hinting No

Let’s cover one more basic Cantonese grammar element: negation. 

Cantonese negation is quite simple, depending on the context (that is, whether you’re referring to the past, present, or future). There are four main ways to negate a sentence.

Negating the past

There are two patterns for negating the past in Cantonese:

Example
未 (mei6) + verb + 過 (gwo3)我未去過英國。
ngo5 mei6 heoi3 gwo3 jing1 gwok3
I have never been to the UK.
冇 (mou5) + verb我冇食嘢。
ngo5 mou5 sik6 je5
I didn’t eat anything.

Negating the present

Here is the pattern for negating the present in Cantonese:

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

Negating the future

Finally, here is how to negate the future:

Example
唔會 (m4 wui5) + verb我唔會去。
ngo5 m4 wui5 heoi3
I am not going.

We’ll be discussing Cantonese negation soon. Stay tuned at CantoneseClass101.com!

6. Why is CantoneseClass101 Great for Learning Cantonese?

CantoneseClass101.com

Now that you’ve learned some basic Cantonese grammar rules (and see how simple they are!), are you ready to officially embark on your Cantonese learning journey?

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

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

The 20+ Best Cantonese Quotes for Learners

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Quotes can be a great tool to help you stay motivated. They also offer cultural insight, provide universal words of wisdom, and tastefully season a pleasant conversation.

Do you want to put some Cantonese quotes in your pocket? We’ve compiled some of the greatest Cantonese quotes with English translations and equivalents, handpicked just for you!

Without further delay, here are the top twenty quotes in Cantonese.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese Table of Contents
  1. Quotes About Life
  2. Quotes About Love
  3. Quotes About Wisdom
  4. Quotes About Success
  5. Bonus: Quotes About Language Learning
  6. How CantoneseClass101.com Can Help You Learn More Cantonese

1. Quotes About Life

A Woman Gazing

What is life all about, and how should a person live? These are questions people have been trying to answer for a very long time. Here are some Cantonese quotes about life to give you some cultural perspective on the topic!  

1. 做人如果無夢想,同條鹹魚有咩分別呀?

Romanization: zou6 jan4 jyu4 gwo2 mou5 mung6 soeng2, tung4 tiu4 haam4 jyu2 jau5 me1 fan1 bit6 aa3
Literal Translation: “If we don’t have any dreams in life, what can distinguish us from a salted fish?”

More about the quote – 

  • Meaning / Equivalent quote: “A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.” (John Barrymore)
  • Elaboration: This is a famous quote from Shaolin Soccer, a movie directed by the renowned Hong Kong filmmaker Stephen Chow. We might use this quote, for example, to encourage a friend to chase after his or her dream.
  • Additional notes: Shaolin Soccer is one of the most well-known movies in Hong Kong. Watch the trailer on YouTube!

2. 認真你就輸了

Romanization: jing6 zan1 nei5 zau6 syu1 liu5
Literal Translation: “You lose when you get serious.”

More about the quote – 

  • Meaning / Equivalent quote: “Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive.” (Elbert Hubbard)
  • Elaboration: This quote is from the title of a book written by novelist Lin Su of Mainland China. It became popular in Hong Kong starting in 2009, and we use it to remind one another not to get too serious or care too much about results.
  • Additional notes: The famous Hong Kong singer Ava released a song, sung in Mandarin, featuring this quote as a title. Check it out!

3. 即使沒有別人給你理由,生命依然值得堅持。

Romanization: zik1 si2 mut6 jau5 bit6 jan4 kap1 nei5 lei5 jau4, sang1 ming6 ji1 jin4 zik6 dak1 gin1 ci4
Literal Translation: “Even if there is no reason to, life is still worth living.”

More about the quote – 

  • Meaning/ Equivalent quote: “Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.” (William James)
  • Elaboration: This is a famous quote from the award-winning movie, A Simple Life. We use the quote to console a friend who is a bit down.
  • Additional notes: Deanie Ip, the leading actress of this movie, was awarded for her amazing performance with the Best Actress Award at the 68th Venice International Film Festival. Watch the trailer on YouTube!

4. 仍然自由自我,永遠高唱我歌,走遍千里。

Romanization: jing4 jin4 zi6 jau4 zi6 ngo5, wing5 jyun5 gou1 coeng3 ngo5 go1, zau2 pin3 cin1 lei5
Literal Translation: “Be free, sing your own song, walk your own life.”

