Sometimes fear can cripple you.
So take a step back and stop over thinking.
You will quickly realize that the amount of Chinese you understand is vastly different from the amount you can use easily.
These five sentence structures can be used in a variety of situations to serve many everyday functions. You may feel constrained if you don’t have a hefty portion of Chinese words under your belt, but remember to focus on what you can do—even if you have been studying for years.
5 Solid Structures for Building Simple Mandarin Chinese Sentences
Imagine this: You are walking down the street in China and suddenly you notice everyone is eating your favorite kind of ice cream. You wonder what is happening until finally, you see a few people passing out ice cream for free. You walk up to them to get one, but as soon as you open your mouth, you realize you have no idea what to say.
Maybe the hundreds or thousands of words and grammar patterns fly through your head, but you just don’t know which one to use. Eventually you reach something that you shyly blurt out, because at this point you don’t have much confidence. 我要这个 wǒ yào zhège. (I want this.)
For a smoother interaction the next time you see free ice cream, or for any number of more-likely daily occurrences, check out the following five structures that enable you to build simple Chinese sentences!
1. Indicating Preferences
Why didn’t such a simple sentence come naturally when you were in line for ice cream? It takes practice, so for one day think of everything you want and put it at the end of this sentence: 我要 wǒ yào (I want…)
Let’s take a look at some sample sentences:
我要这个 wǒ yào zhège. (I want this.)
Just like in English, use zhège (this) to refer to anything near you.
我要那个 wǒ yào nàge. (I want that.)
If the thing you want is a little farther away then replace zhège with nàge (that).
我要回家 wǒ yào huíjiā. (I want to go home.)
Don’t be afraid to put a verb on the end of this structure, like huíjiā (go home). Just remember this could indicate something you will do, not just something you want to do.
我要牛肉 wǒ yào niúròu. (I want beef.)
Finally, as your vocabulary improves you can branch out and say more than “this” and “that.” This is really useful if you can’t tell if you are looking at niúròu (beef) or máoniúròu (yak).
Remember: practice requires repetition and seeing relevant vocabulary in context. For that, I recommend FluentU.
2. Making a Request
Congratulations! You’ve just graduated from the first stage of the Chinese self-expression paralyzation avoidance program! Now you’d like to take another step and be a little more forceful.
This sentence structure will allow you to give a direct command: 给我一个gěi wǒ yígè (Give me a…)
Again, we’ll learn this structure with multiple examples:
给我一个理由 gěi wǒ yígè lǐyóu. (Give me a reason.)
Have you been wronged? Do you want to know why something happened, but would like to say a little more than just “why”? Use the above sentence to demand/politely ask for a reason.
给我一个机会 gěi wǒ yígè jīhuì. (Give me a chance.)
Do you see an opportunity sitting just outside of your reach? Or did you do something wrong? If you want to say more than just “sorry” use this sentence to ask for a (second) chance.
给我一个苹果 gěi wǒ yígè píngguǒ. (Give me an apple.)
Just like one simple sentence structure can be useful in many different situations, this third sentence can have two meanings: give me an apple or an Apple product.
给我打电话 gěi wǒ dǎdiànhuà. (Make a phone call for me.)
Don’t get too carried away with yígè. Many times this sentence structure is used with verbs like dǎdiànhuà (to make a telephone call).
3. Dislikes and Disapproval
Although you are not a negative person, you’ll find making a negative sentence is at times indispensable. In Chinese, negation is usually taken care of with a simple 不 bù (but not always, so keep studying!).
Don’t worry, you won’t come off as a bump on a log with this lightly disapproving sentence structure: 我不喜欢 wǒ bù xǐhuan (I don’t like…)
Roll out the sample sentences:
我不喜欢星期一 wǒ bù xǐhuan xīngqīyī. (I don’t like Mondays.)
After the long awaited weekend comes the inevitable Monday. If you’re having a case of the Mondays, then perhaps apologetically you can tell everyone wǒ bù xǐhuan xīngqīyī.
我不喜欢笨人 wǒ bù xǐhuan bènrén. (I don’t like stupid people.)
In search of some universal dislike, and again without too much over thinking, let’s all agree that stupid people are not fun. The next time you feel wronged, just say wǒ bù xǐhuan bènrén.
我不喜欢我的老板 wǒ bù xǐhuan wǒde lǎobǎn. (I don’t like my boss.)
As an extra bonus, practice personal possessive pronouns (wǒde etc.) with this almost universal statement: wǒ bù xǐhuan wǒde lǎobǎn. But, on a personal note, if you are my boss and reading this, then 我爱你 (I love you)!
