Sentence structures are important: without grasping them, you won’t have a solid foundation for your foreign language knowledge. Sentence structures vary from language to language. Fortunately, Chinese sentence structure is similar to English. This article will help you get to grips with them.
Simple Sentence Pattern
Chinese, like English, is classified as an SVO (subject-verb-object) language, so its basic sentence patterns won’t be too difficult to master. Within the SVO framework, the simplest sentence patterns are as follows:
- Subject + Verb
- Subject + Verb + Object
wǒ xiǎng nǐ
I miss you.
- Subject + Noun
A thunderstorm tomorrow.
- Subject + Adjective
māmā (hěn) máng
Mom is very busy.
fángzi (bǐjiào) dà
The house is relatively big.
⚠ Note that the Subject + Adjective pattern needs an adverb, such or 很, or 比较.
Take a look at the following chart for more examples.
|S + V + O||S + V||S + Adj||S + N|
|nǐ chīfàn||wǒ fàngqìle||tā (bǐjiào) piàoliang||jīntiān xīngqíwǔ|
|You eat.||I gave up.||She is more pretty.||Today is Friday.|
|wǒ ài nǐ||wǒ zǒule||fángzi (hěn) dà||yòubiān huǒchē zhàn|
|I love you.||I left.||The house is very big.||The railway station is on the right|
|tā shuō zhōngwén||nǐmen kàn||māmā (hěn) kāixīn||míngtiān guóqìng jié|
|She speaks Chinese.||Look!||Mom is very happy.||Tomorrow is National Day.|
Chinese Sentence structure: Components
Every sentence should contain at least one subject and one predicate (e.g. SV, SAdj, and SN), and other components can be added to express more complex meanings. In Chinese, there are six sentence components:
- Subject 主语 (zhǔ yǔ): can be a person or a thing.
- Predicate 谓语 (wèi yǔ): most of the time the predicate is a verb, but sometimes it can be an adjective, a noun, a noun phrase, or a numeral-measure word
- Object 宾语 (bīn yǔ): a noun governed by a verb.
- Attributive 定语 (dìng yǔ): modifies a noun, a pronoun or a noun phrase, which should be put before the noun or pronoun.
- Adverbial 状语 (zhuàng yǔ): modifies or qualifies an adjective or a verb expressing a relation of place, time, circumstance, manner, cause, degree, etc., which comes before the adjective or the verb.
- Complement 补语 (bǔ yǔ): completes the meaning of the predicate and provides additional information associated with the predicate, such as degree, result, direction, time duration or possibility. The main point in terms of word order is that they occur after the verb.
|I buy clothes.|
|I am buying clothes.|
|wǒ||zhèngzài||mǎi||yī jiàn hóngsè (de)||yīfu|
|I am buying a red dress.|
|I have already bought that nice dress.|
|This dress has been washed.|
|pángbiān (de)||jiàoshì||chuán||chūlái||tā (de)||xiào shēng|
|Her laughter came from the classroom next to her.|
|yǒu (de)||xuéshēng||xiànzài||xiǎng (de)||tài jiǎndān|
|Some students think simply now.|
|Xiaoming said a lot of things excitedly.|
⚠ Note that the above six components don’t include function words, such as 了, 着, 过, 的, 地, 得, etc.
Please mark all components of each of the following sentences. Highlight to see the answer.
qínfèn dí gēge zài zhōngguó xuéguò sān nián zhōngwén
My diligent brother learned Chinese for three years in China.
⇒ “勤奋”— Attributive; “哥哥”— Subject; “在中国” — Adverbial; “学” — Predicate; “过” and “三年” — Complement; “中文” — Object.
Zhōngguó de fēngjǐng fēicháng xīyǐn wǒ
The view in China attracts me a lot.
⇒“中国” — Attributive; “风景” — Subject; “非常” — Adverbial; “吸引” — Predicate; “我” — Object.
tā ná chūlái yī zhāng zhǐ
He took out a piece of paper.
⇒“他” — Subject; “拿” — Predicate; “出来” — Complement; “一张” — Attributive; “纸” — Object.
wǒ mèimei jīnnián kǎo shàng dàxuéle
My sister went to college this year.
⇒ “我” — Attributive; “妹妹” — Subject; “今年” — Adverbial; “考” — Predicate; “上” — Complement; “大学” — Object.
Chinese Word Order
In Chinese, one sentence can have different types of adverbials that express time, place, or manner of action, as well as multiple attributives or complements. How to deal with the word order of the more complicated structure?
# Time: a time word that is always adverbial in Chinese sentence has two positions: at the beginning of the sentence or after the subject. You will never see it appearing at the end of the sentence.
Subject + Time + Predicate + Object
|Subject||Adverbial (Time)||Predicate (Verb)||Object|
|I wash clothes today.|
|He plays basketball every day.|
Time + Subject + Predicate + Object
|Adverbial (Time)||Subject||Predicate (Verb)||Object|
|Mom will have a meeting on Tuesday.|
|Xiaohua will go to kindergarten next year.|
# Duration: duration is considered as the time measure complement that should be put after the predicate (verb or verb phrase).