More about the quote – 

  • Meaning / Equivalent quote: Be yourself.
  • Elaboration: These are some lyrics from the famous song Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies, sung by the Hong Kong rock band Beyond. We use this quote to encourage someone to be his or her true self.
  • Additional notes: Beyond is the most influential Cantopop band from Hong Kong, prominent in overseas Chinese communities and East Asian countries including Japan and Singapore. In fact, Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies is a must-know song for any HongKonger!

5. 對人誠懇,做事負責,多結善緣,自然多得人的幫助。淡泊明志,隨遇而安,不作非分之想, 心境安泰,必少許多失意之苦。

Romanization: deoi3 jan4 sing4 han2, zou6 si6 fu6 zaak3, do1 git3 sin6 jyun4, zi6 jin4 do1 dak1 jan4 dik1 bong1 zo6. daam6 bok6 ming4 zi3, ceoi4 jyu6 ji4 on1, bat1 zok3 fei1 fan6 zi1 soeng2, sam1 ging2 on1 taai3, bit1 siu2 heoi2 do1 sat1 ji3 zi1 fu2
Literal Translation: “Be sincere, responsible, and nice; you will naturally get help from others. Live a simple life, go with the flow, don’t overthink, be calm and present; you will suffer less when you fail.”

More about the quote – 

  • Meaning / Equivalent quote: The message behind this quote is that a good life will follow naturally if you’re nice and kind, and if you go with the flow.
  • Elaboration: This is a famous quote from Hong Kong’s business tycoon Li Ka-Shing, one of the richest men in the world. We can use this quote to motivate ourselves.
  • Additional notes: Li Ka-Shing is a magnificent businessman—he rose from humble beginnings, built and grew his own business when Hong Kong was still dominated by the Brits, and became Asia’s wealthiest man for many years.

6. 進退怎能隨人潮跌墮,重燃那漸冷卻的火,青春瘋過痛過先不會枉過。 

Romanization: zeon3 teoi3 zam2 nang4 ceoi4 jan4 ciu4 dit3 do6, cung4 jin4 naa5 zim6 laang5 koek3 dik1 fo2, cing1 ceon1 fung1 gwo3 tung3 gwo3 sin1 bat1 wui5 wong2 gwo3
Literal Translation: “We cannot just follow others. Let’s light the dimmed fire, for life is meant to be a roller-coaster ride.”

More about the quote – 

  • Meaning / Equivalent quote: 
      Hope when the moment comes,
      You’ll say
      I, I did it all
      I, I did it all
      I owned every second that this world could give
      I saw so many places, the things that I did
      Yeah with every broken bone
      I swear I lived
      (I Lived, OneRepublic)
  • Elaboration: These are lyrics from the song Queen G by Hong Kong songwriter Gloria Tang. We can use this quote to encourage others to follow their heart.
  • Additional notes: Gloria Tang, also known as G.E.M., is a talented Hong Kong singer-songwriter. She was the only Asian artist featured in the Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2016. Listen to one of her most popular songs, Light Years Away!

2. Quotes About Love

A Heart

Are you madly in love with someone? Or maybe you’re a hopeless romantic? Either way, we think you’ll love these Cantonese love quotes!

7. 人世間所有的相遇,都是久別重逢。

Romanization: jan4 sai3 gaan1 so2 jau5 dik1 soeng1 jyu6, dou1 si6 gau2 bit6 cung4 fung4 
Literal Translation: “All encounters in life are reunions after long times apart.”

More about the quote – 

  • Meaning / Equivalent quote: This quote explains Yuanfen, a concept similar to Karma. The message behind it is that we should cherish those we love, but we must also accept separation from them should it occur.
  • Elaboration: This is 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. You can watch the trailer of the movie on YouTube!

8. 人生就像一場舞會,教會你最初舞步的人卻未必能陪你走到散場。

Romanization: jan4 sang1 zau6 zoeng6 jat1 coeng4 mou5 wui2, gaau3 wui5 nei5 zeoi3 co1 mou5 bou6 dik1 jan4 koek3 mei6 bit1 nang4 pui4 nei5 zau2 dou3 saan3 coeng4 
Literal Translation: “Life is like a ball, the one who teaches you how to dance may not be able to accompany you until the end.”

