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Basic Chinese Grammar: A Review in Slides

Resource: http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~rsimmon/chingram/

Sentence Structure and Word Order

Resource: http://www.learnchineseeveryday.com/2009/10/10/chinese-sentence-structure-and-word-order-i/

SP1.   Basic Pattern
SP2.   Direct and Indirect Objects
SP3.   Prepositional Phrases
SP4.   Location and Time Phrases
SP5.   Adverbs
SP6.   Negation
SP7.   Duration
SP8.   Noun
SP9.   Question
SP10. Particle

Introduction :

  • Unlike English, verbs in Chinese are not inflected. They are never affected by things such as time or person. This makes memorizing “conjugation tables” unnecessary.
  • However, word order is very important in Chinese sentences. Word order is often the only indication in Chinese to tell who is doing what to whom.
  • Word order can also vary between the two languages, especially with questions. In Chinese, the basic syntax of a question is the same as that of a statement (read this), whereas in English it usually is not.

SP1 : Basic Pattern

  • The sentence structure of Chinese is very similar to English.
  • In normal declarative sentences, they both follow the pattern :
    Subject + Predicate
    or
    Subject + Verb + Object (S-V-O)

    Example:
    1.  I drink coffee.
    fēi
    Subject Verb Object  

    2.  He went to England.
    yīng guó
    Subject Verb Object  

  • As mentioned earlier, verbs are not inflected in Chinese. There is no past tense, future tense, singular form and plural form in Chinese. As the example above, we have the verb ‘drink’, but there is no such thing as drinks, drunk, drank, am drinking, will drink, etc in Chinese.

    He ‘drink’ coffee.

    I ‘drink’ coffee now.
    They drink coffee yesterday.

    She ‘go’ England.
    She ‘go’ England last year.
    I ‘go’ (have been to) England before.

  • Instead of conjugating a verb, adverbs (such as tomorrow, right now) and particles are used in Chinese to denote what English does with different verb tenses.
    1. He will go to England tomorrow.
    míng tiān yīng guó
    Subject Adverbs Verb Object  

    2. He went to England last year.
    nián yīng guó
    Subject Adverbs Verb Object  

    3.  He has been to England before.
    guò yīng guó
    Subject Verb Particle Object

SP2 : Direct and Indirect Objects

  • Similar to English, the direct and
    indirect objects of the verb in the sentence usually follow the verb.
  • For direct object, it has the basic
    pattern as mentioned in SP1

    Subject + Verb + Object (S-V-O)

    Example:

    border="0" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0" width="448">
    1. I am French
    shì guó rén
    Subject Verb Object  

  • For indirect object, it always precedes
    the direct object.

    Subject + Verb + Indirect Object +
    Direct Object (S-V-O-O)

    Example:


    1. I give (gave) him a book.
    gěi běn shū
    Subject Verb Indirect
    Object
    Object  

    2. He sends (sent) me a birthday card.
    sòng zhāng shēng
    Subject Verb Indirect
    Object
    Object  

  • The verb 给 and 送 can take two objects.
    The first one, mostly a personal noun or pronoun, is called an indirect object and
    the second one, mostly a noun of non-personal reference, is named the direct object.

SP3 : Prepositional Phrases

  • Prepositions (介词) are words that come before nouns and pronouns to expressing time, place, direction, objective, reason, means, dependence, passivity, comparison, etc.
  • The preposition plus its noun phrase forms a prepositional phrase
    Prepositional Phrase = Preposition + Noun Phrase

    Example:
    在家里 at home
    跟我们 with us
    给他 to him
  • Common prepositions include:

    在,从,向,跟,往,到,对,给,对于,关于,把,被,比,根据,为了,除了,。。。

  • In normal situation, prepositional phrases (prepositional + noun phrase) always occur right before the verb and its objects.
    Subject + Prepositional Phrase + Verb + Direct Object

    Example:
    1. I am reading at the library.
    zài shū guǎn kàn shū
    Subject Prepositional
    Phrase
    Verb Object  
    I at the library reading  

    2. I bought him a bag.
    gěi mǎi le shū bāo
    Subject Prepositional Phrase Verb Particle Object  
    I for him buy a bag  

  • Many prepositions also function as verbs.
    1. I am at home. (as verb)
    zài jiā

