CHINESE MADE EASIER: NOTES ON KEY GRAMMAR PATTERNS
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Whereas in English the verb 'to be' changes form (I am, you are, he is), verbs in Chinese do not change form. So, in Chinese, we say: I be, you be, he be.
Note 9: Chinese does not have words for 'a' and 'the'. So in Chinese we say: I am student. Teacher is American.
Note 12: Nouns do not change form, so singular and plural are the same.
Actions Verbs: sentence order is usually: S - V - O
There are no irregular verbs in Chinese. So Chinese verbs never change form.
Question Words: in Chinese, the word order of the question is the same word order as the answer. English: What do you want? Chinese: You want what? So first think what the answer might be, you will then know the word order of the question.
Note 2: 'it' is seldom translated in Chinese, so this is why you may hear a Chinese person, when speaking English, say 'I don't like' instead of 'I don't like it'.
Measures: although we have Measures in English, e.g. a pair of shoes, a piece of paper, a suit of clothes, many Chinese nouns have their own special Measure. (In emergencies, if you forget the appropriate Measure, just use the general Measure ge)
When asking and giving prices, the verb shi4 is omitted: Chinese = 10 books $50.
Notes 2 & 3 regarding 2: er4 is used when counting numbers, liang3 is used when counting items (and hence is always followed by a Measure).
To help both speaker & listener focus on the topic of the sentence, the topic is often brought right up to the very front of the sentence: Chinese = Books, pens and cups I all sell.
Note 1: 'and' (Chinese: he2) only connects nouns & pronouns (e.g. you and I; books and pens); he2 never connect verbs: Chinese = I go buy fruit.
Book 2 has a useful Reference Section with lots more fruit & vegetable names.
Chinese Adjectives are technically called Stative Verbs because the verb 'to be' is embedded in the adjective, e.g. mang2 = 'to be busy' as well as simply 'busy'. For example, "I am busy today" and "Busy people are always in a hurry".
Note 1 is very important: Chinese Adjectives almost always require an adverb to precede them. However, if you can't think of a suitable adverb, use hen3 -- from which we can therefore deduce doesn't always mean 'very' but often carries little meaning, e.g. wo3 hen3 mang2 usually simply means 'I am busy'.
Now look at Note 2: if no adverb precedes the adjective, the meaning being expressed is one of comparison, e.g. zhei4 ben3 shu1 hao3 (This book is a good one) infers that the other book being referred to isn't a good one.
Concerning dou1 (all), note how it is used in Chinese: They all go = ta1men dou1 qu4. Fruit is all expensive = shui3guo3 dou1 hen3 gui4. In Lesson 17 you will learn another word meaning 'all' (suo3you3de). suo3you3de is used when we want to say: "All Americans here can speak Chinese" or "All students in our school play basketball on Wednesdays". The distinction between dou1 and suo3you3de will become clear later on, but for now do read the notes at the end of the lesson regarding dou1.
In Chinese, Time WHEN words (6 o'clock, today, Wednesday) all appear before the verb (-- which is the exact opposite of English where Time Words come after the verb), e.g. I go tomorrow = wo3 ming2tian1 qu4.
Note 1 reminds us that, whereas in English, time phrases require the prepositions 'in, at, on' before them, e.g. at 6 o'clock, in the afternoon, on Friday, Chinese doesn't need the 'in, at, on'.
As we learn to talk about days & dates, we will discover that many things in Chinese are said the opposite way round to English. So get ready to be flexible!
When talking about where things are located, it is important to remember that, because zai4 must be followed by a Place Word, most nouns therefore need a PW-suffix attached to them, e.g. on the table = zai4 zhuo1zi shang4, not just zai4 zhuo1zi; in the cup = zai4 bei1zi li3, not just zai4 bei1zi. So, adding a suffix to nouns has the function of turning them into a Place Word.
Concerning dates & addresses, they are both said in the opposite order to English.
Note 4 explains the important difference between zen3me and zen3meyang4: zen3meyang4 has the meaning "How do you feel about it?" or "What is your opinion on this?" whereas zen3me looks at the means or method used and asks "How?".
