Basic Structures of Chinese Sentences

BY CchattyArticleComprehensive Chinese
Release time:2019-01-08
Tag: Chinese Language
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The Chinese language is drastically different from English not only in phonological and morphological terms but also in terms of sentence structure.
part 1

Basic Structures of Chinese Sentences

Basic Structures of Chinese Sentences

The Chinese language is drastically different from English not only in phonological and morphological terms but also in terms of sentence structure. Let's first take the example of sentence subjects. It is not unusual to find that they can often be left out, or otherwise can not only be nouns or pronouns but also other parts of speech. And the parts of speech of the same words can often change in different sentences according to their actual functions. As regards the relation between the subject and predicate, there is often nothing to mark where the division line is because verbs including link verbs are not indispensable. What's more, the omission of prepositions and connective words is also natural. These peculiarities may make the relations between words, phrases and sentences appear rather blurred to the Indo-European language natives.

In the following, we will see the distinctive features of Chinese sentence structure from all these important aspects.

part 2

Sentence Components and Word Order

Sentence Components and Word Order

Although a Chinese sentence may be composed of the same components as in English -- the subject, predicate verb, object, adverbial, and complement, these components can be different in some aspects. In fact, there are not very strict rules as regards what grammatical functions can be served by what parts of speech. Generally speaking, the grammatical function of a word or word group and its relation with other words or word groups is mainly decided by the word order of the sentence. For example:

1) 发展 需要 科技。(fa1 zhan3 xu1yao4 ke1ji4)

develop need science technology: Development needs science and technology.

2) 发展 科技 需要...

develop science technology need... The development of science and technology needs...

3) 需要 发展 科技。

need to develop science technology: There is the need to develop science and technology.

4) 需要 科技 发展。

Need science technology to develop: It's necessary for science and technology to develop.

5) 科技 需要 发展。

Science technology need develop: Science and technology should develop.

6) a.科技 发展 需要…

Science technology needs...: The development of science and technology needs...

6) b.科技 发展 需要

The need for developing science technology

In these sentences, the grammatical functions of the three words are listed in the following table.

Basic Structures of Chinese Sentences 2

Therefore, the meaning of a sentence and the actual grammatical function a word can play will highly depend on the word order, which may seem rather arbitrary and subjectively understood by the Chinese people. This can sometimes give a puzzling play of the sentence variations and changes in meaning, as exemplified with the following 6 characters:

小 xiao3 羊 yang2 山 shan1 上 shang4 吃 chi1 草 cao3

The possibilities of sentences made of these characters are:

1) 小羊山上吃草 (the above order)

The little lamb eats grass on the hill.

2) 小羊上山吃草

The little lamb goes up the hill to eat grass.

3) 小羊吃山上草

The little lamb eats grass grown on the hill.

4) 小羊吃草上山

The little lamb, for eating grass, goes up the hill.

5) 小山上羊吃草

On the small hill, the sheep eat grass.

6) 羊上小山吃草

The sheep go up the little hill to eat grass.

7) 羊上山吃小草

The sheep goes up the hill to eat small grass.

8) 羊吃山上小草

The sheep eat small grass grown on the hill.

9) 羊吃小山上草

 The sheep eat the grass on the small hill.

10) 羊小山上吃草

The sheep are small and it eats grass on the hill.

11) 羊山上吃小草

The sheep, on the hill, eat small grass.

12) 上山小羊吃草

Going up the hill, the small lamb eats grass.

13) 上山羊吃小草

Going up the hill, the sheep eat small grass.

14) 上山吃草羊小

To go up the hill to eat grass, the sheep are small.

15) 山上小羊吃草

On the hill, the little lamb eats grass.

16) 山上小草羊吃

The little grass on the hill is eaten by the sheep.

17) 吃草小羊上山

To eat grass, the little lamb goes up the hill.

Given that the singular or plural forms of nouns are not indicated but are to be understood in the context, we can imagine what other changes and English interpretations may be reasonable too!

part 3

The Sentence Subject

Function Words

Like other grammatical components, the Chinese sentence subjects can take various forms. Nouns, verbs and adjective or phrases or whatever "part of speech" can be the sentence subject except the adverb. In addition, what is normally taken as the object of a verb in English can also be considered as the subject in Chinese, provided that it takes the initial position and serves as the topic of an utterance. That is to say, the Chinese sentence subject is rather about the theme or topic, and not merely agent of an action, though the theme and grammatical subject may often coincide in one word or phrase.

Therefore, we consider the Chinese sentence subjects as having two broad categories, grammatical subjects and thematical subjects. Of these two only the first coincides with the subject of English sentences, and the second is further divided into several kinds. Examples of these cases are provided in the following, with the English interpretations in both the original Chinese literal wording and a free rendition. The words used as subjects are represented in bold letters for special attention.

1. Grammatical Subjects

Basically same as in English, the subjects in this group of sentences are served by nominal words like nouns and pronouns. However, it should be noted that in Chinese they may not take a verb. And in the case when there is a sentence verb, there is no change in the form of the verb itself for grammatical "agreement” as in English.

1) 我学汉语。wo3 xue2 han4yu3.

WFW: I learn Mandarin Chinese.

FI: I learn Mandarin Chinese.

2) 我有信心。wo2 you3 xin4xin1.

I have confidence: I have the confidence.

3) 他是我(的)朋友。ta1  shi4 wo3 de peng2you.

WFW: He is I (DEG) friend.

FI: He is my friend.

4) 汉语其实不难。Han4yu3 qi2shi2 bu4nan2.

Chinese actually not difficult.

It is in fact not difficult to learn Chinese

5) 这本书很好。zhe4 ben3 shu1 hen3hao3

WFW: This ([MW]) book very good.

FI: This book is very good.

6) 我爱艺术和运动。wo3 ai4 yi4shu4 he2 yun4dong4.

WFW: I love art and movement.

FI: I love art and physical exercises.

Special Notes: Sentences 4) and 5) have no verbs, just as in the most frequently used greeting "你好" (How do you do). What directly follow the subjects in these two sentences are adjective components. The adjective “难” in 4) is modified by two adverbs, "其实" and “不”; and the adjective "好" in 5) is modified by the adjective "很"?


2. Thematical Subjects of Fronted Components

The subjects in this group are usually not the agents or actors of the sentence verbs, but what may be considered as the fronted objects, complements, or other components of the sentence if translated into English. In Chinese, they are understood as the topic words of what is commented on or described in the predicate.

1) 这个我知道。Zhe4ge4 wo3 zhi1dao4.

WFW: This I know.

FI: I know this/This is what I know

2) 他我已经告诉了。ta1 wo3 yi3jing1 gao4su4 le.

WFW: He I already told.

FI: I have already told him.

3) 数学我觉得很难。Shu4xue2 wo3 jue2de hen3 nan2.

WFW: Math I feel very difficult.

FI: I find a match very difficult.

4) 饭我没吃。fan4 wo3 mei2 chi1.

WFW: Meal I not eat.

FI: I haven't eaten (the meal).

