Loanwords In Cantonese: 50+ Easy To Learn Terms


Cantonese is indeed a challenging language to learn. But why not start with these simple loanwords in Cantonese today, like 拜拜 baai1 baai3 (Goodbye)?

Many language learners struggle to learn Cantonese because of the Chinese characters and their pronunciation. That’s why it’s useful to learn many loanwords that will kickstart your language-learning process in these types of languages.

Cantonese is the official language of Hong Kong and it is also spoken in the southern part of Mainland China. It is different from the modern Chinese that many people are learning.

Loanwords-in-Cantonese-Ling-Hong Kong

Hong Kong was a former British colony of England before 1997, so that’s why it’s not surprising that lots of English words were adopted and modified into Cantonese words. According to the Hong Kong Basic Law, English remains an official language alongside Chinese even after the 1997 handover.

A loanword is a borrowed word that has been taken from one language and used in another, at least in part. So today, we will learn about different loan words in Cantonese.

Periods Of Borrowing

Cantonese is a language that has a long history. As the years pass by, there are lots of different borrowed words that have been adapted into this language. These borrowing of words are influenced by culture, technology, and globalization.

Early Period: From The 18th – Mid-19th Centuries

The world’s first English-Cantonese and Cantonese-English dictionary, “Vocabulary of the Canton Dialect,” was written by Robert Morrison and published in 1828. It is likely the first reliable record of English words that were borrowed into Cantonese in the early period. In the 1980s, these kinds of books were written to help people who spoke Cantonese learn English. Chinese characters were used to write down English words.

Middle Period: Mid-19th Century – End Of World War II

A significant amount of English loanwords entered Cantonese during this period thanks to the close and sustained or prolonged contact in Hong Kong.

Modern Period: Mid-20th Century – Present Day

A significant number of words have been taken from other sources throughout this time period.


Methods Of Borrowing English Words

Borrowing from one language to another is not that simple. There are different ways or methods of borrowing English words. Here are some of them along with examples.

Phonetic Transliteration

This is the most common way to borrow words in any language, the phonetic of the word. Cantonese syllables whose sounds are similar to those of the source word are used to imitate the sound of the source word. Cantonese-speaking readers know that when they see phonetically-translated loanwords written with Chinese characters, they should ignore what the characters mean in Cantonese and read the characters only for how they sound.

Example: 咖啡 (kaa3 fei1) – coffee

Semantic Translation

Semantics is the study of meaning. The meaning of the loanword is translated into Cantonese using Chinese characters that make sense in terms of their meaning. To do this, you really have to learn Cantonese very well because it’s not just about the sound you hear but the meaning.

Example: 多媒體 do1 mui4tai2 (many media) – multimedia


This one, like what it says, is a combination of phonetic and semantic. The word is made by putting together a syllable that sounds like the source word with an indigenous syllable that has a similar meaning.

Example: 啤 be1 (beer) + 酒 zau2 (alcoholic drink) – 啤酒 be1 zau2 – beer

Common Loanwords In Cantonese

Now that we have learned the different periods of borrowing and ways that they can be performed, let’s learn some loanwords in Cantonese and their meaning.

Loan Words From English Sound

When you’re an English speaker, it’s not that hard to understand these loanwords because you can actually understand the words based on the sound you hear. There are too many loanwords that use this method of borrowing, so you’ll here you have a strong base to start learning Cantonese.

EnglishCantoneseJyutping Romanization
bowling保齡bou2 ling4
boycott杯葛bui1 got3
bus巴士baa1 si6
boss波士bo1 si6
chance餐士/餐屎caan1 si2
card咭 / 卡kaat1
cartoon卡通kaa1 tung1
cashmere茄士咩ke1 si6 me1
(exchange money)
cookie曲奇kuk1 kei4
cream忌廉gei6 lim1
cutlet吉列gat1 lit6
cushion咕𠱸gu1 seun2
chocolate朱古力jyu1 gu2 lik6
daddy爹地de1 di4
fail肥佬fei4 lou2
film菲林fei1 lam2
Goodbye.拜拜baai1 baai3
jelly啫喱je1 lei1
lemon檸檬ling4 mung1
mango芒果mong4 gwo2
mic (microphone)mai1
mommy媽咪ma1 mi4
motor摩打mo1 da2
omelet奄列am1 lit6
ounce安士on1 si2
pudding布甸bou3 din6
salad沙律saa1 leot2
sandwich三文治saam1 man4 ji6
cheese芝士ji1 si6
snooker士碌架si6 luk1 gaa2
sofa梳化so1 fa3
strawberry士多啤梨si6 do1 be1 lei4
store士多si6 do1
taxi的士dik1 si6
tips貼士tip1 si2
toast多士do1 si6
t-shirtT恤T seot1

English Words Plus Chinese Words

Because of globalization, the borders between countries and places in the world narrow. So, it’s not surprising that there are exchanges in culture and even language. Here are some English words plus Chinese words that are used as loanwords in Hong Kong.

EnglishCantoneseJyutping Romanization
beer啤酒be1 jau2
cherry車厘子ce1 lei4 ji2
hamburger漢堡包hon3 bou2 baau1
jam果占gwo2 jim3
salmon三文魚saam1 man4 yu4/yu2


Cantonese Loanwords In English

Cantonese is not only a language that borrows from English. There are also many Cantonese loanwords in the English language, especially in food. Check out these loanwords and feel free to learn them.

MeaningCantoneseJyutping Romanization
bok-choy白菜baak6 choi3
chow mein炒麵chaau2 min6
conpoy乾貝gon1 bui
ketchup茄汁ke4 jap1
kiwi奇異果kei4 yi6 gwo2
kumquat / cumqua金橘gam1gwat
kung fu功夫gung1 fu1
longan龍眼lung4 ngaan2
loquat蘆橘lou4 gwat1
wampee黄皮wong4 pei2
wonton饂飩 / 雲呑wan4 tan1

Dive Deeper To The Cantonese Language!

Learn Cantonese With the Ling app

By learning these loanwords, you’ll surely get a headstart in learning Cantonese. Now, the challenge is to go deeper. So, why not grab your computer, phone, or tablet and start learning with Ling app now?

Ling app is a language learning platform that will help you learn Cantonese and any other language. With its fantastic features and well-developed activities, your language skills will surely be improved. No need for a teacher because with Ling app, you can learn languages anytime and anywhere you want.

You can also listen to the audio recordings from native speakers or read an article like this.

So, discover the wonder of Ling app! Learn Cantonese now! Download from App Store or Google Play now.

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