chinese grammar

Chinese Grammar: The Complete Guide to 15 Core Elements

Chinese grammar is logical, structural and simple.

To be completely honest, Chinese language structures make more sense to me than grammar rules of other languages—English included.

Let’s explore the key grammatical elements of the Chinese language system, and I think you’ll soon see why.

Contents

1. Nouns

Let’s start with something easy and familiar.

Nouns in Chinese are the subjects and objects in sentences. In other words, a noun can carry out an action or have an action happen to it.

Be aware that nouns don’t need to be preceded by articles like “the” and “a/an,” since articles don’t exist in Chinese.

Gender

Another thing to look forward to with Chinese nouns is that they lack grammatical genders. You can take a breath now that you don’t have to worry about words being masculine or feminine!

Number

Plurals are yet another element that doesn’t exist for Chinese nouns, or at least not in the way it does in English.

Chinese characters don’t change in structure to indicate plurality. Instead, more characters are added to create a plural meaning, which you’ll learn more about in the “Numerals” and “Classifiers or Measure Words” sections of this post, and in this full blog post on the topic:

 


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Placement

Since they can act as the subject or object of a sentence, Chinese nouns can appear before or after a verb.

Noun 1 (Subject) + Verb + Noun 2 (Object)

Types of Nouns

There are several familiar categories of Chinese nouns.

You’ve got your proper nouns that are the unique names of entities, like 中国 (zhōng guó) meaning “China.” You’ve also got common nouns that describe people, places or things, like 饺子 (jiǎo zi) meaning “dumpling.”

There are also some categories of nouns that are uniquely Chinese.

Time Nouns

As the name suggests, time nouns refer to specific timeframes, such as “today” or “last year.” Such timeframes only work as nouns and not as adverbs in Chinese.

Time nouns are normally placed before or after the subject.

昨天我所有的烦恼似乎都那么遥远。(zuó tiān wǒ suǒ yǒu de fán nǎo sì hū dōu nà me yáo yuǎn.)Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.

Nouns of Locality

When talking about the physical position of a noun in relation to another, you’d use a Chinese noun of locality instead of a Chinese preposition.

To understand the difference between nouns of locality and prepositions, let’s look at the English prepositional phrase “on top of.”

In Chinese, the phrase can be summed up as the word or noun of locality 上面 (shàng mian), with no need to include any other parts of speech like prepositions or conjunctions.

Here’s an example sentence using the noun of locality 前 (qián):

你的手机就在你面(nǐ de shǒu jī jiù zài nǐ miàn qián.)lit. Your phone right at you face front. / Your phone is right in front of you.

Obviously, the literal translation is a bit strange, but the meaning is still pretty much the same as the proper English translation. It’s simply different interpretations of this particular part of speech.

2. Pronouns

On to pronouns! Chinese pronouns are quite easy, so this section should be a breeze.

In Chinese, pronouns are words that can be used in place of nouns so we don’t have to constantly repeat names, titles and objects when making statements.

 


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Personal Pronouns

Personal pronouns are substitutes for names, titles and things.

These are the personal pronouns in Chinese.

(wǒ) — I, me

(nǐ) — you

(tā) — he, him

(tā) — she, her

(tā) — it

For plural personal pronouns, you’d just tack on a 们 (men) to the end of the pronouns, so 我们 would be “we/us.”

Keep in mind that there are no possessive pronouns in Chinese. To indicate possession, you’d simply add 的 (de), which works for both nouns and pronouns. When you add 的 to personal pronouns,  你的 and 他/她们的 become “your(s)” and “their(s).”

Check out the “Particles” section to learn more about the structural particle 的.

Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns are words that point out objects. They can be used together with a noun (“this apple”) or on their own (“this [one]”).

(zhè) and 那 (nà), meaning “this” and “that,” are the bases of all demonstrative pronouns.

这个 (zhè ge) — this (one)

这 + classifier + object — this + object

那个 (nà gè) — that (one)

那 + classifier + object — that + object

To turn these into plurals, just add 些 (xiē).

这些 (zhè xiē) — these (ones)

那些 (nà xiē) — those (ones)

这些 and 那些 works for both specific and non-specific objects.

