Chinese Grammar 101 For New Learners: Part 1

Chinese Grammar 101 For New Learners: Part 1

If you are new to Chinese and want to quickly grasp the basics of Chinese grammar, you’ve come to the right place! 

This article will walk you through 5 key points of Chinese grammar that will definitely help you understand and know how to use them correctly. 

Let’s dive right in!

Chinese Grammar: Basic rules that every newbie must know 

1. Personal pronouns

Personal pronouns in Mandarin Chinese are not complicated at all. In fact, the rules are really straightforward and easy to remember. For example:

  •  Pronouns don’t change form whether they are the subject (e.g., I, he, she) or object (e.g., me, him, her)
  • To make plural pronouns (you, we, they), simply add 们 (men) after the singular forms. (e.g. I + 们 (men) → We) 
Single Pronoun  Plural Pronoun  
我 (wǒ)  –  I/me  我们 (wǒmen) – We/us
你 (nǐ)  –  You/you 你们 (nǐmen) – You/you (plural)
他 (tā)  –  He/him 他们 (tāmen) – They/them (all male plural or mixed gender group)
她 (tā)  –  She/her 她们 (tāmen) – they/them (all female)
它 (tā)  –  It/it 它们 (tāmen) – they/them (non-human)

Remember that the pronunciation and Pinyin (Mandarin romanization) of the three pronouns He/him, She/her, and It/it are all the same in Chinese. So, during a conversation or in a Pinyin text, you will have to focus on the context to work out whether it means he/him (他 – tā) or she/her (她 – tā). 

Special word 您 (nín)

您 (nín) is the formal form of the pronoun 你 (nǐ). It’s frequently used to address a boss or an elder. When you first greet and talk to someone you don’t know, using 您 (nín) would be your most polite option. 

For example:

您好 (nín hǎo) — Hello! (formal)

2. Sentence structure: Subject + Predicate (verb) + Object 

This is the easiest way to form a Chinese sentence. All you need is three key components linked in this particular order: a subject, a predicate, then an object. A predicate is usually a verb to describe an action. However, it can also be an adjective (less common) or sometimes even a noun. This article will only focus on the case where the predicate functions as a verb. 

One interesting grammar rule related to this thread is Chinese verbs NEVER conjugate. In English, for example, we change the form of the verb based on the subject or tense (e.g., He goes to school; He went to the supermarket yesterday; etc.). But in Chinese, the verb remains an infinitive no matter the context (e.g., He go to school; He go to the supermarket yesterday.) You just need to add extra words like time points to indicate whether an action is happening, will happen, or already happened.

Here are some examples:

Subject Verb Object Full sentence 
他 (Tā) He 吃 (chī)  eat  面包(miànbāo) bread
他吃面包. (Tā chī miànbāo.) 
He eats bread. 
你 (Nǐ) You  爱 (ài) love
我们 (wǒmen) 

你爱我们 (Nǐ ài wǒmen) 
 You love us.
我 (Wǒ) I 学 (xué) learn 中文 (zhōngwén)  Chinese 我学中文. (Wǒ xué zhōngwén.)  I learn Chinese.

You might also be interested in: Chinese Grammar Might Be Easier Than You Think: A Beginner’s Guide To Basic Chinese Sentence Structures

3. Time adverbs positions 

Where do you put a time phrase in a Chinese sentence?

The answer is at the beginning of the sentence or right after the sentence’s subject. NEVER put it at the end of the sentence. 

For example: 

Time phrase  Full sentence Literal translation  English meaning 

昨天 (zuótiān) Yesterday 
我昨天去北京。(Wǒ zuótiān qù běijīng.) I yesterday go Beijing.  I went to Beijing yesterday. 
昨天我去了北京。(Zuótiān wǒ qù běijīng.)
Yesterday I go Beijing.
Yesterday, I went to Beijing. 

4. Possessions 

Another grammar rule that will take you no time to master is possessions. You simply just add the word 的 (de) between the possessor and what/who belongs to them. 的 (de) is a function word with no specific meaning but is mainly used for grammatical purposes. It basically performs the same role as the possessive ‘s in English.

Let’s take a look at the following examples:

我 (Wǒ) I
  的 (de)

房子 (Fángzi)

我的房子 (Wǒ de fángzi)
My house 

猫 (Māo)

的 (de)

尾巴 (wěibā)

猫的尾巴 (Māo de wěibā)
The cat’s tail 

我们 (wǒmen)

的 (de)

老师 (Lǎoshī)

我的老师 (Wǒ de lǎoshī)
My teacher

Super easy, right? 

5. There’s no gendered noun-adjective agreement! 

Many European languages, for example, French and Spanish have masculine and feminine words. For instance, in French, if a noun is feminine, the adjective that goes with it must likewise be feminine. When used with a feminine noun, the masculine form of the French adjective for “gray,” which is “gris,” becomes “grise”. 

The great news for you is Chinese doesn’t work like that! You just learn the word as it is, without any need to memorize additional grammar rules or gendered forms. For example, the Chinese word for gray – 灰色的 (huīsè de), remains unchanged under any circumstance.  

Final thoughts 

Hey, Chinese is not impossible! 

We hope that our Chinese grammar 101 guide has helped you know the ins and outs of some basic Chinese grammatical points. Beginners’ level of Chinese grammar is pretty simple. With just a little effort, you’ll easily ace it. And we’re here to help!

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