ơi is an endearing word in Vietnamese

ơi is one of my favourite Vietnamese words. You may know it’s useful, but did you also know it’s endearing?

Let’s look at the most common uses of the Vietnamese ơi.

1. Em ơi

(Or anh ơi or chị ơi.)

You should address him as "anh ơi" unless you're sure he's younger than you. If that's the case you can use "em ơi".

Getting a waiter’s attention. By the way if you’re not sure about your relative ages, it’s politer to address him as “anh ơi” rather than “em ơi”.

A common phrase and essential to anyone spending time in Vietnam, yelling ‘anh ơi’ or ’em ơi’ at a waiter to get his attention sounds rude to an English speaker’s ear because the word ‘oi’ in English has negative connotations.

Not so, for ơi. It’s used all the time for getting someone’s attention but also can be used when talking to someone – such as to address your teacher.

I miss this simple but clear way to get someone’s attention. In English the best we have is ‘excuse me’.

2. Trời ơi

Literally speaking, ơi is used when addressing the heavens in the universal exclamation ‘trời ơi’. This southern phrase is a mild phrase – meaning something like OMG or heavens!. It’s widely used by young and old alike.

In the north you might hear ối giời ơi.

3. To show affection

So far we’ve seen ơi used to get attention.

It may surprise you that ơi is used as a term of affection. Between parents and children. Between friends. Between lovers. Calling your special someone ’em ơi’ or ‘anh ơi’ is actually very sweet and endearing! Like saying ‘dear’.

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