The Imperative ‘让(ràng)’: Commands and Permissions in Mandarin Chinese HSK3

Various words and phrases in Chinese are pivotal in constructing sentences that convey specific intentions. Among these, the imperative ‘让’ (ràng) stands out for its versatility and frequency of use. In this article, we will delve into the usage of ‘让’ in the context of commands and permissions, exploring its nuances and the cultural aspects that influence its application.

Understanding ‘让’ (ràng)

The character ‘让’ is pronounced as ‘ràng’ in pinyin and is often translated into English as ‘to let,’ ‘to allow,’ or ‘to ask.’ However, the breadth of its use extends beyond these simple translations. In Mandarin, ‘让’ is a vital linguistic tool, facilitating requests, commands, and granting permissions.

‘让’ in Commands

When used in a commanding context, ‘让’ often softens the directness of an order, making it sound less authoritative and more of a polite request. This use is prevalent when politeness or a degree of subtlety is necessary. For example:

  • 让开一下。(Ràng kāi yīxià.) – “Please move aside a bit.”
  • 让我看看。(Ràng wǒ kànkan.) – “Let me have a look.”

In these sentences, ‘让’ is used to give instructions in a manner that is considered socially graceful. It’s a way of issuing a command without appearing too forceful, a nuance that is very important in Chinese social interactions.

‘让’ in Granting Permissions

Conversely, regarding permissions, ‘让’ expresses allowing or permitting someone to do something. This usage highlights the speaker’s authority or ability to grant consent. For instance:

  • 老师让我们早点下课。(Lǎoshī ràng wǒmen zǎo diǎn xiàkè.) – “The teacher lets us finish class early.”
  • 父母不让我晚上出去。(Fùmǔ bù ràng wǒ wǎnshang chūqù.) – “My parents won’t allow me to go out in the evening.”

Here, ‘让’ is used to indicate permission or lack thereof, emphasizing the role of the subject (e.g., 老师, 父母) in making a decision that affects the actions of others.

Cultural Context and Usage

Understanding the cultural context of ‘让’ is crucial in grasping its proper use. In Chinese culture, directness in speech is often avoided, especially in formal or respectful settings. The use of ‘让’ fits perfectly into this cultural paradigm, as it allows for instructions and permissions to be given in a culturally sensitive manner.

Formality and Hierarchy

In formal or hierarchical settings, such as between a student and a teacher or an employee and a boss, ‘让’ is a respectful way to issue commands or grant permissions. Its use acknowledges the social hierarchy and maintains the decorum expected in such interactions.

Indirectness and Politeness

Indirectness is a hallmark of polite Chinese conversation. ‘让’ aids in achieving this indirectness, softening statements to make them more palatable in social interactions. This is particularly important in maintaining harmony and face (面子 – miànzi), a core concept in Chinese social relations.


In summary, the imperative ‘让’ (ràng) in Mandarin Chinese is a multifaceted tool for expressing commands and permissions. Its role in softening directives and acknowledging authority reflects Chinese communication’s linguistic intricacies and cultural sensibilities. Understanding and appropriately using ‘让’ can significantly enhance one’s ability to navigate Mandarin Chinese, both linguistically and culturally. Whether in formal settings or casual conversations, mastering the use of ‘让’ is an invaluable skill for any language learner.


Q1: What does ‘让’ (ràng) mean in Mandarin?

A1: ‘让’ (ràng) in Mandarin Chinese primarily means ‘to let,’ ‘to allow,’ or ‘to ask.’ However, its use extends to conveying requests, commands, and permissions, often with nuances that reflect politeness and indirectness.

Q2: How is ‘让’ used to give commands?

A2: In commands, ‘让’ is used to soften the directness of an order, making it sound more like a polite request than an authoritative command. This use is essential in maintaining politeness and subtlety in social interactions. For example, “让开一下” (Ràng kāi yīxià) means “Please move aside a bit.”

Q3: How does ‘让’ function in granting permissions?

A3: ‘让’ is used to express allowing or permitting someone to do something. It indicates the speaker’s authority or ability to grant consent. For example, “老师让我们早点下课” (Lǎoshī ràng wǒmen zǎo diǎn xiàkè) translates to “The teacher lets us finish class early.”

Q4: Why is ‘让’ necessary in the cultural context of Chinese communication?

A4: ‘让’ aligns with the cultural preference for indirectness and politeness in Chinese communication. It allows speakers to issue instructions or grant permissions in a culturally sensitive way, respecting social hierarchy and the concept of face (面子 – miànzi).

Q5: Can ‘让’ be used in formal and casual settings?

A5: Yes, ‘让’ is versatile and can be used in formal settings, such as between a teacher and student, and in casual conversations, helping maintain respect, decorum, and social harmony.

Q6: Is using ‘让’ necessary to speak politely in Chinese?

A6: While not always necessary, using ‘让’ is crucial for speaking politely and respectfully, especially when direct commands or permissions might be too blunt or disrespectful.

Q7: Does ‘让’ always soften a command?

A7: In most contexts, ‘让’ does serve to soften commands, but its exact impact can depend on the tone, context, and accompanying language used. It generally conveys a gentler approach than a direct command.

Q8: How does ‘让’ help in understanding Chinese social relations?

A8: ‘让’ reflects essential aspects of Chinese social relations, such as the importance of indirect communication, respect for hierarchy, and the preservation of harmony and face. Mastery of ‘让’ can thus aid in better navigating social interactions in Chinese culture.

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