Cantonese (廣東話 Gwóng dōng wá) is a widely spoken Chinese language. It is the local language in current use within the province of Guangdong, China, official language in the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, as well as in the Special Administrative Region of Macau, and used in many overseas Chinese communities in South-East Asia and elsewhere, with Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) being two places where Cantonese is the dominant language in a Chinese community that is in turn huge and influential. Cantonese is also the dominant language in many Chinatowns all over the world, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Chicago, London, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Vancouver, Toronto, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The dialect of Chinese spoken by many inhabitants of eastern Guangxi Province in mainland China, is often referred to a form of Cantonese as well.
Chinese languages are mutually unintelligible, with difference ranging from that between
Italian and French to that between English and Swedish, which we would call "related languages" rather than "dialects".
All Chinese dialects, in general, use the same set of characters in reading and writing in formal settings. A
Cantonese speaker and a Mandarin speaker cannot talk to each other, but either can generally read what the other writes. However, there can be significant differences when the "dialects" are written in colloquial form. For example Cantonese as used in Hong Kong, more informal phrasings are used in everyday speech than what would be written. Thus, there are some extra characters that are sometimes used in addition to the common characters to represent the spoken dialect and other colloquial words.
There are different local languages in Guangdong that are sometimes considered Cantonese dialects but in fact are separate languages, such as Taishanese, spoken in
Taishan in the far west of Guangdong. However, most people throughout Guangdong know how to speak standard Cantonese (Guangzhou dialect) and Hongkongers and Macanese speak standard Cantonese with slight influences from Western languages, especially from English in Hong Kong Cantonese. The Cantonese spoken in Singapore and Malaysia also differ slightly due to Malay influences.
Some of the phrases in the list are difficult to translate from English to Cantonese.
Pronunciation guide [ edit ]
The pronunciations given in this guidebook use the Yale Romanization system. Sounds can only be approximated at best. This guide gives a general indication of the correct sound to make, but the best way to be completely accurate is to listen closely to native speakers and to mimic the sounds they make.
Consonants [ edit ]
p in "s port"
p as in " pat"
m as in " mom"
f as in " foot"
t in "s top"
t as in " top"
n as in " not"
l as in " lap"
k in "s ky"
k as in " kite"
ng as in "si nger"
h as in " hot"
zz as in "pi zza"
ts as in " tsunami"
s as in " sleep"
qu as in "s quare"
qu as in " quark"
y as in " yard"
w as in " want"
The final consonants
p, t, and k are unreleased. This means that they are virtually silent and you hear no "puff of air" at the end of the syllable.
a as in "sp a"
igh as in "s igh"
ow as in "h ow"
am as in "Vietn am"
an as in "Taiw an"
combination of aa and ng
ap as in "t ap"
at as in "h at"
ack as in "b ack"
i as in "k ite"
ou as in "sc out"
ome as in "s ome"
un as in "s un"
ung as in "l ung"
up as in "c up"
ut as in "c ut"
uc as in "s uck"
e as in "b et"
ay as in "s ay"
em as in "t emple"
eng as in "l ength"
eck as in "p eck"
ee as in "t ee"
ew as in "f ew"
eem as in "s eem"
een as in "s een"
ing as in "s ing"
eep as in "sl eep"
eet as in "m eet"
ick as in "s ick"
aw as in "p aw"
oy as in "b oy"
oe as in "t oe"
awn as in "p awn"
ong as in "s ong"
aught as in "c aught"
alk as in "w alk"
oo as in "c oo"
ooey as in "g ooey"
oon as in "s oon"
ung as in "Band ung"
oot as in "b oot"
ook as in "b ook"
er as in "h er" (Britsh English, with rounded lips)
combination of eu and ng
ork as in "w ork" (British English)
o as in "n o" (British English)
on as in "pers on"
ot as in "carr ot"
Somewhat like ew as in "f ew"
Somewhat like une as in "t une"
Somewhat like ute as in "c ute"
mm as in "h mm"
ng as in "si ng"
Cantonese is a tonal language. This means that the same syllable, pronounced in a different tone, has a different meaning. To complicate this, there may be more than one character pronounced as the same syllable with the same tone (though this is uncommon). In this case, context usually helps resolve the ambiguity. This may sound daunting, but is in fact is better than say, English, where there are a great deal of words that are spoken identically (eg. their, there, they're) and have nothing but context to help determine which one it is. Cantonese has context and tone to help distinguish words.
