I only learnt HK Cantonese from my mother, and did not have the environment to speak or use it otherwise. She would tell me that certain Cantonese words are only spoken colloquially, but would not be expressed in written form.

For example:

  • 食饭 is spoken and should be written as 吃饭
  • 斟茶 is spoken and should be written as 倒茶
  • 唔该 is spoken and should be written as 谢谢

However recently, I have encountered people from China using the phrase 斟茶 in Mandarin, and I was told upon asking that this usage is normal.

So, I was wondering there are any other colloquial cantonese phrases that are actually used by the Mandarin speaking population.

Added 20180308: just heard 我对不住你 in a period China drama, which I would say 我对不起你 in Mandarin or 我對唔住你 in Cantonese. What is used in China these days?

  • 4
    食饭 is 食饭 in Cantonese, both spoken system and written system. 吃饭 is Mandarin Chinese. 斟茶 is 斟茶 in Cantonese, both spoken system and written system. 倒茶 is Mandarin Chinese. 斟茶 is also Mandarin Chinese in a more formal way. 唔该 (or Mandarin Chinese version 不该, meaning I shouldn't have bothered you this) is 唔该 in Cantonese. 谢谢 is Mandarin Chinese. Cantonese is under debate of whether being a dialect or an independent language. Being a dialect, its written system should be Mandarin Chinese. There is no formal 食饭. Being a language, its written system is derived from Mandarin Chinese. There is 食饭.
    – Nathan
    Oct 27, 2017 at 20:48
  • 3
    And there are two types of widespread Cantonese used by Mandarin Chinese. First being 斟茶, 熄灯, 行路, which are derived from ancient Chinese. Second being 点解, "diu lei lou mou", which are developed by Cantonese but are also accepted by cultural influence.
    – Nathan
    Oct 27, 2017 at 20:54
  • 2
    I guess you are asking for the first type. And the answer is there are many examples. Because Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese are all derived from ancient Chinese. Whatever is compatible between Cantonese and ancient Chinese could be an example here.
    – Nathan
    Oct 27, 2017 at 20:57
  • Re: 食饭 is 食饭 in Cantonese, both spoken system and written system ... In my Hong Kong kindergarten days 30+yrs ago, we learn 吃飯 while local HK magazines will use 食飯. I think schools still teach the same way today, that is if a Hong konger or someone in Guangzhou writes a proper essay, they will not use 食飯.
    – steo
    Mar 10, 2018 at 15:30

4 Answers 4


唔該 has two meanings:

  • "Please" as in 請 (e.g 唔該你幫我開門 -> 請你幫我開門 -> "Would you please open the door for me?")
  • "Thank you" as in 謝謝 (e.g 唔該晒 -> 謝謝 -> "Thanks so much!")

Other terms are colloquial in Cantonese I can think of off the top of my head:

  • 發夢 is written as 做夢 (dreaming)
  • 老闆/老板 (interchangeable, means boss/owner) is usually written as 上司 (boss) and/or 東主/店主 (owner, usually referring to small business owners), though 老闆/老板 is also in use in Mandarin/written Chinese
  • 行街 is normally written as 逛街 (literally means walking on the streets, usually means shopping)
  • 餸 is normally written as 菜 (means cooking ingredients/cooked dishes here, not vegetables) e.g. 買餸 is 買菜 in Mandarin (grocery shopping), 煮餸 is 做菜 (cooking), 隔夜餸 is 剩菜 (leftovers)
  • 餐牌 (dining menu) is normally written as 菜單
  • Umbrella is called 遮 in Cantonese, but written as 傘
  • Jacket/coat is generally called 䄛 in Cantonese, but usually called 衣 in Mandarin
    • 䄛/大䄛 is 大衣/外衣 (outer jacket/coat)
    • 雨䄛 is 雨衣 (raincoat)
    • 皮䄛 is 皮夾克 (leather jacket)
  • 衫 means tops in Cantonese but also used as the general term for clothes, whereas 上衣 is normally used for tops in Mandarin, and the general term for clothes is 衣服
  • 波 is in general written as 球 (e.g. 乒乓波 -> ping pong/table tennis)

    In particular, most ball-type of sports use 球 in the name of the sport in Cantonese, such as 足球 (football/soccer) and 網球 (tennis), the act of playing them still use 波: 踢波 (play soccer, literally translates to "kick ball"), 打波 (play ball, the specific type is generally inferred in the context). In Mandarin, these would normally be 踢球 and 打球.

  • 日 is almost exclusively used in Cantonese when referring to "day", whereas in Mandarin/written Chinese 天 and 日 are used more interchangeably:

    • 今日 (today) -> 今天
    • 尋日 (yesterday) -> 昨天
    • 聽日 (tomorrow) -> 明天
    • 前日 (the day before yesterday) -> 前天
    • 後日 (the day after tomorrow) -> 後天
    • 大前日 (the day before the day before yesterday, i.e. three days ago) -> 大前天
    • 大後日 (the day after the day after tomorrow, i.e. three days later) -> 大後天

There are also many newer terms and names (from the last 100 years or so) where the Cantonese name is phonetically adopted from a foreign language (normally English), or even left as English in Cantonese, but the Mandarin term is either adopted from meaning, adopted phonetically differently due to differences in pronunciations. For example:

  • cab/taxi is 的士 in Cantonese, 出租車 (Mainland China) or 計程車 (Taiwan) in Mandarin
  • bus is 巴士 in Cantonese, 公車 in Mandarin
  • wrench is 士巴拿 (from British English "spanner") in Cantonese, 扳手 in Mandarin
  • tie (as in necktie) is usually called 呔 or 領呔 in Cantonese, 領帶 in Mandarin
  • tire/tyre (as in car tires) is called 呔 (yes, same as above) or 車呔 in Cantonese, 胎/車胎/輪胎 in Mandarin

Given that languages are living things this gets arbitrarely twisted. An example of a Cantonese/English phonetical loanword borrowed into colloqial Mandarin is 的士 (Taxi), used in Beijing as 去的士 (taking a Taxi ride). You may also assume that your mothers Cantonese is not up to date and many colloquial expressions you learned have fallen out of fashion.


First of all, whoever told you that 斟茶 is a normal usage probably was referring to literature/movies that were set before the modern time. It is a word that you'd see much less frequent in real life. I personally haven't heard anyone use it in my 21 years(and counting) of living in mainland China.

Cantonese is so different from Mandarin (seeing from a Mandarin-speaking-only perspective) that I'd think most of its phrases are different from Mandarin in both writing/pronouncing. If you really want to find their similarities, the best way is to learn Mandarin yourself, for most mainlanders(is that a thing) can't speak Cantonese and most people who have Cantonese as their first language speak Mandarin with an accent***.

***: Speaking from personal experience. I think this only applies to people who learn Mandarin after their early teenage years. (Almost all my HK school friends speak perfect Mandarin, but not adults that I've met.)

  • Re: whoever told you that 斟茶 is a normal usage probably was referring to literature/movies that were set before the modern time ... It's a 40yo shanghainese who used the phrase 斟茶 when serving me tea at her home. We are pretty good friends so it was not a formal thing. So I ask about the usage of this phrase, and was told it's common usage
    – steo
    Mar 25, 2018 at 10:41
  • It could be a Shanghai dialect thing? Sometimes people use Mandarin tones but with dialect phrases; I do that sometimes. I come from the southern west part of China and only have heard 斟茶 one or two times.
    – K. Bella
    Mar 26, 2018 at 17:12

Actually,斟茶 is special phrases in these example.It's often used in formal place.so, it's okay as well as more polite.And, yes,we use a slight another account in daily talk.

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