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Very Basic Chinese Grammar

Chinese grammar is the easy bit

Chinese grammar is remarkably simple for the beginner. Verbs do not conjugate, (ie it’s just ‘go’ whoever’s doing it – I go, you go, he go etc), there are no genders, no ‘the’ or ‘a’, and no tenses as such. On top of that, Chinese people almost never say ‘please’, so you don’t need to worry about that, and there’s rarely any need to distinguish between the ‘polite’ and ‘impolite’ ways of saying things.

Subject-Verb-Object

In Chinese, you say the subject first, then the verb, then the object, the same as English. So for example,

I = Wǒ,我

Love = Ài 爱

Rice = Mĭfàn 米饭

Add it all together to make Wǒ ài mĭfàn 我爱米饭– I love rice

Negative

To make a sentence negative, you just add no/not, bù 不 in front of the verb

e.g. Wǒ bù ài mĭfàn 我不爱米饭– I don’t love rice

Questions

To make the statement into a question, you just add ‘ma 吗’ at the end.

e.g. Wǒ ài mĭfàn ma 我爱米饭吗– Do I love rice?

Learn one more word – you ‘Nĭ 你’ and if you already know how to say to your Chinese friend:

Nĭ bú ài wǒ ma? 你不爱我吗?

Don’t you love me?!

Measure Words – Don’t panic

The Chinese language employs measure words when talking about a number of something. A bit like when people refer to ‘100 head of cattle’, or ‘two bunches of flowers’, apart from that it is used in all situations, for example, in Chinese one would say ‘two sticks of road’ and ‘three flat-things of ticket’.

Different measure words are used according to the shape or use of the thing. Things held with the hand often use ‘bă – 把’, and long thin things often used ‘tiáo – 条’which literally means stick.

Fortunately, as with most things in Chinese, there is an easy way out for beginners. The measure word ‘gè – 个’ can be used to refer to virtually anything, and though it’s not strictly correct Chinese, it will get your meaning across. So one (of something) is yī gè, two is liăng gè, three is sān gè.


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