High frequency Chinese - How to be 'okay with anything' 'casual' or 'thoughtless' in Mandarin - 随便 suí biàn explained

This post is about a Chinese phrase which is frequently used in daily life, especially in such context as someone does not or cannot make a choice. For example, when deciding what to eat for lunch, I always feel hard to make a choice. The dishes seem always the same every day. It makes no difference of eating which one. So the answer we made most of the time is 随便(suí biàn)”. In this context, it means “I can do with everything”, “Everything is OK for me”, “Choose as you wish”.


Chinese is always regarded as friendly and hospitable. Sometimes when you go to a store, the owner will immediately ask what you want. If you just want to look around or window shop, then this would be the perfect Chinese-style answer: “我随便看看(wǒ suí biàn kàn kan)”, meaning that you just want to look around casually and do not have a specific desire of buying something.


With the meaning of “casually”, “随便(suí biàn)” is also used in such context, say, a new boss who want to criticize a senior employee who has been working there for a very long time. So the boss does not want to hurt the employee’s feeling and want to do it slowly and politely. Then he may begin like this: “只是随便聊聊(zhǐ shì suí biàn liáo liáo),别紧张(bié jǐn zhāng)” – I just want to have casual talks. Take it easy.


By the way, this reminds me of my interview. My supervisor said exactly the same sentence at the beginning of the interview. She was very nice and wanted to ease my nervousness. Therefore, if you want to be a nice supervisor or teacher, use this sentence to begin an interview or a serious talk. Tell the one with whom you’re talking “只是随便聊聊(zhǐ shì suí biàn liáo liáo),别紧张(bié jǐn zhāng)”.


Well, speaking of the hospitability and politeness of Chinese, you might have heard such from your Chinese friends when you visit them as:


  • “随便坐(suí biàn zuò),就像在自己家一样(jiù xiàng zài zì jǐ jiā yí yàng)
  • – Sit where you like. Make yourself at home.”
  • “随便吃(suí biàn chī),跟在家一样(gēn zài jiā yí yàng)
  • – Please help yourself to the dishes. Make yourself at home”.


However, if you use “随便(suí biàn)” to describe someone, or his/her behavior, then you’re expressing a negative impression. For example, if you describe a young lady as “挺随便的(tǐng suí biàn de)”, then you mean she is kind of an easy girl. Another sample sentence: “他这个决定做得有些随便(tā zhè ge jué dìng zuò dé yǒu xiē suí biàn)”. By this, you mean “He is kind of thoughtless of making such a decision”.


“随便(suí biàn)” can also convey meanings like “do as one wishes”, “no matter” and “anyhow”:


E.g. 1: 对于这件事(duì yú zhè jiàn shì),我没意见(wǒ méi yì jiàn),你随便处理吧(nǐ suí biàn chǔ lǐ ba)。

- I have no opinion regarding this. Do as you wish.

E.g. 2: 随便我怎么问(suí biàn wǒ zěn me wèn),他就是一言不发(tā jiù shì yì yán bù fā)。

- No matter what I asked, he just said nothing.


To sum up, with the Chinese phrase “随便(suí biàn)”, you can express the following meanings:

  • To do as one wishes,
  • Casual, casually,
  • Thoughtless,
  • No matter, anyhow.


I’m hoping with all the contexts, those who are learning the Chinese language can get a more vivid impression of this phrase, especially if they learn Chinese online, and have no access to the native environment.

This post was originally published on the Study More Chinese Blog

(casual - photo credit Scarleth White

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Comment by Batman on September 10, 2012 at 4:14am

Thanks ! Very helpful lesson and I didn't even know that the word was so common ...

  Grammar , never enough of you, my beloved grammar ! Grammar is the basis of the learning....to build our own new sentences properly.

Another example with 随便. ( from Nciku dictionary ).


Brother put on a random sports shirt and then left.



Comment by Suray Su on September 3, 2012 at 4:13pm

@Arkadiusz Kobylański

Thanks for the suggestion. Would try to include those in the future posts.

Comment by Arkadiusz Kobylański on August 29, 2012 at 5:20pm

Really good work has been made here. I've been to many places on the net  but your explanations and what I count as the most important - real-life contexs are as good as it gets.  Actually, your post prompted me to make a little suggestion. In chinese, there are loads of words that for native speakers are like ABC, just a piece of cake but for us, learning it as a second or even third language give us a terrible headache when tuckle with. I mean words like: 反而,原来、本来,毕竟,搞 and many others now I cannot recall. So if you are planning to post next time it could be a good direction in my humble opinion :)

Comment by Mack Lorden on August 27, 2012 at 11:38am

Steven, I used to get confused by it too. It is similar to 不 (bu4) because it, too, can be pronounced with a second tone if preceding a fourth tone character. However, a lot of written things will still list this 不 as 4th tone, and it is just understood that you should change it. 一 (yi1) is the same way.

Comment by Suray Su on August 14, 2012 at 11:13am

Wow~~ You're great. As a native speaker, I even find tone changes are very tricky. 

Comment by Steven Espa on August 9, 2012 at 12:14pm

Nope. I taught myself, so I learned these changes on my own and as I was learning. I knew all the other tone changes except for this one with yi changing to the second tone when before a 4th tone character. Thank you again.

Comment by Suray Su on August 9, 2012 at 9:30am

@ Steven Espa:

I guess you did not see another post here on SMC, http://studymorechinese.com/profiles/blogs/mandarin-tone-change-rul...

You'll get more information there.

Comment by Ma Ji Ya on August 9, 2012 at 8:08am

Dear Steven Espa. You can try to find some information about tone changes in Chinese language on the internet. Here is a link you could visit.http://www.trinity.edu/sfield/chin1501/ToneChange.html. But I guess you can also find something here on this website.

Comment by Steven Espa on August 9, 2012 at 5:53am

I checked a bunch of dictionaries and I learned it as yi1 yang4. All the dictionaries I've seen are contradicting each other. Some say yi1 yang4. Some say yi2 yang4. Thank you for informing me so I can pronounce it right now.

Comment by Suray Su on August 8, 2012 at 2:50pm

@ Ma Ji Ya:

不客气!Yes, it's very common. And I'll try my best to keep posting such information.

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