If you want to refer to a specific number of objects, you’d follow this formula:

这/那 + Number + Classifier

See the “Classifiers” section for more info.

Interrogative Pronouns or Question Words

Interrogative pronouns are also known as question words that will help you structure basic questions.

(shéi/shuí) — who

什么 (shén me) — what

什么时候 (shén me shí hòu) — when

哪里 (nǎ lǐ) — where

(nǎ) — which

怎么 (zěn me) — how

怎样 (zěn yàng) — how (to do something)

(jǐ) + classifier — how many

多少 (duō shǎo) — how much

 


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3. Honorifics

When addressing strangers, elders and professionals, you want to be polite. It’s especially important in Chinese culture because of the custom of saving face.

In Chinese, these respectful titles used in place of personal pronouns are known as honorifics. It’s been in existence for ages, and even though some titles are extremely outdated, many are still used in everyday speech.

Like “madam” and “sir” in English, there’s 女士 (nǚ shì) and 先生 (xiān shēng) in Chinese.

There are also honorifics for parents, like for 老妈 (lǎo mā) for “Mom” and 老爸 (lǎo bà) for “Dad.” Although 老 means “old” on its own, it’s more accurately translated as “elder” when used in an honorific. 

Honorifics are also used for other family members, for recognizing occupational titles and within the workplace.

 


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4. Verbs

Chinese verbs are words that represent the action or state of being of the subject. They also describe what is occurring between the subject and object of a sentence.

If tenses and conjugations stress you out, then you’re in for a treat, since there aren’t any in Chinese!

All you have to do is learn the “infinitive” (unconjugated) form of Chinese verbs and you’re golden!

 


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When you want to change the timeframe of a verb, you’ll just add a little thing called an aspect particle! Head to the “Particles” section to learn more.

There’s a myriad of ways to categorize verbs, from action to psychological verbs, transitive vs. intransitive, stative vs. dynamic, etc. Unless you’re curious or a linguist, it’s not completely necessary to know all of these distinctions. 

There are, however, some particularities in Chinese verbs that we do need to go over.

How to Say “To Be” in Chinese

In English, we’d use the verb “to be” to connect a description to a noun, whether it’s about their identity, state, location, you name it.

Chinese is a little more particular when expressing the verb “to be.” 

(shì) is the most straightforward dictionary translation for “to be” and it’s worth spending a little time to master its usage.

 


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是 is used to connect two nouns, basically describing one noun as another noun.

Noun + 是 + Noun

You can see it in the sentence below:

他是外国人。(tā shì wài guó rén) — He is a foreigner.

To say that a subject is an adjective, you’d need to use specific words like 很 (hěn). You’ll learn more about this under “Adjectives.”

But to indicate a noun’s location, you’d use a different “to be” verb: 在 (zài). It’s more accurately translated as “to be at.”

医院。(tā zài yī yuàn.) — She‘s at the hospital.

Negation

Negation Using 不 (bù) 

To negate a verb, or to say that you’re not carrying out an action, just add a 不 in front of the verb.

不 + Verb

Most verbs, such as words for “want” and “need,” can be negated with 不.

 


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Let’s negate the verb 要 (yào) meaning “to want.”

我要 (wǒ yào) — I want

我不要 (wǒ bú yào)lit. I no want / I don’t want

Negation Using 没/没有 (méi/méi yǒu)

One verb that cannot be negated by 不 is 有 meaning “to have.” To say “doesn’t/don’t have,” you’d say 没有.

没 is also used to express something that hasn’t happened yet.

Let’s negate a sentence using 不 and 没(有) so you can see the differences.

完成她的作业。(tā wán chéng tā de zuò yè.) lit. She no finish her homework. / She doesn’t finish her homework.

没有完成她的作业。(tā méi yǒu wán chéng tā de zuò yè.)lit. She not have finish her homework. / She didn’t finish her homework.

By switching 不 out with 没(有), the meaning changed from the girl not ever finishing her homework to her potentially finishing her homework later on. It’s just as of this moment in time, her homework isn’t done yet.