The pattern to study carefully is in Drill 11 regarding Motion or Position in relation to People: pronouns and personal nouns following cong2, dao4, zai4 all require zher4 or nar4 after them, e.g. Come to me = dao4 wo3 zher4 lai2; Go to Mr. Chen = qu4 Chen2 s.s. nar4.
The three Auxiliary Verbs covered in this lesson (neng2, ke3yi3, hui4) are often difficult to differentiate. So let's look at them one-by-one:
a) to know how to do something, i.e. an acquired skill:
I can (i.e. know how to) write Chinese characters.
b) will, i.e. talking about future anticipated events:
(I anticipate that) He will go to your home tomorrow.
Take a look at Note 4 regarding the difference between hui4 (= anticipation) and yao4 (= intention).
neng2 (able to)
a) possibility due to circumstancial factors:
I am not able to go to your home today.
b) inherent capability (covered in note 7)
Birds can fly, but humans cannot fly.
ke3yi3 (may; O.K.)
a) permission granted
Teacher, may I use your pen?
Note: ke3yi3 = the more polite "May I ...?" whereas neng2 = the more informal "Can I ...?"
b) suggesting an alternative solution when the original plan won't work out:
"So you're not able (neng2) to come to my home today? -- never mind, you can (ke3yi3) come to my home tomorrow instead."
Do read Note 5 carefully: If a Chinese friend asks you if he may (ke3yi3) come to your home today, and it's not convenient, do not reply "bu4 ke3yi3" as this means permission not granted and is very strong and direct! Instead, say something like: "dui4buqi3, jin1tian1 bu2tai4 fang1bian4".
Although you may feel a little overwhelmed or confused by these three AVs, in the end your major problem will be with knowing when to use neng2 and ke3yi3 correctly when talking about 'possibility'.
Verb-Object Compounds = common English verbs (e.g. to eat, to read, to write) which, in Chinese, normally require an Object. Memorize the list in Note 13.
We have already learnt that you3 = to have, e.g. wo3 you3 bi3 = I have a pen. In this lesson, you3 means 'there is/are', i.e. indicating the existence of something, e.g. There are many Chinese in America = Mei3guo2 you3 hen3 duo1 Zhong1guo2ren2. Note that the word order in Chinese is the opposite of English.
A key grammar pattern in Chinese: Modifier precedes Modified, and de comes in the middle, e.g. lao3shi1 de bi3 = the teacher's pen. This pattern 'Modifier-de Modified' will keep reappearing in later lessons.
However, note that de is usually dropped when there is a close personal relationship between the two nouns (or pronouns), e.g. my wife = wo3 qi1zi, and when Place Words modify nouns, e.g. Chinese pens = Zhong1guo2 bi3.
verb + guo4 = an action or event that you have experienced in the past, e.g. Have you ever been to Singapore before? = ni3 qu4guo Xin1jia1po1 ma?
Regarding Time, in Lesson 6 we learnt that Time WHEN words precede the verb (= the opposite of English where Time When words follow the verb), e.g. I go to Beijing tomorrow = wo3 ming2tian1 qu4 Bei3jing1. In this lesson, we learn about Time SPENT, i.e. for how long an activity or event lasts, e.g. I plan to live in China for one year = wo3 da3suan4 zhu4 zai4 Zhong1guo2 yi1nian2. The sentence order in Chinese and English is the same.
This lesson introduces us to six Chinese Prepositions (Co-Verbs). We may get a little overwhelmed or confused by them at first as we try to understand all their different meanings. Because they are all commonly used in everyday speech, simply work through them one-by-one and, as you continue to meet them in future lessons and in real life, they should gradually become clear. Do read the notes at the end of the lesson carefully.
le is probably the most difficult part of Chinese grammar for us to understand. Basically, this use of le -- there are several others!! -- indicates that the action or event is now completed. Some students make the mistake of thinking that le must be the equivalent of the past tense in English -- but remember that Chinese doesn't have tenses. It has replaced them with a system called aspect which focuses on the progress of the action. This is extremely important to note.
In Lesson 10 we learnt that zai4 + verb = action which is going on right now.
In Lesson 13 we learnt that verb + guo4 = an action or event that you have experienced in the past.
