Beginner Level Grammar – Which One To Use? 还是 or 或者?

In this article we’re going to teach you how to say or in Chinese. Two common words for ‘or’ in Chinese are 还是 and 或者.

It is always useful to know how to offer choices when you’re asking a question, and to have a way to give options. For example, “Do you like tea or coffee?” is a very common question for us to make a choice.

Both “还是” and “或者” are conjunctions that offer choices or give options, however they are used in different situations. 

还是 or 或者 – Main Differences

还是 or 或者 – Structure of 或者

还是 or 或者 – Structure of 还是

还是 or 或者 – Conclusion

还是 or 或者

还是 or 或者 – Main differences

The main difference is that generally “还是” is used in questions, and “或者” is used in statements.

The translation of “或者” is ‘either…or…’, whereas the translation of “还是 ” is often just ‘or’.

还是 is used in questions

或者 is used in statements

Let’s see some examples:

还是 

  • 你喜欢蓝色的还是红色的 ? 
  • nǐ xǐhuān lán sè de háishì hóngsè de?
  • Do you like blue or red?

或者

  • 我每天骑自行车或者坐公车上班 。  
  • wǒ měitiān qí zìxíngchē huòzhě zuò gōngchē shàngbān.
  • I ride a bicycle or take a bus to work every day.

💡 TOP TIP – 或者 can be reduced to 或.

Example: 我想学钢琴 或吉它 。wǒ xiǎng xué gāngqín huò jítā. I want to learn the piano or the guitar. 

Chinese Grammar – Structure of 或者

或者” in questions

“或者” can appear in questions, but the sentence would need to include another indication that it is a question, such as “吗”.

This allows Mandarin to avoid an ambiguity that sometimes crops up in English, with sentences like this: “Do you want tea or coffee?”.

This could mean “Which of these do you want to drink?” or “Would you like either of these?”.

In Mandarin, the distinction is clear:

  • 你想喝咖啡还是喝茶 ?
  • nǐ xiǎng hē kāfēi háishì hē chá?
  • Tea or coffee – which would you like?
  • 你想喝点儿咖啡或茶吗 ?
  • nǐ xiǎng hē diǎn er kāfēi huò chá ma?
  • Would you like some tea or coffee? ⇒ Do either of these appeal to you?

或者 in declarative sentences

USAGE #1

The speaker gives several possibilities, the speakers or the listeners need to make a choice. It’s perfect to talk about something not quite decided, where the speakers or the listeners haven’t entirely made up their mind. 

Option 1 + 或者 + Option 2

Example:

👉 The speaker needs to make a choice.

或者 Option 1,或者 Option 2

  • 这个会或者他去, 或者你去, 都可以 
  • zhège huì huòzhě tā qù, huòzhě nǐ qù, dōu kěyǐ
  • Either he will go to this meeting, or you can go
  • 👉 The listener needs to make a choice
  • 这本书或者你先看, 或者我先看
  • zhè běn shū huòzhě nǐ xiān kàn, huòzhě wǒ xiān kàn
  • Either you read this book first, or I read it first.
  • 👉 The speaker and the listener need to make the choice together
  • 这个门或者向里推, 或者向外拉, 都能打开
  • zhège mén huòzhě xiàng lǐ tuī, huòzhě xiàng wài lā, dōu néng dǎkāi
  • 👉 This door can be opened either by pushing it in, or pulling it out.

USAGE #2

When there are several choices, “或者” equals to “有的” (some).

Example:

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

Chinese Grammar – Structure of 还是

还是 in questions

In this case, the speaker don’t know the listeners’ choice.

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

还是 in questions

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 contain implied questions and choices, so you still use“还是 ”.

These sentences have the semantic feature of “don’t know”, and often use the negative expressions like 不知道 bù zhīdào, 不确定 bù quèdìng, 不清楚 bù qīngchǔ.

Subject +不知道/不确定/不清楚+ A 还是 B.

  • 我不知道他今天去还是明天去 
  • wǒ bù zhīdào tā jīntiān qù háishì míngtiān qù
  • I don’t know if he will go today or tomorrow
  • 我不确定这个包是我的还是他的 
  • wǒ bù quèdìng zhège bāo shì wǒ de háishì tā de
  • I’m not sure if this bag is mine or his.
  • 我不清楚我对还是他对 
  • wǒ bù qīngchǔ wǒ duì háishì tā duì
  • I don’t know if I am right or he is right

还是 also indicates a choice made after comparison and reflection, and is usually used together with “吧”。

还是 or 或者 – Conclusion

Option 1 + 或者 + Option 2

或者 Option A,或者 Option B

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

Subject +不知道/不确定/不清楚+ A 还是 B.

还是 + one option + 吧!


There you go, another Chinese grammar nailed down! Your 还是 or 或者 sentence structure skills just got a bit better.

Don’t forget to check out other Chinese grammar articles, so you can keep improving and build more and more complex sentences.

So far we’ve cover the basic sentence structure, questions, how to use 的, how to use 不 and a whole lot more.

Let us know what Chinese grammar you’d like us to cover next by commenting below 👍

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还是 or 或者 – FAQ’s

How to say OR in Chinese?

Or in Chinese is 还是 or 或者, both are conjunctions that offer choices or give options, however they are used in different situations.

How to use 还是?

还是 is a question word and generally used in questions, which presents a distinct choice between two or more options.

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

When 还是 is used in statements, it often use with the negative expressions like “不知道 ”,  “不确定 ”, “不清楚”.

Subject +不知道/不确定/不清楚+ A 还是 B.

When 还是 indicates a choice made after comparison and reflection, it is usually used together with “吧”. 

还是 + one option + 吧!

How to use 或者?

或者 is not a question word, but it can be used in questions or statements, which links different possibilities together.

Option 1 + 或者 + Option 2

或者 Option A,或者 Option B

How to use in Chinese ?

不 (bù) applies to any negation in the present or future.

1) 不 + adj is common to say that something is NOT a certain way: 

我的 狗 不 聪明, wǒde gǒu bù cōngming – My dog is not smart

2) 不 can be paired with verbs to express that they are NOT happening in the present:

我 不吃 肉, wǒ bùchī ròu – I don’t eat meat.

3) 不 bù can also be used to say that you will not be doing something in the near/far future:

明天 银行 不 开门, míngtiān yínháng bù kāimén – Tomorrow the bank isn’t open.

Check out our full article about .

Is Chinese grammar difficult ?

As for any new language, the Chinese grammar can be confusing at first. However, you can find comfort in the fact that Chinese doesn’t conjugate its verbs and has the same word order as in English! Meaning: Subject + Verb + Object.

Start with some basic sentences and learn more complex ones as you go. It’ll come with practice.

Check out our Grammar Bank or article about the most common basic sentences in Chinese.

What are some examples of the 还是 and 或者 structures ?

– 你喜欢蓝色的还是红色的 ? (nǐ xǐhuān lán sè de háishì hóngsè de?) Do you like blue or red?

– 你吃苹果还是吃香蕉 ?(nǐ chī píngguǒ háishì chī xiāngjiāo?) Do you eat apples or bananas?

– 你想喝点儿咖啡或者茶吗 ?(nǐ xiǎng hē diǎn er kāfēi huòzhě chá ma?) Would you like some tea or coffee?

– 我打算明天或者后天去上海 (wǒ dǎsuàn míngtiān huòzhě hòutiān qù shànghǎi) I plan to go to Shanghai tomorrow or the day after tomorrow

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