Verb Reduplication

If you want to sound more casual, or perhaps lighten your tone while making a demand, you can repeat the verb in a statement. This is called verb reduplication, and it’s mostly reserved for single-character verbs like 试 (shì) which means “to try.”

试试吧!(shì shì ba!)lit. Try try! / Try it out!

You can also use 一 (yī), the character for “one,” to separate the repeating characters.

看一看。(kàn yí kàn)lit. Look one look. / Have a look.

5. Adjectives

Chinese adjectives are any words that modify people or things in a sentence. In order to attach an adjective to a noun, certain words must be used in between.

Let’s look at the different ways to incorporate adjectives in Chinese sentences.

 


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Using Adjectives with 很 (hěn)

The first way is to pair it with 很. On its own, it means “very,” but it can be translated as the verb “to be” when you want to attach an adjective to a subject.

Subject + 很 + Adjective

For instance:

天空(tiān kōng hěn lán.) — The sky is (very) blue.

Note: Technically, you don’t actually have to use 很 to say, “The sky is blue.” 天空蓝 still means the same thing even though there technically isn’t a verb. But more often than not, learners will include 很 to make it a little easier to understand and translate.

 


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Using Adjectives with 的 (de)

Another way to use Chinese adjectives is with the help of the character 的, which would go in between an adjective and a noun.

Adjective + 的 + Noun

You can see how 的 works in this statement:

这么小的脚(zhè me xiǎo de jiǎo!)lit. Such small of feet / What tiny feet!

Using Adjectives with 又 (yòu)…又

To use two adjectives, you can use this formula featuring the adverb 又, which actually means “again” when used on its own.

又 + Adjective 1 + 又 + Adjective 2

This would roughly translate to “to be…and…”

又大又高(tā yòu dà yòu gāo.) — He is big and tall.

 


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Comparatives and Superlatives

Comparatives are adjectives that draw comparisons between two objects, while superlatives are used to describe objects as the highest degree of an adjective.

In Chinese, there are specific words you can use alongside an adjective if you want to create comparatives and superlatives.

To say “the biggest cookie,” you would use 最 (zuì) and then use the Adjective + 的 + Noun formula.

大的饼干 (zuì dà de bǐng gān) — The biggest cookie

6. Adverbs

Chinese adverbs are descriptive words that can modify verbs and adjectives. They can also modify other adverbs to indicate the degree of the description, like the word 最 which we previously encountered in “Comparatives and Superlatives.”

It can be a little tricky navigating Chinese adverbs, as translations sometimes blur the lines between adverbs, adjectives and sometimes even verbs.

But it’s nothing to really fret about. As you come across new adverbs, you’ll learn where they’re supposed to be placed and the roles they play in sentences.

 


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Adverbs of Time, Frequency and Place

Generally, adverbs related to time, frequency and place are located in between the subject and verb.

Subject + Adverb of Time/Frequency/Place + Verb

You can see it in this example:

马上到了。(wǒ mǎ shàng dào le)lit. I immediately arrived. / I’ll be there soon.

Adverbs of Manner

Adverbs of manner, or adverbs describing how the action was carried out, can be placed before or after the verb as shown in the two examples below:

几乎不做饭。(tā jī hū bú zuò fàn.) — He hardly cooks.

老人开得慢。(lǎo rén kāi dé hěn màn.) — The elderly man drives (very) slowly.

Some adverbs of manner can double up as the verb of the sentence, like 非常 (fēi cháng) in this sentence:

咖啡非常烫(kā fēi fēi cháng tàng.)lit. Coffee very hot. / The coffee is very hot.

Adverbials

Adverbials are kind of like extended adverbs—they describe the time, manner and location associated with the verb of the sentence. If you want to level up your grammar, your should definitely practice creating adverbials.

 


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Adverbials are always placed in between the subject and the verb.

It’s pretty rare for adverbials to include time, manner and location, but if you want to include all of that info, just remember to mention them in that order.

立刻从座位上站了起来。(wǒ lì kè cóng zuò wèi shàng zhàn le qǐ lái)lit. I immediately from the seat stood up. / I immediately stood up from my seat.

7. Numerals

I love the logic of Chinese numbers.

If you want to be able to count to over 10,000, you only really need to know 13 characters.

