Chinese Sentence Structure and Word Order III

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

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.”

    So I will try to give you an overview of Chinese grammar (sentence pattern) instead of going into very details and dissect the grammatical nature of each character in a sentence.

    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.
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19 thoughts on “Chinese Sentence Structure and Word Order III”

  1. Hi Min Min,
    Interesting note about Chinese grammar. I’m an Indonesian and while learning Chinese, I found there are a lot similarity between the two languages.

    For example, in Indonesian, it is also possible to say, “Saya di rumah”, which corresponds directly with “我 在 家”, word per word. In Indonesian, the preposition “di” is still a preposition and doesn’t change into a verb, so the sentence doesn’t actually have any verbs in it. Perhaps this is strange for English speakers, because in English there must be a verb in a complete sentence. But the sentence is common in Indonesian.

    1. Hi femmy,
      For the sentence “我 在 家”, you can do a direct translate from Indonesian to Chinese.

      Chinese is a “Subject + Verb + Object” language, which is similar to English. However, there are some differences between the languages when it comes to prepositional phrases.
      For native English speakers, you have to take note about the word order when using preposition in a Chinese sentence.

  2. what brian said , i find it very true,
    when im learning i try to follow the phrase form and try to create other phrases with that form ,
    but when you start giving details about the characters that are used and why or anything extra ,it sort’ve gets me confused and flips me out trying to understand’
    and sometimes feel like giving up,
    i thing going too detailed makes it look harder than it actually is…

    1. Hi Julio,
      You are right. When I was learning Chinese during my primary school time, I never learn about grammar. Unlike English, I started learning Tenses when I was standard 2 or 3.

      I am trying to give an overview about the sentence structures, and show the differences between Chinese and English language. But this may make more people who just started learning Chinese confused.

      I think the best way to learn about Chinese sentence structures is via more reading – through example sentences or articles.
      If you feel that it’s hard to understand the Chinese grammar, just “browse” through all the grammar sections. I believe you will understand more after you have read a lot.

      Keep it up and don’t give up! I am always here to help.
      加油。

  3. 你好敏敏,

    我把一段小中文故事翻译成英文,你想我的翻译好不好

    从前有一位贤明而受人爱戴的国王,把国家治理得井井有条,人民安居乐业。
    国王的年纪已经逐渐大了,但膝下扛7d无子女,这件事让国王很伤心。终于他决定,
    在全国 范围内挑选一个孩子收为义子,培养成自己的接班人。
    国王选子的标准很独特,给孩子们每个人一些花种子,宣布谁如果用这些种子
    培育出最美丽的花朵,那么谁就能成为他的义子。
    孩子们领回种子后,开始了精心的培育,从早到晚,浇水、施肥、松土,谁都
    希望自己能够成为幸运者。
    有个叫雄日的男孩,也整天精心地培育花种。但是,十天过去了,半个月过去
    了,一个月过去了,花盆里的种子却连芽都没有冒出来,更别说开花了。
    苦恼的雄日去请教母亲,母亲建议他把土换一换,但是依然无效,母子俩束手
    无策。
    国王决定的观花日子到了。无数个穿着漂亮衣裳的孩子们涌上街头,他们各自
    捧著盛开鲜花的花盆,用期盼的目光看着缓缓巡视的国王。国王环视著争奇斗艳的
    花朵与精神漂亮的孩子们,并没有像大家想像中的那样高兴。
    忽然,国王看见了端著空花盆的雄日,他无精打采地站在那里,眼角还有泪花,
    国王把他叫到眼前,问他:“你为什么端著空花盆呢?”
    雄日抽咽著,他把自己如何精心摆弄,但花种怎么也不发芽的经过说了一遍,
    还说,他想这是报应,因为他曾经在别人的花园中偷吃过一个苹果。没想到国王的
    脸上却露出了最开心的笑容,他把雄日抱了起来,高声说:“孩子,我找的就是你!”
    你可以帮我妈
    万事如意
    陆蓝克

    Once up on a time there was a wise and beloved emperor, who governed his kingdom justly and fairly and who’s subjects lived and worked in peace, harmony and prosperity.
    The emperor was already getting old, but still he didn’t have any children. This made the emperor very sad.
    Finally he decided, he would search throughout his whole kingdom to find a child which he could raise as his own son. and train as his successor.
    The way the emperor did this was very ingenious, he gave al children a flower- seed, and then declared that whom ever would be able to grow the most beautiful flower, he would be his rightful son and successor.

