Grammar

This section is aimed at beginners, and describes the most common and simple cases

General principles

Sentences usually have the following structure:

Subject + Adverb + Verb + Complement

The Chinese language is genderless, and has no singular or plural, apart for the pronouns. Verbs don’t have conjugation. Tenses are expressed by the addition of a verbal compound made of one or two characters. Context makes it possible to deduce the meaning. Accuracy is possible if absolutely necessary.

Personal pronouns

I

You

He/She

我们

Wǒmen

We

你们

nǐmen

You

他们/她们

tāmen/tāmen

They (male)/They (female)

Classifiers

In Chinese, it is not possible to speak about an object with only an article, as in “a (tree)”, “the (girl)”, “the (books)”. It is necessary to add a classifier between the article and the object. The classifier specifies the category of the object (flat, recipient, long, human, animal…). It is mandatory but makes for an economy of words, since it already describes the object, in terms of quality, capacity, etc…

a cup of tea
a + classifier for cup + tea
一杯茶
Yī bēi chá

three books
three + qualifier for a book + book
三本书
Sān běn shū

two persons
two + classifier for persons + person
两 个人
Liǎng gè rén

Qualifiers are given for each HSK word, see the different sections in the HSK.

Numbers

líng

zero

one

二/两

èr/liǎng

two (number)/two (quantity)

sān

three

four

five

liù

six

seven

eight

jiǔ

nine

shí

ten

bǎi

a hundred

qiān

a thousand

wàn

ten thousands

亿

a hundred millions

Between 11 and 19, we say 10 followed by the number.

17 = 十七 (Shíqī)
   = 10 and 7

From 101 to 999, we say the first number (except if it’s 1), then one hundred, then the second number, then ten, then the last number.

561 = 五百六十一 (Wǔbǎi liùshí yī)
    = 5, 100, 6, 10, 1, that is 5*100 + 6*10 + 1

From 1000 to 9999, we say the first number (except if it’s one) followed by 1000, then the second number followed by 100, then the third number followed by 10, then the last number.

4561 = 四千五百六十一 (Sìqiān wǔbǎi liùshí yī)
     = 4, 1000, 5, 100, 6, 10, 1, that is 4*1000 + 5*100 + 6*10 + 1

Be mindful that afterwards, Chinese has a unit for multiples of 10000: 万 (wàn). This causes a lot of confusion when doing business.

34002 = 三万零二 (Sān wàn líng èr)

Note: zero is only used a single time when there are several in a number.

Adverbs

Hěn

very

Hǎo

good

非常

Fēicháng

very, extremely

Tài

very, too much

Question adverbs

Shuí

who

什么

Shénme

which (apart from choices)

什么时候

Shénme shíhou

when

多少

Duōshǎo

how many

多长时间

Duō cháng shíjiān

how much time

多久

Duōjiǔ

for how long

多大

Duōdà

how much (age, surface)

how much

which (choice)

哪儿/哪里

Nǎ'er/nǎlǐ

where

怎么

Zěnme

how (with what means)

怎么样

Zěnme yàng

how (way of doing)

为什么

Wèishéme

why

你什么时候来?
Nǐ shénme shíhòu lái?
When do you arrive?

Negation

not

没(有)

Méiyǒu

not (past)

The negation mark goes between subject and verb.

她不是法国人。+ Tā bùshì fàguó rén.
She is not French.

我没去。+ Wǒ méi qù.
I did not go there.

Past

Action effectively done

V + 了

V + le

我买了四本书。+ Wǒ mǎile sì běn shū.
I have bought four books.

Action not done

没(有)+ V

Méi (yǒu)+ V

我昨天没去饭馆。+ Wǒ zuótiān méi qù fànguǎn.
I did not go to the restaurant yesterday.

Past experience, effectively done

V + 过

我去过中国。+ Wǒ qùguò zhōngguó.
I have been to China.

Past experience, not done

没(有)+ V + 过

méi (yǒu)+ V + guò

她没去过中国。+ Tā méi qùguò zhōngguó.
She did not go to China.

Future

要 + V

yào +V

他要去饭店。+ Tā yào qù fàndiàn.
He wants to go to the restaurant.

Repetition

"often" frequency

(常)常

(Cháng)cháng

indep. from anybody (1 char if V monosyllable)

不常

Bù cháng

not often

经常

Jīngcháng

(classifier)

往往

Wǎngwǎng

usually, if relation to sbdy

again

Hái

again (continuity)

还是

Háishì

again (judgement after evaluation)

Yòu

once again (after discontinuity with the past)

Zài

once again (in the future), a little more

没再

Méi zài

non repetition in the past

不再

Bù zài

non repetition in the future

Verbs

Will

打算

Dǎsuàn

plan to do something

Kěn

to accept to

Yào

to want

Gǎn

to dare

Xiǎng

to intend to

愿意

Yuànyì

to want

Ability, likelihood

Huì

to know how to do something

可能

Kěnéng

to be possible

能够

Nénggòu

to be able to

可以

Kěyǐ

to can

Néng

to can

Obligation

必须

Bìxū

to have to

Yào

to must

不想

Bùxiǎng

not to wish

不用

Bùyòng

it is pointless to

应该

Yīnggāi

to must

Yīng

to must

Gāi

to must

应当

Yīngdāng

to must

Děi

to must