Chinese Sentence Structure and Word Order I

This grammar section is divided into a few sub-sections, and will be described through a few week activities:

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
  • Personally, I think Chinese grammar is much simpler if compared to English.
  • There is always a fixed and single form in each word, regardless of time, number, person and etc of the subject.
  • Due to the lack of inflectional morphology, Chinese grammar is mainly concerned with how words are arranged to form meaningful sentences.
  • Happy learning and have a nice weekend.
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24 thoughts on “Chinese Sentence Structure and Word Order I”

  1. Hi Min Min. I am so happy to find your website as I need to brush up my Mandarin for examination purpose. I have finished SP1 – SP5 but I couldn’t proceed further. Can you please tell me how to proceed to SP6 – SP10?

  2. Hello
    Can you Please teach me/ tell me how to form question sentences in chinese

    example
    nide jiao zhi ma
    how is your toe
    is this right
    want to learn to speak chinese

    1. Hi Domnic,
      For your example,
      “How is your toe?” could be translated in Chinese as

      “你的脚趾怎么了?”
      (nǐ de jiǎo zhǐ zěn me le ?)

      Check out my grammar section for questions. So far, I have posted 2 tutorials :

      Questions with 吗, and
      Questions with Verb-Not-Verb

      More to come. Stay tuned.

    2. Hi Domnic,
      I think it is more correct to translate your example (“How is your toe?”) as

      “你的脚趾好了吗?”
      (“nǐ de jiǎo zhǐ hǎo le ma ?”)

      The meaning for “你的脚趾怎么了?” as I mentioned earlier should be “What happen to your toe?”

      Sorry for the confusion.

      1. Hi! Thanks for posting this site it’s great!

        Just wanted to ask about Dominic’s question:
        First, a vocab question,
        jiao = toe here, right? Or is it jiao zhi?

        If jiao = toe, what does zhi mean? Does it represent something grammatical in the question? What link does it have with le? If this is the case I am confused…
        If jiao zhi = toe (seems like this would be correct i.e. ‘foot finger’), why are ending the question with ‘le ma’? Can ‘shen ma’ be used instead?

        Note: I am interested in anything you have to answer with! You post and I’ll read…

        1. Hi Lance,
          脚 (jiǎo) means leg.
          脚趾 is a word with 2 characters which means toe, and the character 趾 normally is not used in alone.

          The word 了 is actually with “好了”, not with “了吗”.
          “好了吗?” literally means “ok already?”

  3. Hi! My name leakena. I’m from cambodia.i really want to know clearly chinese grammar structure. So please advice me. Thank you beforehead!

    1. Hi Micah,
      Do you mean the English sentence is incorrect?
      For direct translation from Chinese to English:
      他 去 过 英 国。
      He Go Before England.

      1. Hi Micah,
        In Chinese, we use aspect particles (着, 了, 过) and adverbs (已经) to indicate past tense, future tense etc.
        In order to mean “has been to”, we use verb “去” along with particles “过”.

    1. Hi Betty,
      Google translation is not very accurate for long sentences. But you can use it as a dictionary for single and short words or phrase.

  4. What do you call the following sentence pattern? I don’t believe it’s the present nor the past nor the future.

    我是坐飞机来到中国的。

    Thank you,

    1. Hi John,
      Based on the sentence, it can be translated as
      “I was taking airplane to come to China (de). ” (which was happening in the past)
      If your concern is about the time of the sentence pattern, I would say that it is past tense.
      Thanks.

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