A Beginner’s Guide on Chinese Sentence Structure

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Oh no, not this topic! Are we really going to talk about grammar!?

As a Chinese teacher and once a linguistics student, it’s absolutely true that learning grammar is not fun, (except for those ‘crazy’ linguistics!)

Not to mention that most modern language teaching methods for children encourage forgoing teaching any grammar rules in the class. This is because learning grammar will bog down the classes and add to their overall difficulty.

So why do we still need to learn it?

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The importance of learning grammar

Let’s first figure out the differences between the learning processes of children and adults in regards to second language learning. For children, learning a language is more about forming a habit. Children don’t learn to say, but say to learn. That is to say children will learn things they are interested in. Therefore, when teaching children a new language, experienced language teachers will employ the right methods to first attract their attention, then they will integrate the language points into fun activities like games, video materials or interactive group projects, and so on.

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Yet, adults, also teenagers, learn languages in a different way. First, they use an analytical ability when learning rather than by purely memorizing things. Secondly, grown-ups don’t want to be embarrassed, which makes it harder for them to open their mouth in front of others as they are worried they might be wrong. In other words, we are shier and less brave than our children. Besides, compared with children, adults are better at learning rules but are no better than kids at imitating.

At it’s core, adults learn while learning and children acquire while doing things.

Modern teaching methodology for kids abandons grammar and always tries to nurture kids to use the language. But for adults, grammar has always been important. We don’t want to make mistakes and we want to learn it systematically. Perhaps it might also be that as adults we don’t like to be treated as children even in the classroom.

Like learning any other subjects, when learning a language, we learn from the basic rules first and then expand to the minor details. So grammar is like the foundations of a building, it’s what we must learn at first.

The basic structure of Chinese sentences

The good news is that Chinese sentence structure shares a basic similarity with English, the basic order of the words in declarative sentences is the same in the two languages. For example:

Wǒ ài nǐ

我爱你

I love you.

The above two sentences are in the same order. We call it SVO structure: Subject+Verb+Object. This is different from languages that are SOV. (So I love you in those languages are I You love.)

This is a basic rule in a language. You can “create” numberless sentences following this rule:

wǒ shì měiguó rén.

我是美国人。

I am American.

Wǒ xǐhuān píngguǒ.

我喜欢苹果。

I like apple.

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How to add more information into a basic sentence:

A sentence that only has “S+V+O” is usually not enough to express what we really want to say, it’s just too simple! We have to add more information, details, feelings, etc. In Chinese, you can add most of the information related to the verb in the sentence before the central verb. Take a look at the following examples:

Wǒ hěn xǐhuān píngguǒ.

我很喜欢苹果。

I like apple a lot.

Wǒ bù xǐhuān píngguǒ.

我不喜欢苹果。

I don’t like apple.

Information about places, time should also be put before the verb.

Wǒ zài zhōngguó xuéxí

我在中国学习

I study in China.

wǒ qùnián zài zhōngguó xuéxí.

我去年在中国学习。

Last year, I studied in China.

Some information can be added after the verb. This is called a complement. This part is not very systematic, but luckily, in many occasions, you can replace complements with other forms.

After the “core” of the sentence, the verb, let’s take a look at the subject and object. How to add information, mainly description, to the sentence? It’s very easy in Chinese, you can put the descriptive words before the subject and object.

Píngguǒ

苹果

Apple

hóng píngguǒ

红苹果

Red apple

dàhóng píngguǒ

大红苹果

A big red apple

For some words, you have to use the auxiliary word “的” between the adjective and the noun.

As you take more Chinese classes or learn more with your private Chinese tutor at home, you will soon encounter more types of sentences, like questions and imperative sentences and even exclamatory sentences. Basically, all you have to do is to make some changes on the SVO, or add a word with a certain function in order to generate the type you need.

After having a clear knowledge on the basic grammar rules, you will find it easier to form a sentence that you want. Although Chinese language can be quite flexible, it is critically important to make sure that the grammar is right at the first stage. So in the future, all you need to do is to gain more vocabulary and improve the authenticity.

I hope you enjoyed this piece and have learned some new important rules in relation to sentence structure in Chinese. Of course, don’t forget to practice! Why not register at Lingo Bus to receive a 1-on-1 online Chinese class for your child, plus many free learning materials that you can also enjoy! Click the button below to get it started!

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