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Grammar notes


One of the most common ways of forming a question in Chinese is to add 嗎 at the end of a statement. Hence ! (Hi!) becomes 你好嗎? (How are you?)


This is to be used to redirect the question originally addressed to you. Its meaning is equivalent to "and you?" "what about you?" or "how about you?"
A: 你好嗎?
How are you?
B: , 你呢?
I am fine, and you?

A: 你嗎?
Are you busy?
B: 我, 你呢?
I am not busy, what about you?

, ,

All three are adverbs, which should be placed before what they modify in Chinese. E.g., 很好, 也, 都好.

Sometimes 很 is not really employed to mean "very" if it is modifying a monosyllabic adjective such as 好. It is simply because to say 我好 is a bit abrupt and hence awkward with only a monosyllabic adjective as the predicate of the sentence. Therefore people usually add 很 before 好 to make the sentence sound natural: 我很好 in this case does not necessarily mean "I am very well", it may simply convey the meaning of "I am fine".

The order of these words: If all three adverbs occur in the same sentence, their order is 也 -- 都 -- 很:

N.B. 都 (both/all) is only used to refer to the items to the left of it. Hence it is wrong to say 都很好 ("all of them are fine"). One should say 很好.

vs. 不都

都不 indicates a complete negation whereas 不都 shows a partial negation:
None of them is busy.
Not all of them are busy.

None of us is a doctor.
Not all of us are doctors.

As an auxiliary word, 的 is used to indicate possession. It comes between the subject and the noun it modifies: , 我 etc.

In the case of kinship or as a reference to people, however, the possessive marker 的 can be omitted. Otherwise it cannot.

e.g. 你 = 你的弟弟, 我 = 我的爸爸

我很好 -- Adjectival sentence without verb "to be".

Unlike English, Chinese sentences can sometimes go without a verb. In the sentence 我很好, the adjectival phrase 很好 serves as the predicate for the sentence. No verb "to be" is needed as in English (I am very well). This is generally true of a sentence that has an adjective as its predicate, even in negative sentences.
e.g. 他們很忙, 我們不忙
They are very busy, we are not.
Notice that in other types of sentences, however, verb 是 should still be retained:
He is my friend.

I am not her elder brother.

Proper Response

Study the following two dialogues:
A: 你媽媽是大夫嗎?
Is your mother a doctor?
B: 是, 她是大夫.
Yes, she is a doctor.

A: 你媽媽忙嗎?
Is your mother busy?
B: 忙, 她很忙.
Yes, she is very busy.
To respond positively to a yes/no question, we often repeat the verb -- in the above case 是 and 忙 respectively -- as an equivalent to the English "yes" before making the statement itself. Note therefore that the response is not always 是.

Questions with interrogative words , ,

Unlike English which has to move such interrogative words as "what", "when", "who" etc to the beginning of the sentence to form a question, Chinese leaves the word order unchanged when forming questions using such interrogative words as 誰, 哪, 什麼, etc:

  1. 他是我弟弟. (He is my younger brother.)
    他是誰? (Who is he?)
  2. 他是我們. (He is our teacher.)
    誰是老師? (Who is your teacher?)
  3. 他是. (He is Chinese.)
    他是哪? (What is his nationality?)
  4. . (This is a map of China.)
    這是什麼地圖? (What map is this?)
  5. 是書. (That is a book.)
    那是什麼? (What is that?)
  6. 這是她的車. (This is her car.)
    這是誰的車? (Whose car is this?)
As is obvious, one simply replaces the relevant words, which are what one wants to ask about, with the interrogative words to form questions. No change of word order takes place.

Asking a person's name

There are several ways of asking a person's name, depending on who that person is.

  1. This is a very polite way of asking someone's name, literally "What is your honourable surname?". It is usually used to address one's elders or superiors, or someone of one's own age but to whom one wants to be polite. Notice, however, that the expression 貴姓 cannot be used when asking about a third person's name, or when referring to oneself.

    A: 您/你貴姓﹖
    What is your name?

    B: 我
    My name is Ding.
  2. 什麼﹖

    This is a plain form of asking a person's name. It is usually used to address people of one's own age or younger, or one's inferiors. If one wants to be a bit polite, can be added to the question:

    May I ask, what's your name?
    Unlike 貴姓, which is only used in the second person, 叫什麼 can be employed for all persons:

When asked 你姓什麼﹖you are supposed to give your last name first, and then as an option you can add your full name afterwards. But when asked 你叫什麼﹖you can give either your given name or your full name.

Word usage:

Both words mean "to study" or "to learn". Whereas 學習 can be used both transitively and intransitively, 學 is normally reserved for transitive use.

e.g. 我學()﹐她學(習)
I study Chinese, she studies French.
I study, my younger brother doesn't study.
In the second sentence, the word 習 cannot be omitted.

Grammar notes

  1. (to be at/in...) functions as a verb.

    To express the location or existence of something or somebody, use the following pattern:

    S + 在 + place/location word or phrase
    e.g. A: 你的地圖在
    B: 我的地圖在

    A: 你爸爸媽媽在哪兒﹖
    B: 他們在中國。
    If the location or place is known or obvious, it can be omitted:
    A: 在嗎﹖
    Is Gubo in [or: here]?

    B: 他﹐他在宿
    He is not here. He is at the students' dormitory.