    2. I eat at home. (as preposition)
    zài jiā chī fàn

  • Chinese uses postpositions in many constructions rather than prepositions (compared to English).
    1. on the table
    zhuō zi shàng
    Noun Preposition
    the table on

    2. inside the house.
    fáng zi miàn
    Noun Preposition
    the house inside

  • There are some differences while using the prepositions in Chinese compared to English. The sentence patterns are not the same for both languages.
  • This is an interesting article about Chinese Parts of Speech.
    I do agree with what Brian said:
    My whole experience with learning Chinese is that it has a lot to do with just accepting things and learning conventions, rather than the “big picture” of the language, especially in terms of grammar. In my experience it is generally more useful to learn example sentences than dissect the grammatical nature of each character in a sentence.
    This is in contrast to a language like German, which I have also studied. Its relatively predictable grammar and modular verb and noun stem forms make it easy to intuitively put together new compound words and structures.”

SP4 : Location and Time Phrases

  • The location phrase is a type of preposition phrase. It always occurs before the verb phrase (as in preposition phrase).

    Subject + Location Phrase + Verb Phrase

    Example:

    1. I am reading at the library.
    zài shū guǎn kàn shū
    Subject Location Phrase Verb Phrase  
    I at the library reading  

    2. I have my breakfast in the cafeteria at school.
    zài xué xiào shí táng chī zǎo cān
    Subject Location Phrase Verb Phrase  
    I in the cafeteria at school have breakfast  

  • The time phrase (that indicates the ‘time when’ a situation takes place) always occurs before the verb phrase (as in preposition phrase).

    Subject + Time Phrase + Verb Phrase


    Example:
    1. I run to school every day.
    měi tiān pǎo xué xiào
    Subject Time Phrase Verb Phrase  
    I every day run to school  

    2. I bought several books yesterday.
    zuó tiān mǎi le běn shū
    Subject Time Phrase Verb Phrase  
    I yesterday bought several books  

  • However, the time phrase may also occur before the subject.

    Time Phrase + Subject + Verb Phrase

    Example:
    1. I run to school every day.
    měi tiān dōu pǎo xué xiào
    Time Phrase Subject Verb Phrase  
    every day I run to school  

    2. I bought several books yesterday.
    zuó tiān mǎi le běn shū
    Time Phrase Subject Verb Phrase  
    yesterday I bought several books  

  • Within the time phrase, the order of constituents is from the largest block of time to the smallest block of time.

    Example:

    1. November 14, 2009.
    èr líng líng jiǔ nián shí yuè shí hào

    2. 8 o’clock last night.
    zuó tiān wǎn shàng diǎn zhōng

  • When a sentence includes both a time phrase and a location phrase, time phrase generally occurs before location phrase.

    Subject + Time Phrase + Location Phrase + Verb Phrase

    Example:
    1. I am reading at the library.
    měi tiān zài shū guǎn kàn shū
    Subject Time Phrase Location Phrase Verb Phrase  
    I every day at the library reading  

    2. I have my breakfast in the cafeteria at school.
    měi tiān zài xué xiào shí táng chī zǎo cān
    Subject Time Phrase Location Phrase Verb Phrase  
    I every day in the cafeteria at school have breakfast  

 SP5 : Adverbs

  • Adverbs in Chinese typically occur at the beginning of the predicate (before an adjective, a verb phrase or a prepositional phrase).

    Subject + Adverbs + Predicate (Adjective / Verb / Prepositional Phrase)

    Example:

    1. He only knows (recognizes) five characters.
    cái rèn shí
    Subject Adverbs Predicate  
    He only knows five characters  

    2. They can all speak Japanese.
    men dōu huì shuō
    Subject Adverbs Predicate  
    They all can speak Japanese  

  • Adverbs are used to show logical functions, degree, extent, negation, time, probability, etc.
  • Logical Functions

    Some of the adverbs: 也, 都, 还, 只, 就, 才, 又, 再, 更, 在

    Example:

    1. I only have one dollar.
    zhī yǒu kuài qián
    Subject Adverbs Predicate  
    I only have one dollar  

    2. He neither smokes nor drinks.
    chōu yān jiǔ
    Subject Predicate   Adverbs Predicate  
    He not smoking   also not drinking wine  

  • Intensifier (Degree)

    Some of the adverbs: 很, 太, 夠, 非常

    Example:

    1. I’m extremely grateful to you.
    fēi cháng gǎn xiè nín
    Subject Adverbs Predicate  
    I extremely grateful to you  

    2. I’m very glad to meet you.
    jiàn dào hěn gāo xìng

    Adverbs Adjective  
    meeting you very happy / glad  

  • Extent

    Extent is represented by all and only.