5) 这件事要商量。zhe4 jian4 shi4 yao4 shang1liang.

WFW: This matter wants discussion.

FI: This is a matter that deserves discussion.

6) 这间屋子我做卧室。zhe4 jian1 wu2zi wo3 zuo4 wo4shi4.

WFW: This [MW] room I make the bedroom.

FI: I use this room as my bedroom.

7) 那个人我跟他通过电话。na4ge4 ren2 wo3 gen1 ta1 tong1 guo4 dian4hua4.

WFW: That man (/person) I [P] him communicate [AS] telephone.

FI: I have talked with that person on the phone.

8) 这事你可以写一部小说。Zhe4shi4 ni3 ke3yi3 xie3 yi2bu4 xiao3shuo1.

WFW: This matter you may write one [MW] novel.

FI: You may consider writing a novel about this.


3. Detached Thematic Subjects

In Chinese, there are cases when the sentence subject is "detached" from the predicate in meaning usually because something to be understood according to the context is omitted. We call this case the context-depending detachment or simply detached thematic subject.

Highly dependent on the context, the relations between the subjects and the predicates in meaning may be difficult to specify when the situation is not given, and so the free translation provided for each of following examples is just one of the possibilities.

1) 我是米饭,不是馒头。wo3 shi4 mi3fan4, bu2shi4 man2tou.

WFW: I am rice, not Mantou (steamed bread).

FI: For me, it’s rice and not Mantou.

2) 她是中文系。ta1 shi4 zhong1wen2 xi4.

WFW: She is Chinese Literature Department.

FI: She is in (with, from) the Chinese Literature Department. / / For her, it's the Chinese Literature Department.

3) 你是汉字吗?   ni3 shi2 han4zi4 ma?

WFW: You be Chinese Character [SP]?

FI: For you, is it Chinese Character (that bothers you, etc.)?

4) 他是这件衣服。ta1 shi4 zhe4jian4 yi1fu.

WFW: He is this piece of garment

FI: For him, it's this piece of garment.

5) 我们公司是软件。wo3men gong1si1 shi4 ruan3jian4.

WFW: We company is software.

FI: Our company is in the software business.

4. Spatial-Temporal Thematical Subjects

A spatial-temporal component in the Chinese sentence can serve the function of subject although it may also function as an adverbial component as in English. This is because in Chinese the concept of time and space can be the theme or topic of discourse. The difference between the subject and adverbial functions is not always easy to tell, but there is a general principle: when the sentence has no other subject and the spatial-temporal entity is understood as what is talked about, it is the subject of the sentence.

1) 今天是星期天。jin1tian1 shi4 xing1qi1tian1.

WFW: Today is Sunday.

FI: Today is Sunday (It is Sunday today).

2) 现在是8点。xian4zai4 shi4 ba1 dian3.

WFW: Now is 8 hour (point)

FI: It's 8 o'clock now.

3) 上午有课。shang4wu3 you3 ke4.

WFW: Morning has class.

FI: There are classes (there is a class) in the morning.

4) 秋天凉快。qiu1Hian1 liang2kuai.

WFW: Autumn cool.

FI: It is cool in the Autumn.

5) 这几天很热。Zhe1r4 tian1 hen3 re4.

WFW: These several days very hot.

FI: It's hot these days.

6) 南方雨多。nan2fang1 yu3 duo1.

WFW: South (quarter) rain much.

FI: Rainfall is heavy in the south.

7) 这里经济发达。zhe4li3 jing1ji4 fa1da2.

WFW: This place economy developed.

FI: This area is economically developed.

7) 办公室里有人。ban4gong1shi4 li3 you3 ren2.

WFW: Office inside have the person.

FI: There is someone in the office.


5. Verbal Thematic Subjects

A verbal component in the form of a single verb itself or one with its adverb, object or complimentary word(s) may all serve as the sentence subject.

1) 说起来容易。shuo1 qi3lai2 rong2yi.

WFW: Talk up easy.

FI: It's easy to say it.

2) 这样学很好。zhe4yang4xue2  hen3 hao3.

WFW: So learn very good.

FI: It's good to learn this way.

3) 喝酒我不行。he1jiu3 wo3 bu4xing2.

WFW: Drink wine I no go.

FI: As for drinking, I am no good.

4) 学语言有趣。xue2 yu3yan2 you3qu4.

WFW: Learn the language interesting.

FI: It is interesting to learn a language.

5) 去见他是对的。qu4jian4ta1 shi4 dui4 de.

WFW: Go see him is right.

FI: Its right to go to see (meet) him

6) 有知识最重要。you3 zhi1shi zui4 zhong4yao4.

WFW: Have knowledge most important.

FI: To have knowledge is of the first importance.

7) 开车不能大意。kai1che1 bu4neng2 da4yi.

WFW: Drive vehicle not can careless.

FI: When driving, one can't be careless.


6. Adjective Thematic Subjects

Adjectives can serve as the sentence subject directly, for in Chinese there is no inflectional means (like "-ness") to change them into nouns indicating quality.

1) 红的鲜艳。Hong2     de xianlyan4.

WFW: Red bright.

FI: The red colour looks bright.

2) 干干净净好。gan1gan1jing4jing4 hao3

WFW: Clean good.

FI: It is good to be clean.

3) 便食不一定好。pian2yi bu4 yi2ding4 hao3.

WFW: Cheap not certainly good.

FI: Cheap things may not be good.

4) 大一点儿舒服。da4 yi4 dianr3 shu1fu.

WFW: Big a little comfortable.

FI: It is comfortable to have it a little larger.

5) 优秀不容易。you1xiu4 bu4 rong2yi.

WFW: Excellent, not easy.

FI: It is not easy to be excellent.


7. Sentence Thematic Subjects

Since in Chinese there is no clause marker like "that" and "which", a sentence can directly function as the subject of a more complicated sentence.

1) 我学汉语是刚开始。wo3 xue2 han4yu3 shi4 gang1 kai1shi3.

WFW: I learn Mandarin is just begun.

FI: I'm just a beginner in learning Mandarin.

2) 他说我很聪明不对。ta1 shuo1 wo3 hen3 cong1ming2 bu2 dui4.

WFW: He say I very intelligent, not right.

FI: He is not correct saying that I am very intelligent.

3) 我这样说不是客气。wo3 zhe4yang4 shuo1 bu2shi4 ke4qi.

WFW: I so say not be polite.

FI: I am not saying this for being polite.

4) 游客来参观是好事情。you2ke4 lai2 can1guan1 shi4 hao3 shi4qing.

WFW: Tourist come to visit is a good thing.

FI: It is good to have tourists coming for a visit.


8. Ranked Thematic Subjects

In case when several nouns or noun phrases follow one another in a word group and serve the function of the sentence subject, they usually have different ranks in terms of their semantic relations, with the foregoing word higher in semantic rank than the succeeding one, having broader sense than it or taking it as a part. We call this kind of subjects ranked thematic subjects. It should be specially noted, however, that although here we take these directly connected word groups as ranked thematic subjects, they are often understood as having one central subject word modified by preceding words. Their internal relations are simply decided by the word order and ranks. Besides, given that the Chinese sentence is topic-prominent instead of subject-prominent, some traditional grammarians may only take the first word that is highest in rank as the sentence subject and all the rest as the predicate.

