Buying Things in China

Word of the week zěnme mài

Most people know that in China you can say duo shao qian to ask how much something costs. But there is an equally common and perhaps more colloquial spoken way of asking.

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In China it is common to point out or pick up the item you are wanting to purchase and say zhè (this) and then add zěnme mài 怎么卖. zěnme 怎么 means “how” and mài 卖 means “sell”, which leads to the horribly chinglish sounding “this how sell?” zhè zěnme mài. But trust me, it sounds perfectly natural in Mandarin.

You can also just say zěnme mài when it is obvious from context what you are wanting to know the price of. English speakers need to be careful with the tones because the natural tendency for English speakers is to have a rising intonation when asking a question. However, the phrase zěnme mài ends with fourth tone, so you need to make sure you keep word mài short and sharp, like you’re spitting the word out. Don’t worry, you won’t sound rude if you speak like this.

If you just can’t get over the feeling that the short sharp mài sounds rude you can always add the particle a 啊 on the end, so the phrase becomes zhè zěnme mài a?

a 啊 doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a particle that often appears at the end of questions and makes things sound a bit more friendly. Not that there is anything unfriendly about saying zěnme mài. Next time you want to know the price of something in China try using this phrase.

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