The use of 拜拜 over 再见 at the end of a phone conversation is obvious as you haven't seen them so how could you see them again but I don't understand why 喂 is used as a greeting when answering the phone.

It also seems the other dialect in Chinese use a different greeting for phone calls as compared to face to face interaction eg. Cantonese 喂 wái | Hakka 噯 oi

So my question is why was a different greeting needed for answering the phone?

  • Something like this happens in many languages. In fact many languages use something similar to English "hello" only when answering the phone. Commented Nov 17, 2013 at 6:49
  • Usually there's no logical reason for such thing. With more careful thoughts, you'll realise that 再见 isn't really logical here... Germans are much better at this -- instead of auf wiedersehen they say auf hörensehen over the phone...
    – user58955
    Commented Nov 17, 2013 at 7:45
  • @user58955 Sorry kinda lost at what you're trying to say here? this was question was regarding greetings
    – 50-3
    Commented Nov 17, 2013 at 7:50
  • 1
    Sorry it was a digression... back to the topic, my wild guess is that the signal quality wasn't good in the beginning and people couldn't hear each other very well...
    – user58955
    Commented Nov 17, 2013 at 7:54
  • 1
    My suspicion is it came from French 'oui', since the phrase did not exist as a form of greeting before the late 19th century. It's possible that back in 188x when Shanghai still had foreign concessions, several forms of telephone greetings existed. Eventually the French one prevailed. Just my theory though. Commented Nov 17, 2013 at 23:27

5 Answers 5


Most languages use an alternate greeting for telephone calls; the English "hello", although originating from before the telephone, was popularised by it, so much so that it has become a common greeting outside the telephone:


1883, alt. of hallo (1840), itself an alt. of holla, hollo, a shout to attract attention, first recorded 1588. Perhaps from holla! "stop, cease." Popularity as a greeting coincides with use of the telephone, where it won out over Alexander Graham Bell's suggestion, ahoy. Central telephone exchange operators were known as hello-girls (1889).

So the mandarin 喂 is not an exception, only that unlike "hello", people do not use it outside telephone calls.

The reason for telephone greetings is that it was a medium where reception may be bad and you are unsure who you are talking to. Thus a short greeting meant to solicit response (i.e. "can you hear me") is used.

  • Great answer! I never knew this about "hello" before. Commented Nov 17, 2013 at 11:07
  • Really interesting +1!
    – Stan
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 11:57

喂 is not only used in phone call, it was even used before the invention of phone. If you have watched lots of Chinese movies you may find that before people yell to another guy in mountain across a valley, yell through a tunnel, a pipe or even a well also start with 喂, the word 喂 is usually used as attracting attention and building connection.

After we can use a phone to talk to a people far away, we also consider this thing is similar to a pipe, tunnel or talk between two mountains, we need to build connection first, so we say 喂 to attract attention. Today, phones are very popular and people are used to start with 喂, using other words as greeting for phone calls make people uncomfortable instead.

再见 should not be translated as "see you again", the meaning of 再见 is just good bye, many Chinese words' meanings are not just the combination of the meanings of the two characters, you should be careful with that in your further learning.

  • 1
    Chinese movies are, by definition, later than the advent of the telephone. The fact that people in movies (or in everyday life nowadays) use 喂 to get someone’s attention does not mean this was also true 200 years ago. Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 16:29
  • I don't see that problem with "see you again". Most European languages around me use that phrase. The "good bye"-like phrases like "adieu", "addio", "Grüß Gott", "isten veled" sound archaic and religious too me and I only use those to someone I don't want to see again. :) Cheez!
    – T-Gergely
    Commented Feb 19, 2021 at 19:22

“ 喂” actually is not a greeting word, when telephone just appeared in China, its signal was not very stable( I think it’s the same in other countries), so when people was calling somebody, they first need to make sure the person on the other end of the phone could hear their voice, so they used “喂” , “喂” is just a word people using to make some sound to test their partner can hear them. We actually after say “喂”, we will greet people again, like” 喂? 你好.” Actually when you want to call somebody you don’t know on street, you can also say “ 喂”(but use the fourth tone this time ). Or in KTV when we want to test the microphone is good or not, we will also say “喂,喂……”.


There is also the question of formality. "喂,你好" is a pretty common way of answering the phone, too... It just depends on who you are talking to. 你好 is way more formal than most foreigners realise. You'd never use it with your friends (unless there is a large age gap)... That would just sound weird.

  • Hi Alex, thanks for your answer. Your answer doesn't explain why "喂" is used, it says why 你好 isn't used. Answers which don't provide an answer to the askers question may deleted or converted to a comment.
    – going
    Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 4:55
  • 1
    The question asks "why 喂 OVER 你好", not why is 喂 used. Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 5:04

Saying 喂 is like saying "Hi..." when you answer a phone in Chinese. The following are some common phrases that can used to answer a phone. 喂,你好。 wéi, nǐ hǎo. Hello. 小王在吗? xiǎo wánɡ zài mɑ? Can I speak to Xiao Wang? 对不起,你打错了。 duì bù qǐ, nǐ dǎ cuò le. Sorry, you made a wrong call.

And this is a good place to know more simple Chinese phrases in different life situations.



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