    Some of the adverbs: 只有 (而已), 统统

    Example:

    1. She only has one brother.
    zhī yǒu ge
    Subject Adverbs Predicate  
    She only have one brother  

  • Affirmative and Negative

    Negation is represented by not and no, while positive is represented by two adverbs surely and sure. Most adverbs must precede negation, but some adverbs may occur before or after negation.

    Some of the adverbs: 不, 肯定, 一定

    Example:

    1. I am definitely going.
    dìng
    Subject Adverbs Predicate  
    I definitely go  

  • Time

    Adverbs usually occur after the ‘time when’ phrase.

    Subject + Time Phrase + Adverbs + Predicate

    Some of the adverbs: 了, 已经, 经常, 将要, 最后, 当初

    Example:

    1. I’ve had enough.
    jīng chī bǎo le
    Subject Adverbs Predicate  
    I already full (eat one’s fill)  

    2. This kind of problem frequently crops up
    zhè lèi wèn jīng cháng shēng
    Subject Adverbs Predicate  
    This kind of problem always happen  

    3. This batch of goods was sent out yesterday.
    zhè huò zuó tiān jīng chū le
    Subject Time Phrase Adverbs Predicate  
    This kind of problem yesterday already sent out  

  • Certainty or Possibility

    Adverbs of tone expressing an air of estimation (like 大概) can come before the subject (when emphasizing the subject), and can also come after the subject (when emphasizing the predicate).

    Some of the adverbs: 可能, 大概, 或许, 几乎, 差一点

    Example:

    1. She might be able to come.
    huò néng lái
    Subject Adverbs Predicate  
    She maybe can come  

 SP6 : Negation

  • Negation typically occurs before the verb and any prepositional phrase.

    Subject + Negation + Predicate (Adjective / Verb / Prepositional Phrase)

    Example:

    1. He is not Chinese.
    shì zhōng guó rén
    Subject Negation Predicate  
    He not is Chinese  

    2. He is not tall.
    gāo
    Subject Negation Predicate  
    He not tall  

    3. I don’t have money.
    méi yǒu qián
    Subject Negation Predicate  
    I no have money  

  • Negation usually occurs after an adverb.

    Subject + Adverbs + Negation + Predicate

    Example:
    1. They all cannot speak Japanese.
    men dōu huì shuō
    Subject Adverbs Negation Predicate  
    I all not know to speak Japanese  

    2. He neither smokes nor drinks.
    chōu yān jiǔ
    Subject Negation Predicate   Adverbs Negation Predicate  
    He not smoking   also not drinking wine  

  • Certain adverbs may either precede or follow negation. The order of an adverb influences the meaning of the sentence.

    Subject + Adverbs + Negation + Predicate

    or
    Subject + Negation + Adverbs + Predicate

    Example:

    1.  He might not be at home.
    dìng zài jiā
    Subject Negation Adverbs Predicate  
    He not definitely at home  

    2. He is definitely not at the home.
    dìng zài jiā
    Subject Adverbs Negation Predicate  
    He definitely not at home  

  • The common words that are used to negate verbs and verb phrases in Chinese are and 没 / 没有.
  • Here are a few most commonly used negation phrases:

    不会,不好,不行,不能,不是,不够,不该,不敢,没有,没什么,没关系

SP7 : Duration

  • Duration phrases is used to indicate how long an action occurs. They are time phrases that indicate the length of time that an action occurs.
  • Examples of the duration phrases include : 两天,半年,三个小时,很久,很多天,etc.
  • Unlike English, there is no preposition associated with the expression of duration in Mandarin.
  • Pattern 1: Duration phrases directly follow the verb.
    To indicate the duration of an action, follow the verb with a time phrase:

    Subject + Verb + Duration Phrase

    Example:

    1. He lived in the United States for two years.
    céng jīng zài měi guó zhù guo liǎng nián
    Subject
    Verb Duration
    He once in US lived two years  

    2. She was sick for two days.
    bìng le liǎng tiān
    Subject Verb Duration  
    She sick two days  

    3. We’ve known each other for ages.
    men rèn shí hěn duō nián le
    Subject Verb Duration    
    We know each other many years    