  2. Nouns / personal pronouns + /那兒 as place words.
    e.g. A: 地圖在哪兒﹖
    B: 在我這兒。(or 在我那兒)

    A: 你的車在哪兒﹖
    B: 我的車在學生宿舍那兒。
    The choice of 這兒 and 那兒 depends on the distance between the object and the speaker. If it is close to the speaker, use 這兒; if not, use 那兒.
  3. The word order for Chinese place words

    Unlike English, Chinese place words start with the larger ones and proceed to the smaller ones. Hence the sentence "She lives in room 423, 4th floor at the student dorm at the college" will be 她學生宿舍。 Notice the exactly reverse order here, which is applicable to the address used when writing letters as well.

  4. To live (stay) at a place

    Most often one uses 住 to indicate that one lives or stays at a certain place. There are several patterns for the use of 住. For example, to say "I live here", one can have the following:

    S + 住 + place word (我住這兒)
    S + 住在 + place word (我住)
    S + 在 + place word + 住 (我在這兒住)
    All three sentences have the same meaning.
  5. Reading numbers for phone, room, building, ID, etc

    Unlike English, these sorts of Chinese numbers are read out digit by digit:

    English: # 1452 (number fourteen fifty-two)
    Chinese: # 1452 ()

The use of (to return something to someone)

When using 還 to indicate "return", use the following pattern:

S + 還 + (sb.) + sth.
e.g. 我還他
你還丁的車。(Notice here sb. is omitted.)
This pattern is only used for simple objects, i.e. the object to be returned is not a complex one such as 她媽媽的車, etc. Notice in the second example above, sb. is omitted because it would be awkward to say 你還丁云丁云的車, although grammatically it is correct. We will later learn the ways to express something more complicated.

In this phrase, 用 is a verb which can be used both transitively and intransitively (i.e. it can be used either with or without an object). 一下兒 is an adverbial of time indicating "a short while, a little while". If an object is to be used for 用 in the above phrase, it should be placed after 一下兒:

Is it all right for me to use your book for a short while?
They want to use your dad's car for a little while.

Time Word

Time words in Chinese are normally placed in one of two positions in a sentence: before or after the subject.

Now she is going to the college to return books.
or 她現在去學院還書。


常 in the sense of "often" can often be reduplicated as 常常 without a change of meaning. Thus, 他常 = 他常常喝茶, 我們常去書 = 我們常常去看書.

In making negative sentences, however, 常 is normally not reduplicated. Hence 他不常喝茶, 我們不常去看書.

Affirmative-Negative questions

An alternative way of forming a question is to juxtapose the affirmative and negative forms of the predicative verb or adjective:

她是中國人嗎﹖becomes 她中國人﹖
你忙嗎﹖becomes 你忙不忙﹖
他嗎﹖becomes 你認識不認識他﹖
  1. If the verb or adjective is composed of a single word, then repeat the single word; if two or more words, then repeat them all:
    忙不忙, 認識不認識, 不介紹
  2. If the predicative verb takes an object, it is usually only the verb that gets repeated, not the noun following it:
  3. Sometimes if the object of the verb is not long, one can use the form of "V + object + 不 + V ?" as well, although this is not as common:
  4. As in questions with interrogative words (誰, 什麼, etc), affirmative-negative questions do not take 嗎 at the end.
  5. If an adverb such as 常, 都, 也 or 很 comes before the predicative verb or adjective, do not use the affirmative-negative form but use 嗎 instead:
    but not 你們都去不去中國﹖

    but not 他常喝不喝咖啡﹖
    Notice, however, that this rule applies only when those adverbs come before the predicative verbs or adjectives. Compare:

    1. 她很忙嗎﹖ but not 她很忙不忙﹖
    2. 她是很好大夫嗎﹖ 她是不是很好的大夫﹖
    The second instance is acceptable because 很 comes after the predicative verb 是.
  6. If there is more than one verb in a sentence, usually only the first verb gets the affirmative-negative form in the question:
    你去嗎﹖becomes 你去不去商店買紙﹖
    他們嗎﹖ becomes 他們歡迎我來﹖

and 都

In Chinese, 和 as a conjunction is normally used to connect two words or phrases, never two clauses or sentences:

but not 我弟弟是學生﹐和我哥哥也是學生。
nor 你學習法語﹐和我也學習法語。

The adverb 都 is placed between the subject and the predicative verb or adjective. It governs only the elements before it:

我們都去中國。 (All of us go to China: 都 modifies 我們.)
but not 都我們去中國。

This is also wrong:

because 都 modifies 我 and not 漢語和法語. If "both Chinese and French" is intended in the above sentence, the objects 漢語和法語 should be placed before 都:
or 漢語和法語都我學。

The verb expressing possession and existence

The verb 有 in Chinese can mean both possession and existence, like the English "to have" and "there is" or "there are":

She has a Chinese dictionary.
There are a lot of foreign students in our college.


  1. To negate 有, one uses instead of 不:
    I have an elder brother, but no elder sister.
  2. Informally in a negative sentence, 有 can sometimes be omitted:
    My friend does not have books, nor pens.
    There is no one in our dorm now.
  3. The affirmative-negative question form is "... 有沒有 ... ?"

    Sometimes, if the object of 有 is not long, one can use the form "... 有 + object + 沒有 ?" as well, although this form is not as common as the previous one.


Prepositional construction with 在 (in, at) and (for, to)

The object of 在 is often a place-word and the object of 給 is often the beneficiary of the action expressed by the predicative verb. In Chinese, a prepositional construction comes before the verb it modifies:

She works in a bank.
but not 她工作在銀行。

Let me introduce you to one another.
but not 我介紹一下兒給你們。

To form a negative sentence, 不 is placed before the prepositional construction:

I am not going to introduce you.

