Chinese Pronouns: The Complete Beginner’s Guide
Learning pronouns in Chinese will help you construct your own sentences in the language.
Imagine chatting with a new Chinese acquaintance.
You might say: I am a teacher, and we are from the United States.
You can also ask them: Are you a student? Are they your friends?
All of those sentences contain pronouns!
That’s why I’ve broken down Chinese pronouns in this post, so you can start using them in your Chinese conversations.
- Personal Pronouns in Chinese
- The Formal “You” in Chinese
- Plural Pronouns in Chinese
- Possessive Pronouns in Chinese
- Demonstrative Pronouns in Chinese
- Reflexive Pronouns in Chinese
- Interrogative Pronouns in Chinese
- How to Practice Using Chinese Pronouns
Personal Pronouns in Chinese
For a quick review, pronouns are the words we use so we don’t have to use everyone’s names and titles every time we speak. In Chinese, they are:
You can start constructing simple sentences right away with 是 (shì), which means “to be.” For example:
我是学生。 (wǒ shì xué shēng.) — I am a student.
你是老师吗？ (nǐ shì lǎo shī ma?) — Are you a teacher?
她是法国人。 (tā shì fǎ guó rén.) — She is French.
他是歌手。 (tā shì gē shǒu.) — He is a singer.
While in English we would use direct object pronouns like me, her and him, the same words are used in Mandarin.
他给了她礼物。 (tā gěi le tā lǐ wù.) — He gave her a gift.
那是我的。 (nà shì wǒ de.) — That is mine.
给我那本书。 (gěi wǒ nà běn shū.) — Give me that book.
那是他的帽子。 (nà shì tā de mào zi.) — That is his hat.
You may have noticed that she, he and it are all pronounced tā with the first tone.
So, how do you tell the difference in spoken Chinese? You’ll have to rely on the context of the conversation.
The Formal “You” in Chinese
Chinese doesn’t have many formal versions of everyday words. There is one exception that’s fairly common though: 您 (nín), the formal version of “you.”
您 can be used any time you’re addressing someone formally. This could include addressing a boss or an elder. If you’re talking to someone you don’t know, using 您 is the most polite choice.
You’re most likely to hear 您 in greetings. For example:
您好 (nín hǎo) — Hello! (formal)
Plural Pronouns in Chinese
Although Chinese can often be a difficult language for English speakers to learn, pronouns are a relatively easy part of speech to study.
For example, to make pronouns plural (from “I” to “we” and “she/he” to “they,” etc.), you only need to add the suffix 们 (men).
- 我们 (wǒ men) — We
- 你们 (nǐ men) — You (plural)
- 他们 (tā men) — They
- 她们 (tā men) — They
- 它们 (tā men) — They
These plural Chinese pronouns will fit into sentences the way singular pronouns do. You can start building your vocabulary of verbs to use singular and plural Chinese pronouns in a range of contexts.
他们说英语。 (tā men shuō yīng yǔ.) — They speak English.
我们要牛肉汤。 (wǒ men yào niú ròu tāng.) — We want the beef soup.
我们可以去那里吗？ (wǒ men kě yǐ qù nà lǐ ma?) — Can we go there?
你们都玩得开心！ (nǐ men dōu wán de kāi xīn!) — You all have fun!
Possessive Pronouns in Chinese
Where in English we use entirely different words to indicate possession (my, her, our, etc.), Mandarin makes it easy again by using a grammatical construct with the pronouns you learned above to indicate possession.
Simply add the word 的 (de) after the pronoun to make it possessive.
- 我的 (wǒ de) — My, mine
- 你的 (nǐ de) — Your, yours
- 他的 (tā de) — His
- 她的 (tā de) — Her, hers
- 它的 (tā de) — Its
Now, put the pronoun + 的 in the correct spot to use it in a sentence.
这些苹果是她的。 (zhè xiē píng guǒ shì tā de.) — These apples are hers.
我们的房子有两间卧室。 (wǒ men de fáng zi yǒu liǎng jiān wò shì.) — Our house has two bedrooms.
Demonstrative Pronouns in Chinese
Demonstrative pronouns are used to point to a specific noun by using words like this and those.
Demonstrative pronouns are particularly helpful when beginning a new language, as you can use phrases with these pronouns to discuss objects you don’t know the word for.
这些是什么？ (zhè xiē shì shén me?) — What are these?
那叫什么？ (nà jiào shén me?) — What is that called?
那些多少钱？ (nà xiē duō shǎo qián?) — How much for those?
Reflexive Pronouns in Chinese
Yet again, Mandarin gives us a handy grammatical construction rather than a bunch of new words for using Chinese reflexive pronouns.
A reflexive pronoun is one that refers back to yourself or to himself, etc. In Chinese, use the word 自己 (zì jǐ) to make a pronoun reflexive.
- 我自己 (wǒ zì jǐ) — Myself
- 你自己 (nǐ zì jǐ) — Yourself
- 他自己 (tā zì jǐ) — Himself
- 她自己 (tā zì jǐ) — Herself
- 它自己 (tā zì jǐ) — Itself
Then, once again, insert the whole pronoun into the correct spot in the sentence:
我自己写的。 (wǒ zì jǐ xiě de.) — I wrote it myself.
她自己唱歌。 (tā zì jǐ chàng gē.) — She sang it herself.
他们自己完成了考试。 (tā men zì jǐ wán chéng le kǎo shì.) — They finished the exam themselves.
Interrogative Pronouns in Chinese
When learning English, we learn the interrogative pronouns as the “Five Ws”: who, what, when, where and why (though there are actually more than five interrogative pronouns).
Add additional interrogatives like how and which and you can who/what/when/where yourself through any social situation in Chinese.
- 谁 (shuí) — Who
- 什么 (shén me) — What
- 什么时候 (shén me shí hou) — When
- 哪儿 (nǎr) or 哪里 (nǎ lǐ ) — Where
- 为什么 (wèi shén me) — Why
- 怎么 (zěn me) — How
- 哪个 (nǎ gè) — Which
Once you know these words, you can learn a lot of information!
他是谁？ (tā shì shuí?) — Who is he?
你叫什么名字？ (nǐ jiào shén me míng zi?) — What is your name?
音乐会是什么时候？ (yīn yuè huì shì shén me shí hòu?) — When is the concert?
巴士在哪里？ (bā shì zài nǎ li?) — Where is the bus?
为什么取消课程？ (wèi shén me qǔ xiāo kè chéng?) — Why is class canceled?
我怎么写这个字？ (wǒ zěn me xiě zhè ge zì?) — How do I write this character?
你喜欢哪个？ (nǐ xǐ huān nǎ ge?) — Which one do you like?
How to Practice Using Chinese Pronouns
A great time to practice using pronouns in Chinese is when you’re chatting with your language exchange partner!
Other than tutoring or language exchange, here are three more helpful ways to practice:
- Listen to songs in Chinese. You can find translations of the lyrics to not only get a dose of culture but also see pronouns in action. Chinese love songs employ lots of “you” and “I,” for instance.
- Read Chinese news. By reading the news, you can see many examples of pronouns in Chinese while building both your vocabulary and grammatical knowledge. Plus, you can stay informed on topics that are important to you.
- Watch Chinese media. Chinese TV and movies are full of pronouns, but they might seem intimidating at first. With FluentU, you can employ expert-vetted subtitles and personalized flashcards to make sure you don’t miss anything in the authentic Mandarin video clips.
Learning to use Chinese pronouns will make you more confident with your Mandarin!