    4. They separated after only one year’s marriage.
    men jié hūn cái nián jiù fèn kāi le;
    Subject Verb Duration          
    They married only one year then separated    

  • Pattern 2: The duration phrase plus 的 occurs immediately before the object

    Subject + Verb + Duration Phrase + Object

    Example:
    Action: 泡热水澡 。
    1. I soaked in the hot tub for an hour.
    pào le xiǎo shí de shuǐ zǎo
    Subject Verb Duration   Object  
    I all one hour   hot bath  

    Action: 开车。
    2. I drove for 5 hours.
    kāi le xiǎo shí de chē
    Subject Verb Duration   Object  
    I drive five hours car  

    Action: 睡觉。
    3. I slept for ten hours.
    shuì le shí xiǎo shí de jiào
    Subject Verb Duration   Object  
    I sleep   10 hours sleeping  

  • Pattern 3: The verb repeats twice in the sentence.
    First it is followed by the object, then it is followed by the duration phrase.

    Subject + Verb + Object + Verb (Repeat) + Duration Phrase

    Example:

    Action: 等你。
    1. She waited for you for one hour.
    děng děng le xiǎo shí
    Subject Verb Object Verb Duration  
    She wait you wait one hour  

    Action: 开车。
    2. I drove for 5 hours.
    kāi chē kāi le xiǎo shí
    Subject Verb Object Verb Duration  
    I drive car drive five hours  

    Action: 睡觉。
    2. I slept for ten hours.
    shuì jiào shuì le shí xiǎo shí
    Subject Verb Object Verb Duration  
    I sleep sleeping sleep 10 hours  

  • Pattern 4: The time or duration phrase occurs before the verb to indicate the negation of a sentence. Subject + Duration Phrase + Negation + VerbExample:
    1. He hasn’t been here for three days.
    sān tiān méi lái le
    Subject Duration Negation Verb  
    he 3 days no come  

    2. I haven’t slept for three days.
    jīng sān tiān méi shuì jiào le
    Subject   Duration Negation Verb  
    he already 3 days not sleep

 SP8 : Noun

  • A noun phrase consists of a main noun, and any words or phrases that describe or modify the main noun.
  • In Chinese, all noun modifiers occur before the main noun.

    Modifier + Noun

    Example

    liǎng zhī bái de xiǎo gǒu
    Modifier Main Noun
    two measure word white   small Dog  

  • Nouns can be modified by :- Specifiers / Number + Measure Word
    - Nouns
    - Pronouns
    - Adjective Phrases
    - Verb Phrases (verb + object)
    - Verb Phrases (subject + object)
    - Preposition Phrases
  • Modifier = Specifiers / Number + Measure Word
    Example:
    1. Those three books
    sān běn shū
    Modifier Noun  
    those 3 measure word book  

  • Modifier = Nouns
    Example:
    1. Teacher’s book
    lǎo shī de shū
    Modifier Noun  
    teacher particle book  

  • Modifier = Pronouns
    Example:
    1. Our book
    men de shū
    Modifier Noun  
    our particle book  

  • Modifier = Adjective Phrases
    Example:
    1. A very thick book
    hěn hòu de shū
    Modifier Noun  
    very thick particle book  

  • Modifier = Verb Phrases (verb + object)
    Example:
    1. The girl who sells books
    mài shū de
    (Verb Object)
    Modifier
    Noun  
    sell books particle girl  

  • Modifier = Verb Phrases (subject + verb)
    Example:
    1. The book that we bought
    men mǎi de shū
    (Object Verb)
    Modifier
    Noun  
    we buy particle books  

  • Modifier = Preposition Phrases
    Example:
    1. A friend who has come from UK
    cóng yīng guó lái de péng yǒu
    Modifier Noun  
    from UK come particle friend  

  • In English, for the Verb Phrases and Preposition Phrases examples above,  e.g.
    - the girl who sells books
    - the book that we bought
    - a friend who has come from UK

    the modifier occurs after the main noun as a relative clause introduced by a relative pronoun (‘who,’ ‘whom,’ ‘which’) or a complementizer (‘that’).