Different variations of the Cantonese dialect have a different number of tones, from as few as six to as many as ten or more. Most speakers, however, and all modern linguistic interpretations get by with being able to distinguish (both in spoken and heard Cantonese) between the following six tones:
The tonal pronunciation of Cantonese is by far the most difficult aspect of the often daunting language. The very minor initial difficulty in learning the tones is sometimes more than made up for by simple grammar, and absence of almost all plurals, genders, tenses and forms that make many other world languages seem difficult by comparison.
Phrase list [ edit ]
To be or not to be?
Cantonese, as in Chinese, does not have words for "yes" and "no" as such; instead, questions are typically answered by repeating the verb. Common ones include:
To be or not to be
係 haih, 唔係 mh'haih
To have or not have / there is or is not
有 yáuh, 冇 móuh
To be right or wrong
啱 āam, 唔啱 mh'āam
你好. Néih hóu.
How are you?
你好嗎? Néih hóu ma?
How are you recently? (
more popular in daily usage) 近排點呀? Gahnpàaih dím a? (
好. Hóu. (
No need to say "thank you" after answering "fine" in Cantonese)
What is your name?
你叫乜嘢名呀? Néih giu māt'yéh mèhng a?
What is your name (
formal, literally means "How do I address you")? 請問點稱呼? Chíngmahn dím chīngfū?
My name is ______ .
我個名叫______. Ngóh go méng giu ______ .
Nice to meet you.
Thank you. (
when someone helps you) 唔該. M̀h'gōi.
Thank you. (
when someone gives you a gift) 多謝 Dōjeh.
唔使客氣. M̀h'sái haak-hei.
Excuse me. (
getting attention) 唔好意思. M̀h'hóu yisi
Excuse me. (
to get past) 唔該. M̀h'gōi or 唔該借借 M̀h'gōi jeje.
對唔住. Deui-m̀h-jyuh. (In Hong Kong, it's more common to use the English word "sorry" instead)
formal) 再見 Joigin.
informal) 拜拜 Bāaibaai.
I can't speak Cantonese.
我唔識講廣東話. Ngóh m̀h'sīk góng Gwóngdōngwá.
Do you speak English?
你識唔識講英文呀? Néih sīk-m̀h-sīk góng Yīngmán a?
Is there someone here who speaks English?
呢度有冇人識講英文呀? nī douh yáuh móuh yàhn sīk góng Yīngmán a?
救命呀! Gau mehng ā!
I don't understand.
我唔明. Ngóh m̀h'mìhng.
Where is the toilet?
廁所喺邊度呀? Chi só hái bīn douh a?
Problems [ edit ]
Leave me alone.
唔好搞我. M̀h'hóu gáau ngóh.
Don't touch me!
唔好掂我! M̀h'hóu dihm ngóh!
I'll call the police.
我會叫警察. Ngóh wúih giu gíngchaat.
咪走! 賊仔! Máih jáu! Chaahkjái!
Please help me.
唔該幫我. M̀h'gōi bōng ngóh.
It's an emergency.
好緊急. Hóu gán'gāp.
我蕩失路. Ngóh dohngsāt louh.
I lost my bag.
我唔見咗個袋. Ngóh m̀h'gin jó go doih.
I dropped my wallet.
我跌咗個銀包. Ngóh dit jó go ngàhn bāau.
I don't feel well.
我唔舒服. Ngóh m̀h syūfuhk.
I've been injured.
我受咗傷. Ngóh sauh jó sēung.