(yī) — one

(èr) — two

(sān) — three

(sì) — four

(wǔ) — five

(liù) — six

(qī) — seven

(bā) — eight

(jiǔ) — nine

(shí) — ten

一百 (yì bǎi) — 100

一千 (yì qiān) — 1,000

一万 (yí wàn) — 10,000

Knowing these will help you build much larger numbers, like the ones below.

十七 (shí qī) — 17

九十九 (jiǔ shí jiǔ) — 99

三百六十五 (sān bǎi liù shí wǔ) — 365

二千二 (èr/liǎng qiān èr) — 2,002

五十二万五千六百 (wǔ shí èr wàn wǔ qiān liù bǎi) — 525,600

Ordinal Numbers

Ordinal numbers are what you’d use to show the rank of a noun, like “first place” or “seventh sin.”

Thankfully, you don’t need to learn a whole new set of words for Chinese ordinal numbers.

All you need to do is add 第 (dì) before a number, so “seventh” and “thirteenth” would be 第七 (dì qī) and 第十三 (dì shí sān).

If you want to describe a specific object’s rank, just use the formula below:

第 + Number + Classifier + Object

You’ll learn more about classifiers in the next section, but here’s an example using that formula:

第九十九个问题 (dì jiǔ shí jiǔ gè wèn tí) — lit. The 99th of problem / The 99th problem

Approximate Numbers

For vague sums of numbers, these are some of the words you can use:

(jǐ) — a value between two and nine; some, several

十几 (shí jǐ) — more than 10; dozen

几十 (jǐ shí) — a value between 20 and 99; tens of; dozens

≥10 + 多 (duō) + Classifier — more than any number greater than or equal to 10

<10 + Classifier + 多 — more than any number less than 10

8. Classifiers or Measure Words

Chinese is a little particular when it comes to quantifying objects. Rather than outright saying, “six apples,” you’d have to say something close to, “six of apples.”

That “of” is what’s called a classifier or measure word in Chinese. It’s basically a quantifier that connects a number to the noun in question, which is how plurals work in Chinese.

Number + Measure Word + Noun

Note that this formula works with exact, ordinal and approximate numbers.

So “six apples” would be 六苹果 (liù píng guǒ) rather than 六苹果, where 个 is the measure word.

While 个 can be used as a general classifier, most objects have specific measure words they need to be paired with.

For example, the appropriate classifier for clothes is 件, with the exception of socks.

衬衫 (sān jiàn chèn shān) — three shirts

And anything that comes in pairs, like socks, would be 双 (shuāng).

袜子 (shí shuāng wà zi) — ten pairs of socks

Verbal Classifiers

There are also classifiers for verbs, which are used to indicate the number of times an action has occurred. The most commonly used verbal classifier is 次 (cì).

Verb + Number + Verbal Classifier

Here’s what a verbal classifier looks like in a sentence:

他去过水疗中心几(tā qù guò shuǐ liáo zhōng xīn jǐ .) — He’s been to the spa several times.

9. Onomatopoeia

Like any other language, Chinese has onomatopoeia or its own interpretations of noises and sounds.

Let’s take a look at laughter.

English has a ton of variations of laughing onomatopoeia, such as “haha,” “hehe” and “teehee.” It’s the same in Chinese.

哈哈 (hā hā) — haha

呵呵 (hē hē) — haha

嘿嘿 (hēi hēi) — hey hey; a cross between haha and hehe

嘻嘻 (xī xī) — snicker

In addition to human sounds, there’s onomatopoeia for animals, collisions and nature. Most of the time, you’ll see onomatopoeia reduplicated as shown above, though there are also additional patterns.

10. Prepositions or Coverbs

The parts of speech mentioned up until this point are known as “content words” or 实词 (shí cí). Content words are elements that describe actions, objects or ideas.

And then there are “function words” or 虚词 (xū cí). Function words describe the relationship between content words, such as prepositions. Prepositions indicate a noun’s position or direction relative to another noun.

In Chinese, prepositions are often referred to as coverbs since they’re actually derived from verbs. 

Take a look at 在, a verb that translates as “to be at” that can also function as the preposition “at.”