Subject + Time + Predicate + Duration + Object
|Subject||Adverbial (Time)||Predicate (Verb)||Complement (Duration)||Object|
|wǒ||jīntiān||kàn(le)||sān gè xiǎoshí||diànshì|
|I watched TV for three hours today.|
|tā||měitiān||dǎ||liǎng gè xiǎoshí||lánqiú|
|He plays basketball for two hours a day.|
|gēge||qùnián||xué(le)||sān gè yuè||zhōngwén|
|My brother studied Chinese for three months last year.|
|Xiaohua listened to music for a day on Sunday.|
# Place: generally, the place word is preceded by “在”, such as “在中国/zài zhōngguó/in China”, “在桌子上/zài zhuōzi shàng/on the table”. It is also the adverbial in a sentence, which should be placed between the subject and the predicate. If there is a time word in the sentence, the place word should be after the time word.
Subject + Time + Place + Predicate + Object
|Time (When)||Place (Where)|
|I watched the game in Shanghai today.|
|He plays basketball in the stadium every day.|
|My brother learned Chinese in China last year.|
|Xiǎohuā||zhōu tiān||zài kètīng||kàn||diànshì|
|Xiaohua was watching TV in the living room on Sunday.|
⚠ However, there are some exceptions: place words should come after such verbs as 留/liú/stay, 放/fàng/put, 住/zhù/live, 装/zhuāng/pack, 关/guān/be enclosed, 坐/zuò/sit, 站/zhàn/stand, 躺/tǎng/lie: 妈妈住在加拿大。/ māma zhù zài jiānádà / Mom lives in Canada.
# Manner: it indicates the manner of action. Most of these words or phrases are adverbs, so the placement is optional, but they usually precede the verb.
Subject + Time + Place + Manner + Predicate + Object
|Time (When)||Place (Where)||Manner (How)|
|wǒ||jīntiān||zài shànghǎi||jīdòng (de)||kàn(le)||yī chǎng bǐsài|
|I excitedly watched the game in Shanghai today.|
|tā||měitiān||zài tǐyùchǎng||gāoxìng (de)||dǎ||lánqiú|
|He plays basketball happily in the stadium every day.|
|gēge||qùnián||zài zhōngguó||gūdú (de)||xué||zhōngwén|
|My brother learned Chinese alone in China last year.|
|Xiǎohuā||zhōu tiān||zài kètīng||guāiguāi (de)||kàn||diànshì|
|Xiaohua was quiet watching TV in the living room on Sunday.|
# Instrument: it indicates the instrument of action, which is preceded by “用/yòng/use” and comes before the verb.
Subject + Time + Place + Instrument + Predicate + Object
|Time (When)||Place (Where)||Instrument (How)|
|wǒ||gānggāng||zài chúfáng||yòng dāozi||qiē||cài|
|I cut vegetables with a knife in the kitchen just now.|
|tā||zuótiān||zài jiā||yòng xǐyījī||xǐ||yīfu|
|He used the washing machine to wash clothes at home yesterday.|
# Target: it indicates the aim of action, and is usually put before the verb because of its adverbial function.
Subject + Time + Place + Instrument + Target + Predicate + Object
|Time (When)||Place (Where)||Instrument (How)||Target (To whom)|
|wǒ||gānggāng||zài chúfáng||yòng dāozi||bāng māma||qiē||cài|
|I help mom cut vegetables with a knife in the kitchen today.|
|tā||zuótiān||zài jiā||yòng xǐyījī||gěi nǚ péngyǒu||xǐ||yīfu|
|He used the washing machine to wash clothes for his girlfriend at home yesterday.|
# Multiple attributives: sometimes nouns can have multiple attributives. They should be used in the following order:
+ Possessives such as “your,” “her,” or “Annie’s.”
+ Demonstrative pronouns
+ Measure word
+ Any adjectives that you want to use to describe the noun
+ The noun or noun phrase
|Possessives||Demonstrative pronouns||Number||Measure word||Adjectives|
|Mom’s three dresses|
|His five old computers|
Word order in the question sentence
In Chinese, the word order of a question sentence is much easier if you have already mastered the basic Chinese sentence structure. The main point is to place a question word in the place of the thing you want to ask about and there is nothing that needs to be rearranged.
|Who||when (time)||where (place)||how (manner)||how (instrument)||to whom (target)||do||for how long (Time duration)||what|
Unlike English (and similarly to Japanese and Korean), Chinese is a topic-prominent language, which means that sometimes the subject of a sentence is different from its topic.
|I admire this boy very much.|
|I have eaten the meal.|
|Mom liked this dress very much back then.|
|Dad painted this picture for three days at home.|
As shown above, the topic precedes the subject and is separated from it with a comma. This sentence pattern is great for emphasizing certain information.