When you have a conversation with Chinese people, you may find that the structures of the sentences they use are quite flexible. There are many kinds of structural relationships in modern Chinese sentences. A single word can form a sentence, in addition to the sentence composed of a single word, a specific sentence is always composed of certain components, and these components are composed of certain relationships in the sentence. There seems no rules of how they putting the words into sentences. In fact, there is a great deal of flexibility of Chinese sentence structure. It would be much easier to start from short sentence, and understand the basic formula of the key structures. Today, let’s start with some simple sentence structures.
1. Subject + Predicate + Object 主语谓语宾语句型(主语/zhǔyǔ 谓语/wèiyǔ 宾语/bīn yǔ 句型/jùxíng )
The traditional grammar divides the sentence into two parts: the object and the declarative sentence of the object, which are called subject, predicate and object. A considerable number of sentences in Chinese are subject + predicate and subject + predicate + object structure sentences. Generally speaking, just like English, the subject comes at the beginning of the sentence, and followed by predicate and object.
- 天气|很冷 (tiān qì|hěn lěng): The weather is cold
In this sentence, weather is the subject and cold is predicate word
- 我|在看书 (wǒ zài |kàn shū): I am reading a book
I is the subject, reading a book is the predicate
- 明天|圣诞节 (míng tiān|shèng dàn jié): Tomorrow is Christmas
- 他|是个好人 (tā|shì gè hǎo rén): He is a good man
- 我|在北京生活十年了 (wǒ|zài běi jīng shēng huó shí nián le): I have lived in Beijing for ten years
- 禁止|吸烟 (jìn zhǐ|xī yān): No smoking
As you can find the above sentences have the same order as English sentence. In the following part, you will find a few differences in structure between Chinese and English.
In the subject predicate sentence, the special feature of the subject is that the predicate words can act as the subject.
- 来上海上学|是正确的 (lái shàng hǎi shàng xué | shì zhèng què de :):
Come to Shanghai for education is right (Direct translation)
It is a right decision to come to Shanghai for education
- 过分谦虚|就显得虚伪了(guò fèn qiān xū | jiù xiǎn de xū wěi le):
Being too modest makes you hypocritical.
- 吃得太饱|不利于健康 (chī de tài bǎo | bù lì yú jiàn kāng):
Eating too much is bad for your health
- 抽烟|对身体有害 (chōu yān | duì shēn tǐ yǒu hài):
Smoking is bad to your health.
There are also many characteristics of predicates, such as numerals, quantifiers, pronouns can be used as predicates. Such as:
- 她|中等身材，圆脸蛋，一副孩子气 (tā|zhōng děng shēn cái，yuán liǎn dàn，yī fù hái zi qì):
She is of medium build, round face and childish.
- 家里|就他一个人 (jiā lǐ|jiù tā yī gè rén ):
The Family he is the only one. (Direct translation)
He’s the only one in the family.
- 明天|新年 (míng tiān|xīn nián)：
Tomorrow is the new year
Adjectives and their phrases do not need binding words and can be used as predicates directly. For example:
- 他|很能干 (tā|hěn néng gàn): He’s very capable.
- 这孩子|很聪明 (zhè hái zi|hěn cōng míng): This kid is smart.
- 这份工作|比较辛苦 (zhè fèn gōng zuò|bǐ jiào xīn kǔ): This job is hard.
2. Non-Subject+Predicate+Object Sentense Structure 非主语谓语宾语句型 (非/fēi 主语/zhǔyǔ 谓语/wèiyǔ 宾语/bīn yǔ句型/jùxíng )
There are also a considerable number of sentences that are not subject + predicate structure.
(1) Sentences with twisted order between subjects and its phrases: phrases at the begining, and followed by subject
- 好香的｜饭菜呀 (hǎo xiāng de｜fàn cài ya): What a delicious meal!
- 我们的｜校园 (wǒ men de｜xiào yuán): Our campus.
- 一本｜书 (yī běn｜shū): A book.
- 对于这个问题的｜看法 (duì yú zhè gè wèn tí de｜kàn fǎ): Views on this issue
- 科学｜发明 (kē xué｜fā míng): Scientific invention
- 快乐地｜生活 (kuài lè de｜shēng huó): Live happily
- 小声地｜讲话 (xiǎo shēng de｜jiǎng huà): Speak in a low voice
- 明天｜见 (míng tiān｜jiàn): See you tomorrow
(2) Sentences with predicate + object structure.
- 下｜雨了 (xià｜yǔ le): It’s raining
- 出｜太阳了(chū｜tài yáng le): It’s sunshine now
- 觉得｜很累 (jué de｜hěn lèi): Feel really tired.
（3）Sentences with predicate + complement structure. For example
- 跑得｜满头汗 (pǎo dé｜mǎn tóu hàn): Sweating all over the head
- 吃的｜太饱了 (chī de｜tài bǎo le): Eat too much
- 走｜出去 (zǒu｜chū qù): Walk out
- 好得｜很 (hǎo dé｜hěn): It’s very good.
- 倒｜在地上 (dǎo｜zài dì shàng): Fall to the ground.
(4) Sentences with other structures.
- 请进 (qǐng jìn): Come in
- 我的 (wǒ de): Its mine.
- 谁的 (shéi de): Whose?
- 请你来一下 (qǐng nǐ lái yī xià): Please come.
（5）A single word.
- 谁 (shéi): Who?
- 我 (wǒ): Me
- 快 (kuài): Come on
- 走 (zǒu): Go
As we can see from the above examples, in general aspect, from the order of subject and predicate, the English and Chinese expression order is consistent. For some auxiliary elements, such as the subject, object and other main attributives, Chinese and English sentenses adopt different ways, that is, Chinese takes the way of preposition, while English takes the way of postposition.
Time expressions come before or after the subject.
- 我昨天去游泳了(wǒ zuó tiān qù yóu yǒng le )
Chinese sentense structure: I yesterday went to swimming.
English sentese structure: Yesterday I went to swimming
To indicate where an event happened, the place expression comes after the subject and before the verb.
- 我在商场里见到了我的朋友 (wǒ zài shāngchǎng li jiàndào le wǒ de péngyou)
Chinese sentense structure: I in the shopping mall met my friend.
English sentense structure: I met my friend in the shopping mall.
It is usually placed after the verb, but other possibilities include before the verb, before the subject, or even removed. Conversational Chinese often excludes both the subject and the object when they communicate the same thing, the context make clear senses to audiences.
We hope that you’ve found this post helpful in starting to understand Chinese grammar and Chinese sentence structure.
Want to boost your Chinese?
With maayot, receive a daily engaging story in Mandarin Chinese based on your level.
How does it work?
You’ll get a Chinese story once a day. It’s tailored to your level. Click on any character you don’t know to see it’s definition or add it to your spaced-repetition app.
Two new words that you may not have studied yet from higher levels.
Practice your listen with a daily native high-quality recording of the day’s story.
Test your understanding of the text with a quick and simple quiz. If you read it with attention, it should be rather simple.
Practice your writing skills by answering to the day’s open-ended question.
You can register now to receive stories right away.