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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.

Example:

(Nǐ de jiā zhēn dà a!)

你的家真大啊!

Your home is really big!

 

(Nǐ bié chídào a!)

你别迟到啊!

Don’t be late!

 

(Jīntiān de tiānqì duō hǎo a!)

今天的天气多好啊!

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.

Example:

(Zěnme tā jīntiān méi shàngxué a?)

怎么他今天没上学啊?

How come he didn’t go to school today?

 

(Zhè ge rén shì shéi a?)

这个人是谁啊?

Who’s this person?

 

(Wǒmen xiànzài zài nǎli a?)

我们现在在哪里啊?

Where are we now?

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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’

Example:

(Nǐ bāng wǒ ná bēi shuǐ ba!)

你帮我拿杯水吧!

Help me to get a cup of water.

 

(Nǐ chūqù ba! wǒ bù xiǎng zài gēn nǐ shuō le.)

你出去吧!我不想再跟你说了。

Get out! I don’t want to talk to you anymore.

 

(Wǒmen yì qǐ qù tī zúqiú ba!)

我们一起去踢足球吧!

Let’s go play football together!

 

(Wǒ sòng nǐ huíjiā ba!)

我送你回家吧!

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?’

Example:

(Tāmen bú zài jiā ba?)

他们不在家吧?

They aren’t at home, right?

 

(Tā bú huì gàosu nǐ ba?)

他不会告诉你吧?

He won’t tell you, will he?

 

(Tā chángcháng kàn zhe nǐ, shì xǐhuān nǐ ba?)

他常常看着你,是喜欢你吧?

He often looks at you, he likes you, right?

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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

Example:

(Nǐ de xīn qúnzi hěn piàoliang ne!)

你的新裙子很漂亮呢!

Your new dress is very pretty!

 

(Tā huì bú huì wàngjì wǒ de shēngrì ne?)

他会不会忘记我的生日呢?

Will he or or won’t he forget my birthday?

 

(Wǒmen zěnme qù túshūguǎn ne?)

我们怎么去图书馆呢?

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?’

Example:

(Wǒ jīntiān wǔ diǎn xiàbān, nǐ ne?)

我今天五点下班,你呢?

I get off work at five today, what about you?

 

(Wǒ ài pǎobù, tā ne?)

我爱跑步,他呢?

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

Example:

(Wǒ de qiánbāo ne?)

我的钱包呢?

Where’s my wallet?

 

(Wǒ de shǒujī ne?)

我的手机呢?

Where’s my mobile phone?

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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

Example:

(Wǒ yǐjīng bānjiā la!)

我已经搬家啦!

I already moved home.

 

(Wǒ xiànzài lái la!)

我现在来啦!

I’m coming now!

 

(Nǐ bú yào zài kū la!)

你不要再哭啦!

Don’t cry anymore.

 

(Nǐ gāngcái mǎi shénme la?)

你刚才买什么啦?

What did you just buy?

 

(Nǐ jīnnián duō dà la?)

你今年多大啦?

How old are you?

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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

Example:

(Tā háishì xiǎo háizi, bù dǒngshì ma, bié jièyì.)

他还是小孩子,不懂事嘛,別介意。

He’s still a child, therefore not very sensible. Please don’t mind him.

 

(Wǒ kàn bu dǒng yīngwén ma!)

我看不懂英文嘛!

(You know,) I can’t read English.

 

(Tā hěn máng ma, suǒyǐ méiyǒu shíjiān fā nǐ duǎnxìn.)

他很忙嘛,所以没有时间发你短信。

(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

Example:

(Nǐ zěnme bù zǎo shuō ma!)

你怎么不早说嘛!

How come you didn’t say so earlier!

 

(Nǐ zìjǐ zuò ma!)

你自己做嘛!

Do it yourself.

 

(Nǐ zǒu màn diǎn ma!)

你走慢点嘛!

Walk slower.

 

(Tā wèishénme yào zhèyàng zuò ma!)

他为什么要这样做嘛!

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

Example:

(Zhè jiàn shìqíng ma, wǒ yě bù qīngchǔ.)

这件事情嘛,我也不清楚。

About this matter, I’m also not sure.

(Nǐ ma, zuò shì zǒngshì bú rènzhēn.)

你嘛,做事总是不认真。

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.

Winkie Wong

Passionate about teaching and as a Chinese speaker, Winkie is also qualified with the Certificate of Proficiency in Putonghua by the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority. She's now dedicated to offering Chinese lessons on ChineseQQ, via Skype and face to face. Her students are from various backgrounds, levels and ages.

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