In Cantonese 師傅 will often be used to refer to some sort of specialized worker (e.g. a plumber, or a renovator) or some sort of "master" or "teacher" (not in the sense used in a school setting), similar to some senses of 先生 in Japanese as far as I know. Is this sort of usage also common in Mandarin, and is it used for the same things?

EDIT: Are there also regional differences to how commonly the phrase is used?

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    Yes, it has the same meaning in Mandarin. The most common usage of 師傅, at least for me, is to call male strangers looks elder than me for respect. For example, I use it when I need to ask strangers on the street for directions.
    – hrzhu
    Commented Jan 27, 2014 at 8:02

4 Answers 4


In 普通話, a 師傅 (simplified Chinese 师傅) is a specialized worker, while 師父 (simplified Chinese 师父) is a master who teaches something that will promote people spiritually. I think the two are different, although the pronunciations are the same. For the teacher who teaches us math, science, etc we use "老師" (simplified Chinese 老师).

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    @hrzhu I think we don't call elder male strangers a "師傅", that doesn't make sense.
    – ChaoYang
    Commented Jan 27, 2014 at 14:17
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    I think it's area related. It makes sense to me. Check this link and this. I'm not from Nanjin, I'm from Shanghai. I guess this is only used by Southerners.
    – hrzhu
    Commented Jan 27, 2014 at 16:57
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    @hrzhu - I just added a remark on regional usage - since I was wondering about whether usage might also depend on that (e.g. mainland China vs. Taiwan, etc) right before I saw your comment
    – user3410
    Commented Jan 27, 2014 at 17:52
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    I haven't heard anyone refer to strangers as 師傅 in Taiwan, but I have seen it in numerous textbooks teaching Chinese (produced on the Mainland).
    – Olle Linge
    Commented Jan 27, 2014 at 23:23
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    @hrzhu This usage is very common in Beijing and I always assumed it's a Northern thing. So maybe it's not as simple as Northern/Southern but area by area.
    – NS.X.
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 5:11

Is this sort of usage also common in 普通話, and is it used for the same things?


"师傅" means teacher or the guider who guides you to do something at the very beginning. There's a very famous saying: 师傅领进门,修行靠个人。 (Teachers can only guide you, Deeply learning depends on yourself).

Sometimes, 师傅 is a formal statement. E.G: 功夫熊猫(KongFu Panda)'s ShiFu:D, Here it means "大师" (master). We usually use "老师" when speaking.


A master/teacher should be 师父 instead of 师傅


The only times I've ever needed to use 师傅 is to address taxi drivers rather than calling them 司机 (driver), it sounds better as a respect kind of thing

In the taxi context, I guess by calling 师傅, you are referring to person behind the wheel as the person who gives you guidance (to where you need to go) rather than a 司机 which may imply a someone who follows your orders

In short, 师傅 is someone who you want to listen to, 司机 is someone who listens to you

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