Offering choices with "haishi"
还是 (háishì) is used in Chinese to provide options in a question. This is equivalent to one of our uses of "or" in English.
Option A + 还是 + Option B ?
When you're asked a question of this form, there are two ways you're expected to answer: either Option A or Option B. (Pick one, but not both.) It's not that no other answers are possible, it's that usually when you're asked a question this way, the person asking expects you to just choose one. For example, if asked if you'd like to drink coffee or tea, most people are going to choose one or the other, not ask for both. 还是 (háishì) is used to ask people to make that choice between the two.
- 我 还是 他 ？ Me or him?
- 一 个 还是 两 个 ？ One or two?
- 辣 的 还是 不 辣 的？Spicy or non-spicy?
- 冰 的 还是 热 的？Cold or hot?
- 上海 还是 北京 ？ The eternal China expat question! Choose wisely...Shanghai or Beijing?
Full Sentence Form
You can take the structure above, add a subject and a verb, and create all kinds of questions with the following structure:
Subj. + Verb + Option A + 还是 + Option B ?
- 这 是 水 还是 酒 ？ Is this water or alcohol?
- 他 是 美国 人 还是 英国 人 ？ Is he American or British?
- 你 喜欢 我 还是 我 的 钱 ？ Do you like me or my money?
- 你 要 喝 茶 还是 咖啡 ？ Do you want to drink tea or coffee?
- 你们 想 吃 中国 菜 还是 法国 菜 ？ Do you want to eat Chinese food or French food?
Please note that 还是 (háishì) is for offering options in a question. It should not be used for "or" in statements.
Sources and Further Reading
- HSK Standard Course 3 (pp. 23) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 1, Part 1 (3rd ed) (pp. 76-7, 257-8) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 1 (新实用汉语课本1) (pp. 179) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 1 (新实用汉语课本1)(2nd ed) (pp. 206-7, 251) →buy
- 40 Lessons for Basic Chinese Course (基础汉语40课上册） (pp. 125) →buy
- Yale Chinese Usage Dictionary: Comparing 还是 and 或者