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9 Intermediate Chinese Grammar Patterns to Level Up Your Language Skills

It’s time to say goodbye to relying solely on simple Chinese sentence structures.

Maybe you already speak conversational Mandarin like a pro, and your native friends are impressed by your use of slang and your lack of an accent.

Though simple structures are incredibly useful, they can only take you so far.

Read on for nine intermediate Chinese grammar patterns that will take your abilities to the next level.

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Temporal Grammar Patterns

One reason people say that Chinese grammar is easy is because you can sometimes get by without sentence connectives. When the context is clear, you can list the phrases in order of what happened without any sentence connectives.

But to tell a good story, you want to be as clear as possible. The following two sentence patterns come in handy to clarify temporal order and avoid any confusion for your listeners or readers.

1. 一 + V (yī + V)

You have no doubt already learned this character for words like “one” and “a/an.” But you may not realize the extent to which you can use it.

This character can also indicate an action that occurred just once or something that lasts for a short time:

他喝口水才开始讲话。
(tā hè yī kǒu shuǐ cái kāi shǐ jiǎng huà.)
He drank a sip of water before he began to talk.

It also can be paired with 就 (jiù) or the more formal 便 (biàn), both meaning “then,” to indicate that something happened immediately after the first action. Think of it as a way to really emphasize what you’re about to say in your story, as in:

学生们来,老师走了。
(xué shēng men lái, lǎo shī jiù zǒu le.)
Once the students came, the teacher left.

2. 便 (biàn)

As mentioned above, 便 is simply a more formal way to say 就.

It is often used in written language, but it can be a great trick to sound more advanced in spoken Chinese, too. Try using 便 in place of 就 and see if any of your Chinese friends comment on your progress!

便 shows how one action leads to another, and indicates an outcome of a particular condition:

他昨天晚上没睡觉,今天便看起来很累。
(tā zuó tiān wǎn shàng méi shuì jiào, jīn tiān biàn kàn qǐ lái hěn lèi.)
He did not sleep last night, so today he looks tired.

她回家便忙着洗碗。
(tā huí jiā biàn máng zhe xǐ wǎn.)
Once she goes home, she starts washing the dishes.

Grammar Patterns for Contrast

Another common type of sentence pattern involves making a contrast. Sometimes you’ll want to make an abrupt turn and say the exact opposite to state or further emphasize your point.

There are many ways to do this in Mandarin, and the three structures below are great intermediate-level examples.

3. 又 (yòu)

You may have learned this character in other contexts, but it is also excellent for contradictions. Usually, this type of sentence will start off with one action and be followed by a contrasting action.

Here are some examples:

我相出去吃饭,怕花钱。
(wǒ xiāng chū qù chī fàn, yòu pà huā qián.)
I want to go out to eat, but I don’t want to spend the money.

她出去了,回来了。
(tā chū qù le, yòu huí lái le.)
She went out, then came back.

他们学了一年中文,放弃了。
(tā men xué le yī nián zhōng wén, yòu fàng qì le.)
They learned Chinese for a year and then gave up.

4. 还是 (hái shì)

Much like 又, 还是 (meaning “nevertheless”) is usually used when you’re describing one particular thing, but then you change your mind to an alternative; the first part of the sentence and the part following 还是 will be quite different.

The English equivalent here would be “but…still.” Take a look at some examples:

我在中国住了两年,最后还是回到了美国。
(wǒ zài zhōng guó zhù le liǎng nián, zuì hòu hái shì huí dào le měi guó.)
I lived in China for two years, but in the end I still moved back to the U.S.

她身体有些瘦弱,但她还是很漂亮。
(tā shēn tǐ yǒu xiē shòu ruò, dàn tā hái shì hěn piào liang.)
Her body is quite thin, but she is still very beautiful.

5. 却 (què)

This word, meaning “but,” is used in front of the verb in situations that contrast what has been previously said.

The simpler 可是 (kě shì), also meaning “but,” can be substituted with 却 to add a formal touch to your Chinese sentences.

大家都出去玩,我在家里一个人睡着。
(dà jiā dōu chū qù wán, wǒ què zài jiā lǐ yī gè rén shuì zhe.)
Everyone is outside playing, but I am at home alone sleeping.

Grammar Patterns for Emphasis

The third set of intermediate Chinese grammar structures we’ll cover are those for emphasizing current conditions. These sentence patterns are meant to denote the significance of certain parts of the conversation or story.

6. 随着 (suí zhe)

随着 is usually used to imply the cause of the main verb. In English, it’s equivalent to the word “as.”

For example:

随着节日的到来,商店又忙起来了。
(suí zhe jié rì de dào lái, shāng diàn yòu máng qǐ lái le.)
As the holidays are here, stores have become busy again.

很多树叶随着秋天的到来掉落到地上。
(hěn duō shù yè suí zhe qiū tiān de dào lái diào luò dào dì shàng.)
As autumn is here, many leaves are falling to the ground.

 7. 连 + N + 都 + V (lián + N + doū + V)

This structure is similar to the English “even,” and describes when something does or does not happen. It’s used where “N” is the actual subject or object of the verb “V”.

Example:

他很爱锻炼,生病时会跑步。
(tā hěn ài duàn liàn, lián shēng bìng shí doū huì pǎo bù.)
He loves to exercise; even when he is sick, he will run.

她弹琴弹得不好,小孩笑她。
(tā tán qín dàn dé bù hǎo, lián xiǎo hái dōu xiào tā.)
She does not play the piano very well; even little children laugh at her.

8. 不知为什么 (bù zhī wèi shén me)

This is an easy phrase to incorporate into your conversations, and it simply emphasizes that you are unsure why something did or did not happen. You should place it at the beginning of the sentence that you’re planning to describe.

It can be loosely translated as, “I don’t know why” or “for some reason.” For example:

不知为什么,她们很早就睡觉了。
(bù zhī wèi shén me, tā men hěn zǎo jiù shuì jiào le.)
For some reason, they decided to sleep early.

不知为什么,他今天心情不好。
(bù zhī wèi shén me, tā jīn tiān xīn qíng bù hǎo.)
I don’t know why, but he was in a bad mood today.

9. 怎么 (zěn me)

怎么, meaning “how” or “why,” is slightly different from 不知为什么, though these two phrases are more or less interchangeable.

不知为什么 expresses doubt through the statement, whereas 怎么 can express the same idea but in question form. Many times, 怎么 will act as a rhetorical question.

For example, you could take the English sentence from above, “I don’t know why, but he was in a bad mood today,” and express it in another way with 怎么:

他今天怎么心情不好?
(tā jīn tiān zěn me xīn qíng bù hǎo?)
Why was he in a bad mood today?

Here’s another example:

你中文怎么讲的这么好?
(nǐ zhōng wén zěn me jiǎng de zhè me hǎo?)
How do you speak Chinese so well?

Why Learn Intermediate Chinese Grammar Patterns

The most obvious reason is that learning more grammar will give you more Mandarin knowledge.

You could probably get by in China using only basic grammar. For every intermediate Chinese grammar pattern that exists, there will most likely be an easier way to say it.

But practicing intermediate grammar will help you in every aspect of Chinese learning—including reading, speaking and listening.

Once you learn the framework for new sentence patterns, it’s easy to add in existing vocabulary and practice by filling in the sentences. You can also find grammar exercises on the Mandarin Bean website, or you can check out a full-length grammar practice book, like this one.

You can also look for your new grammar structures in resources you already use, so you can see them in context. FluentU is one resource that works for this.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

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Practice enough, and soon people will ask you: “你中文怎么讲的这么好?”

Before you know it, you’ll be able to move up to even more advanced phrases!

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