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Chinese Grammar Might Be Easier Than You Think: A Beginner’s Guide To Basic Chinese Sentence Structures 

The belief that Chinese grammar is difficult is a MYTH! 

While Chinese is one of the most difficult languages in the world due to its unique, complicated writing system and vocabulary, Chinese grammar is actually not that complex. It’s straightforward, easy to grasp, and only gets a bit tricky when you start learning advanced topics. As a beginner, you’ll find Chinese grammar much simpler than you thought it would be! 

This article will prove just that through the top 6 basic Chinese sentence structures. Let’s check them out!

6 Most basic Chinese sentence structures 

The following six sentence structures are widely used in everyday communication and give you a great start to your Chinese learning journey. 

1. Subject + Verb 

You only need a subject and a verb to form a grammatically correct Chinese sentence, just as in English. 

For example, we have two words: 我 (wǒ) means “I,” 去 (qù) means ‘go.’ 

Put two words together we have a sentence: 我去. (Wǒ qù.) – I go. Easy! 

SubjectVerbFull sentence 
他 (Tā)吃 (chī)
他吃. (Tā chī.) – He eats. 
你 (Nǐ)要 (yào)
你要. (Nǐ yào.) – You want
他 (Tā)笑 (xiào)他笑. (Tā xiào.) – He laughs.
我 (Wǒ)学 (xué)我学. (Wǒ xué.) – I learn.

2. Subject + Verb + Object (SVO)

The word order of this sentence structure is also similar to basic English grammar: the subject precedes the verb, while the verb precedes the object. 

Here are a few examples:

SubjectVerbObjectFull sentence 
他 (Tā)吃 (chī)苹果 (píngguǒ)
他吃苹果. (Tā chī píngguǒ.) – He eats apples. 
你 (Nǐ)喝 (hē)水 (shuǐ)
你喝水. (Nǐ hē shuǐ.) – You drink water.
我 (Wǒ)学 (xué)中文 (Zhōngwén)我学中文 . (Wǒ xué Zhōngwén.) – I learn Chinese.

3. Yes/No question with 吗 (ma)

吗 (ma) question is a yes or no inquiry. You simply just need to add 吗 (ma) at the end of any statement to make a yes/no question in Chinese. 

Let’s look at the following example:

Start with a statement like 你喜欢咖啡. (Nǐ xǐhuān kāfēi) – You like coffee.

As previously said, to turn the above statement into a yes/no question, add 吗 (ma) at the end of the sentence. We then have: 你喜欢咖啡吗? (Nǐ xǐhuān kāfēi ma?) – Do you like coffee? 

Let’s take a look at other examples: 

StatementThe 吗 Question
你是中国人. (Nǐ shì zhōngguó rén.)You are Chinese.你是中国人吗 ? (Nǐ shì zhōngguó rén ma?) Are you Chinese?
他喜欢猫. (Tā xǐhuān māo.)He likes cats.他喜欢猫吗? (Tā xǐhuān māo ma?)Does he like cats?
他在喝. (Tā zài hē shuǐ.)He is drinking water.他在喝水? (Tā zài hē shuǐ ma?) Is he drinking water?

Note: you cannot add the 吗 (ma) particle at the end of a wh-question. 

4. Sentence with 是 (shì)  

是 (shì) has the closest meaning to the English verb ‘to be.’ (It’s technically called a “copula.”) A 是 (shì) sentence is usually used to identify people or things. 

The sentence’s grammar structure is as follows: Subject + 是 (shì) + Object.

Below are some examples:

Subject是 (shì)ObjectFull sentence 
他 (Tā)是 (shì)医生 (yīshēng)
他是医生. (Tā shì yīshēng.) – He is a doctor.
这 (Zhè)是 (shì)演员 (diànnǎo)电脑 (zhè shì diànnǎo) – This is a computer.
我 (Wǒ)是 (shì)老师  (lǎoshī)老师 (wǒ shì lǎoshī) – I am a teacher.
  那 (Nà)是 (shì)手机 (shǒujī)手机 (nà shì shǒujī): That is a phone.

Bear in mind that you cannot switch the positions of the subject and object. For example:

✖️Incorrect: 学生是你. (Xuéshēng shì nǐ.) – Student are you. 

✔️Correct: 你是学生. (Nǐ shì xuéshēng.) – You are a student.

5. Negative sentence structures 

In most cases, to negate a sentence, you keep the original basic structure (SVO) and simply put the word 不 (bù) before the verbs. The word 不 (bù) functions much like “not” in English.

Sentence structure: Subject + 不 (bù) + Verb + Object.

Here are some examples: 

  • Positive: 我喝酒. (Wǒ hējiǔ.) – I drink alcohol. 

      ➞  Negative: 我 不 喝酒. (Wǒ bù hējiǔ.) – I don’t drink alcohol.

  • Positive: 他们 想 工作. (Tāmen xiǎng gōngzuò.) – They want to work.

      ➞  Negative: 他们 不 想 工作. (Tāmen bù xiǎng gōngzuò.) – They don’t want to work.

  • Positive: 你是学生. (Nǐ shì xuéshēng.) – You are a student. 

      ➞  Negative: 你不是学生. (Nǐ bùshì xuéshēng.) – You are not a student. 

Exception: With the verb, 有 (yǒu) meaning ‘have,’ you cannot use 不 (bù) to express its negative form. You use the word 没 (méi) instead of talking about what you don’t have.

Sentence structure: Subject + 没 (méi) + 有 (yǒu) + Object

Below are a few examples of ‘not have’ sentences:

  • 我 没 有 手机. (Wǒ méi yǒu shǒujī.) – I don’t have a cell phone.
  • 我们 没 有 房子. (Wǒmen méi yǒu fángzi.) – We don’t have a house.
  • 我没有中国朋友. (Wǒ méiyǒu Zhòng uó péngyǒu.) – I don’t have Chinese friends.
  • 我的卡里没有钱. (Wǒ de kǎ lǐ méiyǒu qián.) – My card does not have money.

6. Question with 呢 (ne)

This is another simple sentence structure that beginners can apply and start using right today! 

In conversations, you can simply add 呢 (ne) after a subject to form a question “What about …?” In that way, you don’t need to repeat the full question over and over again. 

For example, let’s take a look at this conversation:

A: 你好吗? (Nǐ hǎo ma?) – How are you?

B: 我很好, 你呢? (Wǒ hěn hǎo, nǐ ne?) – I’m good, what about you? 

A: 我也很好. (Wǒ yě hěn hǎo.) – I’m good, too.

As you can see, 呢 (ne) was tagged right after the person you want to ask the question to. In this conversation, it’s 你 (nǐ). So, 你呢 (nǐ ne) means ‘what about you?’. 

Other examples:

  • 北京 下 雨 了. 上海 呢 ?(Běijīng xià yǔ le. Shànghǎi ne?)

It’s raining in Beijing. How about Shanghai?

  • 你 说 他们 可以 去. 我们 呢 ?(Nǐ shuō tāmen kěyǐ qù. Wǒmen ne?)

You said they could go. What about us?

  • A: 今天你忙吗? (Jīntiān nǐ máng ma?) – Are you busy today? 

B: 不忙,你呢?(Bù máng, nǐ ne?) – No, what about you? 

Conclusion

So those are the top 6 basic Chinese sentence structures that every beginner should know. We hope that you found this article useful! 

Chinese grammar isn’t as complex as you might think. The rules are pretty straightforward and easy to remember. Just remember the few exceptions!

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