The Difference Between 还是(háishì) and 或者(huòzhě)

The English word “or” corresponds to 还是(háishì) and 或者(huòzhě)  in Chinese. However, these two different “or” in mandarin are used in different ways. Many Chinese learners often make mistakes in the use of these two words in practice. If you don’t know the usage of haishi and huozhe, this article may help you.

Let’s first look at two dialogues below and think of the difference between the usage of 还是(háishì) and 或者(huòzhě).

 

Dialogue  1:

A: 你们这个星期去北京还是下个星期去?

Nǐmen zhège xīngqī qù Běijīng háishì xià ge xīngqī qù?

Are you going to Beijing this week or next week?

B: 下个星期。

Xià ge xīngqī .

Next week.

A: 你们怎么去北京?

Nǐmen zěnme qù Běijīng?

How do you get to Beijing?

B: 坐火车或者坐飞机。

Zuò huǒchē huòzhě zuò fēijī .

By train or by plane.

 

Dialogue 2:

A: 今天我们去公园还是去看电影?

Jīntiān wǒmen qù gōngyuán háishì qù kàn diànyǐng?

Shall go to the park or to the cinema?

B: 去看电影吧。

Qù kàn diànyǐng ba.

Let’s go to the cinema.

A: 我们怎么去附近的电影院呢?

Wǒmen zěnme qù fùjìn de diànyǐngyuàn ne?

How do we get to the cinema nearby?

B: 走路或者坐公交车都行。

Zǒu lù huòzhě zuò gōngjiāochē dōu xíng.

Either walk or take a bus.

A: 还是坐公交车吧,更快些。

Háishì zuò gōngjiāochē ba,  gèng kuài xiē.

Let’s take a bus. It’s faster.

B: 好.

Hǎo.

Okay.

 

From these two conversations, we know 还是(háishì) and 或者(huòzhě) both mean OR in English. They are both conjunctions used between words or phrases to indicate alternatives. So how do we know when to use 还是(háishì) and when to use 或者(huòzhě)? Let’s move on.

 

Part 1.  The Usage of  还是(háishì)

1. 还是(háishì) is usually used to provide options in a question

The Structure is :

Option A + 还是(háishì) + Option B

That means to ask someone to make a choice between A and B.

Here are some examples:

你想喝茶还是咖啡?

Nǐ xiǎng hē chá háishì kāfēi?

Would you like tea or coffee?

他是学生还是老师?

Tā shì xuésheng háishì lǎoshī?

Is he a student or a teacher?

你喜欢白色还是黑色?

Nǐ xǐhuan báisè háishì hēisè?

Do you like white or black?

 

Please note that 还是(hái shì) can be also used in a statement, which includes a question-like clause. In this case, the sentences usually begin with items like “我不知道(I don’t know)”, “我想知道(I want to know)”, “我还没决定(I haven’t decided yet)” and so on.

The structure is:

Statement + Option A + 还是+ Option B (Question-like Clause)

For example:

我不知道他是中国人还是韩国人。

Wǒ bù zhīdào tā shì Zhōngguó rén háishì Hánguó rén.

I don’t know if he is Chinese or Korean.

↓  contains a question

他是中国人还是韩国人?

Tā shì Zhōngguó rén háishì Hánguó rén?

Is he Chinese or Korean?


我还没决定去美国还是去英国。

Wǒ hái méi juédìng qù Měiguó háishì qù Yīngguó.

I haven’t decided whether to go to the USA or UK.

↓ contains a question

去美国还是去英国?

Qù Měiguó háishì qù Yīngguó?

Go to the USA or UK?


他想知道他是对的还是错的。

Tā xiǎng zhīdào tā shì duì de háishì cuò de.

He wants to know if he is right or wrong?.

↓ contains a question

他是对的还是错的?

Tā shì duì de háishì cuò de?

Is he right or wrong?

 

2. 还是(háishì) is also used in the two sentence patterns:

“不论(búlùn)… 还是(háishì)…” and “不管(bùguǎn )… 还是(háishì)…”

For example:

不论唱歌还是跳舞,她都行。

Búlùn chàng gē háishì tiào wǔ, tā dōu xíng .

She can sing or dance.

不管刮风还是下雨,他每天都准时上班。

Bùguǎn guā fēng háishì xià yǔ, tā měi tiān dōu zhǔnshí shàng bān.

He goes to work on time every day, whether it’s windy or rainy.

 

3. Expansion of 还是 (háishì)

还是(háishì) can be also used as an adverb to express a preference for an choice, like “had better…”, “It would be better…”, or would rather.

The structure is:

还是 + Option A + 吧。

As a suggestion, 吧(ba) is often placed at the end of a sentence.

For example:

A: 我们坐飞机还是坐火车?

Wǒmen zuò fēijī háishì zuò huǒchē?

Shall we go by plane or by train?

B:(想一想)还是坐飞机吧,更快!

(xiǎng yi xiǎng )Háishì zuò fēijī ba,  gèng kuài !

(think about) I’d rather go by plane. It’s faster!


天冷了,你还是多穿点儿衣服吧。

Tiān lěng le, nǐ háishì duō chuān diǎnr yīfu ba.

It’s getting cold, you’d better put on more clothes.

 

还是你来我家吧。我在家等你。

Háishì nǐ lái wǒ jiā ba. Wǒ zài jiā děng nǐ.

It would be better you come to my house. I’ll wait for you at home.

 

* When there is a negative verb phrase following 还是(háishì), you can drop the 吧(ba) at the end.