More about the quote – 

  • Meaning / Equivalent quote: Life is full of ups and downs, and your first love may not be your last.
  • Elaboration: This quote is from Eileen Chang, a famous Chinese-born American essayist, novelist, and screenwriter. We use this quote to offer condolence to a friend who has just broken up with their first love.
  • Additional notes: Chang is one of the best female Chinese writers of all time. Read her books to gain insight on the Chinese view of love and romance!

9. 不如我哋從頭嚟過。

Romanization: bat1 jyu4 ngo5 dei6 cung4 tau4 lei4 gwo3
Literal Translation: “How about we start over again?”

More about the quote – 

  • Meaning / Equivalent quote: The message behind this quote is to never take anything for granted.
  • Elaboration: It’s from the movie Happy Together, directed by the famous filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai and featuring the handsome Leslie Cheung. In the movie, the main character lost the love of his life because he did not cherish him when he had the chance to. We may use this quote to try reconciling with an ex, for example.
  • 10. 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 – 

    • Meaning / Equivalent quote: “We are all fools in love.” (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)
    • Elaboration: This is a famous quote from the movie Love in the Buff. We use this quote to console a friend who was betrayed by her lover.
    • Additional notes: You can learn more about love and relationships from a HongKonger’s perspective in the movie Love in the Buff. Check out its trailer!

    11. 世界上最遙遠的距離,不是生與死,而是我站在你面前,你卻不知道我愛你。

    Romanization: sai3 gaai3 soeng6 zeoi3 jiu4 jyun5 dik1 keoi5 lei4, bat1 si6 sang1 jyu5 sei2, ji4 si6 ngo5 zaam6 zoi6 nei5 min6 cin4, nei5 koek3 bat1 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 – 

    • Meaning / Equivalent quote: “If you love someone, tell them. For hearts are often broken by words left unspoken.” (Stephanie Roogle)
    • 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 for her books on love and relationships. She was one of China’s ten richest authors in 2013!

    12. 情場不是超級市場,請勿薄利多銷。

    Romanization: cing4 coeng4 bat1 si6 ciu1 kap1 si5 coeng4, cing2 mat6 bok6 lei6 do1 siu1
    Literal Translation: “The realm of love is not a supermarket; please don’t sell with small profit for quick turnover.”

    More about the quote – 

    • Meaning / Equivalent quote: Love is priceless. / Quality over quantity.
    • Elaboration: This is a famous quote from Cantopop lyricist Richard Lam. We use this quote to encourage one to cherish love.

    CantoneseClass101.com has a vocabulary list dedicated to love quotes. Check it out for more bittersweet words on romance! 


    3. Quotes About Wisdom

    Light Bulbs

    What does it mean to be wise, and how is wisdom attained? Here are some Cantonese quotes on the topic to inspire and enlighten you.

    13. 出嚟行,遲早要還 。

    Romanization: ceot1 lei4 haang4, ci4 zou2 jiu3 waan4
    Literal Translation: “This is expected.”

    More about the quote – 

    • Meaning / Equivalent quote: What goes around comes around.
    • Elaboration: This is a famous quote from the movie Infernal Affairs. We use the quote to let our friends know that we have been expecting the consequences of our actions.
    • Additional notes: Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, was actually a remake of Infernal Affairs!

    14. 是非只因強出口,煩惱只為強出頭 。

    Romanization: si6 fei1 zi2 jan1 koeng5 ceot1 hau2, faan4 nou5 zi2 wai6 koeng5 ceot1 tau4
    Literal Translation: “Gossip comes from the mouth, trouble comes from the head.”

    More about the quote – 

    • Meaning / Equivalent quote: Both gossip and trouble are usually self-created.
    • Elaboration: This is from the famous novel The Smiling, Proud Wanderer, written by Hong Kong Wuxia novelist Louis Cha. These words remind us to stay out of others’ business.
    • Additional notes: Louis Cha is Hong Kong’s most famous writer and his Wuxia novels are well-known in every Chinese community. He’s sold over 100 million copies of his works worldwide, excluding pirated copies. He even has an asteroid named after him!

