5 Common Chinese Interjections to Add Tonal Color -啊(a) 吧(ba) 呢(ne) 啦(la) 嘛(ma)
An interjection is an exclamation, especially as a part of speech. An example of an interjection in English would be “Ah!” or “Oh!” Many of you may already know it’s a common phenomenon for Chinese sentences to end with interjections, which serve to express one’s tone or emotion.
However, are you familiar with how and in what situations they’re used? In this article, we’ll have a closer look at 5 common Chinese interjections, and discuss how they are applied.
1. 啊 (a)
Expressing exclamation in statements
- This is placed at the end of statements when one intends to show your exclamation or enthusiasm.
(Nǐ de jiā zhēn dà a!)
Your home is really big!
(Nǐ bié chídào a!)
Don’t be late!
(Jīntiān de tiānqì duō hǎo a!)
Today’s weather is so nice!
Expressing the feeling of surprise in questions
- This is placed at the end of questions when there’s a need to emphasize your being surprised or suddenly curious.
(Zěnme tā jīntiān méi shàngxué a?)
How come he didn’t go to school today?
(Zhè ge rén shì shéi a?)
Who’s this person?
(Wǒmen xiànzài zài nǎli a?)
Where are we now?
2. 吧 (ba)
Soften the tone when giving commands, requests, or suggestions in statements
- This is placed at the end of statements to soften the tone when giving a command, request, or suggestion
- It can also act as ‘let me’ or ‘let’s’
(Nǐ bāng wǒ ná bēi shuǐ ba!)
Help me to get a cup of water.
(Nǐ chūqù ba! wǒ bù xiǎng zài gēn nǐ shuō le.)
Get out! I don’t want to talk to you anymore.
(Wǒmen yì qǐ qù tī zúqiú ba!)
Let’s go play football together!
(Wǒ sòng nǐ huíjiā ba!)
Let me send you home.
Seek for confirmation in questions
- This is placed at the end of questions when you’re not 100% sure of your thoughts and are seeking for confirmation
- It is therefore equivalent to ‘right?’ or ‘isn’t it?’
(Tāmen bú zài jiā ba?)
They aren’t at home, right?
(Tā bú huì gàosu nǐ ba?)
He won’t tell you, will he?
(Tā chángcháng kàn zhe nǐ, shì xǐhuān nǐ ba?)
He often looks at you, he likes you, right?
3. 呢 (ne)
Produce a casual tone in both statements and questions
- This is placed at the end of both statements and questions, which helps to express a casual, relaxed but friendly tone
(Nǐ de xīn qúnzi hěn piàoliang ne!)
Your new dress is very pretty!
(Tā huì bú huì wàngjì wǒ de shēngrì ne?)
Will he or or won’t he forget my birthday?
(Wǒmen zěnme qù túshūguǎn ne?)
How do you go to the library?
Ask the same question back in return
- This is placed at the end of a subject, to suggest ‘what about that subject?’
(Wǒ jīntiān wǔ diǎn xiàbān, nǐ ne?)
I get off work at five today, what about you?
(Wǒ ài pǎobù, tā ne?)
I love running, what about him?
Short version of ‘where?’
- This is placed at the end of an object, to create a short version of ‘where’s that object?’
- This application is often used when you’re in a rush or urgently seeking something
(Wǒ de qiánbāo ne?)
Where’s my wallet?
(Wǒ de shǒujī ne?)
Where’s my mobile phone?
4. 啦 (la)
Replace the ending了(le) in both statements and questions to produce a relaxed tone
- You can substitute 啦(la) at the end of any statement or question that originally ends with了(le), to make the sentence sound relaxed or delightful
- It even has the function of creating a ‘cute’ tone if you extend the vowel
(Wǒ yǐjīng bānjiā la!)
I already moved home.
(Wǒ xiànzài lái la!)
I’m coming now!
(Nǐ bú yào zài kū la!)
Don’t cry anymore.
(Nǐ gāngcái mǎi shénme la?)
What did you just buy?
(Nǐ jīnnián duō dà la?)
How old are you?
5. 嘛 (ma)
Emphasize an obvious fact in statements
- It can be considered as ‘as you know’, ‘obviously’, ‘as a reminder’
- It also has the function of creating a ‘cute’ tone if you extend the vowel
(Tā háishì xiǎo háizi, bù dǒngshì ma, bié jièyì.)
He’s still a child, therefore not very sensible. Please don’t mind him.
(Wǒ kàn bu dǒng yīngwén ma!)
(You know,) I can’t read English.
(Tā hěn máng ma, suǒyǐ méiyǒu shíjiān fā nǐ duǎnxìn.)
(You know,) he’s very busy, so doesn’t have time to send you texts.
Add ‘cute’ element to state an expectation in statement
- It makes the tone sound more ‘cute’ when specifying your expectation
- It’s close to the meaning ‘you should’
- It’s specifically useful when you want to blame someone, however, with a ‘cute or soft’ tone
(Nǐ zěnme bù zǎo shuō ma!)
How come you didn’t say so earlier!
(Nǐ zìjǐ zuò ma!)
Do it yourself.
(Nǐ zǒu màn diǎn ma!)
(Tā wèishénme yào zhèyàng zuò ma!)
Why did he have to do this!
As a Topic Marker
- This is placed at the end of a topic – often a subject or object, followed by further information or comment
- It’s similar to the meaning: ‘about the topic’, ‘regarding the topic’
- It serves to give a pause before giving further information or feedback on the topic, hence it’s particularly useful when you’d like to sound patient or gentle
(Zhè jiàn shìqíng ma, wǒ yě bù qīngchǔ.)
About this matter, I’m also not sure.
(Nǐ ma, zuò shì zǒngshì bú rènzhēn.)
You’re just not serious when doing work all the time.
Interjections are a great way to add flavor and character to your sentences. They make you sound informal, and show that you are becoming more comfortable with the Chinese language. Once you master when and how to use these interjections, it will also make you sound more like a native speaker.
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