Features of Chinese Mandarin

BY CchattyArticleComprehensive Chinese
Release time:2019-01-13
Tag: Chinese Language
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Mandarin Chinese is to a great extent different from the English language on actually every level, phonological, morphological and syntactical.
part 1

Features of Chinese Mandarin

Features of Chinese Mandarin

Taking a general review of what is made apparent as distinctive features of Mandarin Chinese, we may come to the conclusion that it is to a great extent different from the English language on actually every level, phonological, morphological and syntactical. And it is needless to say that there should also be great differences on the discourse or text level. However, until we comprehend those differences in the sentences, we can not really understand those in the text or discourse. So, the following illustration of the distinctive features of Chinese.

part 2

Repetition of Characters and Words for Special Effects

lesson2 how are you

As seen in Tones of Mandarin Chinese, repetition of characters and words is a prominent feature of Chinese, which is employed for special semantic and grammatical functions such as differences in plurality, duration or other nuances in the language or style, as well as for prosodic effects. Actually, a character or a word in any part of speech may be repeated for a special function except pronouns.

Noun Repetition: for plurality or variety

人人 every man, every person, all people

时时 time and time, very often, now and then

处处 from place to place, everywhere

事事 every piece of work, everything to do, everything

家家 every household, every family

家家户户 every household, every family, every homestead or hours

山山水水 every mountain (/hill) and a patch of water, the whole landscape

日日夜夜 every day and night, day and night, all time


Measure Word Repetition: for a plurality

(一)件件礼物 one after another gift, every gift

(一)本本书 one after another book, every book

(一)条条大路 one after another road, all roads

(一)座座楼房 one after another building, every building

(一)场场电影 one after another movie, one after another visit to the cinema

(一)次次尝试 one try after another, many trials

(一)阵阵笑声 one after another fit of laughter fits of laughter


Verb Repetition: for a duration, time of action and the related sense

看看书 (take some time to) read, read for a while

聊聊天 (take some time to) chat, chat for a while

吃吃饭 eat a meal (now and then, sometimes)

玩玩扑克 play poker cards(sometimes), (take time to) play poker cards

学习外语 (take some time to) learn the (/a) foreign language

学习学习汉语 (take some time to) learn Chinese Mandarin

考虑考虑这个问题 (take some time to) consider this issue (/question)

吃吃喝喝 (indulge in) eating and drinking, lead a loose life


Adjective Repetition: for reinforcement of the degree or emphasis

好好的孩子a very good child

红红的花 fairly red flower, very red flower

小小的礼物 rather small (meager) gift

高高低低的楼房 buildings of various heights

大大小小的事If businesses of different importance

花花绿绿的衣服 brightly colorful clothes

仔仔细细的人 very meticulous person

认认真真的态度quite serious attitude


Adverb Repetition: for reinforcement of the degree or emphasis

好好说 speak with serious (/good) mood

慢慢走 walk slowly (often used to show concern to the other when parting)

快快跑 run quickly

常常来come often

牢牢抓住firmly grasp

刚刚离幵have just left

渐渐长大 gradually grow up

早早起床get up early

part 3

Binary Organization and Topic-Prominence


The binary organization, one of the most frequently occurring phenomena in Chinese, is observed on all language levels, covering the word formation, structures of phrase, word group, and sentences. This means that a language unit on whatever level would tend to be organized by two parts and therefore so analyzed. With this tendency, the greatest number of words are composed of two characters, a phrase or word group usually has a central construct as the modified and a peripheral construct as the modifier, and most sentences are formed with the subject construct giving the theme or topic and the predicate construct giving the so-called rheme or comment.

Let's take the sentence level. Although Chinese sentences certainly have the basic structural patterns to those of English, such as SV, SVO, SVC, etc., the most prominent Chinese sentence pattern is nevertheless the one with a binary organization of Subject + Predicate, with the object and complement understood as part of the predicate (/comment). This tendency also explains why the English construct of Adjective + Noun is often translated into the sentence structure of Subject + Predicate in Chinese. The following examples serve to show this conversion, with the division line between Chinese sentence subject and predicate marked by a slash.


English                          Chinese            Literal Rendition

This is a good book. 这本书 / 很好    This book very good.

It is a large country 这个国家/ 很大    This country very large.

He is a good singer 他/ 唱歌很好      He sings very well.

He is a tall man.       他 / 身材高大    He physical figure tall.

part 4

Left-Branching Structure

lesson 10-1 Today's my birthday

The left-branching structure is also called "open-head structure", which means that the language construct will tend to take additional constructs at the head for expansion, such as modifiers and qualifiers. This can be demonstrated by the following process of expanding the single-character word "书" (shu1, book).

