I have often found in Hong Kong that the written version of words are used in spoken context (while speaking Cantonese).

Being aware of the fact that Cantonese and written Chinese are pronounced differently, I am curious as to why the above happens and in what situations it does.

For example, in some popular Cantonese songs, such as '喜歡你' by Beyond, he literally says 喜歡你 (hei2 fun1 nei5 - I like you). However, the proper way in Cantonese to say I like you is (ngo5 oi3 nei5).

So, why does Beyond, among many popular cantopop singers, borrow from traditional Chinese in certain contexts?

  • ngo5 oi3 nei5 is 我愛你 which is the same words as in Mandarin (as well as Standard Written Chinese). The Cantonese version of 我喜歡你 would be 我鍾意你 (ngo5 zung1 ji3 nei5).
    – user102008
    Jan 20, 2018 at 21:20

2 Answers 2


Hong Kong officially uses Standard Written Chinese as the written language, but in reality all shades of writing fall on the Saam kap dai spectrum, which combines Classical Chinese, Standard Written Chinese, and Written Cantonese into one piece of writing.

The relative proportions of those styles are changed depending on the tone the author wishes to set. Increased use of Classical expressions variously give off a literary/archaic/learned impression, increased use of Standard Written Chinese give off a proper/stiff/formal/serious impression, and increased use of Written Cantonese give off a casual/informal/relaxed impression. For example,

  • News items may largely use Standard Written Chinese but occasionally inject a few Cantonese expressions;
  • Gossip magazines will largely use Written Cantonese but occasionally inject expressions from Standard Written Chinese and/or Literary Chinese

Song lyrics are written first then sung exactly how they are written, not spoken on-the-fly, so it is probably worth looking at it from a saam kap dai spectrum point of view.


Colloquial Mandarin and literary Chinese are often the same, but sometimes there are difference.

"我喜歡你" is [colloquial Mandarin] as well as [standard written Chinese].

Cantonese speak [colloquial Cantonese] but write [standard written Chinese] (SWC)

"我鐘意你" is [colloquial Cantonese]. But when we put it in written, we usually change it to [Standard written Chinese] "我喜歡你"

Colloquial Cantonese can be written in text form in casual setting. For example, entertainment news or comedy dialogue script

Standard written Chinese (SWC) can be read colloquially (with Cantonese pronunciation) in formal setting. For example, Poem, official speech, news report and song lyrics.

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