On New Practical Chinese Reader 4, workbook, page 7, there's a story about Scott and a Chinese person discussing about manners. The Chinese person says 客气 and 礼貌 are different, and that he/she feels weird when Scott says 谢谢, 对不起 and such all the time, since they're close friends.

I know Chinese don't "thank" and "please" relatives as often as Westerners, but I never could tell that 客气 and 礼貌 had any difference.


What's the difference between 客气 and 礼貌?

EDIT: After some thinking and analysis I think that 礼貌 is politeness related to one's personality, while 客气 is politeness related to the ways one shows it. Any thoughts?


8 Answers 8


As a complement to other answers:

客气 means 'being polite unnecessarily'. It's often used between close friends, family members, who generally don't have to be that polite to each other.

礼貌 as an adjective simply means '(being) polite'.

  • 客气 is a verb phrase for " be modest' or 'be formal'(as a guest would);


这笔钱是你应得的, 不要客气 - This money is rightfully yours, don't be modest (like a guest)

我们就像家人一样, 不要客气 - We are like family, don't be formal ( like a guest)

客气 can also be an adjective for 'courteous' or 'polite'

Example: 那个人很客气 - that person is very courteous / polite


礼貌 is simply a noun for 'politeness'.

Example: 礼貌非常重要 - politeness is very important


有礼貌/ 有礼貌的 is adjective phrase for "polite" or "courteous"


那个人很有礼貌 - that person is very polite

有礼貌的人 - a polite man


If you want to get to the bottom of it then you must pay attention to the individual meanings of characters and the story of their union.

客氣(客气) is made of (guest + untranslatable part of the meaning) and (spirits + untranslatable part of the meaning). In pretty much all eastern cultures a guest is usually a stranger with whom you haven't developed a close relationship yet therefore a guest is someone you know but still not necessarily accept as your friend. The reason why this situation is associated with politeness is because being able to make progress from guest status to friend status has been way more crucial for survival and one's well-being in "The East" than it is in "The West" therefore people would be willing to force themselves to temporarily alter their behavior and serve some extra kindness and niceness in order to remove the social distance and get accepted as soon as possible as their personal welfare would be constantly at stake otherwise.

礼貌 is made of 礼 (sincere respect offered by a candid person) and 貌 (appearance / form / stature / pose / how something looks / shape). Therefore the kindness and niceness observed in the behavior of such a person could possibly be more like a natural thing that happens due to the personality-by-birth rather than something produced and served like an actor's acting.

Note that in today's world, many native speakers never mind or even never realize these details and use both of them interchangeably.
Also note that in its original meaning 客氣 doesn't imply any criticism as it does not put any emphasis on how fake or real the given person's ways are. 客氣 is more like the name of the speaker's mood. It's how one feels as a reaction to being offered some extra kindness and niceness, regardless of what the intention was.


客气 is used to describe when someone offers you something or say something good for you as a way of showing his kindness, welcoming or politeness. Let's say when you go to your friend's home and your friend offers you a cup of coffee, and you could say: "你太客气了!", meaning you are so kind to provide that offer. The interpretation can be various based on the context. For example, A: 谢谢你! // Thank you!, B: 不客气! // You are welcome!

礼貌 is generally just manners, courtesy or polite(ness). For example, 他不礼貌: he is not polite.

Basically, they seem close in meaning, but in fact they denote different aspects.


客气 means being unfamiliar, not close, in those cases, you will act formally and politely.

客气话(equal to 客套话) a bunch of nonsense phrases for social protocol.

People say 不要客气, means they want you relax, treat them as close friends, but this phrase is a 客气话 itself. So don't take it seriously.


“客气” is the simplest language exchange between people. When he says "thank you", you will say "you're welcome". The purpose of this is to give each other a sense of psychological balance, so that each other will have a certain impression. “礼貌” is the minimum moral code that human beings need to observe in order to maintain the normal life of society. It is the gradual formation of people in long-term co-living and mutual communication, and is fixed by customs, habits and traditions.


客气 = dont be shy (when they want you to get things)

礼貌 = manners, when you took something without asking (and someone don't like that)


礼貌 = manners (as a noun), polite (as adj.)

客气 =

1,distant and aloof.

2, you are welcome, my pleasure. (Example: ——thank you (谢谢)), ——(您)客气.

3, hesitate to do something out of fearing others might get annoyed. (often used in negative sentences.)

example: If you want to borrow some money from, please don't hesitate to ask. (如果你想向我借钱,请无须客气。)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.