I’ve used 在 as both a verb and preposition in my examples throughout the guide, but I’ll give you a couple more so you can compare them easily.

在 as a verb:

妈妈家吗?(mā mā zài jiā ma?)lit. Mom is home? / Is Mom home?

在 as a preposition:

你不能坐这里。(nǐ bù néng zuò zài zhè lǐ.)lit. You can’t sit at here. / You can’t sit here.

As you can see, the Chinese idea of “at” doesn’t always translate into English. Also, take note that the prepositional 在 is always followed by a noun of locality.

在 + Noun of Locality

Other Chinese prepositions are also specific to certain nouns or verbs. You can find prepositions before or after verbs, between nouns, etc. Because of this, you’ll have to just learn the appropriate sentence patterns as you come across new prepositions.

 


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11. Conjunctions

Conjunctions are another category of functions words.

Chinese conjunctions are little words used to connect ideas in a sentence. There are those that describe coordinating “and” relationships, alternative “or” relationships, adversative “but” relationships, conditional “if” relationships, among others. 

Some Chinese conjunctions are specifically used to connect words or phrases, like 和 (hé) meaning “and.”

这些那些 (zhè xiē hé nà xiē) — these and those

Other Chinese conjunctions are used to connect clauses or sentences.

我想去海滩,下雨了。(wǒ xiǎng qù hǎi tān, dàn xià yǔ le.) — I want to go to the beach but it’s raining.

In some cases, two conjunctions can be used in a sentence, like 因为 (yīn wéi) and 所以 (suǒ yǐ) which mean “because” and “therefore” when used separately.

因为今天我生病了,所以我没有去上班。(yīn wéi jīn tiān wǒ shēng bìng le, suǒ yǐ wǒ méi yǒu qù shàng bān.) — Because I’m sick today, I didn’t go to work.

12. Particles

Particles are function words pronounced with the neutral fifth tone. They also don’t mean anything on their own. However, they do impart meaning when they’re included in sentences.

Particles are used to define the mood, time or relationship between sentence elements.

There are three categories of particles. Some particles have multiple functions and fall under more than one category.

Modal Particles

Literally translated as “tone words,” modal particles determine the mood or attitude of a statement.

A common modal particle would be 啊 (a), which is used to heighten the emotion of a statement. 啊 adds excitement or a sense of urgency.

快点(kuài diǎn a!)lit. Fast a bit! / Hurry up!

(ma), 吧 (ba) and 呢 (ne) are additional examples of modal particles that you can learn more about under the “Questions” section.

Aspect Particles

Since Chinese doesn’t operate with tenses, it relies on something called aspect particles.

Aspect particles indicate how a verb works in a given timeframe. They can show if an action is complete, ongoing, was ongoing for a period of time, etc.

(le) is an aspect particle that indicates a complete action. It’s like the simple past tense in English.

他们提前离开派对。(tā men tí qián lí kāi le pài duì.)lit. They early left party. / They left the party early.

了 can also work as a modal particle to show a sudden change in circumstance or state.

 


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Structural Particles

Lastly, structural particles are there to describe the relationship between content words. You can think of them as the glue that connects content words.

We’ve actually already come across a structural particle. Remember 的?

To reiterate, 的 is used to create the equivalent of English possessive pronouns, and generally shows one noun belonging to another.

Noun + + Noun

Here’s an example:

我们假期 (wǒ men de jià qī) — Our vacation

We’ve also already learned that it’s used to attach an adjective to a noun.

Another example of a structural particle is 得 (de), which is used to modify verbs.

Verb + + Complement

The complement is a phrase that describes the degree to which the action is done. In the phrase “sing really well,” “really well” would be the complement.

Here’s what it would look like in Chinese:

很好 (chàng de hěn hǎo) — Sing really well

13. Sentence Structure

Let’s talk about the basic sentence structures in Chinese that begin with the subject.

As you progress, you’ll learn some other constructions, but it’s best to start out with SVO sentences before getting more creative with your sentences.

 


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Basic Sentence Formulas

Subject + Verb + (Object)

Here’s one you should be very familiar with. Like in English, the most basic sentence structure in Chinese is SVO.

