Hello, ho seh bo? I’m Ian, DiscoverSG’s leading Hokkien speaker.
Singapore is home to many dialect groups, but one of the most common one is probably Hokkien.
If you grew up in Singapore, you’ve definitely heard Hokkien being spoken around you, whether you’re aware of it or not.
The place where Hokkien is most prevalent is the humble kopitiam, where the elderly chatter fluently in the dialect.
If you don’t understand a single word of it, or if your Hokkien is limited to the expletives, then allow me to teach you some simple words and phrases that you can use daily.
Trust me, I spoke Hokkien before I learnt English.
1. Ai and Mai
These are your most basic words.
Ai, means “want”. Whereas, Mai, means “don’t want”.
So, in future, if you’re bombarded with a sentence in Hokkien and you’re not sure, just say Mai and spare yourself the embarrassment.
2. Ai Mai?
You’ve probably heard or even used it before.
Ai Mai, a combination of the previous 2 words, is usually used as a question to ask if you want something or not?
Example: “We’re going to have supper after karaoke. Join us ah. Ai mai?”
3. Chut Mng
Chut Mng is a term that’s used by the older generation that means “heading out” or “going out”.
Example: “Ah boy, where you going? Everyday see you chut mng, you think my house is hotel is it?”
4. Tit Toh
Stop giggling. Tit Toh is somewhat similar to Chut Mng, but its meaning is closer to “jalan jalan” or going out to have fun.
Example: “Everyday chut mng tit toh, you a lot of money to spend is it?”
5. Jiak Hong
Jiak Hong literally translates into “eating air”.
The real meaning of the word is “to travel” or “holidaying”.
Example: “Eh I saw Alex’s Instagram Story, he go to Switzerland to jiak hong or for exchange?”
6. Dng Chu
Dng Chu means to “go home”.
Example: “Eh guys I’m gonna dng chu already. Y’all have fun.”
7. Lor Hor
Lor Hor translates to “raining”.
Example: “AH BOY FASTER HELP ME KEEP THE LAUNDRY!!! LOR HOR ALREADY!!!”
8. Jiak Png
Jiak Png is probably one of the most used Hokkien phrases. It directly translates to “eat rice” but it’s used to mean “have lunch/dinner” or “to eat”.
Example: “Eh it’s 1pm already. Let’s go jiak png.”
Kun, in this case, does not refer to the Japanese honorific for boys. In Hokkien, it means “to sleep”.
Example: “This lecturer talk so slowly. I want to kun already.”
10. Ho Seh Bo?
Ho Seh Bo is a greeting which means “How are you?” However, this would be better used when speaking to someone who is of the same age, or younger.
When speaking to an elder, you should be using Li Ho Bo which means “Are you well?”
Example: “Wah bro, long time no see. Ho seh bo?”
11. Eh Sai and Buay Sai
Singaporeans who speak Hokkien love to use these. Eh Sai means “can”, and Buay Sai means “cannot”.
A: “Can I borrow your pen?”
B: “Eh sai.”
A: “Can I borrow your pen?”
B: “Buay sai, cos I only have one.”
However, if you’re using Eh Sai in the context of “can or not”, then Eh Sai needs to be complemented with “Buay” at the end. The sentence would be something like this.
A: “Eh you not using your pen. I borrow ah? Eh sai buay?
B: “Eh sai. Take lor.”
12. Kah Kin
Kah Kin means ” to hurry up”. If you’re a sloth, you might’ve heard this used on you more than a few times.
Example: “Eh you very slow, the movie going to start already. Can you kah kin anot?”
So there you have it. Hokkien words and phrases that you can use daily. Feel free to pepper your sentences when speaking with your grandparents for that bit of extra.
Also please don’t let Hokkien die out as a dialect. Pass it on.
(Header Image Source: Tapa Talk)