photographer, visual artist and language specialist.

Cantonese 101: 唔該 (mm goi) vs 多謝 (dor je)

Hong Kong

I often embarrass myself when speaking Cantonese, because I never actually learnt the language in a formal setting and English is the official working language in Singapore. Writing this post makes me realise how 교포s feel, but that’s not the point of this entry.

One of the biggest problem that I have with the Cantonese language is how often I often embarrass myself when thanking people. Although I understand the difference between 唔該 (mm goi) and 多謝 (dor je), I can’t seem to get used to saying the correct expression in the right situation.

When receiving a gift, the right expression should be 多謝 (dor je); when receiving a favour done, 唔該 (mm goi).

Thanking people with the wrong word in Cantonese has more implications than just being unintentionally rude. For instance, when someone lends you money and you say dor je, native speakers would take it that you’ve no intention of returning the loan. On the other hand, you’d appear thankless if you say mm goi when someone gives you a gift.

Unfortunately, despite my knowing and understanding the difference, I still use the wrong expression at times because dor je feels more like a formal register of mm goi to me, i.e. thanks versus thank you. Or 谢了 versus 谢谢.

Obviously in the battle of mother tongue and working language, the latter won.