1) 他身材高大。ta1 shen1cai2 gao1 da4.

WFW: He builds great.

FI: He is tall.

2) 我衣服纽扣掉了。wo3 yi1fu niu3kou4 diao4le.

WFW: My jacket button drop [AS].

FI: A button came off my jacket.

3) 这棵树叶子颜色黄了。zhe4 ke1 shu4 ye4zi yan2se4 huang2 le.

WFW: This [MW] tree leave colour yellow [AP].

FI: The colour of the leaves on this tree has turned yellow.

4) 公园树林里面有个亭子。gongyuan2 shu4lin2 li3mian you3ge4 ting2zi.

WFW: Public park woods inside have [MW] pavilion.

FI: There is a pavilion in the woods of the public park.

5) 我们家房子卧室大。wo3men jia1 fang2zi wo4shi4 da4.

WFW: We family house bedroom big.

FI: The bedroom of our family is big.

6) 新办公室桌椅还没有。xin1 ban4gong1shi4 zhuo1yi3 hai2 mei2you3.

WFW: New office room desk chair still not have.

FI: The new office room is not yet furnished with desks and chairs.

7) 我们厂一半是中国人。 wo3men chang3 yi2ban4 shi4 zhong1guo2 ren2.

WFW: Our factory one half is Chinese.

FI: Half of the people of our factory are Chinese.

There are also sentences when more than one lower-rank subjects in coordinated relation are separated by each of their own objects or complements. In another word, there may be cases in which more than one subject-predicate structure following the top-rank subject, such as the following.

8) 这商品物美价廉。zhe4 shang1pin3 wu4 mei3 jia4 lian2.

WFW: This merchandise thing nice price cheap.

FI: This piece of merchandise has nice quality and low price.

9) 我国人多地少。wo3 guo2 ren2 duo1 di4 shao3.

WFW: Our country people many land little.

FI: Our country is densely populated on relatively limited land.

It should be specially noted, however, that in the case of separated ranks of subjects, the normal syntactic analysis would take only the first top-rank word as the sentence subject, with the rest considered as the predicate.


9. Absent Thematic Subjects

Important as the theme- or topic-related subjects are in Chinese, they may be omitted if the meaning can be elicited from other words in the sentence or the context and thus considered as unnecessary, as in the following examples. This is because a Chinese sentence, unlike English, does not need an expletive word to fill a syntactic vacancy.

1) 好!hao3!

WFW: Good!

FI: Good!

2) 请进。qing3jin4.

WFW: Please enter.

FI: Come in, please.

3) 有人!you3 ren2!

WFW: There be a person.

FI: There is someone there.

4) 就是他。jiu4 shi4 ta1.

WFW: Just be him.

FI: It's him.

5) 下雨了。xia4 yu3 le.

WFW: Rain [SP].

FI: It's raining.

6) 已经是春天了。yi3jing1 shi4 chun1tian1 le.

WFW: Already is Spring [SP].

FI: It's already Spring.

Special Note: The word "了" at the end is a sentence-final particle ([SP]) that functions as an aspect marker ([AP]).

part 4

The Sentence Predicate

The Sentence Predicate

The predicate, one of the two main component parts of a sentence in traditional grammar, can take various forms in Chinese, simple or complicated. It has some distinctive features that differ from English, such as the omission of the verb, the use of a series of verbs (or verbal chain) and the "verb + object + verb" structure (or "pivot structure). It should also be noted that the Chinese verbs don't change in form but take certain other words to express the differences in tense and aspect.


1. Nominal Predicate

The nominal predicate is a special phenomenon in contrast to English sentence structure, for it directly follows the subject without any verbs, although verbs could be inserted, with little significant changes in the meaning.

1) 今天阴天。jin1tian1 yin1tian1.

WFW: Today overcast.

FI: It's overcast today.

2) 明天国庆节。ming2tian1 guo2qing4jie2.

WFW: Tomorrow National Day.

FI: Tomorrow will be the National Day.

3) 他祖籍山东。ta1 zu3ji2 shan1 dong1.

WFW: He family origin Shandong.

FI: His family is from Shandong.

4) 我儿子12岁。wo3 er2zi shi2 er4 sui4.

WFW: My son 12 years.

FI: My son is 12 years old.

5) 小张直性子。xiao3   zhang1 zhi2xing4zi.

WFW: Little Zhang straight-forward character.

FI: Little Zhang has a straight-forward character.

6) 一公斤5块钱。yi4 gong1jin1 wu3 kuai4 qian2.

WFW: One kilo five Yuan.

FI: One kilo for five Yuan.

7) 上班时间8点。shang4ban1 shi2jian1 ba1 dian3.

WFW: Work time 8 o’clock.

FI: Work begins at 8 o’clock.

8) 他,湖南人。ta1, hu2nan2 ren2.

WFW: He, Hunan person.

FI: He is from Hunan.

Special Notes: In all the above, there could be the judgement verb "是" inserted, which may add to its meaning a strong affirmative or differentiating tone.


2. Adjective Predicate

An adjective immediately following the subject makes up the adjective predicate of the sentence.

1) 我高兴。wo3 gao1xing4.

WFW: I glad.

FI: I'm glad.

2) 中国伟大。zhong1guo2wei3da4.

WFW: China great.

FI: China is great.

3) 汉语难。han4yu3 nan2.

WFW: Mandarin difficult.

FI: Mandarin is difficult

4) 你真好。ni3 zhen1 hao3.

WFW: You really good.

FI: You are really good.

The judging verb "是" may be used between the subject and the adjective in all the above sentences, and if so it would make a little difference in the meaning, giving more emphasis on the assertive tone as if denying a disagreement. Besides it is often used in collocation with "的" to form a "是-的" structure (see below).

The adjective component can be used in a comparative construction marked by "比(bi3)" or "比…更(geng)". In the latter case "比" is considered as a preposition ([P]) and "更" as an adverb, and the structure "比…更" is adverbial in nature, qualifying the adjective.

5) 他比我(更)高兴。ta4  bi4 wo4 geng4 gao4xing4.

WFW: He [P] I (more) glad.

FI: He is gladder than me.

6) 中国比美国(更)大。zhong1guo2 bi3 mei3guo2 (geng) da4.

WFW: China [P] US (more) big.

FI: China is (even) bigger than US.

7) 汉语比英语(更)难。han4yu3 bi3 ying1yu3 (geng4) nan2.

WFW: Mandarin [P] English (more) difficult.

FI: Mandarin is (even) more difficult than English.

The comparative construction can have a lower-rank subject that is related to one aspect of the sentence subject.

8) 他比我身体更好。ta1 bi3 wo3 shen1ti3 geng4 hao3.

WFW: He [P] I physique better.

FI: He has a better physique than me.

