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Comparing "haishi" and "huozhe"

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Both 还是 (háishì) and 或者 (huòzhě) mean "or" and are used to present a choice. However, 还是 is normally used when asking a question, and 或者 is mostly for declarative sentences.

还是 for Providing Choices as a Question

When asking a question, 还是 can be used to provide choices or options.

Structure

Option A + 还是 + Option B ?

Examples

  • 你 喜欢 他 还是 我 ?Nǐ xǐhuan tā háishì wǒ? Do you like him or me?
  • 你 喝 茶 还是 喝 咖啡 ?Nǐ hē chá háishì hē kāfēi? Do you drink tea or coffee?
  • 你 中午 出去 吃 还是 叫 外卖 ?Nǐ zhōngwǔ chūqù chī háishì jiào wàimài? Are you going out for lunch or ordering take-out?

或者 for Giving Options as a Statement

或者 is used in a statement in which options are presented.

Structure

Possibility 1 + 或者 + Possibility 2

The structure for 或者 and 还是 is the same, but the meaning, as well as the context in which 或者 is needed, is different. 或者 drops the "A or B, PICK ONE" attitude in favor of a more open, "maybe A, perhaps B... (or maybe both or neither?)" So it's less exclusive and less demanding of a choice RIGHT NOW.

Examples

  • 周末 我 想 在 家 看书 或者 看 电影 。Zhōumò wǒ xiǎng zài jiā kànshū huòzhě kàn diànyǐng.This weekend, I want to stay home and read or watch movies.
  • 你 可以 坐 1 号 线 或者 2 号线 去 人民 广场 。Nǐ kěyǐ zuò yī hào xiàn huòzhě èr hào xiàn qù Rénmín Guǎngchǎng.You can take Line 1 or Line 2 to People's Square.
  • 我们 可以 电话 或者 邮件 联系 。Wǒmen kěyǐ diànhuà huòzhě yóujiàn liánxì.We can contact each other by phone or email.

还是 for Questions That Are Embedded in Sentences

Deciding whether or not to use 还是 becomes difficult with sentences that contain statements like "I don’t know," "I want to know," "I’m not sure," etc. Alone, these statements are not technically questions. However, when used in a sentence that contains choices, these statements imply that a question must be answered. Therefore, you must use 还是.

A few examples:

  • 不 知道 这 本 书 是 他 的 还是 我 的 。bù zhīdào zhè běn shū shì tā de háishì wǒ de.I don't know if this book is his or mine.
  • 想 知道 他们 是 支持 还是 反对 。xiǎng zhīdào tāmen shì zhīchí háishì fǎnduì.I want to know if they support or oppose.
  • 老板 不 确定 是 这 个 周末 出差 还是 下 个 周末 出差 。Lǎobǎn bù quèdìng shì zhège zhōumò chūchāi háishì xià gè zhōumò chūchāi.The boss isn't sure if he's going on a business trip this weekend or next weekend.

Incorrect Examples

  • 我们 打车 或者 坐 地铁 ?Since it is a question, it should use 还是Wǒmen dǎchē huòzhě zuò dìtiě?Shall we take a taxi or take the metro?
  • 明天 还是 后天 都 行 。Since it is a statement, it should use 或者Míngtiān huòzhě hòutiān dōu xíng.Either tomorrow or the day after is fine.
  • 想 知道 那个 人 是 男的 或者 女的 。It's an embedded question, so it should use 还是xiǎng zhīdào nàge rén shì nánde huòzhě nǚde.I'd like to know if that person is male or female.

See also

Sources and further reading

Books

Websites