So, I just found myself in a spot of bother. I decided to go to learn how to make some Chinese knots, but everything there was Chinese, so I had to speak Chinese. I understood the instructions that the teacher was telling me, etc. and it was all going well...

But then I realised that I had no idea how to ask for a random person's help.

In England, we usually say. "Excuse me", and then the thing that you need to say. I didn't know how to do it, sadly. So, I said 对不起, and then the sentence.

Was it wrong for me to have said 对不起?

How do they say 'excuse me' in China?

8 Answers 8


对不起 is not wrong. According to the scenario, it's fine if you intent to use it for the meaning of I'm sorry (for bothering or disturbing).

You can also use 不好意思 or 打扰一下 instead, if you won't bother the random people much.


In Mandarin Chinese, "Excuse me" is translated into "抱歉" normally.

If you want to ask for a random person's help, these words are also useful:

对不起 dù bù qǐ 不好意思 bù hǎo yì si 不好意思,打扰一下 bù hǎo yì si, dǎ rǎo yí xià (I'm sorry to disturb you.) 打扰了 dǎ rǎo le 劳烦问一下 láo fán wèn yí xià 麻烦问一下 má fán wèn yí xià


You may use 唔該(Cantonese, pronunciation: m4 goi1) in Hong Kong or Cantonese speaking area.

Way to use:

Cantonese: 唔該, 我想要支水。

is equivalent to

Mandarin: (不好意思/打擾一下)/對不起,我想要一瓶水。

English: (Excuse me)/Sorry, I would like to have a bottled water.

You would say this to the worker when he/she is currently busy or did not pay attention to the customer.

You may search the words here, this is a bilingual webpage: Cantonese Dictionary

  • 2
    Sorry, but the tag on my question was Mandarin, not Cantonese, but still a good answer! Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 14:20
  • Hahah, in Chinese Language, whether it is Mandarin or Cantonese, they are interrelated. All the best bro!
    – Jacky X.
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 1:08

The above answers are all great, I just have one more to add.

Growing up, I was taught 请问, (translates roughly to "May I please ask,"). This phrase would fit perfectly with asking for help (particularly directions).

However, I don't have a large amount of experience speaking to Chinese strangers (mostly to family and friends only), so I do not know if this might be considered an informal way of asking for help or if it might even be part of t!he Beijing dialect only. I did, however, ask for directions from strangers several times using this phrase.


From my experience, while 请问 is technically the proper and polite way to preface a question to a stranger, almost nobody uses it (in Mainland China, at least). You'll more commonly see people go up to another person and just say 你好 and then go on with their question (I've picked up this habit as well). This could be because asking questions to strangers is so common in China, the formality is seen as superfluous.

Not to say you shouldn't use 请问, but just telling my experience. By all means, be polite, even if it's not necessary :)


How to Say Excuse Me in Chinese? In Chinese, there are different expressions for "excuse me." It can be translated into: Dǎ rǎo le (打扰了)、Shī péi yí huìr(失陪一会儿)、Duì bú zhù (对不住)、Láo jià (劳驾)、Qǐnɡ yuán liànɡ , Dǎ rǎo yí xià(请原谅;打扰一下)、Qǐnɡ yuán liànɡ , Duì bù qǐ (请原谅;对不起)、Qǐnɡ zài shuō yī biàn (请再说一遍)。Which one to choose depends on the different situation.


对不起= sorry 不好意思 = excuse me

不好意思请问一下 or 麻烦请问一下 = excuse me, may i ask you (usually 一下 meaning it will be a quick question, and people likely to respond nicely than 不好意思 想问你个事 _


There are 8 different ways to say “Excuse Me” in Mandarin Chinese when you are in different situation. I hope it can help you. https://youtu.be/4XzmI9R5fO8

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