Please call a doctor.
唔該幫我叫醫生. M̀h'gōi bōng ngóh giu yīsāng.
Can I use your phone?
可唔可以借個電話用呀? Hó-m̀h-hó'yi je go dihnwáh yuhng a?
Numbers [ edit ]
number _____ (train, bus, etc.)
夜晚 yeh máahn
Clock time [ edit ]
一點 yāt dím
兩點 léuhng dím (
兩點一 / 兩點踏一 léuhng dím yāt/léuhng dím daahp yāt
兩點二 / 兩點踏二 léuhng dím yih/léuhng dím daahp yih
two fifteen/Quarter past two
兩點三 / 兩點踏三 léuhng dím sāam/léuhng dím daahp sāam
two thirty/Half past two
半 léuhng dím bun ( not 兩點六 / 兩點踏六)
two forty-five/Quarter to three
兩點九 / 兩點踏九 léuhng dím gáu/léuhng dím daahp gáu
兩點十 / 兩點踏十 léuhng dím sahp/léuhng dím daahp sahp
兩點踏十一 léuhng dím daahp sahpyāt (
兩點五十七分 léuhng dím ńghsahpchāt fān
Duration [ edit ]
_____ 分鐘 fānjūng
_____ 個鐘 gor jūng
_____ 日 yaht
_____ 個禮拜 gor láihbaai
_____ 個月 gor yuht
_____ 年 nìhn
the day before last
the day after tomorrow
今個禮拜 gām go láihbaai
上個禮拜 seuhng go láihbaai
下個禮拜 hah go láihbaai
禮拜日 láihbaai yaht / 星期日 sing1 kei4 yaht
禮拜一 láihbaai yāt / 星期一 sing1 kei4 yāt
禮拜二 láihbaai yih / 星期二 sing1 kei4 yih
禮拜三 láihbaai sāam / 星期三 sing1 kei4 sāam
禮拜四 láihbaai sei / 星期四 sing1 kei4 sei
禮拜五 láihbaai ńgh / 星期五 sing1 kei4 ńgh
禮拜六 láihbaai luhk / 星期六 sing1 kei4 luhk
黑色 hāk sīk
白色 baahk sīk
灰色 fūi sīk
紅色 hùhng sīk
藍色 làahm̀ sīk
黃色 wòhng sīk
綠色 luhk sīk
橙色 chàahng sīk
紫色 jí sīk
啡色 fē sīk
粉紅色 fán hùhng sīk
Transportation [ edit ]
Bus and train [ edit ]
In Cantonese, "train" is translated into 火車 (fóchē) and "bus" is 巴士 (bāsí). The language uses measure words or numeral classifiers before the actual nouns. In context of the following examples, the respective Cantonese measure words for 火車 and 巴士 are 班 (bāan) and 架 (ga).
How much is a ticket to _____?
去_____張飛要幾多錢嘎? Heui _____ jēung fēi yiu géidō chín gah?
One ticket to _____, please.
一張飛去_____, 唔該. Yāt jēung fēi heui _____, m̀h'gōi.
Where does this train/bus go?
呢 [班火車]/[架巴士] 去邊度嘎? Nī [bāan fóchē]/[ga bāsí] heui bīn?
Where is the train/bus to _____?
去_____ [班火車]/[架巴士] 喺邊度搭嘎? Heui _____ [bāan fóchē]/[ga bāsí] hái bīndouh daap gah?
Does this train/bus stop in _____?
呢[班火車]/[架巴士]停唔停_____嘎? Nī [bāan fóchē]/[ga bāsí] tìhng-m̀h- tìhng _____ gah?
When does the train/bus for _____ leave?
去_____[班火車/架巴士]幾點走嘎? Heui _____ [bāan fóchē]/[ga bāsí] géidím jáu gah?
When will this train/bus arrive in _____?
[班火車]/[架巴士]會幾點去到_____嘎? [Bāan fóchē]/[Ga bāsí] wúih géidím heuidou _____ gah?
