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How to give vague anwers in Chinese

The Chinese are famously pretty vague in giving answers. As most will readily admit, they prefer to offer estimations rather than specifics, especially if there may be consequences involved. Instead of getting frustrated, we straight-talking foreigners can benefit from adopting the “vague” approach ourselves.

In order to help give your own answers an authentic air of enigma, here are four ways to say “roughly speaking”, “about” or “probably” in Mandarin.

1. 左右 zuǒyòu

左右 literally means “left right”, which is a fun way to express “around about”. Add this word after your response to emphasize it’s an approximation.

1. Tā shí suì zuǒyòu


    She’s 10 years old, give or take

2. Nà ge xiāngzi hěn zhòng, bāshí gōngjīn zuǒyòu


    That box is heavy, about 80kg

2. 大概 dàgài

大概 includes the character 概/gài, which means “general” or “approximate”. It’s mostly interchangeable with左右 and means “around about” and also “probably”. Note that you use it before the object of your approximation.

1. (Nà’er) lí zhè’er dàgài yǒu èrshí fēnzhōng chēchéng

    (那儿) 离这儿大概有二十分钟车程

    It’s probably a 20-minute drive from here (to there)

2. Tā dàgài yǐjīng wǎnle sānshí fēnzhōng


    She’s already about half an hour late

3. Zhè dàgài shì jiàn hǎoshì


    This is probably a good thing

3. 应该 yīnggāi

This is a great word for when you’re really not ready to commit to a yes, no or exact response! 应该 means “ought to be” or “should be about”. Warning: In my experience, if you hear this word used as reassurance, such as “It’s probably going to be OK”, it might actually be a hint that all is NOT fine…

1. Wèntí bù dà. Yīnggāi jiù kuài hǎole


    It’s not a big problem. It ought to be fixed shortly

2. Yīnggāi kěyǐ


    You should be able to do that / It’s probably OK

3. Tā yīnggāi kuài dàole


    He’ll probably arrive soon

4. 前后 qiánhòu

This is a word that indicates that the time given is “around about” or  a during a period of time. For example:

1. Bǎobao de yùchǎnqí shì sì yuè 9 hào qiánhòu


    The baby is due around April 9th

2. Wǒmen yùjì xīndiàn huì zài liù yuè qiánhòu kāiyè


    We anticipate the new shop will open around June

Source:Dig Mandarin


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