Grammar

This section is aimed at beginners, and describes the most common and simple cases

General principles

Sentences usually have the following structure:

Subject + Adverb + Verb + Complement

The Chinese language is genderless, and has no singular or plural, apart for the pronouns. Verbs don't have conjugation. Tenses are expressed by the addition of a verbal compound made of one or two characters. Context makes it possible to deduce the meaning. Accuracy is possible if absolutely necessary.

Personal pronouns

I
You
他/她 He/She
我们 Wǒmen We
你们 nǐmen You
他们/她们 tāmen/tāmen They (male)/They (female)

Classifiers

In Chinese, it is not possible to speak about an object with only an article, as in “a (tree)”, “the (girl)”, “the (books)”. It is necessary to add a classifier between the article and the object. The classifier specifies the category of the object (flat, recipient, long, human, animal…). It is mandatory but makes for an economy of words, since it already describes the object, in terms of quality, capacity, etc…

Example:

a cup of tea:
a + classifier for cup + tea
一杯茶
Yī bēi chá

three books:
three + qualifier for a book + book
三本书
Sān běn shū

two persons:
两个人
Liǎng gè rén

Qualifiers are given for each HSK word, see the different sections in the HSK.

Numbers

líng zero
one
二/两 èr/liǎng two (number)/two (quantity)
sān three
four
five
liù six
seven
eight
jiǔ nine
shí ten
bǎi a hundred
qiān a thousand
wàn ten thousands
亿 a hundred millions

Between 11 and 19, we say 10 followed by the number.
Example:

17 = 十七 (Shíqī)
  = 10 and 7

Between 20 and 99, we say the first number, then ten, then the second number.
Example:

83 = 八十三 (Bāshísān)
  = 8, 10, and 3, that is 8*10+3

From 101 to 999, we say the first number (except if it's 1), then one hundred, then the second number, then ten, then the last number.
Example:

561 = 五百六十一 (Wǔbǎi liùshíyī)
  = 5, 100, 6, 10, 1, that is 5*100 + 6*10 + 1

From 1000 to 9999, we say the first number (except if it's one), then 10, then the last number.
Example:

4561 = 四千五百六十一 (Wǔbǎi liùshíyī)
  = 4, 1000, 5, 100, 6, 10, 1, that is 4*1000 + 5*100 + 6*10 + 1

Be mindful that afterwards, Chinese has a unit for multiples of 10000: 万 (wàn). This causes a lot of confusion when doing business.
Example:

34002 = 三万零二 (Sān wàn líng èr)
Note: zero is only used a single time when there are several in a number.

Adverbs

Hěn very
Hǎo good
非常 Fēicháng very, extremely
Tài very, too much

Question adverbs

Shuí qui
什么 Shénme which (apart from choices)
什么时候 Shénme shíhou when
多少 Duōshǎo how many
多长时间 Duō cháng shíjiān how much time
多久 Duōjiǔ for how long
多大 Duōdà how much (age, surface)
how much
which (choice)
哪儿/哪里 Nǎ'er/nǎlǐ where
怎么 Zěnme how (with what means)
怎么样 Zěnme yàng how (way of doing)
为什么 Wèishéme why

Example:
你什么时候来?
Nǐ shénme shíhòu lái?
When do you arrive?

Negation

not
没(有) Méiyǒu not (past)

The negation mark goes between subject and verb.

Example:
她不是法国人。
Tā bùshì fàguó rén.
She is not French.

我没去。
Wǒ méi qù.
I did not go there.

Past

Action effectively done

V + 了

V + le

我买了四本书。
Wǒ mǎile sì běn shū.
I have bought four books.

Action not done

没(有)+ V
Méi (yǒu)+ V

我昨天没去饭馆。
Wǒ zuótiān méi qù fànguǎn.
I did not go to the restaurant yesterday.

Past experience, effectively done

V + 过

我去过中国。
Wǒ qùguò zhōngguó.
I have been to China.

Past experience, not done

没(有)+ V + 过
méi (yǒu)+ V + guò

她没去过中国。
Tā méi qùguò zhōngguó.
She did not go to China.

Future

要 + V
yào +V

他要去饭店。
Tā yào qù fàndiàn.
He wants to go to the restaurant.

Repetition

"often” frequency

(常)常 (Cháng)cháng indep. from anybody (1 char if V monosyllable)
不常 Bù cháng not often
经常 Jīngcháng (classifier)
往往 Wǎngwǎng usually, if relation to sbdy

again

Hái again (continuity)
还是 Háishì again (judgement after evaluation)
Yòu once again (after discontinuity with the past)
Zài once again (in the future), a little more
没再 Méi zài non repetition in the past
不再 Bù zài non repetition in the future

Verbs

Will

打算 Dǎsuàn plan to do something
Kěn to accept to
Yào to want
Gǎn to dare
Xiǎng to intend to
愿意 Yuànyì to want

Ability, likelihood

Huì to know how to do something
可能 Kěnéng to be possible
能够 Nénggòu to be able to
可以 Kěyǐ to can
Néng to can

Obligation

必须 Bìxū to have to
Yào to must
不想 Bùxiǎng not to wish
不用 Bùyòng it is pointless to
应该 Yīnggāi to must
Yīng to must
Gāi to must
应当 Yīngdāng to must
Děi to must

Recommended articles and links

Find us on Facebook | Twitter | Youtube