Adverbs such as 常, 都, 也 are also placed before the prepositional construction:

我們都在 City Lit 學院學習漢語。
We all study Chinese at the City Lit.
Do you often write to your mother?
My dad also often writes to me.

Word usage:

The word 想 in Chinese carries various meanings:

  1. 想 + noun/noun-phrase = to miss somebody/something:
    Ding Yun misses her family very much.
    I miss my parents very much.
    Don't you miss your boyfriend?
    Do you miss her?
  2. 想 + verb/verb-phrase = to want to do something:
    A: 你想去商店嗎﹖
    Do you want to go to the shop?
    B: 我不想去。
    I don't want to go.

    A: 你想不想學法語﹖
    Do you want to study French?
    B: 我也想學法語。
    I also want to study French.
  3. 想 + clause = to think/suppose something:
    I think she is Chinese.
    I think her parents are both doctors.
    N.B. to negate a sentence with 想 in this capacity, put the negative adverb in the subordinate clause, not in the main clause as in English:
    I don't think she is Chinese.
    but not 我不想她是中國人。

N.B. 想 as a verb can use the affirmative-negative question form only in senses 1 and 2 above, not in 3.

Word usage:

告訴 means "to tell". In English, the verb "tell" can mean to tell somebody something, or to tell somebody to do something. The Chinese verb 告訴 can only be applied to the first of these patterns.

e.g. 她告訴我她的工作。
She told me her work.
I'll tell mother you are a good friend of mine.
but not 我告訴他給我寫信。
I told him to write to me.

Notice the element following the indirect object (i.e. 我, 媽媽) of 告訴 in the first and second sentences is either a noun, a noun-phrase or a clause, but never a verb-phrase. The last sentence is wrong because it uses the pattern "to tell somebody to do something" and hence uses a verb-phrase for its direct object. In this case, we should use 叫 or in place of 告訴 to make a correct sentence:

I asked him to write to me.

The Numbers in Chinese

For Arabic numerals 0 to 10, the Chinese equivalents are:

○ (or ), 一, 二, 三, 四, 五, , , , ,
Further on, they are:
= 11, = 12, = 19
= 20, = 21, = 28
= 30, = 40, = 90, 九十九 = 99

= 100
一百零一 = 101, 一百十 = 110, 一百十一 = 111
= 327, 九零九 = 909

= 1000
一 = 1001, 零四十 = 5040, = 8725

= 10,000
零八百零一 = 40,801

= 100,000,000


  1. Numbers like 15 are written e.g. , not 一十五.

  2. A zero is pronounced or written when sandwiched by two digits: 101 is 一百零一, and 3020 is 零二十. Notice the last zero in 3020 is not pronounced because it is not between two other digits.

    If there are two or more zeroes in succession between two non-zero digits, as in 1001, only one is pronounced: 一千零一. However, if the two or more zeroes are separate and also sandwiched, as in 40,801, each is read as normal: 四萬零八百零一.

Grammar notes

  1. Measure words

    In Chinese, when a noun is modified by numerals, demonstrative pronouns such as 這 or 那, or interrogative pronouns such as 哪 or , a specific measure word should be placed between the noun and its modifier(s):

    書, 十五學生, 老師, , 幾本詞典
  2. 幾 and

    Both of these can be used to mean "how many" or "how much". Whereas 幾 should be used with a measure word, 多少 can be used either with or without a measure word for the noun it modifies.


    The measure word 本 is a must for the first sentence, but only optional in the second.

    Also, when 幾 is used, the expected answer is usually under 10, whereas 多少 can be used whether one expects a large or small answer.

  3. Chinese verbs that take direct and indirect objects

    As in English, some verbs in Chinese can take two objects: direct object (usually a thing) and indirect object (usually a person).

    In this sentence, 教 is a verb that takes 我們 as the indirect object and 法語 as the direct object. Generally the indirect goes before the direct object. Some other verbs that work the same way include 還, 告訴 and .

    Not all Chinese verbs can take two objects: it would be wrong to say 他買我一本書 (He bought me a book), or 她我一信 (She wrote me a letter). The correct way of saying these would be to use 給, as in 他給我買一本書 and 她給我寫一封信.

  4. Adjectives as modifiers

    When an adjective modifies a noun, it is placed directly before the noun as in English:

    new book
    good friend
    However, when the adjective modifier is made up of two or more syllables, the particle 的 is usually inserted between the modifier and the noun it modifies:
    very new book
    very good friend

Word usage: 也 and 還

也 is used to mean "the same" as the previous statement. Hence the relationship between the statement introduced by 也 and the previous one is a parallel relationship. 還, on the other hand, introduces an additional element to the previous statement.
e.g. 你﹐我也有一個問題。
You have a question; I also have a question. The two are parallel here.
I have already had some questions, but I still have one more. This is in addition to the previous ones.
Under certain circumstances, 也 and 還 are interchangeable, but with different emphasis:
Although both sentences can be roughly translated as "Professor Wang teaches us Chinese characters and grammar; he also teaches us conversation", their emphasis is different: the first sentence stresses the fact that Wang teaches conversation in addition to the other subjects he teaches, whereas the second simply enumerates the three subjects he teaches without prioritization.