    15. 就算一張廁紙、一條底褲,都有佢本身嘅用處 。

    Romanization: zau6 syun3 jat1 zoeng1 ci3 zi2, jat1 tiu4 dai2 fu3, dou1 jau5 keoi5 bun2 san1 ge3 jung6 cyu3 
    Literal Translation: “Even toilet paper and an undergarment have their own values.”

    More about the quote – 

    • Meaning / Equivalent quote: Everyone is of value.
    • Elaboration: This quote is from Hong Kong filmmaker Stephen Chow’s movie From Beijing with Love. We use the quote to promote the idea of self-worth.
    • Additional notes: This movie is a spoof of the James Bond films, and it contains lots of cultural and satirical elements. 

    16. 和諧唔係一百個人講同一番說話,和諧係一百個人有一百句唔同說話之餘,又互相尊重。 

    Romanization: wo4 haai4 m4 hai6 jat1 baak3 go3 jan4 gong2 tung4 jat1 faan1 syut3 waa6, wo4 haai4 hai6 jat1 baak3 go3 jan4 jau5 jat1 baak3 geoi3 m4 tung4 syut3 waa6 zi1 jyu4, jau6 wu6 soeng1 zyun1 zung6 
    Literal Translation: “Harmony is not 100 people saying the same thing; it is about 100 people saying different things while respecting each other.”

    More about the quote – 

    • Meaning / Equivalent quote: “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” (Bryant H. McGill)
    • Elaboration: This quote is from the Cantonese drama When Heaven Burns. We use the quote to defend ourselves when someone forces his/her opinion on us. We can also use it to encourage someone to embrace new ideas.
    • Additional notes: When Heaven Burns is a unique Cantonese drama in many ways. It centers around the spirit of Rock ‘N’ Roll, humanity, religion, and politics. It gained a strong cult following instantly and was very popular among the younger generation.

    17. 寧可哭得理直氣壯,也不願意笑得鬼鬼祟祟。

    Romanization: ning4 ho2 huk1 dak1 lei5 zik6 hei3 zong3, jaa5 bat1 jyun6 ji3 siu3 dak1 gwai2 gwai2 seoi6 seoi6
    Literal Translation: “I’d rather cry boldly than laugh sneakily.”

    More about the quote – 

    • Meaning / Equivalent quote: The message behind this quote is that we should stand firm for justice.
    • Elaboration: It’s a famous quote from Hong Kong’s award-winning lyricist Albert Leung. We use it to encourage others to embrace and defend justice and righteousness.
    • Additional notes: Almost all HongKongers know at least a few songs written by Albert Leung. He has written over 3500 song lyrics!

    4. Quotes About Success

    A Man Climbing Up a Mountain

    Do you have big plans for the future or concerns about an upcoming project? Maybe one of these Cantonese quotes about success can motivate and encourage you. 

    18. 三個臭皮匠,勝過一個諸葛亮。

    Romanization: saam1 go3 cau3 pei4 zoeng6, sing3 gwo3 jat1 go3 zyu1 got3 loeng6
    Literal Translation: “Three cobblers with their wits combined exceed that of Zhuge Liang.”

    More about the quote – 

    • Meaning / Equivalent quote: Two heads are better than one.
    • Elaboration: Zhuge Liang was a very famous military strategist in the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 AD). His work is often compared to that of Sun Tzu, who wrote The Art of War. We use this quote to promote teamwork.
    • Additional notes: Zhuge Liang is the hero in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of Chinese literature’s Four Great Classical Novels. It’s a great historical novel written in the fourteenth century—highly recommended!

    19. 賺錢靠機遇,成功靠信譽。

    Romanization: zaan6 cin2 kaau3 gei1 jyu6, sing4 gung1 kaau3 seon3 jyu6
    Literal Translation: “Earning money depends on luck; success depends on trust.”

    More about the quote – 

    • Meaning / Equivalent quote: “Honesty is the first chapter of the book Wisdom.” (Thomas Jefferson)
    • Elaboration: This is a famous quote from Hong Kong’s business tycoon Li Ka-Shing, one of the richest men in the world. We can use this quote to emphasize the importance of trust and reputation in achieving ultimate success.
    • Additional notes: As mentioned before, Li Ka-Shing is a magnificent businessman. He’s also very generous in sharing his tips to success!