Our biggest difficulty in trying to understand how to use le correctly is that we are searching for a clear & simple rule for when to apply it. Be warned -- this search will only end in complete frustration!! The Worth Noting in this lesson is key: 'Although le is used where an action took place at a point in the past, it is not applied automatically as the past tense is in English.' Speakers often choose whether to add le depending on whether or not they want to especially focus on the completed aspect -- and this does not = the past tense. The problem with Drills is that they lack a context, so it's difficult to know whether (or what) the speaker wishes to emphasize. So just work slowly through the lesson, read all the notes carefully, and press on!!
In order to emphasize something, shi4 is placed before the words to be emphasized and de normally appears at the end of the sentence.
Also note that both shi4 and de can be used on their own to add emphasis:
shi4: shi4 wo3 yao4 gen1 ni3 shuo1, bu2shi4 ta1 = it's me who wants to talk with you, not her.
de: wo3 yi2ding4 hui4 gao4su4 ta1de = I'll definitely tell him.
Concerning Drills 1&2, note that hao3 and nan2 sometimes indicate sense and sometimes indicate activity.
sense: zhei4 zhi1 bi3 hen3 hao3 xie3 = this pen is very nice to write with.
activity: han4 zi4 bu4 hao3 xie3 = Chinese characters are not easy to write.
In Lesson 13 we learnt that yi3qian2 = previously and yi3hou4 = afterwards, e.g. Previously I lived in Beijing, now I live in Xi'an, and sometime in the future I want to move to Kunming = yi3qian2 wo3 zhu4 zai4 Bei3jing1, xian4zai4 wo3 zhu4 zai4 Xi1an1, yi3hou4 wo3 yao4 ban1 dao4 Kun1ming2.
In this lesson yi3qian2 = before and yi3hou4 = after, e.g. Before I go to school, I first prepare at home = qu4 xue2xiao4 yi3qian2, wo3 xian1 zai4 jia1 zhun3bei4. After class is over, I go and eat = xia4 ke4 yi3hou4, wo3 qu4 chi1fan4. Note that, when yi3qian2 and yi3hou4 are used in this way, they always appear at the end of the clause. It's also important to note that, whereas in English we can reverse the order of the two clauses, in Chinese the clause containing yi3qian2 and yi3hou4 must come first, e.g. in English, we can say either "After class is over, I go and eat." or "I go and eat after class is over." However, in Chinese we must always say: xia4 ke4 yi3hou4, wo3 qu4 chi1fan4, never the other way round.
In lesson 13 we also learnt that the word order in Time Spent sentences is the same as in English, e.g. I studied Chinese for two years = wo3 xue2le liang3 nian2 de han4yu3. However, when you want to tell someone for how long you have/did not do something, the Time Spent words must come before the verb, e.g. I haven't learnt Chinese for two years = wo3 liang3 nian2 mei2 xue2 han4yu3 le.
In this lesson (and also in CME Books 3 & 4), we learn about pairs of adverbs which join up two clauses: sui1ran2 (although) ..., ke3shi4/dan4shi4 ...
Whereas the Chinese needs ke3shi4/dan4shi4 to head up the second clause, we normally omit the 'but' in English.
Concerning the use of duo1 (over, more than) with approximate numbers, the key is to learn where duo1 comes in the number phrase. So ask yourself, "Does the number end in 1-9 or does it end in a zero?"
If it ends in 1-9, duo1 comes right after the Measure.
If it ends in a zero, duo1 comes just before the Measure.
In previous lessons we learnt that Prepositions (Co-Verbs) precede main verbs, e.g. He studies at Beijing University = ta1 zai4 Bei3jing1 da4xue2 du2shu1.
However, with certain verbs -- the main ones are listed in the textbook -- the Co-Verbs zai4, dao4, gei3 follow the main verb, e.g. Please sit here = qing3 ni3 zuo4 zai4 zher4.
You are probably wondering, "How can I know when the Co-Verb + its Noun precede the main verb and when does it follow the main verb?" It's difficult to give a hard-and-fast rule, especially with zai4, so for now just note carefully all the verbs mentioned in the lesson.
'If' sentences are similar to 'Although' sentences in Lesson 18, in that, whereas in English we can say, "If you don't like living in Beijing, move to Tianjin" or "Move to Tianjin if you don't like living in Beijing", in Chinese the 'if' clause must come first: ru2guo3 ni3 bu4 xi3huan1 zhu4 zai4 Bei3jing1, ban1 dao4 Tian1jin1 qu4 ba! Note also that, when jiu4 appears in the second clause, ru2guo3 is normally omitted as understood.