Directions [ edit ]
How do I get to _____ ?
我可以點去_____呀? Ngóh hó'yi dím heui _____ a?
the train station
火車站 fóchē jaahm
the bus station?
巴士站 bāsí jaahm
the youth hostel?
青年旅舍 chīngnìhn léuihséh
the _____ hotel?
_____ 酒店 _____ jáudim
the American/Canadian/Australian/British consulate
美國/加拿大/澳州/英國 領事館? Méihgwok/Gānàhdaaih/Oujāu/Yīng'gwok líhngsihgún
Where are there a lot of_____ ?
邊度可以搵到好多_____呀? Bīndouh hó'yi wándou hóudō _____ a?
sites to see
Can you show me on the map?
可唔可以喺張地圖度指俾我睇呀? Hó-m̀h-hó'yi hái jēung deihtòuh douh jí béi ngóh tái a?
轉左 Jyun jó.
轉右 Jyun yauh.
towards the _____
去_____ heui _____
past the _____
過咗 _____ gwojó _____
before the _____
Watch for the _____.
睇住_____. Táijyuh _____.
Take me to _____, please.
載我去_____, 唔該. Joi ngóh heui _____, m̀h'gōi.
How much does it cost to get to _____?
去_____要幾多錢嘎? Heui _____ yiu géidō chín gah?
Take me there, please.
載我去嗰度, 唔該. Joi ngóh heui gódouh, m̀h'gōi
Lodging [ edit ]
營業中 / 開
休息 / 關
Do you have any rooms available?
你哋有冇空房呀? Néihdeih yáuh-móuh hūngfóng a?
How much is a room for one person/two people?
單人房/雙人房 要幾多錢呀? Dāanyàhnfóng/Sēungyàhnfóng yiu géidō chín a?
Does the room come with _____?
間房有冇_____嘎? Gāan fóng yáuh-móuh _____ gah?
May I see the room first?
可唔可以睇下間房先呀? Hó-m̀h-hó'yi tái-háh gāan fóng sīn a?
Do you have anything _____?
有冇間房會_____嘎? Yáuh-móuh gāan fóng húi _____ gah?
OK, I'll take it.
好, 我要呢間. Hóu, ngóh yiu nī gāan.
I will stay for _____ night(s).
我會喺度住_____晚. Ngóh húi háidouh jyuh _____ máahn.
Can you suggest another hotel?
你可唔可以介紹第二間酒店俾我呀? Néih hó-m̀h-hó'yi gaaisiuh daihyih gāan jáudim béi ngóh a?
Do you have a _____?
你哋有冇_____嘎? Néihdeih yáuh-móuh _____ gah?
Is breakfast/supper included?
包唔包 早餐/晚餐 嘎? Bāau-m̀h-bāau jóuchāan/máahnchāan gah?
What time is breakfast/supper?
幾點有 早餐/晚餐 嘎? Géidím yáuh jóuchāan/máahnchāan gah?
Please clean my room.
唔該幫我執下間房. M̀h'gōi bōng ngóh jāp-háh gāan fóng.
Can you wake me at _____?
可唔可以_____叫醒我呀? Hó-m̀h-hó'yi _____ giuséng ngóh a?
I want to check out.
我想退房. Ngóh séung teuifóng.
Do you accept American/Australian/Canadian dollars?
你哋收唔收 美/澳/加 元嘎? Néihdeih sāu-m̀h-sāu Méih/Ou/Gā yùhn gah?
Do you accept British pounds?
你哋收唔收英鎊嘎? Néihdeih sāu-m̀h-sāu Yīngbohng gah?
Do you accept credit cards?
你哋收唔收信用卡嘎? Néihdeih sāu-m̀h-sāu sun-yoong-caht gah?
Can you change money for me?
可唔可以幫我唱錢呀? Hó-m̀h-hó'yi bōng ngóh cheung chín a?
Where can I get money changed?
我可以去邊度唱錢呀? Ngóh hó'yi heui bīndouh cheung chín a?