    20. 當你放下面子賺錢的時候,說明你已經懂事了。當你用錢賺回面子的時候,說明你已經成功了。

    Romanization: dong1 nei5 fong3 haa6 min6 zi2 zaan6 cin2 dik1 si4 hau6, syut3 ming4 nei5 ji5 ging1 dung2 si6 liu5. dong1 nei5 jung6 cin2 zaan6 wui4 min6 zi2 dik1 si4 hau6, syut3 ming4 nei5 ji5 ging1 sing4 gung1 liu5 
    Literal Translation: “When you earn money by letting go of your Face (ego), you have become mature. When you earn your Face (ego) with money, you succeed.”

    More about the quote – 

    • Meaning / Equivalent quote: When ego is lost, limitations are lost.
    • Elaboration: Yet another quote from Hong Kong’s most successful businessman, Li Ka-Shing. We can use this quote to remind someone to let go of their ego.
    • Additional notes: Face,” or in Chinese 面 (min2), is a unique concept in Chinese society. This concept of cultural etiquette in Hong Kong describes one’s status, dignity, and integrity. “Face” can also be thought of as the feeling of being respected and honored by others. 

    See our vocabulary list of success quotes for even more inspiring words! 

    5. Bonus: Quotes About Language Learning

    Fancy diving deeper into Cantonese after learning these interesting and insightful quotes? Then let us share a few language learning quotes with you, too!

    Bonus Quote 1 –

    Chinese Character: 新語言就係新生命。
    Romanization: san1 jyu5 jin4 zau6 hai6 san1 sang1 ming6
    Meaning: A new language is a new life.

    Bonus Quote 2 –

    Chinese Character: 我嘅語言界限就係我個世界嘅界限。
    Romanization: ngo5 ge3 jyu5 jin4 gaai3 haan6 zau6 hai6 ngo5 go3 sai3 gaai3 ge3 gaai3 haan6
    Meaning: The limits of my language are the limits of my world.

    Bonus Quote 3 –

    Chinese Character: 識多一個語言,就擁有多一個靈魂。
    Romanization: sik1 do1 jat1 go3 jyu5 jin4, zau6 jung2 jau5 do1 jat1 go3 ling4 wan4
    Meaning: To have another language is to possess a second soul.

    And of course, we have a list of more language learning quotes for you to study. 

    6. How CantoneseClass101.com Can Help You Learn More 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 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 of these quotes is your favorite, and why! We look forward to hearing from you.

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

Your Guide to Basic Cantonese for Business

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The world of work can be wildly different from one country to another, and when traveling somewhere—either permanently or as a visitor—you’ll have to quickly leave a good impression to make the best of your new business environment. Mastering the local language certainly helps. 

This is just as true for visitors to Hong Kong as it is for visitors to any other country. Even though English is one of the official languages, many local businesses and companies prefer candidates who can speak Cantonese. Knowing even basic Cantonese for business will definitely help you maintain good relationships with your colleagues and business partners!

Can’t wait to put some Cantonese business phrases in your pocket? Keep reading and let CantoneseClass101.com give you a hand! Here, you’ll find the phrases you need with examples to help you navigate Hong Kong’s business world.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Business Words and Phrases in Cantonese Table of Contents
  1. Nailing a Job Interview
  2. Interacting with Coworkers
  3. Sounding Smart in a Meeting
  4. Handling Business Phone Calls and Emails
  5. Going on a Business Trip
  6. How CantoneseClass101.com Can Help You Learn More Cantonese

1. Nailing a Job Interview

Job Interview

Fancy getting a job in Hong Kong? Learn the Cantonese business phrases below to nail your job interview, and don’t miss our article on How to Find a Job in Hong Kong!

Talking about your university

Chinese Character: 我喺_____畢業。
Romanization: ngo5 hai2 __________ bat1 jip6
Meaning: “I graduated from __________.”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 我喺中⽂⼤學畢業。
  • Romanization: ngo5 hai2 zung1 man4 daai6 hok6 bat1 jip6
  • Meaning: “I graduated from The Chinese University of Hong Kong.”

Talking about your major

Chinese Character: 我主修_____。
Romanization: ngo5 zyu2 sau1 __________
Meaning: “I majored in __________.”

Example  

  • Chinese Character: 我主修數學。
  • Romanization: ngo5 zyu2 sau1 sou3 hok6
  • Meaning: “I majored in mathematics.”

