In Chinese films I've often heard characters refer to each other using some of these honorifics:

大姐 dàjiě (big sister; auntie)

大哥 dàgē (big brother)

师傅 shīfù (master)

In what kind of scenarios are such honorifics used, and when is it acceptable or polite to use them? Likewise, when should they not be used?

What terms of familiarity you need to be with people before you should use them?

Is there any potential to offend by using the wrong honorific term?

  • I tried to answer, but I found it needed a lot of explanations to cover most cases.In general, you should use these terms to people that you are familiar, that you just meet, a stranger, and that is elder than you(but not so elder, difference<20, a rough measure). You use such words to show your respect, so don't use these words to people that you are familiar. There are many other cases besides What I said above.
    – Huang
    Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 11:22

1 Answer 1


For males or females who are older than yourself are not blood relatives e.g. not 表哥 or 表姐 and are usually unmarried and not quite old enough to be referred to as 阿姨 or 叔叔 then this is someone you might refer to as 大姐 or 大哥.

This is normally out of respect to someone who maybe treats you as a younger brother or sister.

In certain movies 大哥 is used for a leader of a gang of street kids or thugs.

This is also normally used for someone younger to someone older, so you won't see many people 40+ referring to someone else as 大姐 or 大哥 unless they have been doing this for a long time.

师傅 is commonly used for someone with skills in a certain area. I have seen this used for a personal carer, a repair man and also someone that teaches martial arts.

Don't call someone without specific skill 师傅, e.g. someone that helped you do something like give directions otherwise they may think you are having a lend of them.

  • "This is normally out of respect to someone who maybe treats you as a younger brother or sister" so you wouldn't use 大姐 or 大哥 for people you don't know well?
    – Cocowalla
    Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 11:49
  • What are the use cases for 阿姨 and 叔叔? Sorry for asking more questions :)
    – Cocowalla
    Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 11:50
  • 1
    Calling a taxi driver 师傅 is quite normal.
    – fefe
    Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 13:04
  • 叔叔 is like how some people would use "uncle" in English. An elder male that you know, but not necessarily related to. That is to say, if he is your uncle (on whatever side of the family, I dont remember) 叔叔 does mean "uncle" as in a relative. 阿妹 is for a younger female that you know, and/or is related to, and are on good grounds with. Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 22:14
  • 1
    @LarsAndren - 叔叔 doesn't mean "uncle" as in relative and 阿妹 is not for younger females. 阿妹 and 叔叔 is a polite term for someone a generation older than you. My son (5 y.o) refers our friends and also someone like a shopkeeper as 阿妹 and 叔叔. I also do this for people 15+ years older than me.
    – going
    Commented Dec 23, 2011 at 0:33

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