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An Introduction to Chinese Grammar 汉语语法入门

目录导言 Contents and Introduction

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  1. Introduction
  2. Parts of Speech
    1. Nouns
    2. Adjectives
    3. Verbs
    4. Auxiliary Verbs
    5. Pronouns
    6. Numerals
    7. Measure Words
    8. Adverbs
    9. Prepositions
    10. Conjunctions
    11. Particles
    12. Interjections
    13. Onomatopes
    14. Affixes
  3. Phrases
    1. Subject-Predicate Phrases
    2. Verb-Object Phrases
    3. Coordinative Phrases
    4. Endocentric Phrases
    5. Numeral-Measure Word Phrases
    6. Complementary Phrases
    7. Phrases of Locality
    8. Appositive Phrases
    9. Set Phrases
    10. Prepositional Phrases
    11. ”De” Phrases
  4. Sentence Elements
    1. The Subject
    2. The Predicate
    3. The Object
    4. Adverbial Adjuncts
    5. Complements
    6. The Attributive
  5. Simple Sentences
    1. Sentences with a Verbal Predicate
    2. Sentences with an Adjectival Predicate
    3. Sentences with a Nominal Predicate
    4. Sentences with a Subject-Predicate Phrase as the Predicate
    5. Subjectless Sentences
    6. One Word Sentences
    7. Elliptical Sentences
  6. Sentence Use
    1. Declarative Sentences
    2. Interrogative Sentences
    3. Imperative Sentences
    4. Exclamatory Sentences
  7. Aspects of an Action
    1. The Progressive Aspect of an Action
    2. The Continuous Aspect of an Action
    3. The Perfect Aspect of an Action
    4. Future Actions
    5. Past Actions
  8. Sentences using Special Verbal Predicates
    1. ”Shi” Sentences
    2. ”You” Sentences
    3. “Bei” Sentences
    4. “Ba” Sentences
    5. Existential Sentences
    6. Pivotal Sentences
    7. Sentences with Verb Constructions in Series
  9. Complex Sentences
    1. Coordinate Complex Sentences
    2. Subordinate Complex Sentences
  10. Expressing Comparison
    1. Using “Bi” to Express Comparison
    2. “Gen” to Express Comparison
    3. Using “Xiang” to Express Comparison
  11. References

导言 Introduction

Chinese sentences can have six types of elements: subject, predicate, object, attributive, adverbial adjunct, and complement. The attributive is a part of the subject. The object and the adverbial adjunct are parts of the predicate.

句子成分 Sentence Elements
主语 Subject 谓语 Predicate
  定语 Attributive 状语 Adverbial Adjunct   宾语 Object
    喜欢 红色
I like the color red.
母亲   美国
My mother is in the United States.
  努力 学习 中文
I am diligently studying Chinese.

Sentences can be divided into two classes: simple sentences and compound sentences.

句子 Sentences
单句 Simple Sentences 复句 Compound Sentences
Subject-Predicate Sentences Non-Subject-Predicate Sentences 分句 Clauses

In Chinese one Chinese character represents a single syllable and a word consists of one or more characters. Word boundaries are not as clear as in European languages. In European languages spaces are used between words and word morphology changes to allow for plural forms, tenses, and other changes. In Chinese most characters have an independent meaning, so while they can be used together to form multi-character words, they can also be used independently (Sun 2006, loc. 601).

Chinese words can be divided into two kinds. The first kind is notional words and the second kind has a purely grammatical purpose (function words). Notional words can be divided into seven categories: nouns, verbs, auxiliary verbs, adjectives, numerals, measure words, and pronouns. Chinese has a rich collection of measure words, one for each object and action. Measure words must be used and cannot be arbitrarily used.

实词 Notional Words
名词 Nouns 动词 Verbs 助动词 Auxilliary Verbs 形容词 Adjectives 数词 Numerals 量词 Measure Words 代词 Pronouns
名量词 Nominal 动量词 Verbal 人称代词 Personal 指示代词 Demonstrative 疑问代词 Interrogative
国家妹妹玫瑰颜色月亮 工作学习 应该可以 漂亮诚实 亿 公分 我们咱们 什么怎么

Function words include six kinds: adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, particles, interjections, and onomatopes.

虚词 Functional Words
副词 Adverbs 介词 Prepositions 连词 Conjunctions 助词 Particles 叹词 Interjections 象声词 Onomatope
结构助词 Structural 动态助词 Aspectual 语气助词 Modal
已经 但是或者并且因为 哎呀 哗哗乒乓

Affixes include prefixes and suffixes, which can both be used to construct sentence elements.