9) 中国比美国面积大。zhong1guo2 bi3 mei3guo2 mian4ji da4.

WFW: China [P] US area big.

FI: China has a bigger territory than US.

10) 汉语比英语语法更难。han4yu3 bi3 ying1yu3 yu3fa3 geng4nan2.

WFW: Mandarin [P] English grammar more difficult.

FI: Mandarin grammar is more difficult than that of English.

The relation between the two subjects at different ranks makes it possible to put them together. So the above three examples may also be changed into the following.

11) 他身体比我更好。ta1(de) shen1ti3 bi3 wo3 geng4 hao3.

12) 中国面积比美国大。zhong1guo2 (de) mian4ji bi3 mei3guo2 da4.

13) 汉语语法比英语更难。han4yu3 (de) yu3fa3 bi3 ying1yu3 geng4 nan2.

Special Notes: A genitive "de"(的) can be used between the two different ranks of subject words in the above three without changing the meaning.

As a general rule, the adjective predicate has its modifying adverbial in front and a complement construct after it. The former is illustrated in examples 1) to 5) and the latter in 6) to 8) in the following.

1) 主人很友好。zhu3ren2 hen3 you3hao3.

WFW: Host very friendly.

FI: The host is very friendly.

2) 你的朋友真聪明。ni3 de peng2you zhen7 coug1ming.

WFW: Your friend really intelligent.

FI: Your friend is really intelligent.

3) 你的想法不错。ni3 de xiang3fa3 bu2 cuo4.

WFW: Your idea not bad.

FI: You've got a good idea.

4) 西藏太远。xi1zang4 tai4 yuan3.

WFW: Tibet too far.

FI: Tibet is too far.

5) 这东西挺贵的。zhe4 dong1xi ting3 gui4 de.

WFW: This article rather expensive.

FI: This article is rather expensive.

6) 你说得对。ni3 shuo2 de dui4

WFW: You say [DER] right.

FI: You said correctly.

7) 他高兴极了。ta1 gao1xing4 ji2 le.

WFW: He glad extreme [SP/AS].

FI: He is extremely glad.

8) 我的身体好多了。wo3 de shen1ti3 hao3 duo1 le.

WFW: My body good much [SP/ AS].

FI: I am physically much better.

3. Verbal Predicate

Having at least one verb, a verbal predicate of the Chinese sentence may be very much like that in English. For instance, it can have a sentence verb that may be simple or complex, transitive or intransitive, or be modified by an adverb in front and/or followed by an object or complement component. However, it can also be drastically different from English, for it can have several verbs following one another directly or indirectly, without any morphological changes in them to indicate their grammatical relations, not even to show what is considered as the sentence verb. In the latter case, a great deal of what is to be reasonably understood will depend on the verb's order in the chain, so if it's the grammatical function.

Tense and Aspect of the Verbal Predicate

Since Chinese verbs don't have morphological changes for tense and aspect like the inflectional variations in English, the related concept of the action or process in the sentence predicate is expressed in additional words that collocate with the verbs, such as certain time-related nouns, adverbs and/or auxiliary words performing a structural function (ref. Auxiliaries, Chapter Four). For instance,"现在", “过去" and "将来" or "今天", "昨天", and "明天” (respectively meaning the present, past, future or today, yesterday and tomorrow) are used to express the temporal notions. And structural auxiliaries like "在", "正在", "着”, "了", “过" give the verbs additional meanings as expressed in the English continuous or perfect aspects. These words are used in similar ways as those describing the manner, degree, effect, direction, etc. of the action or process, and help make the meaning of the sentence predicate more specified and complete.

The Continuous Aspect

There are four most frequently used words in modem Chinese for marking the continuous aspects:在(zai), 正(zheng), 正在(zhengzai), and着(zhe).

在(zai4) is originally a preposition, but when used before a verb it serves as an adverb, performing the function of the aspect marker ING suffix as in English.

正(zheng4) is an alternative to 在 when used before a verb like an adverb, (it originally means the "right (position)" or "regular (shape)" as an adjective.

正在(zhengzai4), another alternative to 正 and 在, but is more formal and serious than the other two.

着(zhe) in the unmarked light tone is similar in meaning with the above three words but different in its position in the predicate, for it is not placed before the verb like an adverb, but after it as a complementary component, like the English the present continuous tense suffix "ing". In Chinese, it is regarded as an auxiliary word, a unit of grammatical structure rather than a word ending.

It should be noted that while the first three are alternatives to one another, the last word 着 can be used at the same time in collocation with any of the others.


Examples of the Continuous Aspect

1) 你在(/正/正在)干什么? ni3 zai4 (zheng4/zheng4zai4) gan4shen2me?

WFW: You [AD] do what?

FI: What are you doing?

2) 我在(/正/正在)听音乐。wo3 zai4 (zheng4/zheng4zai4) ting1 yin1yue4.

WFW: I listen to music.

FI: I am listening to music.

3) 现在我正(/在)工作。wo3 zheng4 (zai4) gong1zuo4.

WFW: Now I [AD] work.

FI: I'm working

4) 那时我正在(/正/在)洗操。na4 shi2 wo3 zheng4zai4 (zheng4/zai4) xi1zao3.

WFW: That time I [AD] bath

FI: I was in bath that time

5) 你在(/正/正在)学习吗? ni3 zai4 (zheng4/zheng4zai4) xue2xi2 ma1.

WFW: You [AD] leam aux?

FI: Are you studying?

6) 我正(/在/正在)找你呢。wo3 zheng4 (zai4/zheng4zai4) zhao3ni3 ne.

WFW: I [AD] search you aux.

FI: I am just looking for you.

7) 他们正在考虑以后的工作。Ta1men zheng4zai4 kao3lv4 yi3hou4 de gong1zuo.

WFW: They [AD] consider later aux work.

FI: They are considering their work in future.

8) 我正(/在/正在)等你。wo3 zheng4 (zai4/zheng4zai4) deng3 ni3.

WFW: I [AD] wait you.

FI: I am waiting for you.

9) 孩子们在(/正/正在)玩游戏。hai2zimen zai4 (zheng4/zheng4zai4) wan2you2xi4.

WFW: Children [AD] play game.

FI: The children are playing their game.

10)  我正在(/在/正)上班。wo3 zheng4zai4 (zai4/zheng4) shang4ban1.

WFW: I [AD] work (shift).

FI: I am working (on my shift)

In all the above examples, the actual tenses can be depending on the specific context and time words used. Therefore, when there are no time words used, the continuous aspect will be tacitly understood as the present tense.

The word "着” can be used after the verb independently or along with any one of the above three, without changing the meaning. For instance,

1) 你在(/正/正在)干着什么? ni3 zai4 (zheng4/zheng4zai4) gan4 zhe shen2me?

What are you doing?

2) 我在(/正/正在)听着音乐。wo3 zai4(zheng4/zhengzai4) ting1zhe yin1yue4.

I am listening to music.

3) 现在我正(/在)工作着。xian4zai4 wo3 zheng4 (zai4) gong1zuo4 zhe.

I am working now.

