Below are 10 Polite Expressions in Chinese that you can use in different situations.
麻烦你 (má fan nǐ) = Sorry to trouble you.
麻烦你 is often used as ‘sorry to trouble you..’ before asking a question or for someone’s help. The literal translation of 麻烦 is troublesome or annoying and using this kind of phrase shows respect to the other person.
When using 麻烦你, 我 or ‘I’ does not need to be used.
For example: 麻烦你， 请问健身房在哪里？= Excuse me, could you please tell me where the gym is?
麻烦你 can also be replaced with 劳驾 (láo jià) meaning ‘excuse me’.
不好意思 (bù hǎo yì si) = to feel embarrassed / to find it embarrassing / to be sorry (for inconveniencing somebody)
不好意思 can sometimes be used to apology for doing something wrong.
For example: 不好意思，我迟到了。= I’m sorry I’m so late.
不好意思 can also be used instead of 麻烦你, as a kind of ‘Excuse me’.
For example: 不好意思，可以帮我拿一下那本书吗? = Excuse me, could you please help me to get that book?
对不起 (duì bu qǐ) = unworthy/to let down/I’m sorry/excuse me/pardon me/if you please/sorry?
This is a pretty good general word for ‘sorry’. For example if you were to stand on someones foot or knock into them accidentally.
For example: 对不起，今天我有急事，需要先走一步。 = I’m sorry, I have to leave early to deal with something urgent.
In the above example, we can also use 不好意思 instead of 对不起 as it is a more gentle way to say sorry.
请问 (qǐng wèn) = Can i ask…?
请问 is a formal way to ask a question, probably like saying ‘excuse me’ or ‘can I ask?’
For example: 请问这个附近有药店吗？ = Excuse me, is there a pharmacy nearby?
一下 (yī xià) = to give something a try
Now seems a good time to mention 一下 which is used when you wish someone to take a little time to do something. It’s more casual and a gentler way to suggest something to someone.
一下 is used after a verb, for example:
问一下 means to ask a question.
看一下 means to take a look at something.
打扰你一下 means to bother someone for help.
打扰你一下，请问现在几点了？ = Excuse me, what is the time?
不用谢 (bú yòng xiè) = You’re welcome / Don’t mention it
不用谢 literally translates to mean ‘no need for thanks’. This is one of the most commonly used responses to ‘谢谢’ (xiè xie) or ‘thank you’. The idea that saying thank you is really not necessary is really emphasised with this phrase, especially when you consider the western reply, ‘you’re welcome’
哪里哪里！ (nǎ lǐ nǎ lǐ) = you’re too kind / you flatter me
A respected and polite quality that a Chinese person should have is modesty. You never accept flattery willingly (by saying 谢谢), but by using 哪里哪里 which means ‘where? where?’ In other words “Where is the person with these qualities, as it cannot possibly be me.”
For example: 你的字写得真好看！ = Your handwriting is beautiful!
哪里哪里，您过奖了。 = You’re too kind.
没关系 (méi guān xi) = it doesn’t matter
The bigram 关系 is probably best known for it’s meaning for ‘relationship’, but in this case it means concern or affect. So 没关系 translates to something like ‘there’s no concern’ or ‘there’s no affect’.
对不起，我迟到了。 = I’m sorry I’m so late!
For example: 没关系，下次注意就好了。 = It’s OK, just be careful next time
谢谢你帮我。 (xiè xie nǐ bāng wǒ) = Thank you for your help.
This is a simple, casual phrase to use if a Chinese person gives you some help. If you want to show respect, then you can say 谢谢你的帮助。
不客气 (bú kè qi) = You’re welcome / Don’t mention it
客气 actually means polite, so although this is often used as an equivalent to ‘you’re welcome’, its actually more like ‘dont be so polite’.
劳驾 (láo jià) = Excuse me
For example: 劳驾，可以把收音机的声音关小一点吗？ = Excuse me, could you please turn down the radio?
Situations Where You Might Need to be Polite
1. On the Metro
You get onto the metro, and of course, the stop before yours, 10 people get onto the train and you get trapped amongst movie watching commuters. You’ve tried hovering ‘politely’ in true western style hoping that someone will notice you need to get passed, and you’ve done the ‘angry’ foreigner thing in the past and barged through a gap to the door.
But what’s the polite way to tell someone you need to get passed?
麻烦，借过。= Sorry to trouble you.
2. Being Late
You’re late for a meeting and your boss has already started his presentation or you’re late to take an English class. Chinese people are real sticklers for punctuality, so they might ask you why you’re late.
What’s the best way to apologise to your employer for being late?
很抱歉/对不起，我迟到了。 = I’m so sorry I’m late!
3. At the Mall
You’ve stumbled upon a great boutique clothes store and as soon as you enter the sales assistant is stalking you around the store hoping to make a sale.
As nice as it is that she wants to help, you don’t really need a shadow, what’s the polite way to tell a sales assistant that you don’t need help right now and that you’ll ask if you need anything?
有什么需要吗？喜欢的话，可以试试。 = If there’s anything you like you can try it on.
谢谢，我先随便看看。 = Thanks, first I would like to have a look.
4. Taking Photos
If you’re in a area of China that has very few foreigners, you might find that you become something of a celebrity being ‘papped’ by photographers. One or two pictures might be OK, but after a while you might want to politely ask them to stop taking pictures.
What’s the polite way to ask someone to not take a picture of you?
你好，可以停止对我拍照吗？这让我觉得不便，谢谢你的理解。 = Hello, could you please stop taking photo of me? It makes me feel uncomfortable. Thank you for understanding.
5. In a Restaurant
You’ve gone to dinner in a nice restaurant, but when the food arrives there’s a problem with your order.
What's the polite way to tell the waiter they made a mistake?
Excuse me, we did not order this dish, could you please bring what we ordered? Thank you.