What is na ge?

Could I please ask the Chinese scholars a question. I’m currently doing some research into discourse markers in English, such as you know and I mean.

The Chinese expression na ge seems to fulfil a similar function. I understand the literal meaning is that - a demonstrative pronoun in English - but would na ge be classed similarly in Chinese grammar?

Secondly, are there any other similar expressions in Chinese and would it be acceptable to call them discourse markers? By discourse marker, I mean a possibly meaningless utterance that brackets units of talk, and that utterance can be removed without affecting the overall sentence meaning.

Thanks in advance.

I’m no scholar but I think it’s more ne ge than na ge and doesn’t really have any meaning, similar to um or eh in English when you can’t remember something. Of course I may be totally wrong. There are lots of examples of the fillers you’re looking for, check the higher level TLI books or similar.

It think Super is spot on there.

ranhou=and then
jiushi=that is

Common interpreter disease: adding particles like “la”, “a” at the end of items in a list. This is something they wouldn’t ordinarily do in speech – probably buying time to think, just as the “na ge” thing does. Some people DO use these on lists, however…so as in all things in linguistics, there are situational constraints or facilitators operating.

Gosh, makes me remember one of my college profs from Beijing…he had the “na ge” disease so bad, we used to count them during class for amusement. Pretty grim…

I suppose “ne ma” would be another.

One such expression that I never heard on the mainland was “eryi”, which I eventually learned from context means “only” or “just”. The way Taiwanese say this word, it sounds more like the pinyin would be “e3yi3”. It must be a very colloquial word, cos I can find it in no dictionaries.

Dave, eryi is found in th practical chinese textbooks they use in the chinese schools. Book 2, xia I think.

Look under “er2 yi3” (er2: “and”, yi3 of “ke3yi3”) and you’ll find it. It’s quite common, means “only” or “merely”.

Thanks to all for the helpful replies. One last question: Is it possible for na ge to appear in all parts of a speaker’s utterance, i.e. at the begining, middle or end, and is it likely that the pragmatic meaning shifts with position?

It’s ancient Chinese resurrected. Example from my Xiandai Hanyu Cidan:

‘Na ge’ (

Thats funny

I asked the same question about eryi of my gf recently.
She said you put eryi at the end of the statement and it means ‘only’ or ‘that is the situation, it could be better’

Yes it is the

I believe eryi is seldom used in the mainland, but the Taiwanese equivalent, nia nia (or nia-a) is always used, so it’s a case of the Taiwanese influencing the use of Mandarin in Taiwan (like ‘wo gen ni jiang’).

As for nei-ge, I’d say it is a little similar to ‘um’, but even more like ‘wassisname’ or ‘watchamacallit’ when it’s used like ‘nei-ge shei’ or ‘nei-ge shenme’.


[quote=“00Scott”]Perhaps something closer to the mark would be ‘ye jiu shi shuo’ (

I think where “neige” plays the role of ‘um’ is that it is something to fill up the space while you’re trying to remember a word, and is thus very useful for students of Chinese.


I think jeige (

Chinese people who go to the US should try to avoid excessive use of “Nei ge”. It is not advisable to walk around in public places in the US saying “Nei ge, Nei ge”. It sounds too much like a racial slur. Considering the fact that “Nei ge” is often accompanied by pointing, there is a lot of potential for accidentally offending people.

This is not a joke. I have seen people upset by hearing “Nei ge, nei ge”.

Using “nei ge” as a demonstrative is fine, because it is generally part of a longer utterance. Using it as a filler, and repeating it over and over, doesn’t add to effective communication and has the potential to cause misunderstandings.

I agree with archinasia, about careful use of “Nei ge, Nei ge” by Chinese speakers in the US.

I was talking to a guy I work with when he visited Taiwan from the US, and he had managed an office with both Chinese and African American workers, and he was constantly getting complaints from the African Americans every time the Chinese would talk to each other on the phone using Chinese.

The African American folks always thought the Chinese were talking about them using Chinese and referring to them by a more derogatory term.