词头 Prefix 词尾 Suffix

词类 Parts of Speech

名词 Nouns

Nouns express the names of people or objects. Proper nouns include place names and the names of people. Some monosyllabic nouns can be repeated to indicate every individual in a group, such as 人人 (everyone), 天天 (every day), and so on.

In general, nouns do not inherently have a difference in singular and plural forms. When referring to people the suffix can be used to indcate more than one person. For example, 同志 (comrades), 先生 (gentlemen), and so on. “” should be pronounced with the neutral tone.

The nouns of location and are often used after other nouns. For example, 脑袋 (on your head), 路上 (on the road), 手里 (in hand), (in my pocket), and so on. However, you cannot use the word after a geographic place names. When a noun of location is acting as the predicate or adverbial adjection is not needed. For example, in the sentence 房子钢琴 (There is a piano in the house), there is no before 房子.

When a noun is acting as the attributive it must be placed before the modified word. For example, in the sentence 玻璃杯还是?(Would you like a glass or a porcelain cup?) The terms 玻璃 (glass) and (porcelain) act as the attributives and (cup) is the modified word.

形容词 Adjectives

Adjectives describe the form and characteristics of people and objects or the mode of an action. Most adjectives can be modified using an adverb placed in front. Adjectives can be used in affirmative-negative form to ask a question. For example, 筷子干净干净?(Are those chopsticks clean?)

Some adjectives can be repeated to intensify their degree. For example, 头发长长。(Her hair is very long.) Adjectives can be used in front of verbs to act as abverbial adjuncts. For example, 热情地接我们。 (He cordially received us.) The adverbial adjunct is 热情 and the verb is 接待.

In general, a monosyllabic adjective can directly modify another word. For example, 白纸 (white paper). However, if you wish to emphasize the modified nature then you may use the particle . For example, 天气 (very cold weather). When a dissyllabic adjective modifies a monosyllabic noun then the particle “” must be used. For example, 漂亮 (a beautiful flower). When a dissyllabic adjective modifies a dissyllabic noun then the particle is optional.

When repeating adjectives use the form AABB. For example, 干净 (very clean).

Adjectives can directly function as predicates. For example, 个子 (He is tall). The subject is 个子 (his height) and the predicate is (tall). In this situation, you may also use the adverb (very). For example, 个子 (He is tall).

(male) and (female) are used to describe the sex of animals.

动词 Verbs

Verbs express actions, behavior, mental processes, developing changes, and so on. Transitive verbs can be followed directly by an object. Some verbs can take only a single object.

可以一个宾语及物动词 Transitive Verbs that can only take one Object
动词 Verbs 宾语 Objects
ride 自行车 a bicycle a horse
穿 wear 裤子 trousers 袜子 socks
wear 眼镜 glasses 帽子 a hat
write 文章 an article a letter
visit 亲戚 relatives 朋友 friends
eat 面包 bread 饼干 a cookie
drink 牛奶 milk 啤酒 beer
保护 protect 自己 oneself 环境 the environment

Some transitve verbs can take two objects.

可以两个宾语及物动词 Transitive Verbs that can take two Objects
动词 Verbs 宾语 Objects
give you 礼物 a gift
teach 学生 students 英语 English
ask 老师 the teacher 问题 a question
告诉 tell him 情况 the situation

Intransitive verbs cannot take object. Some examples are: (to live), (to be bad), (to be sick), (to be awake), 存在 (to exist), 休息 (to rest), 咳嗽 (to cough), 胜利 (to be victorious), 腐败 (to be corrupt), 出生 (to be born), and 前进 (to progress).

Verbs can take a complement after them. For example, in the question 学会? (Can you do it now that you studied it?), is the verb and is the complement.

The affirmative-negative form can be used to express questions. For example, in the question 会不会国语? (Can you speak Mandarin?) the verb is repeated to form the question.

The suffix can be added to some nouns and adjectives to create verbs.

Use of the Suffix (Nouns)
名词 Noun 动词 Verb
政治 (politics) 政治化 (politicize)
现代 (modern age) 现代化 (modernize)
信息 (information) 信息化 (automate [IT])

Use of the Suffix (Adjectives)
形容词 Adjective 动词 Verb
自动 (automatic) 自动化 (automate)
绿 (green) 绿化 (to make green / to landscape)
(warm) 暖化 (to warm)

The verb

  1. The verb can be used to express judgement. For example: 大夫。 (He is a doctor.)
  2. To express existence. For example, the sentence 前边公安局。 (The police station is ahead.)