    万事如意

    陆蓝克

  4. 对不起,这是我的翻译

    Once up on a time there was a wise and beloved emperor, who governed his kingdom justly and fairly and who’s subjects lived and worked in peace, harmony and prosperity.
    The emperor was already getting old, but still he didn’t have any children. This made the emperor very sad.
    Finally he decided, he would search throughout his whole kingdom to find a child which he could raise as his own son. and train as his successor.
    The way the emperor did this was very ingenious, he gave al children a flower- seed, and then declared that whom ever would be able to grow the most beautiful flower, he would be his rightful son and successor.
    The children having gotten this seed, worked painstakingly from dawn to dust cultivating, watering and feeding their flowers, Who of them wouldn’t’ t want to be bestowed witch such luck and good fortune?
    Then there was a boy, XionRi’s son, who also painstakingly cultivated and watered his flower seed. However 10 days past, halve a month past, a month past, but the flower seed refused to sprout let alone to blossom as a beautiful flower.
    Worried XionRi’s son went to his mother to ask for advice, his mother suggested to change the soil. But that didn’t help. Mothers hands were tied and she had no other solution to give her son.
    The day the Emperor would look at his flowers approached. Innumerable beautiful dressed children appeared from all corners of the streets, all carrying and holding out flowerpots with beautiful flourishing flowers. The emperor passed slowly by looking and expecting the flowers. He looked around in amazement to all these beautiful coloured flowers which filled the marked place.
    Then he saw XionRi’s son at the back of the marked, standing listlessly and sad, a tear flowed from his eyes. The emperor called him to come forward. “Why are you standing at the end of the marked with an empty flowerpot?” he asked. XionRi’s son swallowed and came forward, explaining that no matter how hard he worked the flower seed wouldn’t flourish.
    He went on to explain that this must be his punishment because one day he had stolen an apple from a flower garden and ate it.
    Unexpectedly a very happy smile appeared on the face of the Emperor, he took XionRi’s son in his arms and said loudly: “You are just the one I am looking for! “

    1. ohohohhh!! Your chinese is great!! Maybe there is just a little wrong here,the boy in the story is not xiong ri’s son,his name is xiong ri.

      你真的很棒哦,连”束手无策“这种成语都会!!

      Question:Is “mother’s hands are tied” a formal phrase in english which means “束手无策“?

      1. 你好 JOHNSON

        我逐字地翻译’束手无策’ HANDS TIED NO PLAN” 但是最好的意思是:”AT AWITS END,
        DESPERATE” …..

        万事如意
        陆蓝克

  5. Hi 陆蓝克

    Your translation of that story is fantastic.
    But there is one or two points that you have missed
    such as:-

    因为他曾经在别人的花园中偷吃过一个苹果。没想到国王的

    You translated as “because one day he had stolen an apple from
    a flower garden and ate it.”

    You forgot to mention “from someone’s else flower garden” [别人的花园]
    and the garden belonged to the emperor [没想到国王的]

    Do you know why the emperor said: “孩子,我找的就是你!?”
    And why did he ask Xiong Ri to help him? [你可以帮我妈?]

    What is the moral of this story?

    1. Could it be that the seeds were fake (well, real seeds but not ment to grow) and all the other children cheated except for Xiong Ri…?

      btw. I love this web site! And chinese language and culture…

      Thank you 敏敏 for makeing this site!

      1. Woow… doesn’t that “makeing” just hurt your eyes?! I’m sorry, I clearly ment making (who knows what else I’ve misspelled) :s

  6. Dear Βωων Κυαν

    Thanks for the correction you are right someone esle his garden, but I think
    the phrase 没想到国王的 doesn’t mean the emeperors garden, but :
    没想到国王的脸上却露出了最开心的笑容 = unexpectedly, the most fun smile has appeared on the face of the king

    unexpectedly, the most fun smile has appeared on the face of the king
    没想到是国王的 would translate as not thinking realising it was the emperor’s garden,

    I think the emperor like the beans of XiongRi couldn’t get offspring, both where not furtile.

    Thanks again for your comment

    and 加油

  7. Hi all, I have noticed something that is confusing me so much 🙁

    Okay you say that Subject + Prepositional Phrase + Verb + Direct Object

    And i agree, however why does it differ in the following sentences?

    Ni3 Xiang3 zai4 Na2li3 chi?
    你想在哪里吃?

    Why is 在哪里 after 想, isnt 想 a verb too? I wouldve thought 你在哪里想吃? But apparently I am wrong

    It confuses me when words like 想 or 要 are used .. some clarification would be greatly appreciated

    Thanks

    1. Hi Daniel,

      For you question, “你想在哪里吃?” you can refer to :
      http://www.learnchineseeveryday.com/2010/08/07/chinese-sentence-structure-and-word-order-ix-–-part-ii/

      It has the structure:
      Subject + Verb + Question Word
      (你) + (想) + (在哪里吃?)

      Chinese is very different from English in terms of the sentence structure. This grammar tutorial series is to give you brief idea of Chinese sentence structure. There is no definite rule for the sentence pattern. So it is generally more useful to learn example sentences than dissect the grammatical nature of each character in a sentence.

    1. Hi jakeez,
      Adverb normally occurs at the beginning of the predicate, before the verb and any prepositional phrase.

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