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

Here’s a dire 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, we’re going to see here how to say “or” in Chinese. It’s always useful to know 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 (huòzhě) and 还是 (háishì) mean “or” but they are used in different situations. Let’s see when you should use 或者 or 还是 to say “or”!

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.

Provide an option in a declarative sentence with 或者

Structure

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 entirely made up your mind. It’s also used to express “either or”.

Examples

红色或者黄色
Red or yellow.

咖啡或者
I drink (either) coffee or tea.

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

Provide options with a double 或者

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

structure

或者 Option A, 或者 Option B

Examples

或者今天或者明天
Today or tomorrow.

或者 或者 面条
Either [you] eat rice or [you] eat 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

Structure

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

Examples

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

中国还是法国
Are you going to China or France?

汉语还是英语
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”. These sentences may not technically be questions, but they contained implied questions and choices, so you still use 还是.

structure

Subject + 知道/ 确定+ A 还是 B

Examples

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 还是 and 或者, two ways to say “or” in Chinese! Let’s practice using one or the other now!

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