  • However, in Chinese, all phrases/ clauses that describe or modify the main noun should precede the main noun.
    There is no words that correspond to relative pronoun (‘who,’ ‘whom,’ ‘which’) or a complementizer (‘that’) in Chinese.
  • In some occasion, when the main noun is predictable from the context, it may be omitted. When the main noun is omitted, ‘的’ cannot be omitted. Example:
    1. That book is mine (That book is my book)
    běn shū shì de
    that measure
    word
    book is mine  
    (那本书是我的书。)

 SP9 : Question – Yes-No Questions

  • In Chinese, the words order in questions is identical to the order of phrases in statements.   

    Example
    What are you doing?
    zài zuò shén me ?
    ?
    Subject Verb Question Word
    you doing what  

    The Anwser:

    I am eating.
    zài chī fàn
    Subject Verb Object
    I eating rice  

  • Here are a few types Yes-No Questions that we have learnt so far:
  • Today we will study in details the sentence structure for these Yes-No Questions.
  • For Questions with 吗 and 呢:

    - Statement (subject + verb ) + (particle : 吗 / 呢) ?

    1. Are you Chinese?
    shì zhōng guó rén ma
    ?
    Declarative Sentence  
    you are Chinese Question
    Word
     

    2. I am Chinese, what about you?
    shì zhōng guó rén ne
    ?
    Declarative Sentence   Phrase  
    I am Chinese   you Question
    Word
     

  • For Questions Verb-Not-Verb, 是否 and either-or (还是):

    - subject + [是否] + predicate ?
    - subject + [ verb + not (不/没) + verb ] + predicate / object ?
    - subject + [ noun phrase/verb phrase/sentence + 还是 + noun phrase/verb phrase/sentence] ?

    1. Are you Chinese?
    shì fǒu shì zhōng guó rén
    ?
    Subject Question
    Word
    Predicate  
    you whether are Chinese  

    2. Are you Chinese?
    shì shì zhōng guó rén
    ?
    Subject Question
    Word
    Predicate  
    you yes or not Chinese  

    3. Are you Chinese or Japanese
    shì zhōng guó rén hái shì běn rén
    ?
    Subject Phrase Question
    Word
    Phrase  
    you are Chinese or Japanese

 SP9 : Question – Content Questions

  • In Chinese, the words order in questions is identical to the order of phrases in statements.
  • In Chinese, the question words like What (什么), Who (谁), Where (哪里) and How / How about (怎样/怎么样)are ALWAYS at the end of the sentence.
     

    Example:

    1. What are you doing?
    zài zuò shén me ?
    ?
    Subject Verb Question Word
    you doing what  

    2. Who is he?
    shì shuí ?
    ?
    Subject Verb Question
    Word

    he is who  

    3. Where do you go?
    ?
    ?
    Subject Verb Question Word
    you doing what  

    4. How did you spend your holiday?
    de jiǎ guò zěn yàng ?
    ?
    Subject Verb Question Word
    your holiday spend how  

  • The question words like Why (为什么), When (什么时候)and Which one, or Which (哪一个)are ALWAYS placed at the beginning of the sentence or after the subject.
     

    Example:

    1. Why must he do it that way?
    wéi shén me yào yàng zuò
    ?
    Question Word Subject Verb  
    why he want to like that do  

    2. When is your holiday?
    men shén me shí hòu fàng jiǎ
    ?
    Subject Question Word Verb  
    you when holiday  

    3. Which one is cheaper?
    jiào pián
    便 ?
    Question Word Phrase  
    which one more cheap  

  • Exception: In some cases, the questions word can be placed at the beginning of the sentence, or at the end of the sentences.
  • Just remember, the words order in questions is always identical to the order of phrases in statements.
     

    Question with “How” which is placed at the beginning of the sentence :

    1. How can I figure out my taxes?
    zěn yàng cái néng suàn chū de shuì jīn
    ?
    Question Word Verb Object  
    how can figure out my taxes  

    Question with “How” which is placed at the end of the sentence :

    2. How about recently?
    zuì jìn zěn yàng
    ?
    Phrase Question Word  
    recently how  

    Question with “What” which is placed at the end of the sentence :

    1. What is that?
    shì shén me
    ?
    Phrase Question Word  
    that is what  

    Question with “What” which is placed in the mid of the sentence :

    2. What is your name?
    jiào shén me míng zi
    ?
    Subject Verb Question Word Noun  
    you be called what name

 

 

 

 

 

 

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