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Chinese Grammar 101 For New Learners: Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of the Pandanese series on Chinese grammar wiki: Grammar 101 for new learners, where you will find simple explanations with detailed examples of basic Chinese grammar rules.

Let’s get to it!

Check out our previous articles in this series:

Chinese Grammar: Basic rules that every newbie must know (Part 3)

  1. Measure words 

We’ve mentioned the use of measure words for plural nouns before in Chinese Grammar 101 For New Learners: Part 2. Now, we’ll go into more detail and find out all grammatical functions of measuring words.

Basically, whenever you want to quantify something, you always need a measure word. It works the same way as measuring words or classifiers in English used to quantify uncountable nouns (e.g., three slices of bread, two teaspoons of sugar, etc.). 

A measure word is placed after a number and before a noun. For example: 

Number Measure word Noun English meaning 
一  (yí)
One
个 (gè)
人 (rén)
Man
一  个人 (yí gè rén)
One man 
三 (sān)
Three
个 (gè)苹果 (píngguǒ)
Apple
三 个 苹果 (sān gè píngguǒ)

Three apples
七 (qī)
Seven
只 (zhǐ)猫 (māo)
Cats
七 只 猫 (qī zhǐ māo)
Seven cats 

The tricky thing here is that there are many measure words in Chinese (up to 150), which differ based on various factors like the shape, size, and so on of the object being referred to. 

个 (gè) is the most common measure word. It can be used in most situations, especially when you don’t know what the right measure word is, and a native speaker would still understand you perfectly well. However, many newbie learners take advantage of this and unfortunately build a bad habit of using 个 (gè) all the time! Remember, though it always helps you be understood, it’s not grammatically correct in many situations. It’s best to learn how to use different measure words properly right from the beginning. Below are 10 frequently used measure words to get you kickstarted:

NoMeasure words Pinyin Used for Example 
1个/ 位gè/wèi (more formal)People 好人(yí gè hǎo rén) – a good guy 
三位客人 (sān wèi kèrén) – three guests
2běnBooks 一 本 书 (yī běn shū) – a book
3只 zhīAnimals 四只鸟 (sì zhī niǎo) – four birds
4双 shuāngPair/double一双鞋 (yì shuāng xié) – a pair of shoes
5张 zhāngFlat objects (paper, chairs, tables, etc.)三张桌子 (sān zhāng zhuōzi) – three tables
6辆 liàngVehicles with wheels 两辆大巴 (liǎng liàng dàbā) – two buses
7家 jiāBusinesses/shops三家超市 (sān jiā chāoshì) – three supermarkets
8píngBottles 五瓶水 (wǔ píng shuǐ) – five bottles of water
9份 fènPortions/servings of food一份米饭 (yí fèn mǐfàn) – a serving of rice
10dòngBuildings 四栋住宅楼 (sì dòng zhùzhái lóu) – four housing buildings

Read more:

  1. Structure of dates 

How do you talk about dates in China? 

The rule here is to go from the general to the specific, the bigger to the smaller concepts. That means you will start with the year, then the month, and lastly the day.

For example, August 12, 2022 is written in the format of 2022/08/12 in Chinese. 

Another thing to remember is when you write dates in Chinese; it’s common to follow this structure: 

number + 年 (nián; year) + number + 月 (yuè; month) + number + 日 (rì; day of the month) 

Number first, then words – insert the numbers for year, month, and day before the Chinese words.

For example: 

  • January 13, 2022 → 2022 年 1 月 13 日
  • December 2, 1990 → 1990 年 12 月 2 日
  • May 10, 2020 → 2020 年 5 月 10 日

See also:

  1. Basic sentence structure with Chinese adjectives 

You don’t have a ‘to be’ verb to link the subjects/nouns with their adjectives in Chinese. Instead, use the word 很 (hěn) to connect a noun and an adjective. 很 (hěn) generally means “very,” but in this case, it serves only as a linking word and adds no further meaning. Replace  很 (hěn) with 非常 (fēicháng) when you want to mean “really” or “very”. 

Example:

  • 你 很 漂亮。(Nǐ hěn piàoliang.)

You are beautiful. 

  • 我 很 好。(Wǒ hěn hǎo.)

I’m good.

  • 中文 很 难。(Zhōngwén hěn nán.)

Chinese is difficult.

However, when you want to negate something, change 很 (hěn) to 不 (bù).

Subject + 不 + Adjective

  • 你 不 漂亮。(Nǐ bù piàoliang.)

You are not beautiful. 

  • 我 不 好。(Wǒ bù hǎo.)

I’m not good.

  • 中文不难。 (Zhōngwén bù nán.)

Chinese is not difficult.  

Chinese grammar is not really complicated, right?  

Hopefully, the Pandanese Chinese grammar wiki series has helped you better understand some basic grammar points and has given you a good start on your journey with this wonderful language!

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