Cantonese phrases for travellers to Hong Kong & Macau
Besides, impressing the locals can be as simple as incorporating a few expressions in their native tongue. I mean, aren’t we always a little amused whenever foreigners sprinkle in a few Singlish terms, AKA Singaporean slang? Read on for 18 must-know Cantonese phrases to assist you when navigating your way around Cantonese-speaking cities:
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
– General greetings –
1. 你好 (nei hou) – Hello
Let’s start with the basics. The first word you should learn in any language is “hello”. When you’re travelling in cities like Hong Kong, Macau, and some parts of China, “你好” (nei hou) is how you greet people in Cantonese.
You can use this phrase when greeting a friend or addressing the service staff before seeking assistance. After all, a little politeness can go a long way. Who knows, you might even receive some exceptional service in return.
2. 再見 (joi gin) – Goodbye
Wrap up conversations with a proper goodbye by saying “再見” (joi gin).
Commonly used to bid farewell, the direct translation of the phrase also conveys the meaning of “see you again”. Whether you’re checking out from a hotel or parting ways with a tour group after a day of exploration with the tour guide, this phrase can be used to conclude the experience.
3. 多谢 (do je) – Thank you
“Thank you” is universally recognised as a magical phrase which makes all the difference in courtesy levels, making it a must-know expression in any foreign language. In Cantonese, it’s expressed as “多谢” (do je).
Feel free to utilise this phrase to express gratitude for the assistance you’ve received while navigating a foreign country, or to show appreciation for the services provided when shopping or after having dined in a restaurant.
4. 對唔住 (deui mm jyu) – Sorry
When in Hong Kong, areas like Tsim Sha Tsui or Causeway Bay can get very crowded, especially during weekends. If you accidentally bump into someone, instead of staring blanking at them, you can say “對唔住” (deui mm jyu), which translates to “sorry”.
Similar to Mandarin, you don’t need to add the words “I am” before the said phrase. You can jump right into using it to express your apology.
5. 唔該 (mm goy) – Excuse me
If raising your hand in a restaurant isn’t garnering the attention you need, try vocalising the words “唔該” (mm goy).
Even if the service staff is already attentive to you, incorporating these words before making your request adds an extra touch of politeness. After all, going the extra mile in displaying courtesy never goes unnoticed.
Example: “唔該, 我想有呢個” (mm goy, ngo seung yau ni go)
Translated: “Excuse me, I would like to have this.”
6. 係 (hai)/唔係 (mm hai) – Yes/no
“係” (hai) translates to yes, while “唔係” (mm hai) translates to no.
When you hear someone combining both terms – “係唔係” (hai mm hai) – it’s an informal way of asking a question. It’s like using the phrase “is it” in Singlish, but with a Canto flair.
Example: “你係唔係新加坡人啊?” (nei hai mm hai san ga po yan a)
Translated: “You’re Singaporean, is it?”
7. 我唔明 (ngo mm ming) – I don’t understand
If you give the impression that you’re fluent in the language just from a short conversation using the phrases mentioned above, it’ll come to a point where the other party starts asking you in-depth questions in Cantonese or speaking too quickly for you to comprehend.
In such situations, responding with “我唔明” (ngo mm ming) will convey that you don’t understand what they’re saying.
8. 我唔會講廣東話 (ngo mm wui gong gwong dung wa) – I don’t speak Cantonese
For those who just can’t Canto, you can always cut into the conversation with “我唔會講廣東話” (ngo mm wui gong gwong dung wa).
If telling them “我唔明” (ngo mm ming) doesn’t effectively convey that you don’t understand the language, adding this line should make it crystal clear. Hopefully, with proper enunciation, Cantonese speakers should understand your message and refrain from trying to communicate with you in a language where you completely catch no ball.
– Shopping –
9. 呢几多钱 (ni gei do chin) – How much is this?
When shopping on the streets of Mong Kok, it can be challenging to determine prices, especially when there are limited signs indicating them. To avoid any misunderstandings or surprises, you can ask “呢几多钱” (ni gei do chin) to confirm the price tag you are committing to.
