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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

    她十岁左右

    She’s 10 years old, give or take


2. Nà ge xiāngzi hěn zhòng, bāshí gōngjīn zuǒyòu

    那个箱子很重,八十公斤左右

    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

    她大概已经晚了三十分钟

    She’s already about half an hour late


3. Zhè dàgài shì jiàn hǎoshì

    这大概是件好事

    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

    问题不大。应该就快好了

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


2. Yīnggāi kěyǐ

    应该可以

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


3. Tā yīnggāi kuài dàole

   他应该快到了

    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

   宝宝的预产期是四月9号前后

    The baby is due around April 9th


2. Wǒmen yùjì xīndiàn huì zài liù yuè qiánhòu kāiyè

    我们预计新店会在六月前后开业

    We anticipate the new shop will open around June



Source:Dig Mandarin

2017-04-10

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