Chinese Sentence Patterns

Posted by Julia Song on Mar 18, 2016

Chinese sentence patterns

Many Chinese learners believe that Chinese grammar is the most difficult part of learning Chinese. This is because Chinese sentence patterns are totally different with western language. However, strangely enough, Chinese grammar is actually very easy to learn as it has few rules and once you understand the basics it is easy to practically apply it with a high rate of success. Today, let's learn some basic Chinese sentence patterns together.

1. Statements

Word order in Chinese is similar to word order in English. In both languages, most sentences follow a subject-verb-object pattern. Example:

wǒ chī dàn ɡāo

我 吃 蛋 糕 (I eat cake.)

But many variations are possible too. Many sentences seem to drop the subject. Example:

dàn ɡāo bèi chī le

蛋 糕 被 吃 了 (The cake has been eaten.)

English often puts phrases of location at the end of a sentence, while Chinese puts them right before the main verb:

wǒ zuó tiān zài tú shū ɡuǎn kàn shū 。

我 昨 天 在 图 书 馆 看 书 。(Yesterday I read books at the library.)

The particle "de 的" can be used in many ways. It can mark possession: nà shì lǎo shī de shū 。

nà shì lǎo shī de shū 。

那 是 老 师 的 书 。 (That is the teacher's book.)

It can also create an adjectival phrase:

tā xǐ huɑn nǐ sònɡ ɡěi tā de lǐ wù 。

他 喜 欢 你 送 给 她 的 礼 物 。 (He likes the gift you gave him.)

Notice the placement of the "de" particle!

2. Questions

To see one big difference between Chinese and English questions, look at the following examples:

zhuō zi shànɡ shì shuí de shū ?

桌 子 上 是 谁 的 书 ?(Whose book is on the table?)

In English, the question word (beginning with wh) is the first word in the sentence. Not so in Chinese! Word order in a question is the same as word order in a statement. Examples:

zhuō zi shànɡ shì wǒ de shū 。

桌 子 上 是 我 的 书 。

In the statements above, word order is unchanged from the question form.

Another category of question is the yes/no question. Chinese has a couple ways of asking them. One is simply to use a statement, and attach the particle ma at the end of the sentence. Examples:

zhuō zi shànɡ shì nǐ de shū mɑ ?

桌 子 上 是 你 的 书 吗 ? (Is the book on the table yours?)

A second way to ask a yes/no question is the A-not-A structure. It is a bit similar to the "or not" structure in English, as in "Is it your book or not?" Examples:

zhuō zi shànɡ shì bu shì nǐ de shū ?

桌 子 上 是 不 是 你 的 书 ? (Is the book on the table yours or not?)

The idea is to say the verb twice, and add bu (or mei, as appropriate) between them.

So far we have only scratched the surface of Chinese sentence patterns. With more study will come familiarity with all commonly used structures. Learn more about Chinese Grammar here.

About The Author

Julia Song

Julia Song is a Chinese learning teacher at Hanbridge Mandarin. Julia Song excels at linguistic pedagogy and one-on-one instruction with 8 years teaching experience and her cheerful attitude and close attention to her students' progress make her an excellent Mandarin teacher for students of all levels.

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