When using this phrase, do point to the item or hold it up so that the seller’s attention is drawn to the specific product you’re referring to.
10. 太貴啦 (taai gwai la) – Too expensive lah
If you’ve picked up an item that exceeds your budget, you can comment “太貴啦” (taai gwai la) to express your surprise at the high price tag, and convey that you’d like to pass on the item. This can serve as a subtle hint to the seller that you’re hesitant about making the purchase, or can even be an opportunity to initiate a bargaining conversation.
11. 平啲啦 (peng di la) – Cheaper lah
After commenting “太貴啦 (taai gwai la)” and if you’re confident about bargaining with the seller, you can always continue with “平啲啦” (peng di la) and see if they are willing to negotiate.
Same as in Singapore, adding the casual and light–hearted “la” can help create a friendly atmosphere during the conversation.
12. 唔緊要 (mm gan yiu) – It’s all right
While bargaining, “唔緊要” (mm gan yiu) can be used to politely reject someone or decline their offer. For instance, when the staff offers you an alternative to a piece of apparel you’re looking for that has run out of size, you can use this phrase to indicate that it’s not necessary.
– Dining –
13. 呢个 (ni go)/个个 (go go) – This/that
Imagine ordering your caifan in Cantonese by saying “呢个” and “个个”.
You can use “呢个” (ni go)/“个个” (go go) the same way as how you order your caifan at the coffee shop when you have no clue about the name of the dish you would like to get. Just make sure you point to what you want so that the waiter can catch your drift.
Example: “我要呢個.” (ngo you ni go)
Translated: “I want this.”
14. 唔需要 (mm seui yiu) – There’s no need
When someone asks if you’d like to add a cup of drink or some starters to your meal and you’re not interested, a simple response of “唔需要” (mm seui yiu) will do the trick. It’s a polite and straightforward way to decline the offer.
15. 买单, 唔该 (mai dan, mm goy) – Bill, please
There are 2 main things on anyone’s mind when having a meal at any restaurant: what you’re going to order, and how much everything costs.
When you’re requesting for the bill after lunch or dinner, go straight to the point with “买单, 唔该” (mai dan, mm goy). The waiters will know that you’re ready to conclude your meal.
– Travelling –
16. 点去 (dim heui) – How to get to ____?
If you find yourself lost and in need of directions, you can use the phrase “点去” (dim heui) after mentioning your intended destination to find the best way to get there.
To sound polite, add the words “請問” (ching man), which also means “excuse me” before asking.
Example: “請問海洋公園点去?” (ching man hoi yeung gung yun dim heui)
Translated: “Excuse me, how to get to Ocean Park, please?”
17. 嗨边度 (hai bin dou) – Where is ____ ?
When technology lets you down and you find yourself in need of navigation assistance without your trusty Google Maps – or Baidu Maps in some cities – you can turn to the locals and ask for help using the phrase “嗨边度” (hai bin dou).
We’ve also put together a list of places you might need help finding when travelling:
- 厕所 (chi so) – Toilet
- 巴士站 (ba si jaam) – Bus stop
- 的士站 (dik si jaam) – Taxi stand
- 地铁站 (dei tit jaam) – Metro station
- 飛機場 (fei gei cheung) – Airport
- 旅館 (leui gun) – Hotel
Example: “厕所嗨边度?” (chi so hai bin dou)
Translated: “Where is the toilet?”
18. 請帶我去 (cheng daai ngo heui) – Please take me to _____
Unlike in Singapore, it’s actually easier to flag a cab than getting a private hire ride through an app in Hong Kong. For those who have hopped onto a taxi the old fashion way, you can inform your driver of your desired destination by saying “請帶我去” (cheng daai ngo heui) before stating the location.
Example: “請帶我去飛機場.” (cheng daai ngo heui fei gei cheung)
Translated: “Please bring me to the airport.”
Basic Cantonese phrases you should know
There you have it, 18 Cantonese phrases that would be helpful for any travellers to Hong Kong, Macau, and cities in mainland China like Guangzhou.
With this handy list of Cantonese phrases and some practice, you’ll be well on your way to speaking like a pro by the time you book your next flight to those cities.
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