- 1 Introduction
- 2 Vocabulary
- 3 How to say I have in Cantonese 有
- 4 Examples with “to have” in Cantonese
- 5 The special word for negating to have – 冇
- 6 Examples with “to not have” in Cantonese
- 7 “There is” in Cantonese
- 8 Examples with “there is” in Cantonese
- 9 “Do + something + have” questions with 有冇
- 10 Examples with 有冇
- 11 冇 vs. 無
- 12 Translating “I have done” in Cantonese
- 13 The importance of not transliterating – 有咗
- 14 Credits
So today, following the previous lesson, we’re going to talk about the second most important word, i.e. how to say I have in Cantonese. This won’t be a long lesson, but there are some important bits to take away from here so I hope you’ll stick around to follow along.
Let’s get started.
S/W/B = Spoken / Written / Both
|egg tarts||蛋撻||daan6 taat1||B|
|to not have||冇||mou5||S|
|edge of blade||刃||jan6||B|
|toilet paper||廁紙||ci3 zi2||S|
|paper tissues||紙巾||zi3 gan1||B|
|store||(間) 舖頭||(gaan1) pou2 tau2||S|
|plastic bags||膠袋||gaau1 doi2||B|
|the cold||感冒||gam2 mou6||B|
|car||(架) 車||(gaa3) ce1||S|
|bird||(隻) 雀仔||(zek3) zoek3 zai2||S|
|seven million||七百萬||cat1 baak3 maan6||B|
|loose change||散紙||saan2 zi2||S|
|7-11||七十一||cat1 sap6 jat1||B|
|Octopus||八達通||baat3 daat6 tung1||B|
|out of the blue||無端端||mou4 dyun1 dyun1||S|
|to not have||沒有||mut6 jau5||W|
|to complete||完成||jyun4 sing4||B|
|Cantonese||廣東話||gwong2 dung1 waa2||B|
|to get pregnant||有咗||jau5 zo2||S|
How to say I have in Cantonese 有
So, let’s start by introducing the protagonist today. The Cantonese word for “to have” is
Unlike 係, there’s no distinction between written and spoken forms, so this is the only word you need for “to have”.
Next, let’s take a look at some examples
Examples with “to have” in Cantonese
*I have money.
ngo5 jau5 cin2
He has Canadian citizenship.
keoi5 jau5 gaa1 naa4 daai6 zik6
They have egg tarts.
keoi5 dei6 jau5 daan6 taat3
Be careful of the first translation. 有錢 can be read as separate words “有” and “錢”, or it could be read as a single unit “有錢”, with a different meaning. When read separately, it means what the sentence is supposed to mean “I have money”, as in a possible response to someone asking whether you have money or not.
When read as one word, however, 有錢 means “rich”. The question then comes – how do you differentiate which meaning the speaker talks about?
It turns out the answer lies in a trip down memory lane. If you remember from the previous lesson (assuming you’re following along the lessons in order, but if not that’s perfectly fine as well), when describing “something is + adjective”, we have to add 好 (hou2) before the adjective. So if you want to say “I am rich”, you have to say
I am rich.
ngo5 hou2 jau5 cin2
Contrast this with
I have money.
ngo5 jau5 cin2
And you can easily differentiate between the two.
Next, we’ll look at negation.
The special word for negating to have – 冇
Negation, if you don’t already know, is to say “not something”, for instance, going from “you are cool” to “you are not cool”. This isn’t something we’ve covered in Cantonese, but I think it’s worth mentioning here because saying “to not have something” is different than negating other verbs, which follow a pattern.
Instead, there’s actually a special word in Cantonese that means “to not have”
Can you look at the Chinese character and see where it comes from?
If you said “it’s just the character 有 without the two horizontal lines inside”, you’re absolutely right. Please note that this is a spoken only word. Read on to find out what the written version is (it’s hard to guess though, even the written version breaks the usual rules of negation!).
Off the top of my head, another pair of words that’s like this (as in two characters that are almost the same in terms of shape) is
The first character means “sword”, and the second means “blade”. To be more specific, the second character refers to the sharp edge of the sword. So by adding in that extra “short line” to the first character, you get a character with a similar meaning.
Just thought I’d throw this in as an extra way to remember characters and new words. 🙂
Next, let’s dive into some examples.
Examples with “to not have” in Cantonese
*I don’t have tissues.
ngo5 mou5 ci3 zi2
The shop doesn’t have plastic bags.
gaan1 pou3 tau2 mou5 gaau1 doi2
I don’t have the cold.
ngo5 mou5 gam2 mou6
*As an extra note, while there are two words for tissue – 廁紙 and 紙巾 (zi2 gan1), the first refers to “toilet paper”, while the second refers to “paper tissues”. That said, 廁紙 is okay even for non toilet paper.
“There is” in Cantonese
There is another special use of 有 in Cantonese, which is similar to “hay” in Spanish. This is another case where transliteration doesn’t work. If you wanted to say something like “there’s a car”, you might be tempted to say
go2 dou6 hai6 jat1 gaa3 ce1
But this usage is not correct, and translates incorrectly back to English as “The thing that is called ‘there’ is a car”.
Instead, we have use the word 有 to express “there is”. To say the same phrase “there’s a car” in Cantonese, we would say
There is a car.
go2 dou6 jau5 jat1 gaa3 ce1
Let’s have a look at a few more examples below.
