How to ask, "How are you doing?" in Chinese - 20 Questions to Basic Fluency #16

Last time we took a look at how to say, 
"What is this?" in Chinese.  If you missed that discussion, take some time to 
go back and check it out.


(see all 
"20 Questions to Basic Fluency.")


Today we run into someone we haven't seen in a bit and we ask, "How are you doing?"  Here is the question and answer:

Question

你最近怎么样?
Nǐ zuìjìn zěnmeyàng?

How are you doing?

Answer

我很好。谢谢。你呢? 

Wǒ hěn hǎo.  Xiè xiè. Nǐ ne?
I'm good.  Thanks.  And you?

Think of all the ways that you could greet someone in English:  How are you? What’s up?  How have you been?  How are you doing?  How is it going?  How have you been lately?  What’s new?  What’s going on?  They are all slightly different, but they all get the same point across.

This happens in Chinese too.  There are lots of ways to greet people.  Which greeting you use might depend on your relationship with the person, the time of day or the kind of response you are looking for. Today we will be looking at two ways to greet someone with the question, “How are you doing?”  If you are looking for some hip ways to greet your friends, check out Brandon’s post on how to say,
 “What’s up?” in Chinese
 

Our question today doesn’t match up with English very well at all.  The word order and word choice is very different from English. There is no verb in the sentence and to make things worse, the words don’t translate very easily.

So today we’ll take a slightly more detailed look at what is going with this question so you can get a handle on it.  The first word,
你(Nǐ) is no stranger to us.  It means “you” and it often comes at the beginning of a question, so no surprise here.  The next word is
最近(zuìjìn) and it means “recently.”  This is one of those times that taking a closer look might help you remember the characters and help you to make a connection when you see them in another context.

The character 
最(zuì) is a superlative meaning “most.”  You can put it in front of any adjective and it gives it the –est treatment: like biggest, smallest, etc. For example, we can say 最好(zuì hǎo) to mean “best.”  In our question
 最(zuì) is connected to
近(jìn) which means “close.”  The character
 近(jìn) can also be used to talk about distance between two places that are “close.”  So
 最近(zuìjìn) means “most close” in a metaphorical sense.  You can take it to mean “most close
 time” or maybe “most close
 to you.” It’s a slippery word and can take a bit to get used to.

At any rate, the best translation we have for it is “recently” or “lately.”  Finally we have
 怎么样(zěnmeyàng).  There are few phrases that are as versatile as
 怎么样(zěnmeyàng) in Chinese.  Its flexibility makes it a must-know phrase, but that also means that it can have a lot of meanings.  In our question here,
怎么样(zěnmeyàng) just means “how.” But, of course, we have three characters, so let’s take this phrase apart to understand it a little better.

The character
怎(zěn) means “how” in this context, but it can also mean “why” or “what.”    The character
么(me) has no meaning.  All you really need to know is that it is just something that gets thrown in with a few of the question words: 什(shénme) 什时候(shénme shíhou) and 怎(zěnme).  The character
样(yàng) is kind of ambiguous.  It can mean,
“kind” “way” “style” or
 “type.”  It isn’t very helpful for us.  A very rough literal translation of these three characters might be “what way.”

Put the whole question together and you get, “You most close what way?”  That’s a very sketchy translation to say the least, but it can help you to remember the characters and make a connection when they come up in other contexts.  Now, after all that being said, if you just remember
 你最近怎么样?(Nǐ zuìjìn zěnnmeyàng?) as a chunk that means, “How are you doing?” you’ll be just fine!

 

The answer gives the information you’d expect (a subject and an adjective to describe it) but Chinese is unique when it comes to adjectives.  We start out with
 我(wǒ) which means “I.”  The next word is
 很(hěn) which means “very.”  But there are two things that are odd about this.

First, Chinese doesn’t use a form of the word “to be” with adjectives.  For example, in English you might say, “I
am good” so you would expect the Chinese translation to be 我好(Wǒ
shì hǎo).
THIS IS NOT CORRECT.  Chinese doesn’t use the verb 是(shì) with adjectives.

The second odd thing is that the word 很(hěn) in this context doesn’t really carry much meaning with it.  Yes, the word
 很(hěn)
 does mean “very” but if you really wanted to say “very good” in this context, you would probably replace
 很(hěn) with another word.  Here
 很好(hěn hǎo) will mean just plain old “good” as often as it will mean  “very good.”

You might be wondering if you can just skip the
 很(hěn) altogether.  In this particular sentence, the answer is yes, but with other adjectives, not with 
好(hǎo). The general rule is that adjectives that are only one syllable will get
 很(hěn), or some other modifier, in front of them.  The next sentence simply means “thanks.”  The character
 谢(xìe) means “to thank” and Chinese likes to keep things symmetrical, so the syllable is repeated.

