How To Say "Um" In Chinese (And Other Filler Words)

Sara Lynn Hua | October 20, 2015 | | 1 Comment

n Monday, we posted an article on how to write a formal letter. Today, we’re going down a more colloquial route.

When I speak to people in English, I tend to use a lot of filler words such as “Um...” and “Like...” while I gather my thoughts. Perhaps I’m not quite as eloquent as most people.

For us, we say “那个” (nèi ge) to fill a pause. It’s the equivalent to “Um, uh, er, that is, that one,” etc.

The problem with “那个” (pronounced “nay-ge” or “nah-ge”) as a filler word is that it sounds a little similar the N-word in English. The famous comedian, Russell Peters, pointed this out in one of his standup shows. It is unfortunate that such a common word in the Chinese language can be so misunderstood in English.

I’ve even had friends approach me and ask me why Chinese people were so obsessed with saying the “N-word.” No, we’re not trying to insult anyone, and no, we are not trying to emulate certain rap lyrics. We are simply filling an empty pause as we gather our thoughts.


“这个...” (zhè ge) = “this”

“就是...” (jiù shì) = “that is…”

“嗯...” (en) =  “Um...”

“怎么说...” (zěn me shuō) = “What is it / How do I say it…”


“What did you do yesterday?”

“Um… I went to the dentist.”

“那个... 我去看牙了。”


“Let’s get Japanese food today, okay?”

“Um… okay.”

“嗯... 好啊。”


“Where did you go last night?

“I went to, um… what is it… KTV with some friends.”

“我跟朋友去, 那个... 怎么说... 唱卡拉OK了。”

It’s funny how learning to “um” and “uh” in a language can make you sound more like a native speaker. But if you think about it, this sentence would just sound odd:

“Um… 我, like,去看牙了。”

Obviously, when it comes to speaking a foreign language, we all want to sound as eloquent as possible. However, keep in mind that using the correct filler words may actually make you soundmore fluent in the long haul.

Of course, in order to become fluent, you need more than just the “um”-ing and “uh”-ing. Why not take a session with TutorABC Chinese? Your first one is on the house.


Founded in 2004, TutorABC Global, the parent company of TutorABC Chinese, created the first commercially available synchronous learning portal in the world. TutorABC Global offers world class Chinese tutors at TutorABC Chinese. For English learning, it offers TutorABC, and tutorJr.


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Sara Lynn Hua

Sara Lynn Hua

Sara Lynn Hua is a contributing writer and editor for TutorABC Chinese. She grew up in Beijing, before going to the University of Southern California (USC) to get her degree in Social Sciences and Psychology.

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