4) 他们在(/正/正在) 想着以后的工作。ta1men zai4 (zheng4/zheng4zai4) xiang3zhe yi3hou4 de gong1 zuo4.

They are thinking about their future work.

5) 孩子们在(/正  /正在)玩着游戏。hai2zimen zai4 (zheng4/zheng4zai4) wan2zhe you2xi4.

The children are playing their game.

Although the three alternative adverbs are often optional as shown above, there are also cases when only one of them -- “在” is used, and that is when there is yet another adverb in front.

1) 你还在做那个工作吗?   ni3 hai2zai4 zuo4 na4gegong1zuo4 ma?

Are you still doing that work?

2) 孩子还在外面玩。hai2zi  hai2 zai4 wai4mian wan2.

The children are still playing outside.

3) 我也在学中文。wo3 ye3 zai4 xue2 zhong1wen2.

I'm learning Chinese too.

4) 我们仍然在学习汉字。wo3men reng2ran2 zai4 xue2xi2 han4zi4.

We are still learning Chinese characters.

5) 我就在听着。wo3 jiu4zai4 ting1 zhe.

I'm listening right now.

6) 孩子没在玩。hai2zi  mei2 zai4 wan2.

The children are not playing.

7) 他一直在等你。ta1  yi4zhi2 zai4 deng3ni3.

He has been all along waiting for you.

In the above, the additional adverbs are respectively as follows:

还(hai2): still (as before, also)

也(ye3): also, too

仍然(reng2ran2): still (as before, also)

就(jiu4): right, just

没(mei2): not (/have not)

一直(yi4zhi2): all along (/always)

When expressing the negation, a negative word is used before "在 + verb", which may be "没","没有" or "不". And of the three negative words, "没” and "没有" can be used with "在",or without it when the continuous aspect is known from the context; but "不" is used always along with "在” for otherwise, it may not be in the continuous aspect. Sometimes, "不是” is used as an alternative to "不",making the tone more assertive as if clearing away doubts.

8) 孩子们没(在)玩。hai2zimen mei2 (zai4) wan2.

Or: 孩子们没有玩。

The children are not playing.

(Note: "没有" is also used for the perfect aspect, in which case the above is understood as "The children have not played".)

9) 孩子们不(是)在玩。hai2zimen   bu2 (shi4) zai4 wan2.

The children are not playing.

10) 我没(在)学中文。wo3 mei2 (zai4) xue2 zhong1wen2.

11) 我不(是)在学中文。wo3  bu2 (shi4) zai4 xue2 zhong1wen2.

I'm not learning Chinese.

In sentences 8) and 10), both “没” and “在" can be used. But when only “没” is used, it will indicate a perfect aspect, meaning "I have not learned Chinese.

12) 他不(是)在等你。ta1 bu2 (shi4) zai4 deng3ni3.

He is not waiting for you.


The Perfect Aspect

There are only two basic auxiliary words in modem Chinese that grammatically function for the perfect aspect, and they are 过(guo4) and 了 (le). The word 过 is changed to a function word from the verb meaning "pass" or "cross", while the function of "了" comes from the original verb meaning "finish" or "end".

Both words can be used independently or in collocation with each other in the sentence predicate. In the latter case, it is always "过" that takes the first place, and the position of "了" is habitually arbitrary, either before or after the object of the verb if it is transitive.

Note: "了" can also be a sentence-final particle ([SP]) instead of an aspect marker ([AS]).


Examples of the Perfect Aspect

For the same perfect aspect, there are several possibilities in using the aspect words "过" and "了". These are exemplified in the following.

1) I have already made the telephone call.

a. 我打过了电话。wo3 da3guo4 le dian4hua4.

b. 我打过电话。

c. 我打电话了。

d. 我打了电话。

2) Have you had your meal?

a. 你吃过了饭吗?ni3 chi1guo4le fan4 ma?

b. 你吃过饭吗?

c. 你吃饭了吗?

d. 你吃过饭了吗?

3) I have told her about this matter.

a. 这件事我告诉她了。zhe4jian4shi4 wo3 gao4su4 guo4 ta1 le.

b. 这件事我告诉了她。

c. 这件事我告诉过她。

d. 这件事我告诉过她了。

4) I have heard of your name.

a. 我听说了您的名字。(我听说您的名字了)wo3 ting1shuo1 le nin2 de ming2zi.

b. 我听说您的名字了。

c. 我听说过您的名字。

d. 我听说过您的名字了。

5) I have learned this word

a. 我学了这个词。wo3 xue2le zhe4ge4 ci2.

b. 我学这个词了。

c. 我学过这个词了。

d. 我学过了这个词。

6) We have met each other.

a.我们见面了。wo3men jian4mian4 le.

b. 我们见了面。

c. 我们见过面了。

d. 我们见过了面。

However, with some verbs, "过" or "过了" can make the meaning different from when only "了". This is exemplified in the following sentences.


Differences in "过" and “了"

1) 他来过了/他来过。 ta1 lai2guo4 le.

He has been here. (He is not here now)

2) 他来了。

He has come. (He is here now)

3) 孩子睡过觉了。hai2zi shui4guo4 jiao4 le.

The kid has slept. (He or she is awake now)

4) 孩子睡觉了。(He or she is asleep now)

The kid has gone to sleep.

In the same time, some tense-related adverbs can also be used before the verb to indicate the perfect aspect, such as "已经/已(yi3jing1 /yi3)" and "曾经/曾(ceng2jing1/ceng2)", respectively meaning "already" and "have the experience of”. While the two-character words are generally used in modern Chinese, the single-character words are mainly used in serious formal written text. The difference is that "已经" can be used together with the auxiliary "了", but "曾经" can not.

5) 我已经打过(了)电话。wo3 yi3jing1 da3guo4 (le) dian4hua4.

I have already made the telephone call.

6) 我曾(曾经)打过电话。wo3ceng2jing1 (ceng2) da3guo4 dian4hua4.

I once made the telephone call.

7) 这件事我已经告诉过她。zhe4jian4shi4 wo3 yi3jing1 gao4su4 guo3 ta1.

I have already told her about this matter.

8) 这件事我曾(曾经)告诉过她。zhe4jian4shi4 wo3 ceng2jing1 (ceng2) gao4su4 guo4 ta1.

I once told her about this matter.

Besides, a time word indicating the past can be put in front of the verb and its front-position adverb.

9) 我那个夏天还参观了北京故宫。wo3 na4ge xia4tian1 hai2 can1 guan1 le bei1jing1 gu4gong1.

I also visited the Beijing Summer Palace that summer.

10) 我几年前(已经)听到过您的名字了。wo3ji3nian2  qian2 (yi3jing1) ting1guo4 nin2 de ming2zi le.

Several years ago I had already heard of your name.

11) 我昨天(已经)学了这个词。wo3 zuo2tian1 (yi3jing1) xue2lezhe4ge ci2.

I had already learned this word by Yesterday.

12) 我们上星期就(已经)见面了。wo3men shang4 xing1qi1 jiu4 (yi3jing1) jian4mian4 le.