Can you change a traveler's check for me?
可唔可以幫我唱張旅行支票呀? Hó-m̀h-hó'yi bōng ngóh cheung jēung léuih'hàhng jīpiu a?
Where can I get a traveler's check changed?
我可以去邊度唱張旅行支票呀? Ngóh hó'yi heui bīndouh cheung jēung léuih'hàhng jīpiu a?
What is the exchange rate?
匯率係幾多呀? Wuihléut haih géidō a?
Where is an automatic teller machine (ATM)?
邊度有櫃員機呀? Bīndouh yáuh gwai'hyùhn'gēi a?
Reading a Chinese Menu
Look for these characters to get an idea of how your food's cooked. With help from The Eater's Guide to Chinese Characters (J. McCawley).
A table for one person/two people, please.
一張 一人枱/二人枱, 唔該. Yāt jēung yātyàhntói/yihyàhntói, m̀h'gōi.
Can I look at the menu, please?
俾張餐牌我睇, 唔該. Béi jēung chāanpáai ngóh tái, m̀h'gōi.
Can I look in the kitchen?
可唔可以睇吓個廚房呀? Hó-m̀h-hó'yi tái-háh gō chyùhfóng a?
Is there a house specialty?
有乜嘢嘢食出名嘎? Yáuh mātyéh yéhsihk chēutméng gah?
Is there a local specialty?
有冇本地嘢食嘎? Yáuh-móuh búndeih yéhsihk gah?
I'm a vegetarian.
我食素. Ngóh sihk sou.
I don't eat pork.
我唔食豬. Ngóh m̀h'sihk jyū.
I don't eat beef.
我唔食牛. Ngóh m̀h'sihk ngàuh.
I only eat halal food.
我淨係食清真嘢. Ngóh jihnghaih sihk chīngjān yéh.
Can you make it "lite", please?
嘢食清啲, 唔該. yéhsihk chīngdī, m̀h'gōi.
a la carte
跟餐牌 gān chāanpáai (
means "as on the menu")
晏 aan / 午餐 ńghchāan
meal) 下午茶 hah-ńgh-chàh
I want _____.
我想要_____. Ngóh séung yiu _____.
I want a dish containing _____.
我想要樣有_____. Ngóh séung yiu yeuhng yáuh _____.
(新鮮)蔬菜 (sānsīn) sōchoi
(新鮮)生果 (sānsīn) sāang'gwó
May I have a glass/cup of _____?
可唔可以俾杯_____我呀? Hó-m̀h-hó'yi béi būi _____ ngóh a?
May I have a bottle of _____?
可唔可以俾樽_____我呀? Hó-m̀h-hó'yi béi jēun _____ ngóh a?
drink) 茶 chàh
有氣水 yáuh'hei séui
紅/白 酒 hùhng/baahk jáu
May I have some _____?
可唔可以俾啲_____我呀? Hó-m̀h-hó'yi béi dī _____ ngóh a?
Excuse me, waiter? (
getting attention of server) 侍應唔該. Sihying m̀h'gōi.
食完嘅喇. Sihkyùhn gela.
It was delicious.
Please clear the plates.
唔該幫我清下張枱. M̀h' gōi bōng ngóh chīng-háh jēung tói.
The check, please.
埋單, 唔該. Màaihdāan, m̀h'gōi.
Do you serve alcohol?
你哋有冇酒飲嘎? Néihdeih yáuh-móuh jáu yám gah?
Is there table service?
有冇侍應埋枱嘎? Yáuh-móuh sihying màai tói gah?
A beer/two beers, please.
一/兩杯 啤酒, 唔該. Yāt/léuhng būi bējáu, m̀h'gōi.
A glass of red/white wine, please.
一杯 紅/白 酒, 唔該. Yāt būi hùhng/baahk jáu, m̀h'gōi.
A pint, please.
一 pint, 唔該. Yāt
pint, m̀h'gōi. ( "品脫 bán'tyut" is the corresponding word for "pint", but no one will use it in bars.)
