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Chinese ‘好吧’ not necessarily means ‘OK’ in English


Let's look at the following example between a boy and girl:

Boy: míng tiān wǒ men qù kàn diàn yǐng hǎo ma?


Shall we go to theater tomorrow?

Girl: hǎo ba.



Boy: rú guǒ nǐ bù xiǎng kàn,méi guān xi。


It’s ok if you wouldn’t like to.

When the girl said ‘好(hǎo)吧(ba)’, the boy definitely felt that she didn’t want to do it. ‘好(hǎo)吧(ba)’ is usually understood as a compromising OK to a suggestion where you can’t say no and people know you don’t like it. When I heard ‘好(hǎo)吧(ba)’ from him, I was unsure about what my colleague’s attitude was towards me. I thought my colleague never agreed with me and he would never give me suggestions. After some time of hearing it all the time, we figured out the misunderstanding and made sure that he understood how to use it correctly in daily situations.

Since we know ‘好(hǎo)吧(ba)’ is a unique phrase, what else we can use for positive ‘ok’, ‘good’…? Here are four commonly used words or phrases:

1. 好(hǎo)

2. 好(hǎo)的(de)

3. 行(xíng)

4. 嗯(èn) with a nod (my personal favorite).

Let’s take look at the same example that we looked at earlier using one of the commonly used phrases or words.

Boy: míng tiān wǒ men qù kàn diàn yǐng hǎo ma?


Shall we go to the theater tomorrow?

Girl: 好(hǎo)!/ 好(hǎo)的(de)!/行(xíng)!/嗯(èn)


As you can see, when using one these four phrases it will be clear that girl definitely would like to go with the boy to see that movie. She didn’t make it seem like a large ordeal to go to the movies with the boy. Now they can happily enjoy the movie tomorrow. ‘好(hǎo)吧(ba)’ is still useful in the right situation. For example, I always get ‘好(hǎo)吧(ba)’ from students as I assign homework:

Vera: jīn tiān de zuò yè shì xiě yī piān zuò wén。


Home work for today is to write an essay.

Students: hǎo ba.




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