Grammar notes

  1. 的 construction

    A modifier (normally either a noun, a pronoun, a verb or an adjective) with the word 的 can function as a noun or noun-phrase in a sentence, and can stand by itself if the context is clear:

    This skirt is my sister's. Noun + 的)
    Which dictionary is yours? Pronoun + 的
    Is your father's car a white one? Adjective + 的
    What sort of tea do you drink? Verb + 的
    These constructions normally involve the verb 是 (or 不是).
  2. Usage of

    從 + place word + 去 = to go from; 從 + place word + 來 = to come from.

    e.g. 你從哪兒來﹖
    Where did you come from?
    I came from the library.
    We are going from my home to the theatre tonight.
  3. Noun/Pronoun + 這兒 / 那兒 = over here/there at ...'s place

    When a noun or pronoun is added to 這兒 or 那兒, they function as a place word or expression. Since one cannot say 我去她 (I went to her), one can say instead 我去她那兒 (I went to her place), because 她那兒 is now regarded as a place expression. Similarly one cannot say 你的裙子在我 (Your skirt is with me), but one can say 你的裙子在我這兒 (Your skirt is with me). More examples:

    Your book is at his place.
    We all went to my sister's place.
    The teacher is coming to my place to look for her.
    As is obvious, if the place or the person is away from the speaker, use 那兒; if the place is near the speaker or refers to the speaker himself or herself, use 這兒.
  4. + adjective +

    This pattern is often used for emphatic purposes. An adjective is used between 太 and 了:

    Too busy!
    Too big!

    The expression ﹗, however, has a positive meaning, expressing satisfaction or admiration.

Word study: 二 vs.

These both mean "two", and are used as follows.

  1. When "2" is followed by a measure word, use 兩:
    人, 兩本書, 了兩, 去了
  2. 二 should be used in a number greater than 10, even if it is followed by a measure word:
    , 一百零, 十二, 五千八百
    There are some more restrictions, though:

    1. Only 二 can be used before the character 十; before the character 百, 二 is usually employed but 兩 may also be used:
      二十, 二十五, 二百元 or 五十元
    2. For numbers like , 萬 or , 兩 is used more often than 二:
      元 (also 二千元), 兩萬三千八, 兩億
    3. If the number is greater than 百, 千, 萬, i.e. if there are more digits before 百, 千 or 萬, then put 二 instead of 兩 in front:
      四億二, 二千人, 五千二百元


The following are ways of telling the time in Chinese:

A: 現在幾
B: 現在...
十點 (or 十點三十)10:30
三點一 (or 三點十五分)3:15
十二點三刻 (or 十二點四十)12:45
兩點五分 (or 差五分兩點)1:55
Some notes:
  1. When zero is flanked by two digits, it is normally read as 零, as in 三點零 (3:08) or 十二點零 (12:03).
  2. When the minutes are greater than 10, the word 分 is optional:
    七點十五 or 七點十五分
  3. "This morning" is , not for example 上午; "every afternoon" is , not 下午.

Placement of time-words

A time-word or -expression is normally placed either after the subject or at the beginning of a sentence:

Some notes:
  1. A time-word does not take a preposition:
    but not 我在三點下課
  2. A time-word should not be placed at the end of a sentence:
    She came in the evening.
    or 晚上她來
    but not 她來晚上
  3. If you have more than one time-word, the bigger unit goes before the smaller:
    at 8 o'clock this evening
  4. If you have both time-word and place-word, usually the time-word goes first:
    When and where are you going to have your class tomorrow?
  5. Time-word + 的 + noun (time-words modifying nouns)
    A: 你想看幾點的
    What show do you want to see? literally What time's film do you want to see?
    B: 我想看十二點半的(電影)。
    I want to see the film at 12:30 at noon.

    A: 這是今天的嗎﹖
    Is this today's paper?
    B: 不是今天的報﹐是的。
    It isn't today's paper, it's yesterday's.

The use of the time-words and

When used by itself, 以前 means "previously" or "before" and 以後 means "later", "afterwards" or "in the future":
I was a student before; now I am a teacher.
Where did you work before?
I did not live in a dormitory before, but now I do.

When used together with a time-word or verb phrase, 以前 means "before..." and 以後 means "after...":

I won't go home before 10.
I read books in the reading-room before I go home.
He has been working here after he came to America.
What do you do in your dorm after 10:30?

N.B. When 以前 or 以後 is used together with a time-word or verb phrase to mean "before" or "after", the word order is exactly the opposite of the English equivalent:

before 4 o'clock
before the class is over
after tomorrow evening (or night)
after returning to the dormitory

A B () + verb/verb-phrase

跟 as a preposition means "with", and 一起 means "together". This pattern is used to indicate that A and B do something together. Here 跟 can be replaced with 和 without changing the meaning; and the phrase 一起 is optional.

e.g. 我跟 (or 和) 她去看電影。
I go to see a film with her.
She and I go to see a film together.)
With whom are you going to the theatre tonight?

A: 晚上你有嗎﹖跟我一起去看﹐好嗎﹖
Do you have anything to do tonight? Come with me to the Beijing opera!
B: 我不想跟你去﹐我想跟我男朋友一起去。
I don't want to go with you, I want to go with my boyfriend.

N.B. This pattern of A 跟 B (一起) is always placed before the main verb in the sentence. Hence the following sentence, with English word order, is wrong:

I want to go together with my boyfriend.