A bottle, please.
一樽, 唔該. Yāt jēun, m̀h'gōi.
hard liquor) and _____ ( mixer), please. _____同_____, 唔該. _____ tùhng _____, m̀h'gōi.
梳打水 sōdá séui
湯力水 tōnglihk séui
soda) 可樂 hólohk
Do you have any bar snacks?
你哋有冇小食嘎? Néihdeih yáuh-móuh síusihk gah?
One more (cup/bottle), please.
要多一 杯/樽, 唔該. Yiu dō yāt būi/jēun, m̀h'gōi.
When is closing time?
幾點柵門嘎? Géidím sāanmùhn gaa?
Shopping [ edit ]
Do you have this in my size?
呢件有冇我個碼呀? Nī gihn yáuh-móuh ngóh go má a?
幾多錢呀? Géidō chín a?
That's too expensive.
太貴啦. Taai gwai la.
Would you take _____?
收唔收_____嘎? Sāu-m̀h-sāu _____ gah?
I can't afford it.
我俾唔起. Ngóh béi m̀h héi.
I don't want it.
我唔想要. Ngóh m̀h séung yiu.
You're cheating me.
你呃緊我嘅. Néih āk gán ngóh gé.
I'm not interested.
我冇興趣. Ngóh móuh hing cheui.
OK, I'll take it.
好, 我要呢件. Hóu, ngóh yiu nī gihn.
Can I have a bag?
可唔可以俾個袋我呀? Hó-m̀h-hó'yi béi go dói ngóh a?
Do you ship (overseas)?
你哋送唔送貨(去外國)嘎? Néihdeih sung-m̀h-sung fo (heui ngoihgwok) gah?
我要... Ngóh yiu…
...牙膏. ngàh gōu.
...牙刷. ngàh chaat.
...pain reliever. (
e.g., aspirin or ibuprofen) ...止痛藥. jí'tung yeuhk.
...感冒藥. gám'mouh yeuhk.
...胃藥. waih yeuhk.
...英文書. Yīngmàhn syū.
...英文雜誌. Yīngmàhn jaahpji.
...an English-language newspaper.
...英文報紙. Yīngmàhn boují.
...an English-English dictionary.
...英英字典. Yīngyīng jihdín.
Driving [ edit ]
I want to rent a car.
我想租車. Ngóh séung jōu chē.
Can I get insurance?
邊度可以買保險嘎? Bīndouh hó'yi máaih bóu hím gah?
on a street sign) 停 tìhng
不准泊車 bātjéun paakchē
速度限制 chūkdouh haahnjai
petrol) station 油站 yàuhjaahm
Authority [ edit ]
I haven't done anything wrong.
我冇做錯野. Ngóh móuh jouh cho yéh.
It was a misunderstanding.
件事係誤會. Ginh sih haih ngh-wuih.
Where are you taking me?
你帶我去邊? Néih daai ngóh heui bīn?
Am I under arrest?
我係唔係俾人拉左呀? Ngóh haih-m̀h-haih béi yàhn lāai jó a?
I am an American/Australian/British/Canadian citizen.
我係 美國/澳州/英國/加拿大 公民. Ngóh haih Méihgwok/Oujāu/Yīng'gwok/Gānàhdaaih gūngmàhn.
I want to talk to the American/Australian/British/Canadian embassy/consulate.
我要搵 美國/澳州/英國/加拿大 大使館/領事館. Ngóh yiu wán Méihgwok/Oujāu/Yīng'gwok/Gānàhdaaih daaihsigún/líhngsihgún.
I want to talk to a lawyer.
我要搵律師. Ngóh yiu wán leuhtsī.
Can I just pay a fine now?
可唔可以就咁罰錢呀? Hó-m̀h-hó'yi jauh gám faht chín?
This is a
phrasebook. It covers all the major topics for traveling without resorting to English. But please guide Plunge forward and help us make it a ! star