一本书 a [M] book

一本新书 a [M] new book

我的一本新书。I [DER] one [M] new book a new book of mine


I yesterday buy [DEC] one [M] new book a new book of mine that I bought yesterday


I yesterday [P] that place buy [DEC] one [M] new book a new book of mine that I bought there yesterday.

part 5

Free Grammatical Functions of Parts of Speech


In Chinese, the grammatical function that a word can have is usually not bound by its part of speech. Actually, there are no strict rules in Chinese that require correspondence between parts of speech of words and grammatical functions, with the only exception of adverbs (which are used only to modify adjectives and verbs in the predicate). The possibilities of different parts of speech serving various functions are as illustrated in the following table, with what is possible and not respectively marked with "+" and “-”.

Feature Four - Free Grammatical Functions of Parts of Speech

Let's take a noun, a verb, and an adjective to show what grammatical functions they can possibly serve.

1) Noun (晴天 qing2tian1, fine day)

Subject:晴天好。Find day is good.

Predicate: 今天晴天。Today is a fine day.

Object: 这些天没有晴天。These days have no fine days.

Attributive: 晴天(的)时间。Time of a fine day (/fine days).

Adverbial: 晴天比赛。The match (/race/competition) will be held on a fine day.

Complement: 明天是晴天。Tomorrow is (/will be) a fine day.


2) Verb (进行 jing4xing2, proceed, go on, conduct)

Subject: 进行顺利 The process is smooth.

Predicate: 工作进行顺利。Work proceeds smoothly

Object: 我们继续进行。We (will) continue to proceed.

Attributive: 进行(的)速度。 The speed of proceeding Adverbial: (no function)

Complement (of the subject): the 关键是进行。The key is (in) proceeding.

Complement (of the object): 使工作进行。 Make work proceed.


3) Adjective (大da4, big, great, large)

Subject: 大不等于好。Big size is not equal to good (quality, etc.)

Predicate: the 房间大得很。The room is very large.

Object: 我喜欢大。I like big (size).

Attributive: 大孩子 big child

Adverbial: 我们大吃一顿。We eat (/ate) to our hearts' content.

Complement (of the object):把孩子养大 bring the child (children) up

part 6

Dispensable or Omittable Sentence Subject

lesson10-1 Dining

Different from the typical English sentence in which the subject is usually not dispensable, the Chinese sentence may or may not require a subject to make it complete. There are two cases of such: A) it can be omitted, and B) it is considered unnecessary.

A.      The omission of the Sentence Subject

他来了吗?—— 来了。

Has he come? - Yes (, he has).

你吃了吗?—— 吃了。

Have you eaten? - Yes (, I have)


B.      Lack of the Sentence Subject


It is raining.

几点了?—— 8点了。

What time is it? - It's 8 o'clock.

part 7

Rich in Parallel Structures

lesson10-1 为了健康

Parallel structures are often found on all levels of Chinese words, phrases, and sentences. On the level of words, Chinese is rich in two-character words in which one character is parallel to the other in meaning (Tones of Mandarin Chinese), and on the sentence level, two clauses may often be used together in parallel relations, with one setting off the meaning of the other by way of contrast or comparison.


Plant melons and you get melons; plant beans and you get beans.

(One will reap what he has planted.)



Long road tells the strength of a horse, and longtime tell the heart of a man. (You will get to know the heart of a person through time)



Once a stranger, and twice an acquaintance. (People will get to know each other through contact.)



People will go up, and the water will go down. (It's natural that people will strive upward.)



A man without a sense of honor is abject as a tree without bark.



If a man doesn't work hard when young, he will only be sad in old age.



To fish for three days but with two days drying up the net (to do something without persistence or concentration)



When there is a rainbow in the east, the day will be fine; and when there is a rainbow in the west, it will rain.

part 8

Rich Hyperboles and Exaggeration

lesson11-1 Have You Been to the Mount Tai

The tendency to use means of exaggeration for expressing strong emotion is an also a frequently observed phenomenon in Chinese. For this reason, not every character or word should be taken at its face value, especially in literary writing. The reader of Chinese should be aware that the words are often used only to express emotions of the writer. The following examples serve to show this tendency.

寸土寸金 Each cun (Chinese inch) of land is equal to a cunning of gold ingot.

倾盆大雨 rain like pouring with a basin

鹅毛大雪 big snow(flakes) like geese feather(s)

他暴跳如雷。He (has) got in a fit of anger like thundering.

我半天没有读懂。I could not understand after reading for half a day.

我们俩真是千载难逢!We two are really hard to meet even once for a thousand years!

By no means regarded as exhaustive, the above features are nevertheless most frequently observed ones on the lexical and sentence level. Other features may include the paratactic structure, lack of conjunctions, imprecise number use, etc. These we believe readers will gradually get to know better as they go on learning the language.