Examples with “there is” in Cantonese
There’s a bird.
go2 dou6 jau5 jat1 zek3 zoek3 zai2
There are a few visitors.
go2 dou6 jau5 gei2 go3 jau4 haak3
There are about seven million residents in Hong Kong.
hoeng1 gong2 daai6 koi3 jau5 cat1 baak3 maan6 go3 geoi1 man4
I’d also like to point out an additional nuance here. “There are”, when used here, points to a specific place. For example, if you say “there’s a bird”, it’s like saying “there’s a bird over there”. This looks trivial, but it’s a very important distinction.
Take the third example, for instance. If you take away “in Hong Kong”, you’re left with “there are about seven million residents”. But the “there are” in this sentence doesn’t point to a specific place. In other words, you can’t say
go2 dou6 daai6 koi3 jau5 cat1 baak3 maan6 go3 geoi1 man4
Because that would imply you’re saying a specific place (could be a room, a mall), has seven million residents, which doesn’t make sense. But this depends on context as well. If it’s clear from context (maybe you’re introducing Hong Kong), then it’s okay to say this. But whenever the context is unclear, you have to specify what “there” means, and say “place X has” instead of “there is”.
“Do + something + have” questions with 有冇
We’re going to have to take another dive into another topic we haven’t covered before: asking yes-no questions with “to have”. The reason is similar as negation – this doesn’t follow the usual pattern, so I feel it’s important to explain this explicitly.
Again, a quick explanation to “yes no questions”. If you don’t already know, these are questions that have yes or no as an answer. These are typically “do you…” or “are you…” type questions. We’re going to focus on questions like “do you have” here.
To say “do you have X”, in Cantonese we literally say “you have have not X”. So be careful of word order – it’s slightly different in Cantonese than it is in English.
Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.
Examples with 有冇
Do you have *coins?
nei5 jau5 mou5 saan2 zi2
*The Chinese word here 散紙 literally means “scattered pieces of paper”. Befitting word for coins, no?
Does 7-11 have *Octopuses (Octopii) for sale?
cat1 sap6 jat1 jau5 mou5 baat3 daat6 tung1 maai6 ？
*If you don’t already know, an “Octopus” refers to a transport card used in Hong Kong mainly in the subway and on buses, but they can also be used for payment in convenience stores and certain shops.
Do you have A1 paper?
nei5 jau5 mou5 A1 zi2
This is pretty much it for this lesson. But there are a couple of mistakes commonly made by people that I want to mention in this lesson.
冇 vs. 無
In your Cantonese studies, you’ll inevitably come across a close word that sounds like 冇 – 無. Make no mistake – while they both mean something close to “none”, they’re separate words that have separate usages.
冇 is pronounced mou5, with the fifth tone, and means “to not have”. 無 is pronounced mou4, with the fourth tone, and is usually used in conjunction with other characters to form complete words. Here are two examples:
out of the blue
mou4 dyun1 dyun1
Some people might ask, “could 無 just be the written version of 冇?”. However, this is not true. There is a written version of 冇, and it’s
So I hope I’ve clarified this here.
Translating “I have done” in Cantonese
I hope you’ve spotted a running theme I’ve been trying to promote through these posts here. That is – transliteration is a bad idea.
After reading through this lesson, you might decide to try out things like “I’ve finished learning Cantonese today”, and you might be tempted to say something like
ngo5 jau5 jyun4 sing4 hok6 gwong2 dung1 waa2 gam1 jat6
There are a few mistakes here, but the most glaring mistake here is the “有” in this sentence.
In English “I’ve finished” is “I have finished”, but “have” here doesn’t actually mean “to have”, as in “to possess”, it’s an auxiliary verb that’s part of a verb tense. But in Cantonese, the word 有 does not act as an auxiliary verb. In fact, I think it’s safe to say there are no auxiliary verbs in Cantonese.
The correct form of the sentence should be
ngo5 gam1 jat6 hok6 jyun4 gwong2 dung1 waa2
Don’t worry about the stuff we haven’t covered yet, but know that 有 isn’t only unnecessary – it’s incorrect.
The importance of not transliterating – 有咗
Because it’s so important, I feel like using 有 to promote the importance of not transliterating.
If you’ve studied up to the past tense in Cantonese (kudos to you for doing that – you’ll be up to a stage where you’ll start to feel empowered), you might learn that 咗 can indicate the past tense. So you might want to say things like “I had a bike” by saying
ngo5 jau5 zo2 daan1 ce1
This is incorrect.
More importantly, 有咗, when used standalone, actually means “to be pregnant”. While you won’t be mistaken for being pregnant with a bicycle, it’s important to understand that English and Chinese are worlds apart in terms of grammar and vocabulary, and that learning these key principles is key to creating natural sounding, and more importantly, correct Cantonese sentences.
I’m sorry for sounding repetitive, but I feel that this is too important to leave out, so I feel compelled to repeat it even at the expense of possibly annoying you, the reader.
Anyway, that’s it for today (really this time).
Don’t forget to try and come up with sample sentences to practise what you’ve learnt today.
Please leave a comment below if you have any questions or comments.
See you next time! 下次見！(haa6 ci3 gin3)
Thanks to Derek Lau, again, for pointing out an error with sentence order. It should be 大概有, not 有大概 for “there’s approximately…”.