他吃牛排。(tā chī niú pái.) — He eats steak.

You can also have sentences without an object.

妈妈工作。(mā mā gōng zuò.) — Mom works.

Subject + Time When + Verb + (Object)

If you want to indicate an exact time for an action, you’d use this formula.

Let’s build off that SV sentence:

妈妈周末工作。(mā mā zhōu mò gōng zuò.)lit. Mom weekend works. / Mom works (on) weekends.

Subject + Time When + Location + Verb + (Object)

To add a location to that sentence, you’d add the preposition  + location in between the time when and the verb.

妈妈周末图书馆工作。(mā mā zhōu mò zài tú shū guǎn gōng zuò.)lit. Mom weekend at the library works. / Mom works at the library on weekends.

Subject + Time When + Verb + Location

If there is no object in the sentence, another way to incorporate location is by placing it at the end of your statement.

妈妈周末工作图书馆(mā mā zhōu mò gōng zuò zài tú shū guǎn.)lit. Mom weekend works at the library. / Mom works at the library on weekends.

Subject + Time When + Location + Verb + (Object) + Time Duration

Need to add more details? If you want to add a timeframe within the time when the action is carried out, place that time duration at the end of the statement.

妈妈周末在图书馆工作十个小(mā mā zhōu mò zài tú shū guǎn gōng zuò shí gè xiǎo shí.) — Mom weekend at the library works ten hours. / Mom works at the library for ten hours on weekends.

 


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Sentences Using 把 (bǎ)

The 把 sentence construction can be a bit challenging, and it doesn’t follow the basic sentence constructions mentioned above.

To put it simply, 把 sentences are used to emphasize what happened to or needs to be done to an object. This is different from the basic sentence patterns since the focus is on the subject doing the action.

It’s almost like the difference between “She takes out her wallet” and “She takes her wallet out of her pocket.”

In the first sentence, the spotlight is on the action of the woman, while the second sentence draws more attention to what’s specifically been done to the object.

There are certain conditions where a 把 sentence would be used:

  1. The object of the sentence had to be previously discussed.
  2. The verb is attached with specific details.

The most basic 把 construction looks like this:

Subject + 把 + Object + Verbal Phrase

Going back to that example from earlier, here’s what it would look like in Chinese:

钱包从口袋里拿了出来。(tā qián bāo cóng kǒu dài lǐ ná le chū lái.)lit. She put wallet from pocket inside take out. / She takes her wallet out of her pocket.

Although 把 on its own means “put” in English, it doesn’t get translated in a 把 sentence. 

Questions can also be formed using the 把 construction.

 


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14. Questions

Chinese: 问题 (wèn tí)

There are lots of different ways to ask questions in Chinese. Although some question formulas may be a little unfamiliar to you, they’re pretty straightforward.

There are a few ways of forming questions, such as using question words/interrogative pronouns or adding modal particles.

Questions Using Interrogative Pronouns

There are four basic formulas for forming questions featuring interrogative pronouns and other question words:

Question Word + Verb + (Object)

This one is similar to WH-questions in English and mostly for the question word 谁, as seen below:

要薯条?(shuí yào shǔ tiáo?)Who wants fries?

Question Word + Subject + Verb + (Object)

This is also a familiar format for English speakers which is used for the question word 哪个:

哪个有花生?(nǎ gè yǒu huā shēng?)Which (one) has peanuts?

Subject + Verb + Question Word + (Object)

Here’s where question formulas stray from English. This is the most common format, normally used for the question words like 哪里, 哪个, 什么, 什么时候 and 几个.

Subject + 是 +谁?

Here’s an example:

你要几个(nǐ yào jǐ gè?)lit. You want how many? / How many do you want?

It’s also used for questions asking, “Who is he/she?”

他们是谁?(tā men shì shuí?)lit. They are who? / Who are they?

Subject + Question Word + Verb + (Object)

This is the format for 什么, 什么时候 and 怎么.

什么时候离开?(nǐ shén me shí hòu lí kāi?)lit. You when leave? / When do you leave?

 


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Questions Using 吗 (ma)

If you want to ask simple Y/N questions in Chinese, you need to use the modal particle 吗.