太贵了,还是别买了。

Tài guì le , háishì bié mǎi le.

It’s too expensive. I’d rather you don’t buy it.

 

* When 还是(háishì) is used as an adverb, it can also indicate “still” or “yet”.

For example:

我让他不要买,他还是买了 。

Wǒ ràng tā bú yào mǎi, tā háishì mǎile.

I told him not to, but he still bought it.

尽管老师生病了,但是她还是来上课了。

Jǐnguǎn lǎoshī shēng bìng le, dànshì tā háishì lái shàng kè le.

The teacher was ill, but she still came to class.

 

Part 2. The Usage of  或者(huòzhě)

1. 或者(huòzhě) is used to give options in a statement

The structure is:

Possibility A + 或者(huòzhě)+ Possibility B.

It means either A or B is okay.

 

For example:

你星期一来或者星期三来都行。

Nǐ xīngqī yī lái huòzhě xīngqī sān lái dōu xíng.

You can come on Monday or Wednesday. 

每天下午,我会去跑步或者打羽毛球。

Měi tiān xiàwǔ , wǒ  huì qù pǎo bù huòzhě dǎ yǔmáoqiú.

I go for a run or play badminton every afternoon.

 

We can also use double 或者(huòzhě) to provide two options.

The structure is:

或者 + Possibility A,  或者+Possibility B

只有一块蛋糕,或者你吃或者我吃。

Zhǐyǒu yí kuài dàngāo, huòzhě nǐ chī huòzhě wǒ chī.

There is only one piece of cake, either you or I eat it.

你或者学汉语,或者学英语,别的就别学了。

Nǐ huòzhě xué Hànyǔ, huòzhě xué Yīngyǔ, bié de jiù bié xué le.

You can either learn Chinese or English, but don’t learn anything else.

周末我或者在家吃饭,或者出去吃。

Zhōumò wǒ huòzhě zài jiā chī fàn, huòzhě chūqu chī.

I either eat at home or eat out on weekends.

 

* Please note that 或者(huòzhě) is generally not used in negative sentences.

For example:

To say “I don’t like playing basketball or running” in Chinese, we use 和(hé) instead of 或者(huòzhě)。

我不喜欢打篮球或者跑步。(×)

Wǒ bù xǐhuan dǎ lánqiú huòzhě pǎo .(×)

我不喜欢打篮球和跑步。

Wǒ bù xǐhuan dǎ lánqiú hé pǎo bù.

 

When 或者(huòzhě) is used in questions, it must be used together with 吗(ma) to express a polite suggestion.

The structure is:

possibility A+ 或者(huòzhě)+possibility B 吗?

您想喝点儿咖啡或者茶吗?

Nín xiǎng hē diǎnr kāfēi huòzhě chá ma?

Would you like some coffee or tea?

 

2. Expansion of 或者(huòzhě)

或者(huòzhě) can express maybe, perhaps as a adverb.

For example:

你快走,或者还能赶上车。

Nǐ kuài zǒu, huòzhě hái néng gǎnshàng chē.

Hurry up! Maybe you can catch the train.

再给他发封信,或者他会回信的。

Zài gěi tā fā fēng xìn, huòzhě tā huì huí xìn de.

If you send him another letter, maybe he’ll reply.

 

Part 3. Comparing “haishi” and “huozhe”

1. When 还是 and 或者 are both used in a question

When you are asked:

您想喝咖啡还是茶?

Nín xiǎng hē kāfēi háishì chá?

Would you like coffee or tea?

The speaker hopes you can make a choice between coffee and tea, so you can reply by saying:

咖啡,谢谢!

Kāfēi , xièxie!

Coffee, please!

 

If you are asked:

您想喝点儿咖啡或者茶吗?

Nín xiǎng hē diǎnr kāfēi huòzhě chá ma?

Would you like some coffee or tea (or something else)?

The speaker hopes you can answer if you want to drink something (like coffee and tea) or not, you can reply by saying:

不用了,谢谢!

Bú yòng le, xièxie!    

No, thanks!

 

2. A comparison table for 还是(háishì) vs 或者(huòzhě)

Conjunction
还是 or 或者 or
Usually in questions

Structure: Option A + 还是 +Option B?

 

你喜欢红色还是白色?

Do you like red or white?

Usually in statements

1. Structure: Possibility A + 或者+ Possibility B.

坐火车或者飞机都可以。

By train or plane, either one is OK.

 

2. Double 或者:或者 + Possibility A,或者+ Possibility B。

周末我或者在家吃饭,或者出去吃。

On weekends, I have meal either at home or outside.

 

Note: used in statements that contain question-like clause:

 

我不知道/不清楚/想知道他是A还是B。

I don’t know/sure or want to know whether he is A or B.

 

Note: used in questions ending with 吗:

 

你想喝点A或者B 吗?

Would you like A or B (or something) to drink?

No matter what; whether…or…

无论/不管…还是…

不论唱歌还是跳舞,她都行。

She is good at both singing and dancing.

Can’t be used in negative statement; use 和 instead:
我不喜欢打篮球和跑步。I don’t like playing basketball or running
Adverb
还是 或者
had better/it would better

还是…吧

 

天冷了,你还是多穿点儿衣服吧。

It’s getting cold. You’d better put on more clothes.

 

 

maybe, perhaps

你快走,或者还能赶上车。

Hurry up! Maybe you can catch the train.

 

Still; yet

尽管…, 还是…

尽管老师生病了,她还是来上课了。

Although the teacher is ill, she still comes to class.


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