Last week we had already met.

13) 我们一小时前就(已经)吃过了饭。wo3men yi4 xiao3shi2 qian2 jiu4 (yi3jing1) chi1guo4 le fan4.

We had already eaten our meal one hour ago.


Expressions of the Tense

As stated earlier, the tenses of Chinese predicates are indicated with time-related words used in collocation with the verbs or verbal phrases. These words may be nouns or adverbs indicating the past, present or future. Let's take the English sentence "I check my e-mail" as an example to see the various changes of tense in Chinese, with the tense-related words printed in bold letters.

I check my e-mail.

1) Simple Present

我检查我的邮件。wo3 jian3cha2 wo3 de you2jian4.

I check my e-mail.

2) Simple Past


I checked my e-mail at 8 o'clock yesterday.

3) Future Simple


I will check my e-mail at 8 o'clock tomorrow.

4) Past Progressive


I was checking my e-mail at 8 o'clock yesterday.

5) Present Progressive 我现在正在检查我的邮件。

I am checking my e-mail now.

6) Future Progressive


I will be checking my e-mail at 8 o'clock tomorrow.

7) Past Perfect Simple


I checked my e-mail by 8 o'clock yesterday.

8) Present Perfect Simple


I have already checked my e-mail (now).

9) Future Perfect


I will have checked my e-mail by 8 o'clock tomorrow.

10) Past Perfect Progressive


I had already checked my e-mail by 8 o'clock yesterday.

11) Present Perfect Progressive 我到现在已经检查了很多邮件。

I have already checked many of my e-mails by now.

12) Future Perfect Progressive


I will have been checking my e-mail for ten minutes by 8 o'clock.


Tense-Related Adverbs and Nouns

Since Chinese tenses are usually indicated by time-related adverbs and nouns, it is important to know these words. The most frequently used are illustrated in the following examples in bold types. The position of these words can be either before the sentence subject or after it.

1) 刚才他发了一封邮件。(他刚才) gang1cai2 ta1 fa1le yi4feng1 you2jian4.

Just now, he sent out an e-mail.

2) 这位总统曾经访问中国。zhe4wei4 zong3tong3 ceng2jing fang3wen4 zhong1guo2.

This President has once visited China.

3) 我马上过来。wo3 ma3shang4 guo4lai.

I will come over right now.

4) 以前他没有学习过中文。(他以前……)yi3qian2 ta1 mei2you3 xue2xi2guo4 zhong1wen2. (ta yiqian…)

He has no experience of learning Chinese before.

5) 过去我打篮球。(我过去……)guo4qu4 wo3 da3lan2qiu2.

I have the experience of playing basketball (in the past).

6) 那时我还在学校学习。(我那时……)na4shi2 wo3 hai2zai4 xue2xiao4 xue2xi2.

I was studying at the school at that time.

7) 当时我没有笔记本电脑。(我当时……)dang1shi2 wo3 mei2you3 bi3ji1ben3 dian4nao3.

I didn't have a laptop at that time.

8) 那会儿我在洗澡。na4 hui4 er wo3 zai4 xi3zao3.

During that time, I was taking a bath.

9) 我以后会告诉你的。(以后我……)wo3 yi3hou4 hui4 gao4su4 ni3 de.

I'll tell you later.

10) 他即将出国旅游。ta1 ji2jiang1 chu1guo2 lv3you2.

He will soon go abroad on a sightseeing tour.

Questions and Negations Questions


There are basically three ways to convert a sentence to a Yes/No question. The first is to add the question word "吗" at the end of the sentence; the second is to make up a tag-question with the repetition of the verb "是" and "吗" added to the end of the sentence; and the third is to use a question structure in which the negative adverb "不" or "没(有)” is inserted in a repetition of the verb or its preceding auxiliary verb. Among them, the Chinese tag-question is very much like the English, often indicating a presumption of the questioner. Did he send an email just now?


1) 刚才他发了一封邮件吗?gang1cai2 ta1 fa1 le yi1feng1 you2jian4 ma?

2) 刚才他发了一封邮件,是吗(不是吗)?

3) 刚才他是不是发了一封邮件?

Has this president ever visited China?

1) 这位总统访问过中国吗?zhe4wei4 zong3tong3 fang3wen4 guo4 zhong1guo2ma?

2) 这位总统是不是曾经访问中国?   zhe4wei4 zong3tong3 shi4bu2shi4 ceng2jing1 fang3wen4 zhong1guo2?

3) 这位总统曾经访问中国?是吗(不是吗)? zhe4wei4 zong3tong3 ceng2jing1 fang3wen4 zhong1guo2? Shi4ma? (bu2shi4ma)?

这位总统访问没访问过中国? zhe4wei4 zong3tong3 fang3wen4 mei2 fang3wen4 guo4 zhong1guo2?

Will he go to Beijing?

1) 他去(要去)北京吗? ta1 qu4 (yao4qu4) bei3jing1 ma?

2) 他去不去(要不要去)北京?

3) 他是不是要去北京?

Has he been in Beijing?

1) 他去过北京吗?

2) 他去过北京,是吗(不是吗)?

3) 他有没有去过北京?

4) 他去没去过北京?

5) 他是不是去过北京?

Have you had your breakfast?

1) 王先生打篮球吗?   wang2xian1sheng da3 lan2qiu2 ma?

2) 王先生打篮球,是吗(不是吗)?

3) 王先生打不打篮球?

4) 王先生是不是打篮球?

Have you had your breakfast?

1) 你吃过早饭了吗?   ni3 chi1guo4 zao3fan4 le ma?

2) 你吃过早饭了,是吗(不是吗)?

3) 你吃过没吃过早饭?

4) 你吃没吃过早饭?

Special Note: The functional word "有" is also used in some areas in China's mainland, although it is not traditionally considered as a standard expression. For example:

1) 你有发过邮件吗?

2) 你有去过北京吗?

3) 你有吃过早饭吗?

Verbal Chain Predicate

If the predicate of the sentence is a word group formed by a series of verbs or verbal phrases (as described in Chapter Four), it is considered as a verbal chain predicate, in which a transitive verb can also have its own object.

1) 客人们坐下休息。ke4ren2men zuo4xia4 xiu1xi1.

WFW: Guests sit down rest.

FI: The guests sat down to have a rest.

2) 学生站起来发言。xue2sheng1 zhan4qi3lai2 fa1yan2.

WFW: Student stands up to make the speech.

FI: The student stood up to speak.

3) 我发邮件通知他。wo3 fa1 you2jian4 tong1zhi1 ta1.

WFW: I send email to inform him.

FI: I will send an email to inform him.

4) 有人打电话找你。you3ren2 da3 dian4hua4 zhao3 ni3.

WFW: Have man make telephone look for you.

FI: There is someone calling for you on the phone.

5) 我们来中国学习汉语。wo3men lai2 zhong1guo2 xue2xi2 han4yu3.

WFW: We come to China study Mandarin.

FI: We have come to China to study Mandarin.