Verbs expessing actions, behaviors, or including positive thought can be repeated. For example: (listen), 打扫打扫 (sweep), (think), 启发启发 (to inspire). Some verbs cannot be repeated:

  1. mental activities, such as 害怕 (to fear), 羨慕 (to envy), 喜欢 (to like), and so on
  2. changes, such as 发生 (to occur), 发展 (to develop), 开始 (to start)
  3. existence, judgement, and possession, such as (is at), (is), (to seem), (to have)
  4. indicating direction, such as (to get up), (to go past), (to go out), (to enter)

代词 Pronouns

Pronouns can take the place of nouns, verbs, adjectives, numerals, and adverbs. Pronouns can be classified as personal pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, and interrogative pronouns. Personal pronouns take the place of people or things. 、and 自己 are all personal pronouns. Demonstrative pronouns distinguish people or things. 这里这儿这么这样那里那儿那么那样、and are all demonstrative pronouns. Interrogative pronoun express a question. 什么哪里哪儿多少怎么怎样 and 怎么样 are all interrogative pronouns.

The use of pronouns are basically the same as the nouns they represent. For example, 哪里?(Where is Xiao Wang going?) 北京。 (Xiao Wang is going to Beijing.) 哪里 is the pronoun substituting for 北京.

助动词 Auxiliary Verbs

Auxiliary verbs help verbs express need, possibility, or hope.

  1. expressing capability: (is capable of), 能够 (is capable of), (is able to)
  2. expressing possibility: (may), (may), 可以 (may), 可能 (may)
  3. expressing necessity: (should), (should), (should), 应该 (should), 应当 (should)
  4. expressing obligation: (děi, must), 必须 (must)
  5. expressing subjective willingness: (want to), (want to), (dare to), 愿意 (willing to)

Auxiliary verbs can modify verbs or adjectives. For example, 国语 (I can speak Mandarin). In this sentence the auxiliary verb (can) modifies the verb (speak). For example, 图书馆应该安静 (The library should be quiet). In this sentence the auxiliary verb 应该 (should) modifies the adjective 安静 (quiet).

数词 Numerals

Numerals express numbers. See Table of Basic and Accounting Numerals.

Numerals can be arranged together for express other whole numbers. For example, 七十 (700,000). The prefix (dì) can be used to express order. For example, 第七 (number seven hundred and one). The measure word (bèi) can be used to represent multiples. For example, 三倍 (three times).

The …… format can be used for expressing decimals. For example, 零点 (0.2). The …分之… format can be used for expressing fractions. For example, 三分” (3/4) and 百分之” (5%).

Two adjacent numerals can be used together to express an approximate quantity. For example, (3 or 4). can represent an approximate number between one and nine. For example, 阅览室只有杂志 (There are only a few kinds of magazine in the reading room). Used after the numerals (ten), (hundred), (thousand), and (ten thousand) the numeral represents a number greater than the number preceding it. For example, 我们三十多个学生 (In our class there are more than 30 students).

In front of a measure word the number should be used rather than . For example, 两头大象 (two elephants).

量词 Measure Words

Measure words express counting units. Nominal measure words express units for people and things. Verbal measure words express the frequency of actions. See Units of Weights and Measures.

Measure words are used after numbers and demonstrative pronouns. For example,自行车 (I bought a bicycle). The measure word is and the number is . Another example is, 每次看见 (I see him every time I go). The measure word is (time) and the demonstrative pronoun is (every).

Repeating measure words indicates “every.” For example, 个个聪明 (every one of them is clever).

Nominal measure words are used in front of nouns to describe quantities of objects. See List of Common Nominal Measure Words.

Verbal measure words are used with verbs to describe quantities of actions. For example, 一次一回. are all verbal measure words. Most verbal measure words are placed after their verbs as complements. For example,

副词 Adverbs

Adverbs are placed in front of verbs or adjectives to express time, degree, scope, repetition, negation, possibility, or tone. Some adverbs can serve a connecting purpose. For example, 。 (He said his piece and then immediately left.) is an adverb expressing time.

The basic use of adverbs is to act as adverbial adjuncts. For example, 他们已经出发。 (They have already left.)

