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How To Successfully Build Sentences In The Chinese Language

By Ava, published on 28/11/2018 Blog > Languages > Chinese > How To Build Sentences In Mandarin?

It might surprise you to know that grammatically Chinese is reasonably easy to learn. Even though you have to learn a huge number of characters and Chinese words. According to the BBC, of the 50,000+ Chinese characters in Mandarin Chinese only 20,000 are in regular use and you only actually need to know 2-3000 Chinese words to read a newspaper.

When thinking of how to build sentences in Chinese, just call me the language learning tips fairy, you have now gone from having to learn 50,000 words to 3,000 in the space of reading this article. I have more good news too that there is no gender, no conjugations to learn, no singular or plural either plus all verbs stay in their infinitive form. Could it be that the hardest thing about Chinese language learning is the story that we are telling ourselves about how hard it is?.

Before you start jumping for joy at all of the things that you don’t have to learn while studying Mandarin Chinese. Let’s take a look at how to build a sentence in Chinese and what rules of grammar do exist to achieve this. Here are all of our tips for learning to write, progress and speak fluently in the language of Confucius!

Study Chinese to get better To build a sentence in Chinese, it is still necessary to know words in the language.
Photo Source: Unsplash

Why Learn About Sentence Structure In Mandarin?

Even if you are a beginner, you can already start to learn about the sentence structure for Mandarin. Using sentences as your base gives you access to many benefits including learning how to speak straight away and how people actually speak. You will also be learning about how tones are put together in the sentence and how words interact within sentences.

Learning About Sentence Structure Early On Is Essential:

  1. Because it is relatively easy, it gets some easy wins in your learning journey.
  2. Because sentences are the building blocks for all communication, so you get the tools to start talking relatively quickly.
  3. It is an excellent way to learn about Chinese grammar.
  4. You will get to see how tones interact with real sentences when using Pinyin. The Chinese pinyin is the romanization of Chinese for the foreigner to learn the language.
  5. You can begin to read Chinese characters also.

Grammar Rules For Constructing Sentences In Chinese

What great news to realise that there is no conjugation in Chinese! No time needs to be spent to express the future or past. Nor do you need to spend time on constructing the verb based on the subject. In constructing your sentences in Mandarin, you must always use the infinitive, whichever person you are speaking about.

So now you know that the majority of your time will not be spent trying to learn how to create verbs. Once you have mastered your verbs, you will be ready to start to construct sentences. Now all you have to do is learn about how to correctly use Chinese tones in Mandarin and how to read and write Chinese characters.

Verbs in Chinese have their place in the sentence, and as well as not changing from the infinitive form they also do not move around in the sentence. This means that all Chinese words in the sentence, such as adverbs, negations, place or time words, and prepositions, are all placed before the verb. This is done in a very structured way.

Simple Sentence Construction For Basic Mandarin

Learning how to make sentences in Chinese means that you should understand how you already make sentences in English. You have to understand the elements that you use to communicate, and then you can look at where they sit within the Chinese language.

Examples Of The Elements Of A Sentence

Every word in a sentence has a purpose within the structure of the sentence.

  1. The noun is the person, place or thing, e.g. brother, mouse, dog
  2. Subject the noun/s that perform the action e.g
  3. Adjectives describe the noun, e.g. funny, tall, colourful
  4. Verb creates the state of being or action within the sentence, e.g. Jump, Sit, Talk
  5. An adverb describes all other words but not nouns, e.g. loud, pretty, very
  6. Object; The noun/s that will interact with the object, e.g. Milk, bread and cheese
  7. Place describes where
  8. Time describes when

The simplicity of the Chinese sentence structure will allow you to focus on learning the words that you need, to create well-constructed sentences. As in 80% of cases, the Chinese sentence will be composed of a (Subject) + (Verb) + (Object).

There are over 50,000 words in the Chinese language One and the same sentence can have multiple writings. Photo Source: Unsplash

Understanding English Sentence Structure

Now if you think that Chinese is hard, have a go at refreshing your English grammar. Of course, as an English speaker, you know how to speak. But do you know ‘why’ you structure your sentences the way that you do? Somehow English speakers have learnt all of the grammatical rules that are required to speak English with great fluency. When you want to create a sentence in English, there are 5 sentence structures. Looking at creating five simple sentences in English you have the following.