Alternative Questions using

In Chinese, an alternative question is formed by using 還是 to connect two choices, which can be nouns, noun phrases, verbs, verb phrases, or clauses:

還是﹖ (nouns)
這本書是你的還是她的﹖ (noun phrases)
下午你來還是不來﹖ (verbs)
還是聽﹖ (verb phrases)
今天晚上你來我這兒還是我去你那兒﹖ (clauses)
  1. the two items connected by 還是 are normally parallel in structure; and
  2. as with affirmative-negative questions and questions with interrogative words, alternative questions do not have 嗎 at the end.

Pivotal Sentences with 請, , 叫

In Chinese a sentence can contain several verbs. A pivotal sentence is one in which the object of the first verb is at the same time the subject of the following verb. This object therefore functions as a pivot, connecting the two verb clauses in the sentence.

The first verb in a pivotal sentence is often a causative verb (to cause something to happen) such as 請, 讓 or 叫. All three carry the meaning of asking somebody to do something. Of the three, 請 is the most polite; 讓 is less so, and 叫 is the least polite. So watch out for the occasions when these verbs can be used appropriately. Observe:

The students asked Professor Wang to introduce Chinese music.
The teacher asked students to write Chinese characters every day.
Dad asked his child to study Chinese.

Notice that although the English equivalents all employ "to ask", the Chinese sentences use different words to indicate various degrees of politeness.


  1. Besides the use of 請 above (meaning "to ask someone to do something"), 請 can also be used to mean "to invite":
    We invited him to dinner.
    Do you want to invite him to a movie tonight?
  2. To negate a pivotal sentence, put the negative adverb 不 before the first verb:
    My doctor doesn't let me drink alcohol.

    They did not invite me to go to the pictures.

Word usage: and

別 and 不要 both mean "do not". They can be used in negative imperative sentences with or without a subject. They are placed between the subject (if present) and the verb or adjective:
(你) 別 (or 不要) 告訴他﹗
別喝酒﹗ 別去那兒﹗
不要﹗ 下午不要去﹗

Neither of these can be used to indicate negation in declarative sentences. It is wrong to say 爸爸別請他. One can say instead 爸爸不請他走.

Expressions for the date, week, month and year

  1. , year
    1. = last year; = this year; = next year
    2. 年, , ...
    3. = one year; 兩年 = two years (not 二年); = three years
      = every year; 半 = five-and-a-half years
  2. , month
    1. = last month; = this month; = next month
    2. = January; = February (not 兩月); ... 二十月 = December
  3. , week
    1. 上 (個) 星期 = last week; 這 (個) 星期 = this week; (個) 星期 = next week
    2. = Monday; = Tuesday; ... = Saturday; or = Sunday
    3. 一 (個) 星期 = one week; 兩 (個) 星期 = two weeks (not 二 (個) 星期); 三 (個) 星期 = three weeks; 半星期 = four-and-a-half weeks; ... 每 (個) 星期 = every week
  4. / 號 / date

    Use 日 or 號 for a specific date. Usually 日 is used in written and formal language and 號 is used in conversation. The word 天 should be used in counting the number of days:

    1. 作天 = yesterday; 今天 = today; 明天 = tomorrow
    2. ; 二號 (not 兩號); ... 三十一號
      ; 二十五日; ...
    3. = one day; 兩天 = two days (not 二天); ... = half a day; 每天 = every day

Some notes:

  1. When there are several units, the bigger comes first and the calendar date comes before the day of the week:
  2. Notice the following special ways of expressing the date and month:
    the May of this year (whether it has passed or not)
    the August of last year
    the February of next year

    這 (個)
    the Friday of this week (whether it has passed or not)
    上 (個) 星期一
    the Monday of last week
    下 (個)
    the Thursday of next week

    Note the English phrase "last Monday" may therefore be rendered as 這個星期一, if Monday has already passed and the phrase is therefore referring to Monday of this week. The same applies for future days, and for months.

Verb or verb-phrase as a modifier for a noun

Two points need to be observed when using a verb or verb-phrase as a modified to form a relative clause:

  1. Unlike in English, all modifiers go before the element they modify in Chinese:
  2. The word 的 has to be inserted between the modifier and the element it modifies:
    The film I saw this afternoon was very interesting.
    The person who opened the door for you was my younger sister.
    The girl who danced with him was my classmate.

Other grammar notes

  1. Sentences with an adjectival predicate

    The verb 是 is not normally used in the predicate for a sentence where the main element of the predicate is an adjective:


    In an affirmative sentence of this type, if the adjective is not preceded by adverbs such as , 太, 非常 or , it is usually qualified by the adverb 很. In such cases, 很 does not really mean "very"; 他很忙 and 他忙 mean virtually the same.

    Also, adverbs such as 很, 常, 也, 非常, 太 or 更 cannot be used in affirmative-negative sentences of this type:

    你高興不高興﹖ but not 你很高興不很高興﹖
    她年輕不年輕﹖ but not 她非常高興不非常高興﹖
    你去不去﹖ but not 你也去不去﹖
  2. 你 vs

    In general, 祝你 is used to extend well-wishes in advance whereas 祝賀你 is used to congratulate someone on something already accomplished:

    祝你好﹗ (One can say this on the day, or in advance.)
    祝賀你﹗ (Say this only when something has already been accomplished.)
  3. Reduplication of verbs

    To indicate that an action is only of a short duration or to soften the tone of a sentence in order to make it less formal, a verb can be repeated:

    我給你們介紹介紹。 (Notice the pattern is ABAB, not AABB.)
    In the case of a monosyllabic verb, the character 一 can be inserted:
    Repeating a verb has the same effect as using the adverb 一下兒 after the verb:
    用一下兒 = 用用 = 用一用
    看一下兒 = 看看 = 看一看
    介紹一下兒 = 介紹介紹

Position words

Words such as , , , , are position words. Some of the basic syllables are:

 上 - up 
- left  - middle  - right
 下 - down 
- front   - in
後 - back   - out

Usually, add to make "on the left", "above", "outside" etc.