Talking about your current job

Chinese Character: 直⾄現時為⽌,我係_____嘅_____。
Romanization: zik6 zi3 jin6 si4 wai4 zi2, ngo5 hai6 ______ ge3 ______
Meaning: “Until now, I have been working as ______ at ______.”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 直⾄現時為⽌,我係ABC公司嘅會計。
  • Romanization: zik6 zi3 jin6 si4 wai4 zi2, ngo5 hai6 ABC gung1 si1 ge3 wui6 gai3
  • Meaning: “Until now, I have been working as an accountant at ABC Company.”

Talking about your work experience

Chinese Character: 我仲做過_____。
Romanization: ngo5 zung6 zou6 gwo3 _________
Meaning: “I also have experience as a(n)__________.”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 我仲做過項目經理。
  • Romanization: ngo5 zung6 zou6 gwo3 hong6 muk6 ging1 lei5
  • Meaning: “I also have experience as a project manager.”

Talking about your desire to make the move

Chinese Character: 因為我想_____。
Romanization: jan1 wai6 ngo5 soeng2_____
Meaning: “Because I want to_____.”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 因為我想增值⾃己。
  • Romanization: jan1 wai6 ngo5 soeng2 zang1 zik6 zi6 gei2
  • Meaning: “Because I want to progress (myself).”

Talking about why you want to work for the company

Chinese Character: 我鍾意_____,同埋想嘗試其他嘢。
Romanization: ngo5 zung1 ji3_____, tung4 maai4 soeng2 soeng4 si3 kei4 taa1 je5.
Meaning: “I like_____, and I wanted to try something else.”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 我鍾意接受挑戰,同埋想嘗試其他嘢。
  • Romanization: ngo5 zung1 ji3 zip3 sau6 tiu1 zin3, tung4 maai4 soeng2 soeng4 si3 kei4 taa1 je5
  • Meaning: “I like challenges, and I wanted to try something else.”

2. Interacting with Coworkers

A Group of People Chatting

Want to connect with your coworkers or business partners in Hong Kong? In this section, we’ll cover some Cantonese business language for communicating with your coworkers, both in the workplace and out! 

Starting a conversation when you haven’t talked in a while

Chinese Character: 近排點呀?
Romanization: gan6 paai4 dim2 aa3
Meaning: “How’s it going recently?”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 早晨呀,Tim, 近排點呀? 
  • Romanization: zou2 san4 aa3, Tim, gan6 paai4 dim2 aa3
  • Meaning: “Good morning Tim, how’s it going recently?”

Inquiring about that person’s team at work

Chinese Character: 你條Team最近忙咩呀?
Romanization: nei5 tiu4 Team zeoi3 gan6 mong4 me1 aa3
Meaning: “What is your team busy with recently?”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 好耐冇見,你條Team最近忙咩呀?
  • Romanization: hou2 noi6 mou5 gin3, nei5 tiu4 Team zeoi3 gan6 mong4 me1 aa3
  • Meaning: “It’s been a while since we last met. What is your team busy with recently?”

Telling them where you’re headed

Chinese Character: 我要去_____。
Romanization: ngo5 jiu3 heoi3  ______
Meaning: “I am going to  ______.”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 我要去會議室。
  • Romanization: ngo5 jiu3 heoi3 wui6 ji5 sat1
  • Meaning: “I am going to the meeting room.”

Telling them what you like

Chinese Character: 我鍾意_____。
Romanization: ngo5 zung1 ji3 _________
Meaning: “I like__________.”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 我鍾意藍色。
  • Romanization: ngo5 zung1 ji3 laam4 sik1
  • Meaning: “I like the color blue.”

Telling them what you don’t like

Chinese Character: 我唔鍾意_____。
Romanization: ngo5 m4 zung1 ji3_____
Meaning: “I don’t like_____.”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 我唔鍾意呢個project。
  • Romanization: ngo5 m4 zung1 ji3 ni1 go3 project
  • Meaning: “I don’t like this project.”

Letting your coworker know that you’re leaving

Chinese Character: 我走先喇。
Romanization: ngo5 zau2 sin1 laa3
Meaning: “I have to go now.”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 我走先喇,聽日見!
  • Romanization: ngo5 zau2 sin1 laa3, ting1 jat6 gin3
  • Meaning: “I have to go now, see you tomorrow!”
Business Phrases

3. Sounding Smart in a Meeting

Share your ideas and opinions with team members by using some practical Cantonese for business meetings!