These are super easy to formulate since you just tack 吗 onto the end of a sentence. This works with SVO sentences and other basic sentence structures.

To show you how effortless it is, take a look at the statement below:

她付账单。(tā fù zhàng dān.) — She pays the bills.

Add 吗 and you get:

她付账单吗?(tā fù zhàng dān ma?)Does she pay the bills?

Although there is no direct translation for 吗, it’s often understood as the auxiliary verb in English Y/N questions.

 


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Questions Using 吧 (ba)

吧 is reserved for questions where you’re seeking confirmation or looking for the person to agree with you. This is still kind of like a Y/N question where you’re expecting the answer to be “yes.”

Many learners tend to mix up 吧 and 吗 since they’re both used in Y/N questions. But if you take a bit of time understanding their nuanced grammatical uses, it’s actually not that difficult.

 


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In English, it’s the equivalent of adding “is/isn’t it?” or “right?” to the end of a statement.

Let’s use the sentence below as an example:

今天是最后期限。(jīn tiān shì zuì hòu qī xiàn.) — Today is the deadline.

Add 吧 to the end and your statement turns into a question seeking confirmation:

今天是最后期限吧?(jīn tiān shì zuì hòu qī xiàn ba?) — Today is the deadline, isn’t it?

If you want the person to agree with you instead of asking for confirmation, you’d use 对吧 (duì ba) instead. This is slightly more nuanced but it’s important to understand the differences here:

今天是最后期限,对吧?(jīn tiān shì zuì hòu qī xiàn, duì ba?) — Today is the deadline, right?

Questions Using 呢 (ne)

The modal particle 呢 is used to form “how/what about” and “and you?” questions. It comes up in conversation as a question after a statement is made.

Statement. Subject + 呢?

Here’s an example:

我不吃肉。你呢?(wǒ bù chī ròu. nǐ ne?) — I don’t eat meat. What about you? / How about you?/ And you?

You can also use 呢 when you want to ask where someone or something is. It’s also an alternative to a 哪里 question, normally working as a follow-up instead of a standalone question.

Missing object + 呢?

This is what it would look like in a dialogue:

A: 厨房在哪里?(chú fáng zài nǎ li?) — Where’s the kitchen?

B: 在走廊尽头。(zài zǒu láng jìn tóu.) — At the end of the hallway.

A: 厕所呢?(cè suǒ ne?)Where’s the bathroom? / What about the bathroom?

 


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15. Punctuation Marks

Last but not least, we have Chinese punctuation!

Knowing these tiny little marks makes a huge impact when it comes to learning Chinese grammar, helping you separate ideas correctly when writing in Chinese.

 


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Chinese punctuation marks are pretty simple, with many of them looking and functioning similarly to the ones in English.

问号 (wèn hào) — Question mark

叹号 (tàn hào) — Exclamation mark

冒号 (mào hào) — Colon

分号 (fēn hào) — Semicolon

()括号 (kuò hào) — Parentheses

The difference between these Chinese and English punctuation marks is only evident when typing. Typed Chinese punctuation normally includes a space after the mark—unless it’s an open parenthesis or quotation mark where the space precedes the mark.

Here are a couple of other familiar punctuation marks with slight stylistic variations.

逗号 (dòuhào) — comma

句号 (jùhào) — period

Of course, there are more variations of punctuation marks, as well as ones that are found just in Chinese.

One uniquely Chinese punctuation mark is the enumeration comma, which is used in place of the regular comma when listing multiple objects in a sentence.

顿号 (dùnhào) — enumeration comma

This is what it looks like in a sentence:

我需要买鸡蛋面包牛奶和橙汁。(wǒ xū yào mǎi jī dàn, miàn bāo, niú nǎi hé chéng zhī.) — I need to buy eggs, bread, milk and orange juice.

Note: Chinese punctuation marks are reserved for Chinese characters only. Use English punctuation marks for pinyin.

 

You made it!

I know that was a lot, but don’t worry if you don’t nail all these concepts right away. After all, understanding the logic behind the rules is already more than half the battle. Just hang in there, or 加油 (jiā yóu)!

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