When studying Drills 11-12, do read Notes 5 & 6 carefully. The de in Lesson 3 indicates possession, e.g. my pen, his book. The de in this lesson is descriptive, i.e. it describes how an action is being done, e.g. He runs fast = ta1 pao3 de hen3 kuai4. She talks slowly = ta1 shuo1 de hen3 man4. And, as Note 5 says, this de can also describe degree, e.g. Her Chinese characters are written very clearly = ta1de han4 zi4 xie3 de hen3 qing1chu3.
Lessons 21-40 (CME Book 3)
Several lessons introduce more pairs of adverbs joining up two clauses:
Lesson 22: After completing one action, then commence another.
Lesson 23: As soon as one action is over, another one starts.
Lesson 24: If it's not A, then it must be B.
Lesson 28: Not only this, but also that.
Lesson 29: Seeing that ..., then ...
The grammar patterns that may need a little more effort come in:
Lesson 26: Relative Clauses -- but reading the 'Does this help?' should help! (p.91)
Lesson 27: guo4le -- we need to understand the difference between Experience guo4 (lesson 13), Completed Action le (lesson 15) and guo4le which looks at whether the action has been 'gone through' and completed, e.g. A: "I will go and fetch the newspaper." B: "No need, I have already done it (= na2 guo4le) -- here it is."
Lesson 32-33: Resultative Verb Endings -- do not allow yourself to get overwhelmed with all the RVEs listed in the textbook -- this list is purely for reference. They are almost all covered individually in Lesson 51-54.
Lesson 38: zhe -- we need to distinguish this from Action-in-Progress zai4 in Lesson 10. zhe is used to describe the static nature of certain actions, e.g. sitting, standing, lying down.
Lessons 41-60 (CME Book 4)
Several lessons introduce more conjunctions joining up two clauses:
Lesson 41: If it's not this, then it's that, otherwise it's something else.
Lesson 42: First do this, then do that.
Lesson 44: On the one hand it's this, but on the other hand it's that.
The grammar patterns that may need a little more effort come in:
Lesson 43: ba3 -- our basic problem is that English doesn't have anything to compare it with, but it's not really difficult to grasp. Just read the notes carefully.
Lessons 47 & 51: common Questions Words can be used without their interrogative effect to make vague or indefinite statements.
Lesson 56: the different ways of saying yi4dianr3 to mean 'a little' or 'slightly SV-er' can be confusing.
CME Book 5
Why and How is it different from CME Books 1-4?
Firstly, there are no grammar drills. This is because the major grammar patterns used when speaking Chinese have all been covered in Books 1-4. The purpose of Book 5 is to review intuitively the grammar patterns you have already learnt by embedding them in the stories rather than talking about them explicitly.
Secondly, the purpose of Book 5 is to broaden your vocabulary on everyday topics, e.g. getting up & dressed, in the office, eating out, travelling in China, etc. This is vital for the person who plans to live in China for some while.
Thirdly, when learning a language, we not only need to learn how to form sentences by applying grammar rules, but must also learn how to express our meaning appropriately, e.g. using correct titles, or using appropriate Chinese when leaving someone's home. In other words, we are not just learning the Chinese language and the Chinese culture, but also needing to learn how to speak in a culturally appropriate way.
Fourthly, while we continue to live in China, we will not only need to have conversations with people, but from time to time will need to speak at some length on a particular subject which will require joining up paragraphs in an acceptable way so that the whole thing flows properly. CME Book 5 will help us with all these.
Some students find that Book 5 can drag. How can you avoid this?
Firstly, look at the ideas right at the front of the textbook, especially '10 Ways to Make Book 5 More Fun to Study' and implement these in class. Also encourage your teacher to read the Chinese version, headed 'To the Teacher'.
Secondly, while studying CME Book 5, also study another textbook at the same time so as to add variety to your studies. 'Chinese Traditions and Festivals' is a useful textbook and is published by the same publishers as CME.
Thirdly, in spite of doing all the above suggestions, if you do find it begins to drag, stop after finishing Lesson 65, study another textbook for a while, and then come back and complete Lessons 66-70.