  1. Subject+Verb, e.g. the boy Jumps.
  2. Subject+Verb+object, e.g. the child pets the cat.
  3. Subject+verb+adjective e.g. Tina is funny.
  4. Subject+Verb+adverb, e.g. Mario cries loudly.
  5. Subject+verb+noun, e.g. I am the mother.

All of these sentences can be lengthened by adding adjectives, adverbs, and objects. They can be combined with a coordinating conjunction (such as ‘and’) to create compound sentences, complex sentences or complex compound sentences. The complicated thing in English, however, is that there is some flexibility where you put some of the words in the sentence. This word order can change based on what you want to accentuate and highlight, or even just based on your own preference.

A Simple Sentence example is = (Subject)+(Verb)+(Object)+(Time)+(Place)

Understanding Chinese Sentence Structure

Chinese sentences can be simple or complex. The Simplest sentences would contain at least 2 parts (subject+verb/adjective).  Although the most common Simple Sentence structure is  (Subject)+(Verb)+(Object). This structure forms the base for building all other sentence structures in Mandarin Chinese. Simple sentences can also  include the following:

  1. The subject is the person or thing being dealt with
  2. The predicate is the part of the sentence containing the verb
  3. The object is a noun which is controlled by the verb
  4. Attributive works to modify the adjective or noun
  5. Adverb works to modify or qualify the adjective
  6. Complement Helps to support the predicate verb/adjective

Simple Sentence Examples

You will see in the below example that everything has its place in the sentence and while you can add more information to the sentence, it doesn’t change the order of the words.

  1. Subject+verb+object – (wǒ ài tā) I love him.
  2. Subject+adverb+verb+Object – (wǒ zhǐ ài tā) I only love him.
  3. Subject+adverb+verb+Attributive+Object – (wǒ zhǐ ài wǒ jì yì zhòng dì tā) I only love my memories of him.

Reading Chinese will help you to learn sentence structure Sentences are the foundation of the Chinese language. Photo Source: Unsplash

Make A Simple Phrase In Mandarin Chinese

When you see the characters of Mandarin, especially when viewing it presented in large volumes of books. You may think how difficult it is the learn Chinese and even more impossible to build a sentence in the language. Yet it is so easy because of the defined structure that is used in Chinese.

No grammar, no conjugations, no tenses or genders to learn, just a simple structure to remember. This makes starting with sentence structure great for beginners who may feel intimidated by the language.

The key thing to remember is the placement of the verb, which is very important. The right place for the verb to go is always after the subject.  In very basic sentences this can be shown in 2 ways:

  1. Subject + predicate,
  2. Subject + verb + complement.

For the first way, here are some examples:

  • Subject +Verb (Tā xiào) – he laughs.
  • Subject +Verb (Wǒ qù) – I leave.

Here are some examples of the second way:

  • Subject + verb + complement (Tā shuō zhōngwén) – he speaks Chinese.
  • Subject + verb + complement (Wǒ xiǎng chī zhōngguó cài) – I want to eat Chinese.
  • Subject + verb + complement (Nǐ yào zuò shénme) – what do you want to do?.

When the verb doesn’t fit perfectly into the sentence category. The sentence is extended to give information on age, nationality, date, time or price. Here are some examples :

  • How old are you? – Nǐ jǐ suì?
  • I am ten years old – Wǒ shì shí suì
  • Where are you from? Am I from Beijing – Nǐ cóng nǎlǐ lái? Wǒ láizì běijīng
  • He is a teacher – Tā shìgè lǎoshī
  • What time is it? It is three o’clock now. – Xiànzài shì jǐ diǎn? Xiànzài shì sān diǎn zhōng.

Even if the sentences are easy to build it still remains imperative to learn Chinese tones, Chinese vocabulary, Chinese verbs are essential. Learning to read and write is also very important for your learning Chinese and can be the catalyst to your fluency.

This article is just an introduction to Mandarin Chinese sentence structure, and I hope it has fuelled your passion for studying even more about this fantastic language and culture. Chinese is one of the oldest languages in the world with a rich history and civilization.

There are lots of things that we can do to discover Mandarin through words and phrases; plan some China travel, study in China, practice through speaking Chinese with Chinese people and connecting with Chinese speakers, meet new Chinese friends in Chinese online classes. Whatever you decide to do, it is time to learn to speak Chinese.

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