Chinese grammar is a topic that’s becoming interesting to more and more people around the world. The number of people studying Mandarin Chinese has been on the rise for some time and this trend looks set to continue. Why this is the case is a topic of much speculation, but that’s not what ChineseGrammar.info is about.
Instead, this site aims to provide detailed but down to earth explanations of Chinese grammar for anyone that needs them. If you’re studying Mandarin Chinese yourself, we hope you find the content here useful (and if you do find it useful, please consider spreading the word and sharing our pages with others). If you teach Mandarin Chinese, we hope that you’ll find the content here a useful aid for your students in class and elsewhere.
But I thought Chinese had no grammar?
The idea that Chinese has no grammar is a common misconception, but it’s totally untrue. Many people who spread this idea actually have little to no knowledge of the Chinese language, and are instead simply passing on hearsay. The grammar of Chinese is as rich and complex as that of any other language, and mastering it takes commitment and serious study.
The reason this myth exists is probably because Chinese grammar is very different to that of European languages. It’s more common for English-speaking people to learn other European languages, which have many familiar grammatical features. Several of these features are not found in Chinese, including:
- Conjugation (changing verbs from their basic form)
- Agreement (changing adjectives)
- Gender (nouns having different forms for their gender)
- Plural nouns (changing the form of a noun to indicate the number)
- Tense (showing the time an action took place by changing the verb)
Chinese is actually in a totally different language family to European languages. European languages are part of the Indo-European group, whereas Chinese is pretty much in a family of its own. Because of this large difference and lack of familiar features, some people get the impression that Chinese has no grammar. Just because Chinese doesn’t have the features we usually think of as grammar, though, is by no means the same thing as it having no grammar at all.
Chinese actually has a lot of grammatical features that don’t really exist in English, or at least aren’t used to the same extent:
- Preference for aspect
What are the basics of Chinese grammar?
Despite what we said above, at its most basic level, Chinese grammar is superficially similar to that of European languages. The basic word order is in fact the same. Chinese is an SVO language, which means that the word order is subject · verb · object. This is the same as in English, French and the majority of languages around the world.
Let’s have a look at some simple sentences in Chinese and English to demonstrate this point.
I love you.
She drinks beer.
He likes cats.
If the text above doesn’t seem to be displaying properly, it might be because your computer isn’t set up to display Chinese text properly. Have a look at this guide or Google around for “display Chinese” or “display CJK characters“.
In those examples, the different parts of speech have been color coded. As you can see from this color coding, the word order of these sentences is the same in Chinese and English.
Beyond these basic sentences, though, Chinese grammar is very different and very complicated. That’s where this site comes in: as a source of clear, detailed and comprehensive grammar explanations for Mandarin Chinese. We hope you find it useful!
If you’ve just started studying Chinese or you’re interested in the language, why not have a look at 10 basic Chinese grammar points for beginners?
What was that…? How is Chinese written?
If you’re new to Chinese then you’re probably not used to the writing system at all. Chinese is written in Chinese characters (strangely enough!), which are also referred to as hanzi. Hanzi are a very special writing system, and it’s pretty cool that they exist and are in use by billions of people today. Like a lot of things to do with Chinese, though, there are endless misunderstandings about hanzi and how they work.
The first thing that beginners should realize is that Chinese is not written with an alphabet. To put it another way, Chinese characters are not an alphabet. Instead, each Chinese character has one or more pronunciations (usually one) and several related meanings. Here’s an example:
language, speech, dialect
So you can see that the character 语 is pronounced yǔ and has a small range of closely-related meanings. This is very similar to a word in English. Chinese characters also combine into words. Let’s take the word for “grammar” as an example:
The first part of this word is the character 语 (yǔ) as we saw above. Then there’s another character: 法. This is pronounced fǎ, and means “law” or “rule” plus some related meanings. So altogether we get the word yǔfǎ, literally “language rules”, which means “grammar”.
Words in Chinese may consist of anything from one to several characters, and can of course be combined into larger terms. Let’s have a look at another word, this time a word for “Chinese” as a language:
The first character in this word is 中 (zhōng). Originally this character just meant “middle” (notice how it’s a line going through the middle of the box). It does still have that meaning, but it’s also come to refer to China, due to the term “middle kingdom”. The next character is 文 (wén), which means “writing”, “language” and a few other things. Together we get “China language” or “Chinese”.
Now we can put these two words together and get 中文语法 (Zhōngwén yǔfǎ): “Chinese grammar”. That was a very basic introduction to how written Chinese works, but hopefully it has set you on the right track to understanding this fascinating writing system. The inner workings of the writing system aren’t really the topic of ChineseGrammar.info, but you can read more about the topic at the excellent website pinyin.info (it’s not ours, honestly!).
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