6) 我们计划去欧洲旅游。wo3men ji4hua4 qu4 ou1zhou1 lv3you2.

WFW: We plan to go Europe travel.

FI: We plan to travel to Europe.

7) 他发短信告诉我了。ta1  fa1 duan3xin4 gao4su4 wo3 le.

WFW: He sends a short message tell me [AS].

FI: He has informed me with a cell phone message.


Pivot-construction Predicate

In the verbal chain, as described above, a verb may have its own subject too, which serves the object of the previous verb, thus functioning as a "pivot". In this case, the predicate of the sentence is called a pivot construction.


1) 我听你讲汉语。wo3 ting1 ni3 jiang3 han4yu3.

WFW: I listen to you speak Mandarin.

FI: I’d like to listen to you speaking Mandarin.

2) 我们请他发言。wo3men qing3 ta1 fa1yan2.

WFW: We invite he make the speech.

FI: We will ask him to speak.

3) 我帮助你学中文。wo3 bang1zhu4 ni3 xue2 zhong1wen2.

WFW: I help you learn Chinese.

FI: I will help you in learning Chinese.

4) 大家选他做代表。da1jia1 xuan3ta1 zuo4 dai4biao3.

WFW: We all elect he make be representative.

FI: We all elected him as our representative.

5) 老师要我学好汉语声调。lao3shi1  yao4 wo3 xue2 hao3 han4yu3 sheng1diao4.

WFW: Teacher want to ask me to learn well Mandarin tone.

FI: The teacher asked me to master Mandarin tones.

6) 你听我说这件事。ni3 ting1 wo3 shuo1 zhe4 jian4 shi4.

WFW: You listen-to-me say this matter.

FI: Listen to me as I tell you about it.

7) 她让我看她的照片。ta1  rang4wo3 kan4 ta1 de zhao4pian1.

WFW: She let me look at her picture.

FI: She let me have a look at her picture.

The pivot construction predicate can also contain more than one "pivot" words or continue to take verbal chain construction, and thus become more complicated.

8) 我请他找人修理电脑。wo4 qing4ta4 zhao4ren4 xiu4li4 dian4nao4.

WFW: I invite the person to fix the computer.

FI: I'll ask him to find someone to fix the computer.

9) 他通知我发邮件让同事都来。ta1 tong1zhi1 wo3 fa1 you2jian4 rang4 tong2shi4 dou1 lai2.

WFW: He informs I send an email let colleagues all come.

FI: He told me to send an email to ask all our colleagues to come.

10) 老板让我请客户稍等。lao3ban3 rang4 wo3 qing3 ke4hu4 shao1deng3.

WFW: Boss let me ask customer little while wait.

FI: The boss asked me to let the customer wait for a for a moment.

Double-Object Predicate The double-Object Predicate is similar in some aspects to its English counterpart but different in others. Basically, it can be classified into the following groups.


The Give-And-Get Category

1) 我们打算送他一件礼物。wo3men da3suan4 song4 ta1 yi1jian4 li3wu4.

WFW: We plan to send him one [MW] gift.

FI: We are considering giving him a gift.

2) 他还了小李十块钱。ta1  huan2 le xiao3 li3 shi2kuai4qian2.

WFW: He returns [AS] Little Li 10 Yuan.

FI: He has returned to Xiao Li 10 Yuan.

3) 那个房地产公司卖给我一所房子。na4ge4 fang2di4chan3 gong1si1 mai4 gei3 wo3 yi4suo3 fang2zi.

WFW: That [MW] house-land-property company sell P me one [MW] house.

FI: That real estate company sold me a house.

4) 我买了他们一所房子。wo3 mai3le ta1men yi4suo3 fang2zi.

WFW: I buy [AS] they one [MW] house.

FI: I have purchased a house from them

5) 有人拿了我一张邮票。you3 ren2 na2 le wo3 yi4zhang1 you2piao4.

WFW: There is a man take [AS] I one [MW] stamp.

FI: Someone has taken away a stamp of mine.

6) 我想问你一个问题。wo3 xiang3 wen4 ni3 yi2ge4 wen4ti2.

WFW: I won't ask you one [MW] question.

FI: I want to ask you a question (I have a question to ask you).

7) 老师可以放你三天假。lao4shi4 ke4yi4 fang4 ni4 san1tian4 jia4.

WFW: Teacher can release you three day leave.

FI: The teacher can let you have three days off.


Name-And-Call Category

1) 我们都称他活字典。wo3men dou1 cheng1 ta1 huo2 zi4dian3.

WFW: We all call him a living dictionary.

FI: We all called him a living dictionary.

2) 有人骂他大傻瓜。you3 ren2 ma4 ta1 da4sha3gua1.

WFW: There be man scold him a big fool.

FI: Someone has scolded him the as big fool.

3) 人们称他专家。ren2men cheng1 ta1 zhuan1jia1.

WFW: People call him a specialist.

FI: They called him a specialist.

4) 他们都叫我老杜。ta1men dou1 jiao4 wo3 lao3du4.

WFW: They all call me Old Du.

FI: They all call me Lao Du.


Para-Object Category

1) 你等我一会儿。ni3  deng3 wo3 yi2huir4.

WFW: You wait for me a while

FI: Please wait for me a while.

2) 那个人来过一次。na4ge4 ren2 lai2guo4 yi2ci4.

WFW: That person comes [AS] one time [MW].

FI: He has been here once.

3) 他吃了父母一辈子。ta1 chi1 le fu4mu3 yi2 bei4zi.

WFW: He eats [AS] parent one whole life [MW].

FI: He has lived on his parents all his life.

4) 老师批评了他几句。lao3shi1  pi1ping2 le ta1 ji3 ju4.

WFW: Teacher criticize [AS] he several sentence [MW].

FI: The teacher said a few words criticizing him.

5) 我叫了他一声。wo3 jiao4 le ta1 yi1sheng1.

WFW: I call [AS] he one voice [MW].

FI: I called him loud.


Predicate of Ba-Fronted Object

The word "把" (ba3) is used to mark the front-position object in a sentence.

1) 我把那本书借给同学了。wo4 ba4 na4 ben4 shu4 jie4 gei4 tong4xue4 le.

WFW: I [BA] that [MW] book lend [P] classmate [AS].

FI: I have lent that book to my classmate.

2) 我们把他称作活字典。wo3men ba3ta1 cheng1 zuo4 huo2 zi4dian3.

WFW: We [BA] he calls (/name) living dictionary.

FI: We called him a living dictionary.

3) 他已经把钱还给我了。ta1 yi3jing1 ba3 qian2 huan2 gei3 wo3 le.

WFW: He already [BA] money return [P] me [AS]/[SP].

FI: He has already returned the money to me.

4) 我把钥匙留在房间里了。wo3ba3  yao4shi liu2 zai4 fang2jianl le.

WFW: I [BA] key leave [P]room inside [AS] /[SP].

FI: I have left the key in the room.

5) 他们把会议室打扫干净了。ta1men ba3 hui4yi4shi4 da3sao3 gan1jing le.

