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Chinese Grammar: Lesson: Using 或者 and 还是 to say "or"

Here’s a very serious question for you: Do you like Nincha or Lupishu or Baimei more ? Ha-ha, maybe your answer is “All of them!” Good for you! Nonetheless, here we’re going to see how to say “or” in Chinese. It’s always useful to know how how to offer choices when you’re asking a question, and to have a way to give options, isn’t it? In Chinese, both 或者 and 还是 mean “or” but they are used in different situations. Let’s see when you should use 或者 or 还是 to say “or”!

Tip: Check the sentence to know if it should be 或者 or 还是

The big difference between 还是 and 或者 is the type of sentences in which they are used. 或者 is mainly used in declarative sentences - a declarative sentence is a statement, a sentence that ends with a full stop -, whereas 还是 is your go-to word if you want to offer choices in a question.

Use 或者 to provide an option in a declarative sentence


[Option 1 + 或者+ Option 2]

You use 或者 to talk about options in a sentence. It’s perfect to talk about something not quite decided, where you haven’t quite made up your mind. It’s also used to express “either-or”.


Red or yellow.

I drink (either) coffee or tea.

今天或者明天 出发
I leave (either) today or tomorrow.

Double 或者 = double the options

或者 can also be repeated in a sentence, to show two different options.


[或者 Option A,或者 Option B]


Today or tomorrow.

或者 或者 面条
To eat rice or noodles.

或者 或者
You go or I go.

The main thing to keep in mind is that 或者 can only be used in declarative sentences. When you want to ask someone to choose or clarify something by asking a question, you want to use 还是to express “or”.

Provide options in a question with 还是


[Subject + Verb + Option A + 还是 + Option B ?]


喜欢 咖啡还是
Do you like to drink tea or coffee?

Are you going to China or to France?

Do you speak Chinese or English?

Embedded questions with 还是

Sometimes when it’s difficult to choose, you can say “I don’t know whether or “ I’m not sure” if which one to choose. These sentences may not technically be questions, but they contained implied questions and choices, so you still use 还是.


[Subject + 知道/ 确定+ A 还是 B]


知道 今天 还是明天
I don’t know if he leaves today or tomorrow.

确定 这个 还是
I’m not sure whether this bag is mine or his.

So there you have it, now you know the intimate details of when to use 还是 and when to pick 或者, two ways to say “or” in Chinese! Let’s practice using one or the other now!

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