Although both are for negation, the use of and is different. is used to negate.

  1. Mental activities — 不了解文章。 (I do not understand this article.)
  2. Frequently performed actions — 从来不喝酒。 (I never drink.)
  3. Present or future actions — 明天。 (I am not going tomorrow.)
  4. Auxiliary verbs — 今天不会下雨。 (I will not rain today.)
  5. The verbs “”,“”,“”,“存在” — 不是老师。 (He is not my teacher.)
  6. Adjectvies expressing state or character — For example, 这个句子不对。 (This sentence is not correct.)
  7. Adverbs expressing degree — For example, 英文不太好。 (My English is really not very good.)
  8. Adverbs expressing scope — For example, 我们不一。 (We are not going to all go together.)

is used to negate

  1. — For example, 有没有时间? (Do you have time or not?)
  2. Verbs expressing completion or occurence of an action — For example, 这样事故从来没发生。 (That kind of accident has never occurred.)

and both express repetition but their use is different. expresses that a situation or action has already repeated. For example, 今天。(We have already left.) is used for future actions. For example, 我们不会看见。 (We will not see him again.)

The adverbs 没有大概也许,and 可能 can stand alone as answers to questions.

介词 Prepositions

Prepositions are placed in front of nouns or pronouns to form prepositional phrases expressing the exclusion, comparison, being acted on, mode, cause, object, direction, place, or time of an action. Expressing time, place, and direction include 、and . Prepositions indicating an object are 对于关于、and . Prepositions expressing a cause include 为了、and 由于. Prepositions expressing mode are 按照 and 根据. Prepositions expressing the passive are 、and . Prepositions expressing comparison include . Prepositions expressing exclusion include and 除了.


  1. 大陆。 (He is from the mainland.) is a preposition acting as an adverbial adjunct.
  2. 关于皇帝故事。 (This is a story about the Emperor.) 关于 is a preposition acting as an attributive.
  3. 公共汽车开往天安门。 (This bus is going to Tiananmen.) The preposition acts as a complement.

连词 Conjunctions

Conjunctions connect two words, phrases, or sentences expressing coordination, cause and effect, circumstances, or conjecture. Conjunctions indicating coordination include 、and . Conjunctions indicating cause and effect include 因为所以、and 因此. Conjunctions indicating circumstances include 只要只有、and 不管. Conjunctions indicating conjecture include 如果 and 要是. Conjunctions indicating inference include 既然这样、and 那么. Conjunctions indicating transition include 虽然但是可是、and 不过 Conjunctions indicating concession include 即使 and 就是. Conjunctions indicating an alternative include 还是 and 或者. Conjunctions indicating an enumeration include 例如 and 比如. Conjunctions indicating succession include 接着于是、and 然后. Conjunctions indicating progression include 甚至至于、and 而且.


  1. 工人干部工作认真。 (Workers and leader have all been working very dilligently.) The conjunciton is used to connect two nouns.
  2. 领导讨论并且通过两个条款。 (Party leaders discussed and passed two clauses.) The conjunction 并且 is used to connect two verbs.
  3. 排球还是足球? (Would you like to play volley ball or play soccer?) Conjunction 还是 is used to connect two phrases.
  4. 如果不能开车坐车。 (If you cannot drive then catch a bus.) The conjunction 如果 is used to connect two sentences.

Some conjunctions are used in matching pairs.

  1. 因为所以明天。(Because I am busy, I will not go tomorrow.)
  2. 现在虽然冬天但是。(Even though is is winter at present, it is actually not cold.)

When using to join more than two words or phrases it can be placed before the last word or phrase. The serial comma “、” can be used to represent the conjunction . For example, 今天两个一个

助词 Particles

Particles are added to words, phrases, or sentences to express supplementary meaning, grammatical relations, or mood. Particles do not have an independent meaning. Particles are spoken in the neutral tone.

Structural particles are added to words or phrases to express a grammatical relation. The structural particles are and . The structural particle can only be placed after an attributive modifier. For example, 衣服漂亮。 (Her clothes are beautiful.) can only be placed after an adverbial adjunct. For example, 刻苦地学。 (She studies hard.) must be placed after a verb or adjective and before a complement. For example, 。(She runs fast.)