We’ve seen the last sentence before.  The character
 你(nǐ) means “you” and
 呢(ne) is a particle that just acts as a question mark that the speaker needs to say.  So our literal translation is, “I (very) good.  Thanks.  And you?

Below are some other common responses to the question
 你最近怎么样? (Nǐ zuìjìn zěnmeyàng?)

 

不错。 (Bú cuò.) Great. (lit. not bad)

还好。(Hái hǎo.) Good. (lit. still good)

还可以。(Hái kěyǐ.) Okay.

我很忙。(Wǒ hěn máng.)  I’m very busy.

不太好。(Bú tài hǎo.) Not too good.

不好。(Bù hǎo.)  Not good.


More Info

In English we can use the question, “How are you doing?” to mean something more like, “How are you feeling?” or “What’s the matter?”  There are a few ways to hint at this in Mandarin as well.  You can say, 你怎么了?(Nǐ zěnme le?) or you can say 什么事?(Shénme shì?).  Below are some ways to respond:

 

我饿了。(Wǒ è le.)  I’m hungry.

 

我渴了。(Wǒ kě le.)  I’m thirsty.

 

我病了。(Wǒ bìng le.)  I’m sick. 

 

我不舒服。(Wǒ bù shūfu.)  I don’t feel well. (lit. I not comfortable.)

 

我很累。(Wǒ hěn lèi.) I’m tired.

 

我很困。(Wǒ hěn kùn.) I’m sleepy.

 

我很冷。(Wǒ hěn lěng.) I’m cold.

 

我很热。(Wǒ hěn rè.)  I’m hot.


*Note: the adjectives 饿(è) 渴(kě) and 病(bìng) do not use 很(hěn) as a modifier.


(photo credit 
tj scenes)

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Admin
Comment by Seraph Ching on May 13, 2012 at 9:58pm

Just checked that one and commented some too. :)


Admin
Comment by sikora on May 13, 2012 at 8:54pm
Hey Seraph,

I agree. You wouldn't say 你最近怎么样?to a person you see everyday. Check out Brandon's post on greetings. Maybe you could chip in a few new ones to the list.

http://studymorechinese.com/profiles/blogs/best-ways-to-say-whats-u...

Admin
Comment by Seraph Ching on May 13, 2012 at 11:06am

I feel like "How are you doing", you can ask any time, even you just saw this person yesterday.

你最近怎么样  you ask at least you haven't seen each other for weeks.  I'm sure yesterday is not 最近 in Chinese definition.

Another one is "How are you",  you can translate into 你好吗, but we never use it between Chinese. I guess it's just not our culture to ask people 你好吗 everyday.


Teacher
Comment by Gen on May 3, 2012 at 2:14pm

:[ I'm canton-Taishanese, I'm fluent with Cantonese as well and live in Cantonese speaking area. I find it weird if I said "hoh" and people ask me back " dim gai em hai hoh hoh?"(why is it not good good) Probably its just how people of different areas interact :)  


Top Member
Comment by Thomas Doherty on May 3, 2012 at 8:23am

I live in a Cantonese speaking area and if you just say "hoh" they give you a hard time.  And my wife who  is originally from Hong Kong will tell you the same thing.  The Cantonese speakers want to hear " hoh hoh " else there is a reason you did not say "hoh hoh" and they want to know why.


Teacher
Comment by Gen on May 2, 2012 at 6:02pm

Thomas, 好好 is just used to exaggerate their answer as in "I'm very well!" / "I'm doing great" 

it's pronounced like "hoe" except it's with rising tone instead of the  declining tone "hoe" in english :\

but I'm sure 好 on its own is good. people will more likely to ask why not if you say "um hoe" "唔好" which means not good in Cantonese.

or it's also used in describing things;

好好吃, 好好玩

 

I agree with Edna

as for "are you okay", I came across this question where people use this line to ask "how are you"

except if somebody fall down, 你还好吧?would be a better choice.

Comment by Edna on May 2, 2012 at 5:28pm

Question: how about "how are you doing" in the context of, Are you okay? Like if you see someone fall down, and you want to ask "Are you okay?" -- 你好吗 or 你怎么样 don't seem to have the right contextual connotation.


Top Member
Comment by Thomas Doherty on April 29, 2012 at 3:14am

In Boston ( a Cantonese speaking Chinatown - really 2 Chinatowns, 1 in the central city and 1 in the Quincy area ), the person asking the question wants to hear "" " hǎo hǎo "  ( but in Cantonese is is "hoh hoh" ).  A single hǎo will result in questions of what is the problem that the answer is not hǎo hǎo .

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