Position words can be used in two ways. Compare:

  1. Noun (+ 的) + position word:
    outside the car
    behind the house
    opposite the table
  2. Position word + 的 + noun (here the 的 is mandatory).
    the car outside (i.e. the car which is outside)
    the house behind (the house which is behind)
    the opposite table (the table which is opposite / across the way)


  1. When 上邊, , 裡邊 and 外邊 are modified by other nouns, the character 邊 can be omitted:
    inside the house
    on the table
    outside the classroom
  2. Do not use 裡邊 in the following two cases:

    1. After geographical names such as 中國, etc:
      She studies Chinese in Beijing.
      but not 她在北京裡邊學習漢語。

      There are many universities in America.
      but not 美國裡邊有很多大學。
    2. In a phrase of the form "在 + place, building or organisation":
      I work in a bank.
      but not 我在銀行裡邊工作。

      They are reading books in the reading-room.
      but not 他們在閱覽室裡邊看書。

Patterns for Location

There are three ways to indicate the location of something, using 在, 有 and 是 respectively and with different meanings:

  1. To show that there is something in a certain place: 有

    Position word + 有 + indefinite noun:

    What is behind?
    There is a garage behind.
    Across from our home, there is a park.
  2. To show that certain things exist in certain places: 在

    Definite noun + 在 + position word:

    Where is the garden?
    The garden is behind our house.
    花園房 (的)
    The garden is to the right of the garage.
  3. To identify something that is known to exist at a certain place: 是

    Position word + 是 + definite/indefinite noun:

    What's behind your house?
    Behind our house is a garden.
    In front of their house is the college library.

Progressive aspect of an action

To show an action which is, was or will be going on, use one of the following patterns:

She is resting.



  1. All the above sentences mean the same, stylistic differences excepted.
  2. The progressive aspect can be applied not only to the present, but also to past and future actions:
    She is resting now. present progressive
    When I went there, she was resting. past progressive
    When I go to see her tomorrow, she will surely be resting. future progressive
  3. As shown above, either 在, 正 or 正在 can be placed before a verb to indicate the progressive aspect of an action.
  4. Alternatively, 呢 can be placed at the end of the sentence to perform the same function. Sometimes 呢 can be used together with 在, 正 or 正在.
  5. The negative form of the progressive aspect is indicated by 沒有, not 不, before the verb; and it can be shortened to 沒 alone if it is not at the end of a sentence or a short answer. Otherwise the full form of 沒有 must be used:
    她在休息嗎﹖沒有﹐她在看報。(or simply 沒有)
  6. If both the 在 of the progressive aspect and the 在 of location exist in a sentence, only one should be used:
    but not 她正在在房間里休息。

Subject-predicate constructions as modifiers

An entire subject-predicate construction (a sentence or clause) such as 我給她, 他今天買, 我們去北京 can be used as a modifier for a noun. When used this way, there must be a 的 inserted between the construction and the noun it modifies:

When I called her, she was eating.
The flowers he bought today are very pretty.
Please take a look at the pictures we took while visiting Beijing.
Who wrote this letter to you?

The subject-predicate construction always goes immediately before the 的, which goes immediately before the noun to be modified.

Word usage: 參觀 vs.

Both terms can be translated as "to visit" in English. However, while 參觀 implies (to see), 訪問 stresses 問 (to ask). Hence 參觀 really implies observation while visiting and 訪問 means to visit people with specific purpose such as interviews. 參觀 can be followed by places but not people; whereas 訪問 can take either, but most commonly people.


Grammar Notes

  1. Measure word

    些 is a measure word showing indefinite quantity. It is usually used after demonstrative pronouns such as 這, 那, 哪 and after the numeral 一:

    which (plural)

    Don't attempt to mix 些 with definite measures. It is wrong to say 這些三本詞典 (these three dictionaries); one can only say 這三本詞典.

  2. 是 . . . 的 construction

    Earlier we saw the construction with simple nouns, pronouns or adjectives:

    這本書是中文的。= 這本書中文的書。
    那條裙子是妹妹的。= 那條裙子是妹妹的裙子。
    姐姐的的。= 姐姐的大衣是黑的大衣。
    But the 是 . . . 的 construction can also be used with prepositional phrases and even whole verbal constructions:
    那些是給丁雲的。= 那些點心是丁雲的點心。
    Those pastries are for Ding Yun.
    花兒是我給她買的。= 這束花兒我給她買的花兒。
    This bunch of flowers is the one I bought for her.
    這本書是我學的圖書館的。= 這本書是我在大學的圖書館借的書。
    This book is the one I borrowed from the university library.

The use of the Complement of Degree

What is a complement?

A complement is a word or phrase attached after a verb to explain or complete the meaning of the action. Complements are used to show duration, extent, quantity, degree, result, direction or possibility of an action. Complements always appear after the verbs they modify.