Aspectual particles are placed after verbs to indicate a supplementary meaning. The aspectual particles are (le),(zhe)and (guo). However, not all verb can be followed by and .

incidates that an action is in progress or in a particular state at a certain time or that a particular state continues. For example,

  1. 小提琴。 She is playing the violin. (The action is in progress.)
  2. 。 The door is open. (The state is continuing.)
  3. 我们聊天。 We are sitting down chatting. (in a certain state)

When the particle follows a verb it indicates that an action has been completed. For example, 一本。 'I bought a book' (Sun 2006, loc. 610).

The aspectual particle is placed after a verb to indicate that the action happened in the past. For example, 美国没有? (Have you ever been to the United States?)

Modal particles are placed at the end of a sentence to express a mood. The modal particles are (ma),(ne),(ba),(le),(a).

The modal particle indicates a question. For example, 机场饭店? (Is the airport far from the hotel?)

The modal particle has the following uses

  1. can be placed at the end of an affirmative / negative question to indicate uncertainty. For example,
  2. can be placed at the tail of a sentence with an interrogative pronoun to indicate conjecture. For example, 错误
  3. can be used in a question with an alternative to indicate a tone of interrogation. For example, 学科还是文学? (Are you studying science or are you studying arts?)
  4. can be appended to a noun or pronoun to ask a one-member question. For example, 现在我们回家? (We are going home. And you?)
  5. can be used at the end of a declaritive sentence to indicate that an action or condition is still continuing. For example, 那么没有决定。(Not so fast. I haven't made up my mind yet.)

The modal particle has the uses listed below.

  1. can be used at the end of a declarative sentence to express a proposal, consultation, command, or request. For example, 琢磨琢磨! (I suggest you reconsider carefully!)
  2. can be used at the end of a statement to indicate agreement. For example, 。 (Very well then. I will go first.
  3. may be used at the end of a declarative sentence to indicate estimation or some uncertainty. For example, ? (Did you forget?)

The modal particle has the following uses:

  1. may be used at the end of a sentence to indicate exclamation. For example, 孩子多礼!(This child is so polite!)
  2. can be used at the end of a sentence to urge or exhort. For example, ! (Think carefully!)
  3. can be used at the end of an alternative style question, a affirmative-negative question, or a question with an interrogative pronoun to indicate an interrogative tone. For example, 坐车还是打车? (Are you going to catch a bus or [wave down] a taxi?)

The structural particle has the following uses.

  1. can be used at the end of a sentence to indicate a newly emerged condition. For example, 外边下雨。 (It has started to rain outside.)
  2. may be used at the end of a sentence to indicate a reminder, advice, or urging.

The modal particle can only be used at the end of a declarative sentence to form a question. 翻译? (Are you a translator?)

叹词 Interjections

Interjections express an exclamation, a call, or a response. For example, (wèi)、(èn)、(à)、哎呀(āiyā)、”(ō)、and (ó). Interjections are most often used at the start of a sentence but do not act as an element of the sentence. For example,

  1. ? [Hello. Are you Xiao Wang?] (打电话表示呼唤)(Making a telephone, expressing a greeting.)
  2. 。 [Yes. I am Xiao Wang.] (表示答应)[Expressing a response]
  3. 哎呀衣服湿。 [Oh my! My clothes are wet.] (表示惊讶)(Expressing surprise)
  4. 美丽风景。[Ah! What a beautiful scene.] (表示赞叹) (Expressing admiration)
  5. 马上。 [OK! I will go right away.] (表示答应) (Indicating a response)
  6. 。 [Oh! My mistake.] (表示领会) (Expressing realization)
  7. 原来。 [Oh! It was you all along.] (表示了解) (Expressing understanding)

象声词 Onomatopes

An onomatope imitates the sound of a thing or action. Examples:

  1. 哗哗流水) (The sound of flowing water)
  2. 扑通东西水里声音) (The sound of an object falling into water)
  3. 乒乓枪声乒乓球声音) (The sound of bouncing objects or gunfire)
  4. 呼呼声音) (The sound of the wind)
  5. 轰隆雷声机器) (The sound of thunder, machinery, or artillery)
  6. 叮当金属碰撞声音) (Clink of metal objects)
  7. 哈哈笑声) (The sound of laughter)


Affixes in English include prefixes like 'un' in 'unhappy.' In Chinese prefixes include , as in 第一 'first', 第二 'second', etc and as in 初一 'first of the month', 初二 'second of the month'. Suffixes include the plural suffix as in 我们 'us' and 他们 'them'.

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Glossary and Other Vocabulary