我不喜欢逛街 wǒ bù xǐhuan guàngjiē. (I don’t like shopping.)
The worst kind of work is the work you do during your leisure time, right? And, yes, shopping for the perfect pair of shoes is definitely work. Oh, wǒ bù xǐhuan guàngjiē.
4. Describe People and Give Compliments
The previous examples may have gotten you overconfident. You could think that Chinese grammar is similar enough to English grammar, such that you can basically put words together just like you would in English. But it isn’t always that easy!
To really drive this point home, go ahead and compliment some Chinese-speaking people. Don’t worry, they won’t get suspicious of your intent; we all know you are just practicing your Chinese.
Come on, we’ll do it together:
你很漂亮 nǐ hěn piàoliang. (You are very pretty.)
The next time you see a beautiful young woman, just say this: nǐ hěn piàoliang. Enough said.
你很帅 nǐ hěn shuài. (You are handsome.)
Of course for males you should say shuài (handsome). But as a joke, try calling a young man piàoliang and a young woman shuài!
你很幽默 nǐ hěn yōumò. (You’re very humorous.)
Did you try out that joke? You know you should always do what I say. If you did, the reply will undoubtedly be: nǐ hěn yōumò.
你很聪明 nǐ hěn cōngmíng. (You’re very smart.)
You’ll need something to say in reply to that last statement. If you truly are funny, this is a good sentence to use after any compliment directed toward you: nǐ hěn cōngmíng.
他很高 tā hěn gāo. (He’s very tall.)
Who doesn’t like talking about others? Remember, when speaking tā can mean he or she, but this won’t be a problem because there will only be one person towering over everyone else when you say: tā hěn gāo.
5. Making Appointments
Last but not least, now that you have made a few jokes and gained a few friends, you’ll want to see them again at a specific time and place. So far you have learned how valuable sentence structures are, but next let’s study two sentence fragments and then combine them to make our final sentence structure.
Location, location, location
This is easy. In Chinese, just use 在 zài in front of the place where an action takes place.
在我家 zài wǒ jiā. (At my house.)
For the third time, don’t think too hard. My place, my pad—however you want to say it—is just zài wǒ jiā.
在二零六公交车站 zài èr líng liù gōngjiāochēzhàn. (At the 206 bus stop.)
In China, public transportation is cool, especially because you can use bus stops as commonly known meeting places. If you don’t know the name of the stop itself, then maybe the bus that goes there will suffice: zài ér líng liù gōngjiāochēzhàn.
在学校正门前 zài xuéxiào zhèngmén qián. (At the school’s main gate.)
It’s nice to be specific. If you or the person you’re talking to doesn’t know north from south or east from west, then simply say: zài xuéxiào zhèngmén qián.
Always remember, in Chinese time and place go from general to specific. Here are some examples:
明天晚上 míngtiān wǎnshang (Tomorrow night)
It’s late. Time for bed. Let’s wait until míngtiān wǎnshang.
昨晚 zuówǎn (Last night)
Just like in English, we don’t usually say “yesterday night.” Chinese also has contractions: zuówǎn.
上午十一点 shàngwǔ shíyī diǎn (11 AM)
In Chinese, time moves from up to down like gravity. This will help you when you look at the literal meaning of shàngwǔ shíyī diǎn (“above noon” eleven).
下个星期三 xià gè xīngqīsān (Next Wednesday)
Going back to wǒ bù xǐhuan xīngqīyī and the opposite of “above” from above: xià gè xīngqīsān (“below” Wednesday).
Now we’re going to put it together. Take the two sentence fragments from above and make the simple sentence: …见 …jiàn (See you…)
明天见 míngtiān jiàn. (See you tomorrow!)
Instead of just saying goodbye, you can make it clear when you hope to meet again: míngtiān jiàn.
下个星期二见 xià gè xīngqīèr jiàn. (See you next Tuesday!)
Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Just put jiàn at the end: xià gè xīngqīèr jiàn.
在银行见 zài yínháng jiàn. (See you at the bank!)
You can also use location fragments with jiàn: zài yínháng jiàn.
明天下午三点在饭馆见 míngtiān xiàwǔ sān diǎn zài fànguǎn jiàn. (See you tomorrow at 3 p.m. at the restaurant!)
Put it all together: time first and then place, as in míngtiān xiàwǔ sān diǎn zài fànguǎn jiàn.
And there you have it! Practice these five simple sentence structures and you’ll suddenly stop sweating the small stuff. If you’re lucky, you might effortlessly get some free ice cream out of it! Good luck!
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