We know that in Chinese modifiers are generally placed before the words they modify; so why do complements appear after? It's because Chinese word order often observes the time sequence in which an action occurs. Notice, for example:

Yesterday evening we went to the cinema from the bookshop.
Since one has to leave the bookshop before going to the cinema, the Chinese sentence follows this time sequence. Similarly, since a verbal action has to take place first, before one can see its extent or result, the complement placed after the verb observes this time sequence.

The complement of degree

This is used to show the extent or degree of an action. Normally adjectives are used for the complement, and the structural particle is used to connect the verb and its complement:

How is he studying?
He's studying very well.
The basic patterns for the complement of degree are as follows:

  1. Verb without object: V + 得 + adjective
  2. Verb with object: V + O + V + 得 + adjective
  3. Verb with preposed object: O + V + 得 + adjective
Place 不 before the adjective to make the negative:

  1. V + 得 + 不 + adjective
    得不好﹐ 得不好。
Questions are formed as follows:

  1. . . . 得 adjective 不 adjective?
  2. . . . 得怎麼樣﹖
  3. . . . 得 adjective 嗎﹖
Note that the complement of degree cannot be used with verbs such as 有, 在 or 是, since those verbs normally do not denote actions.

The difference between 呢 and as sentence-ending particles

Either term can be used to soften the tone when placed at the end of a question. However, they differ in usage.

In questions

呢 is primarily used to indicate a mood of enquiry. It may appear in questions with interrogative words such as 什麼 or 哪兒; affirmative-negative questions such as 有沒有呢﹖吃呢﹖; or alternative questions with 還是, such as 吃還是呢﹖

吧, on the other hand, is employed at the end of a question to indicate a mood of uncertainty or speculation on the part of the speaker: 在這兒吧﹖ 你吧﹖

In affirmative statements

呢 in this case is used to indicate the progressive aspect of an action (e.g. 她學中文呢), or to affirm some fact, sometimes with exaggeration (e.g. 晚上電影九點呢。 從這兒去要走呢。)

吧 is often added at the end of an imperative sentence to soften the tone, as in 我們走吧。 你想想吧。

The use of optative verbs

Optative or auxiliary verbs are those placed before other verbs to express intention, wishes, possibility etc.
  1. To express subjective wish, desire or request:

    1. 要 + verb = to want to
    2. 想 + verb = would like to
  2. To express objective necessity:

    1. 要 + verb = to have to (especially in questions)
      Do I have to come tomorrow?
      We have to go.
    2. + verb = don't have to
      You don't have to come tomorrow.
  3. To express ability or skill acquired:

    1. + verb = can, be able to
    2. + verb = can, be able to
    3. + verb = can, be able to
  4. To express ability depending on circumstances:

    1. 能 + verb = can, be able to
    2. 可以 + verb = can, be able to
    Note, in both cases use for negative sentences.
  5. To express permission:

    1. 能 + verb = may, be permitted to
      你不能 (or ) 在這兒停車。
    2. 可以 + verb = may, be permitted to
      你不可以 (or 不能) 在這兒吸煙。
  6. To express possibility or probability:

    1. 會 + verb = be likely to, will probably
  7. To express need arising from moral or factual necessity:

    1. + verb = should, ought to
  1. To make a negation, put the negative word 不 or 沒有 before the optative verb:
  2. To form an affirmative-negative question, alternate the optative verb instead of the main verb in the sentence:
    but not 你會唱不唱中國民歌﹖
  3. It is possible to use more than one optative verb in a sentence:

The use of adverbs and 才

就 and 才 are often used before the main verb to indicate the speaker's attitude as to whether the action expressed by the main verb is earlier (就) or later (才) than expected:
They came as early as 3 o'clock, but you came as late as now.
We are old friends, and we came to know each other as early as ten years ago.
She is not a classmate of mine. I just got to know her a week ago.
Compare the following sentences:
(The speaker indicates their eagerness in going to China as soon as this year.)
(The speaker indicates that, although going to China this year, they should have gone earlier.)
As shown in the above sentences, when there is a time-word in a sentence, 就 and 才 should be placed after it; when there is an optative verb, on the other hand, 就 and 才 should be placed before it. Here is the pattern:
Time-word + 就/才 + optative verb + main verb

Word usage: , 還是

Both of these conjunctions can be translated as "or" in English, but they differ in usage: in general, 或者 is used in non-interrogative sentences to indicate a choice:
還是, on the other hand, is more often than not reserved for alternative questions:
It can also be used in subordinate clauses with verbs such as , 告訴 etc:
In cases in which both 或者 and 還是 can appear in questions, there are some subtle differences in their anticipations and tones:
  1. A: 你想去中國還是日本﹖
    B: 我想去中國。
  2. A: 你想去中國或者日本嗎﹖
    B: 我想去﹐我兩個都想去。
In dialogue 1, A asks an alternative question which anticipates a choice from the answer. The two terms with 還是 are mutually exclusive. In dialogue 2, the question is a general one using 嗎 at the end. It does not anticipate a strict choice from the answer, so B can give a general answer: 我想去 -- yes, I do -- and then add his more specific thought: 我兩個地方都想去. The two items with 或者 in the question are therefore not mutually exclusive.

Sometimes, however, 還是 can also be used in a non-interrogative sentence. For instance:

Notice in the sentence the tone is still somehow interrogative, compelling 他 to make a choice. In contrast, 或者 in this case can only convey a sort of explanatory note:
你去﹐還是她來﹐你明天。 (interrogative)
或者你去﹐或者她來﹐沒有。 (explanatory)

, 知道, 認識 and

The meanings of the four terms here overlap.