WFW: We [BA] meeting room sweep clean [AS] /[SP].

FI: We have cleaned up the room.

6) 我把这本书读完了。wo3 ba3 zhe4 ben3 shu1 du2 wan2 le.

WFW: I [BA] this [MW] book read end [AS]/[SP].

FI: I have read this book through.

7) 他们把我当贵宾。ta1men ba4wo3 dang1 gui4bin1.

WFW: They [BA] I regard dear guest.

FI: They regard me as a distinguished guest.


The Passive Predicate

The Chinese passive voice ([PS]) is formed up with the logical object put in front of the verb to serve as the grammatical sentence subject, as in English. A single-character word functioning as a preposition is used to link the sentence subject and agent of the action, but no linking verb like the English "(to) be" is necessary. The proposition has basically the same semantic function as the English preposition "by", and here are four most frequently used ones in this passive-voice structure: "被", “让", "叫", and "给". They are largely interchangeable and only differ slightly in the degree of formalness, with the first two more formal than the latter two.


1) 杯子被我打破了。bei1zi  bei4 wo3 da3 po4 le.

WFW: Cup [PS] I break [AS]

The glass (cup) is broken by me.

2) 他被老师叫去了。ta1 bei4 lao3shi1 jiao4 qu4 le.

WFW: He [PS] teacher called away [AS].

He is called away by the teacher.

3) 小偷让警察抓住了。xiao3tou1 rang4 jing3cha2 zhua1 zhu4 le.

WFW: Thief [PS] police capture [AS].

The thief is arrested by the police.

4) 我的词典被同学借走了。wo3de ci2dian3 bei4 tong2xue2 jie4 zou3 le.

WFW: My dictionary [PS] classmate borrow away [AS].

My dictionary is borrowed by a classmate.

5) 他让父亲骂了一顿。ta1 rang4 fu4qin ma4 le yi2 dun4.

WFW: He [PS] father scold [AS] [MW].

He was scolded by his father.

6) 那段历史被改写了。na4 duan4 li4shi3 bei4 gai3 xie3 le.

WFW: That [MW] history [PS] rewrite [AS].

That period of history has been re-written.

7) 他给人骗了。ta1 gei3 ren2 pian4 le.

WFW: He [PS] man cheat [AS].

He is cheated.

8) 传统正被改变。chuan2tong3  zheng4 bei4 gai3bian4.

WFW: Tradition [AD] [PS] change.

The tradition is being changed.

9) 客人被带到了休息室。ke4ren2 bei4 dai4 dao4 le xiu1xi1shi4.

WFW: guest(s) [PS] bring to [AS] repose room.

The guest is taken to the refreshment room.

Special Notes: the passive-voice structure and passive meaning It should be specially noted that there is in some Chinese sentences the difference between the above four words used in the passive structure and words that express the passive meaning but don't make the passive structure. In the former cases, it is only verbs that are led directly by these words, while in the latter cases, what follows look like verbs but actually function as nouns and can be preceded by  "的" although it is often omitted. We call the words used in the latter cases "patient words" (or recipient) instead of passive voice markers. However, sentences using such words can be translated into passive voices although not always necessary. In the following examples, such words are underlined.

1) 他遭到了父亲(的)责骂。ta1 zao1dao4 le fu4qin (de) ze2ma4.

WFW: He suffer [AS] father ([DEG]) scold.

He was confronted with his father's scold.

2) 她受到了老师(的)批评。ta1 shou4dao4 le lao3shi1 (de) pi1ping2.

WFW: She encounter [AS] teacher ([DEG]) criticism.

She suffered the teacher's criticism.

3) 我得到了朋友(的)支持。wo3 de2dao4 le peng2you3 (de) zhi1chi3.

WFW: I get [AS] friend(s) ([DEG]) support.

I got my friend's (/friends') support.

4) 他的论文受到了同事(的)好评。ta1  de lun4wen2 shou4dao4 le tong2shi4

(de) hao3ping2.

WFW: His thesis encounter (/get) [AS] colleague(s) ([DEG]) good comment.

His thesis has been well-appraised by his colleague(s).

5) 学生受到了老师(的)鼓励。xue2sheng1 shou4dao4 le lao3shi1 (de) gu3li4.

WFW: Student get [AS] teacher [DEG] encouragement.

The student has been encouraged by the teacher.

6) 敌军遭受了严厉的打击。di2jun1 zao1shou4 le yan2li4 de da3ji1.

WFW: Enemy force(s) suffer [AS] harsh [DEG] attack(s).

The enemy force(s) suffered the harsh attack.

Shi-De Construction Shi-De construction refers to a special kind of predicate that is formed with the collocation of the judging word "是(shi)" and the auxiliary word 的(de), thus assuming the pattern of “是…的” And there are basically two kinds of such a structure, one with the adjective word or phrase in between the two words and the other with the verb or verbal phrase, respectively illustrated in the following.


Adjective De-Structure

1) 他是很勤奋的。ta1  shi4 hen3 qin2fen4 de.

He is very diligent.

2) 这里是很安静的。zhe4li3 shi4 hen3 anting4 de.

This place is very quiet. (It is very quiet here)

3) 汉语是很有趣的。han4yu3 shi 4hen3 you3 qu4 de.

The Chinese language is very interesting.

4) 这本书不是很便宜的。zhe4ben3 shu1 bu2shi4 hen3 pian2yi de.

This book is not very cheap.

5) 做软件是很辛苦的。zuo4 ruan3jian4 shi4 hen3 xin1ku3 de.

Making software is very hard.

6) 我们公司是很大的。wo3men gong1si1 shi4 hen3 da4 de.

Our company is very large.

7)  我讲的是很清楚的。wo3 jiang3 de shi4 hen3 qing1chu3 de.

What I said is very clear.


Verbal De-Structure

1) 你是来留学的吗?   ni3 shi4 lai2 liu2xue2 de ma?

Are you here as an overseas student?

2) 他是来学汉语的吗?ta1 shi4 lai2 xue2 han4yu3 de ma?

Is he here to study Mandarin?

3) 我是从美国来的。 wo3 shi4 cong2 mei3guo2 lai2 de.

I come from US.

4) 您是乘飞机来的吗? nin2 shi4 cheng2 fei1ji1 lai2 de ma?

Have you come by plane?

5) 语言是必须学好的。yu3yan2  shi4 bi4xu1 xue2hao3 de.

Language must be learned well.

6) 这本书是他借给我的。zhe4 ben3 shu1 shi4 ta1 jie4 gei3 wo3 de.

This [MW] book is what he lent to me.

7) 说到(的)是要做到的。shuo1dao4 (de) shi4 yao4 zuo4 dao4 de.

What is said should be done.

8) 这些东西不是卖的。zhe4 xie1 dong1 xi bu2shi4 mai4 de.

These things are not for sale.

Special Notes

1) The construction carries a stronger affirmative tone than the same sentence without "是" and "的". For this reason, it is usually employed for clarifying doubts or tacit questions.

2) A reply to an interrogative sentence using this construction is either "是的" or "不是的”.