Giving suggestions

Chinese Character: 你應該_____。
Romanization: nei5 jing1 goi1_____
Meaning: “You should_____.”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 你應該接受挑戰。
  • Romanization: nei5 jing1 goi1 zip3 sau6 tiu1 zin3
  • Meaning: “You should accept the challenge.”

Commenting on a suggestion

Chinese Character: 你嘅建議_____。
Romanization: nei5 ge3 gin3 ji5_____
Meaning: “Your suggestion_____.”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 你嘅建議不獲採納。
  • Romanization: nei5 ge3 gin3 ji5 bat1 wok6 coi2 naap6
  • Meaning: “Your suggestion was not accepted.”

Expressing your opinion

Chinese Character: 我認為_____。
Romanization: ngo5 jing6 wai4  ______
Meaning: “I think  ______.”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 我認為我哋要擴展服務供應。
  • Romanization: ngo5 jing6 wai4 ngo5 dei6 jiu3 kong3 zin2 fuk6 mou6 gung1 jing3
  • Meaning: “I think that we should broaden our offer.”

Showing your agreement

Chinese Character: 我同意_____。
Romanization: ngo5 tung4 ji3 _________
Meaning: “I agree (with) __________.”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 我同意你嘅⽅案,我哋應該喺尖沙咀開分店。
  • Romanization: ngo5 tung4 ji3 nei5 ge3 fong1 on3, ngo5 dei6 jing1 goi1 hai2 zim1 saa1 zeoi2 hoi1 fan1 dim3
  • Meaning: “I agree with your proposal that we should open a branch in Tsim Sha Tsui.”

Showing your disagreement

Chinese Character: 我嘅諗法唔同。
Romanization: ngo5 ge3 lam2 faat3 m4 tung4
Meaning: “I have a different opinion.”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 我嘅諗法唔同,我哋要有新嘢畀個市場。
  • Romanization: ngo5 ge3 lam2 faat3 m4 tung4, ngo5 dei6 jiu3 jau5 san1 je5 bei2 go3 si5 coeng4
  • Meaning: “I would not agree with you. We have to bring something new to the market.”

Providing feedback on a suggestion

Chinese Character: 聽起嚟_____。
Romanization: teng1 hei2 lei4 _________
Meaning: “Sounds like _________.”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 聽起嚟有啲複雜。
  • Romanization: teng1 hei2 lei4 jau5 di1 fuk1 zaap6
  • Meaning: “This sounds a little bit complicated.”

4. Handling Business Phone Calls and Emails

A Lady Having a Phone Call at Work

Now, let’s go over some useful phrases to help you do business in Cantonese over the phone or through email.

Picking up the phone

Chinese Character: 聽電話
Romanization: teng1 din6 waa2
Meaning: “to pick up the phone”

Example 

  • Chinese Character:  ⼀聽到電話響,⽴即聽電話。
  • Romanization: jat1 teng1 dou2 din6 waa2 hoeng2, laap6 zik1 teng1 din6 waa2
  • Meaning: “Once you hear the telephone ring, please pick up the phone immediately.”

Introducing yourself over the phone

Chinese Character: 喂,我係_____。
Romanization: wai2, ngo5 hai6 _________
Meaning: “Hello, this is__________.”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 喂,我係日新公司嘅李家明。
  • Romanization: wai2, ngo5 hai6 jat6 san1 gung1 si1 ge3 lei5 gaa1 ming4
  • Meaning: “Hello, this is Sun New company’s Li Ka Ming.”

Letting the other person know what you’d like to discuss

Chinese Character: 我想傾下_____。
Romanization: ngo5 soeng2 king1 haa5_____
Meaning: “I want to discuss_____.”

Example

  • Chinese Character: 我想傾吓啲細節。
  • Romanization: ngo5 soeng2 king1 haa5 dik1 sai3 zit3
  • Meaning: “I want to discuss the details.”

Asking if there’s anything else

Chinese Character: 仲有冇其他嘢?
Romanization: zung6 jau5 mou5 kei4 taa1 je5
Meaning: “Anything else?”

Example

  • Chinese Character: 仲有冇其他嘢我可以幫到你?
  • Romanization: zung6 jau5 mou5 kei4 taa1 je5 ngo5 ho2 ji5 bong1 dou2 nei5
  • Meaning: “Is there anything else I can do to help?”

Replying to an email

Chinese Character: 覆電郵
Romanization: fuk1 din6 jau4
Meaning: “to reply to an email”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 我嘅主要工‎作係覆電郵。
  • Romanization: ngo5 ge3 zyu2 jiu3 gung1 zok3 hai6 fuk1 din6 jau4
  • Meaning: “My main task is to reply to emails.”

Greeting someone in an email

Chinese Character: _____你好:
Romanization: _____nei5 hou2
Meaning: “Hello _____,”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 陳先生你好:
  • Romanization: can4 sin1 saang1 nei5 hou2
  • Meaning: “Hello Mr. Chan,”

Thanking someone for his/her support

Chinese Character: 感謝你的支持。
Romanization: gam2 ze6 nei5 dik1 zi1 ci4
Meaning: “Thank you for your support.”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 我們非常感謝你的支持。
  • Romanization: ngo5 mun4 fei1 soeng4 gam2 ze6 nei5 dik1 zi1 ci4
  • Meaning: “We appreciate your support a lot.”

Asking for a meeting

Chinese Character: 我想約_____開會。
Romanization: ngo5 soeng2 joek3 _________ hoi1 wui2
Meaning: “I would like to set up a meeting for _________.”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 我想約星期⼀開會。
  • Romanization: ngo5 soeng2 joek3 sing1 kei4 jat1 hoi1 wui2
  • Meaning: “I would like to set up a meeting for Monday.”

5. Going on a Business Trip

Business Trip

If you’re traveling to Hong Kong for work, memorize these phrases to successfully navigate your business trip in Cantonese!

Checking in with a reservation

Chinese Character: 訂咗房。
Romanization: deng6 zo2 fong2
Meaning: “(I’ve) made a reservation.”

Example

  • Chinese Character: 我姓張,已經訂咗房。
  • Romanization: ngo5 sing3 zoeng1, ji5 ging1 deng6 zo2 fong2
  • Meaning: “I have a reservation under Cheung.”

Asking about room vacancy

Chinese Character: 今晚有冇房?
Romanization: gam1 maan1 jau5 mou5 fong2
Meaning: “Do you have a vacant room for tonight?”

Example

  • Chinese Character: 你好,今晚有冇房?
  • Romanization: nei5 hou2, gam1 maan1 jau5 mou5 fong2
  • Meaning: “Hello, do you have a vacant room for tonight?”

Asking for guidelines/permission

Chinese Character: 我可唔可以_____?
Romanization: ngo5 ho2 m4 ho2 ji5_____
Meaning: “Can I_____?”

Example

  • Chinese Character: 我可唔可以用商務中心?
  • Romanization: ngo5 ho2 m4 ho2 ji5 jung6 soeng1 mou6 zung1 sam1
  • Meaning: “Can I use the business center?”

Checking out

Chinese Character: 退房
Romanization: teoi3 fong2
Meaning: “check out”

Example

  • Chinese Character: 唔該,我想退房。
  • Romanization: m4 goi1, ngo5 soeng2 teoi3 fong2
  • Meaning: “Excuse me, I would like to check out.”

Expressing your needs

Chinese Character: 我要_____。
Romanization: ngo5 jiu3_____
Meaning: “I need_____.”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 我要間非吸煙單⼈房。
  • Romanization: ngo5 jiu3 gaan1 fei1 kap1 jin1 daan1 jan4 fong2
  • Meaning: “I would like to have a non-smoking single room.”

Asking for directions

Chinese Character: _____ 喺邊度?
Romanization: _________ hai2 bin1 dou6
Meaning: “Where is _________?”

Example 

  • Chinese Character: 會議室喺邊度?
  • Romanization: wui6 ji5 sat1 hai2 bin1 dou6
  • Meaning: “Where is the meeting room?”

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

Now that you’ve learned the basic business phrases, are you interested in picking up even more 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.

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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 there are any business phrases or situations we didn’t cover. We’ll do our best to help you out.

Happy learning, and good luck with your business endeavors!

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