Both 了解 and 知道 can mean "to know". However, 了解 implies some level of understanding and comprehension of what one knows. Therefore 了解 can be understood as a deeper or better knowing than 知道. Compare:

你了解 (or 知道) 這個學校嗎﹖
我不知道他是誰的孩子。(Here one can not use 了解.)

認識 is used to indicate that one can recognise this as this and not others. It can also involve the process of acquiring such an ability.

A: ﹐我認識她﹗
Oh, I know her!
B: 你是在哪兒認識她的﹖
Where did you get to know her?

懂, on the other hand, is a direct equivalent of "to understand". Its definition is not as broad as that of 了解 (to know and understand) and is different from that of 知道 (to know).

1. 你懂他的漢語嗎﹖
2. 你知道他叫嗎﹖
3. 你了解他嗎﹖
Of these, sentence 3 wants to know more detailed information about him than sentence 2, and sentence 2 wants more detailed information than sentence 1.

The use of the Perfect Aspect

Basic concept

The aspect particle 了 is added to the end of a verb to indicate the completion of an action. In general, Chinese perfect aspect is equivalent to perfect tenses (present perfect, past perfect or future perfect) in English. So, the completion of an action can take place in the past or in the future. For instance:

A: 你下了課去哪兒﹖
B: 我下了課去圖書館。
On the other hand, a past action is not always followed by the aspect particle 了, if it is a simple statement or a habitual action and there is no need to emphasise its completion:

Basic patterns

  1. Affirmative sentence
    Subject + verb + 了 (+ object)
    e.g. 電影開始了。 我買了兩本書。
  2. Negative sentence (note 了 is dropped here)
    Subject + 沒(有) + verb (+ object)
    or subject + 還沒(有) + verb (+ 呢)
    e.g. 我沒有買書。 電影還沒開始呢。
  3. Interrogative sentence
    Subject + verb + 了 (+ object) + 沒有﹖
    or Subject + verb + 了嗎﹖
    or Subject + verb + 沒 + verb (+ object)﹖ (here the verb is usually monosyllabic)
    e.g. 你今天買了詞典沒有﹖ 她來了嗎﹖ 你們沒談這個問題﹖


  1. If the verb has an object and there is no adverbial in the sentence, the object should normally carry some modifiers (e.g. numeral + measure-word or other attributives). Otherwise the sentence sounds incomplete:
    but not simply 我買了書。
  2. If a sentence carries several verbs and the actions indicated by those verbs are related, then the perfect aspect particle 了 is usually placed after the last verb.
    a. 我用中文給媽媽寫了一封信。
    b. 他們昨天買了一些中文詞典。
    In sentence a, "write" is related to "use" because the letter is written by using Chinese; in sentence b, similarly, "buy" is related to "enter the city" because the purpose of entering the city is to buy the dictionaries. Compare the above sentences with the following, with a different structure:
    Here "class is over" (下課) and "go to the library" are unrelated. They are contained in the sentence simply to indicate their sequence. Hence it is wrong to say
  3. When the verb is reduplicated, the perfect aspect particle 了 is placed before the reduplicated verb:

, 再 and 還

All three of these adverbs indicate the repetition of an action, like the English "again". They differ in usage, however:

Whereas 又 indicates a repetition of an action that has already taken place, 再 implies a repetition of an action in the future. Also, 再 is only used in declarative sentences, plus questions ending in 好嗎:

(repetition in the past)
(repetition in the future)
Also, 又 can be used for the repetition of a periodic action or occurrence, even though it has not yet taken place:
還, on the other hand, usually expresses a future repetition:
It can also be used in an interrogative or declarative sentence with an optative verb. In this situation, it is placed before the optative verb and an optional 再 can be placed after:
A: 你明年還能(再)教我們嗎﹖
B: 我明年還可以(再)教你們。

Use of the modal particle 了

Basic concept

The modal particle 了 is placed at the end of a sentence to indicate that the event referred to took place in the past. The difference between 了 as modal particle and 了 to indicate perfect aspect is that the latter only shows the completion of the verb, whereas the former shows the completion of the whole sentence or event, implying some change of situation.

The first 了 in the sentence above indicates only the completion of the action of 買書, whereas the second 了 marks some change of situation on the part of 他 as a result of the completion of the book-buying process: originally he did not have the book, but now he has.

Basic patterns

(Please compare against the patterns for the perfect aspect in the previous section.)

  1. Affirmative sentence
    Subject + verb (+ object) + 了
    e.g. 他們看了。
  2. Negative sentence (note 了 is dropped here)
    Subject + 沒 (有) + verb (+ object)
    e.g. 他們沒看足球賽。

  3. Interrogative sentence
    Subject + verb + object + 了沒有﹖
    or Subject + verb + object + 了嗎﹖
    or Subject + verb + 沒 + verb + object﹖ (here the verb is usually monosyllabic)
    e.g. 他們看足球賽了沒有﹖


  1. As is obvious, when there is no object, one cannot tell the perfect aspect 了 from the modal particle 了. In such a case, 了 can be regarded as fulfilling both functions:
    她來了。 我們懂了。
  2. A simple statement about events that happened in the past does not require a 了 at the end of the sentence:

Sequential actions

To indicate that two actions take place, one immediately after the other, we use the pattern
Subject + verb + 了 (以後) 就 + verb ...
e.g. 我們(以後)就回家。
The above pattern can be used for future actions as well. To indicate that both actions took place in the past, the particle 了 has to be inserted at the end of the sentence: