How to ask, "How do you say 'fortune cookie'?" in Chinese - 20 Questions to Basic Fluency #20

Last time we took a look at how to say, "How was the movie?" 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 are at a bit of a loss for words and we're asking, "How do you say, 'fortune cookie' in Chinese?"  Here is the question and answer:


"Fortune cookie"中文怎么说?
"Forture cookie"  zhōngwén zěnme shūo?
How do you say "fortune cookie" in Chinese?

xìngyùn bǐnggān.
"xìngyùn bǐnggān."

We’ve finally come to the end of our 20 Questions to Basic Fluency series and we are wrapping up with one of the most useful questions.  This question not only helps you learn new words and saves you when you’re in a jam, but it also gives you a productive pattern that allows you to ask how to do anything.  Let’s look at the question. 


Fortune cookie” can obviously be replaced with anything you need to know about.  If you don’t know what the thing is or if the person you’re speaking to doesn’t know English you can just say, 这个(zhè ge) which means “this” or 那个(nà ge) which means “that” and continue with the rest of the question.  The word 中文(zhōngwén) means “Chinese.”  You could also replace this with 汉语(hànyǔ) or 普通话(pǔtōnghuà) both of which also mean Mandarin Chinese.

Another option is to just drop the word for “Chinese” altogether since it’s probably pretty obvious which language you are inquiring about. The word
怎么(zěnme) means “how” and the word
说(shūo) means “say.”   It’s really just that easy.   But now let’s divide this question in half between
中文(zhōngwén)  and
怎么(zěnme).  You’ll notice that when you look at the sentence this way, the order of the two halves is reversed from English.  Now let’s just look at
怎么说(zěnme shūo).  This is a great pattern to know because placing
怎么(zěnme) in front of a verb can ask how something is done.


怎么做 – how to do something

(zěnme zùo)


怎么学 – how to learn/study something

(zěnme xúe)


怎么走 – how to get somewhere

(zěnme zǒu)


怎么看 – how to see or read something

(zěnme kàn)


怎么弹吉他 – how to play guitar 

(zěnme tàn jíta)


怎么知道 – how to know something

(zěnme zhīdao)


This works with most common verbs.  You can also ask if someone knows how to do something or say that you know how to do something by using this pattern:


你知道怎么跳舞?– Do you know how to dance?

(Nǐ zhīdao zěnme tiàowǔ?)


我知道怎么打网球。– I know how to play tennis.

(Wǒ zhīdao zěnme dà wǎngqiú)


All you need to do is replace the final verb with another verb and you’re all set.   For a list of more activities that can work in this pattern check out Question #4.


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The phrase 怎么会(zěnme huì) falls into this pattern and is very productive in it’s own right.  You can use it alone as a question to mean, “How come?” or “How can that be?”  You can also add information to ask about how something could be possible:


你怎么会来?-  How come you came?

(Nǐ zěnme huì laí.)


你怎么会没来?– How come you didn’t come?

(Nǐ zěnme huì méi laí.)


他怎么会走得这么快?– How come he’s walking so fast?

(Tā zěnme huì zǒu de zhème kuài?)


怎么会有这么多车子?– How come there are so many cars?

(Zěnme huì yǒu zhème dūo chēzi?)


怎么会下雨了?– How can it be raining? 

(Zěnme huì xìayǔ le?)


The phrase 怎么办(zěnme bàn) is also very useful.  Used by itself it means, “What can be done?” or “What can/should I do?”  You can add information in front of this phrase to ask, “What should be done about…?”


考试怎么办?– What should I do about the test?

(Kǎoshì zěnme bàn?)


钱包没带了,怎么办?– I didn’t bring my wallet, what should I do?

(Qiánbāo méi dài le, zěnme bàn?)



你知道怎么办?– Do you know what to do?

(Nǐ zhīdao zěnme bàn?)


我不知道怎么办。– I don’t know what to do.

(Wǒ bù zhīdao zěnme bàn.)


Finally, you can use 怎么这么(zěnme zhème) plus an adjective to express, “How could something be so…!”


怎么这么贵!- How could it be so expensive!

(zěnme zhème guì!)


怎么这么慢!- How could it be so slow!

(zěnme zhème màn!)


怎么这么难!- How could it be do difficult!

(zěnme zhème nán!)


And just to bring things full circle, let’s reference Question #1 “What’s your name?”  You can also use this question to ask what something it called:


这个叫什么?- What is this called?

(Zhè ge jiào shénme?)


Our answer is really just a blank to be filled in by the information you are looking for.  You might hear 这是(zhè shì) in front of it to say, “this is” but this is really a case where answering in an incomplete sentence is okay. *Note: Fortune cookies are mostly a western phenomenon.  You might have a tough time finding them in the China!


That brings us to the end of the 20 Questions to Basic Fluency series here on Study More Chinese.  We hope that the questions and patterns that we’ve covered will be useful and helpful to you.  The idea here is to give the beginner a quick reference guide to communicating in Mandarin, so be sure to go out there and use this in the wild.  Thanks for tuning in! 


Click through all 20 Questions to Basic Fluency.

  This post was originally published on Study More Chinese where you can learn Mandarin online.


(photo credit andrewmalone)

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Comment by sikora on June 30, 2012 at 9:41am
Check out this Chinespod podcast and discussion:
Comment by Ruaridh Maxwell/麥儒叡 on June 30, 2012 at 2:59am

Heh, I've certainly never seen one there.  I'm fairly sure they're an American invention.

Comment by Susu on June 29, 2012 at 11:11pm

Good lesson.

However... has anybody actually seen a fortune cookie in China? :)

Comment by Seraph Ching on May 25, 2012 at 3:33pm

I found something interesting here. In mostly of your 怎么会 examples, you can just leave out 会, they are same meaning. Except for this one "你怎么会来?". You can't leave out 会, otherwise if you say “你怎么来的?”, it means "how did you get here". (need to add 的)

Fortune cookie, transliterately as 幸运饼干 or 幸运饼. In Taiwan, they call it 签语饼, because it has 便签 with messages in it.

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