5 Common Chinese Interjections to Add Tonal Color -啊(a) 吧(ba) 呢(ne) 啦(la) 嘛(ma)

August 30, 2018

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 of the below 5 common interjections, and discuss their applications.

 

 

 

1. 啊(a)

Expressing exclamation in statements

  • Place at the end of statements when intend 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!

How nice is today’s weather!

 

 

Expressing the feeling of surprised in questions

  • Place at the end of questions when there’s a need to emphasize your surprising sound or curiosity.

 

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?

================================================================

 

2. 吧(ba)

Soften the tone when giving commands, requests or suggestions in statements

  • Place 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

  • Place at the end of questions when you’re not 100% sure of your thought and are seeking for confirmation

  • It is, therefore equivalent to ‘right?’, ‘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, is it?

================================================================

 

3. 呢(ne)

Produce a casual tone in both statements and questions

  • Place at the end of both statements and questions, which helps to express a casual, chill 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 not forget my birthday?

 

wǒmen zěnme qù túshūguǎn ne

我们怎么去图书馆呢?

How do we go to the library?

 

 

Ask bounce back questions

  • Place 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?’

  • Place 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?

================================================================

 

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?

================================================================

 

5. 嘛(ma)

Emphasize an obvious fact in statements

  • It can be considered as ‘as you know’, ‘as 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.

 

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 tell 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

  • Place 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 pausing moment before giving further information or feedback to 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.

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