The Mandarin Chinese language is considered one of the hardest languages in the world for many reasons. Mostly, what puts off the potential students is the Chinese writing system, which consists of 汉字 hànzì – the Chinese characters. In some sources, you might read that each character is a word, but a better way to phrase it would be that one character is one syllable. Either way – there is no alphabet. Moreover, there are 5 tones in Mandarin Chinese, so depending on how you stress your syllable, you might end up saying something that makes no sense, or worse. To make things harder, some characters can be read in two or even three different ways – in a different tone or using a completely different pronunciation.
However, there is also an aspect that is quite easy and beginner-friendly for the students of the Mandarin Chinese language. That thing is… the Chinese grammar. The Mandarin Chinese grammar might get bit tricky for intermediated and advanced students, but if you are a beginner, there is nothing to fear about it. Below, you will read about 5 things, which make Chinese grammar easier than you would think.
No verb conjugation needed!
Are you fed up with learning verbs conjugation for English, Spanish or Polish? Learning Mandarin might be just for you then – no conjugation required. Chinese verbs stay the same for all the pronouns and all the tenses (we will talk about tenses in the last point by the way). For example, let’s take the character 去 qù– “to go”:
我 wǒ (I) + 去qù (go) = 我去wǒ qù
我 wǒ (I) + 去 qù (go) + 了le (a particle often used for past actions) = 我去了wǒ qù le
你 nǐ (you) + 去 qù (go) = 你去 nǐ qù
你 nǐ (you) + 去 qù (go) + 了le (a particle often used for past actions) = 你去了 nǐ qù le
他们 tāmen (they) + 去 qù (go) = 他们去tāmen qù
他们 tāmen (they) + 去 qù (go) + 了le (a particle often used for past actions) = 他们去了tāmen qù le
As you can see, it’s simple – the verb didn’t change throughout all the sentences!
S-V-O sentence structure
If you speak Korean or Japanese, you might think that Chinese also follows the S-O-V (subject-object-verb) sentence pattern. Wrong – in fact, Chinese sentences follow the S-V-O (subject-verb-object) pattern, which makes it similar to lots of Western languages, such as English or French. If you speak any of those languages, you might find this part of Chinese grammar familiar and convenient, as there is no need to think a lot where to put the object and the verb. For example:
我 Wǒ + 去 qù + 商店 shāngdiàn = 我去商店. Wǒ qù shāngdiàn.
I + to go + shop = I go to the shop.
我Wǒ + 是 shì + 美国人měiguórén = 我是美国人. Wǒ shì měiguórén.
I + to be + American (person) = I am American.
Particles do wonders
To make questions, suggestions or even to highlight a declarative sentence in Chinese, there is no need for inversion, fancy words or structures. Simply use the right particle at the end on the sentence! Here are two examples of the most frequently used particles:
吗 ma – for making questions
You are American: 你是美国人. Nǐ shì měiguórén.
Are you American?: 你是美国人吗？Nǐ shì měiguórén ma?
吧 ba – for making assumptions or suggestions:
You are American: 你是美国人. Nǐ shì měiguórén.
Are you American, right?: 你是美国人吧？Nǐ shì měiguórén ba?
We go to the shop. 我们去商店. Wǒmen qù shāngdiàn.
Let’s go to the shop. 我们去商店吧. Wǒmen qù shāngdiàn ba.
The Magic of making new words – prefixes and suffixes
In Mandarin Chinese, making new words can be quite intuitive if you know the necessary prefixes and suffixes. For example, a suffix 性 xìng added to a noun or a verb is used to express quality, property or scope of something. For example:
To spring, to leap: 弹 tán
Elasticity: 弹性 tánxìng
Logical: 理性 lǐxìng
As an example of a prefix, let’s use 反 fǎn – meaning reverse, “anti-“:
Virus: 病毒 bìngdú
Antivirus: 反病毒 fǎnbìngdú
Corruption: 腐 fǔ
To feel: 感 gǎn
To dislike: 反感 fǎngǎn
In the terms of grammar structures, Mandarin Chinese has only got the present tense – there is no verb conjugation indicating a past or a future action. Therefore, it is often said that the Chinese language has no tenses. It is partially true, however there are words you can use in a sentence to express that something happened in the past or is about to happen in the future. One of the obvious choices is to simply indicate the time of the action, like “yesterday”, “tomorrow”, “last year”, “next year”, etc. Having said that, it is true that no conjugation is needed for past and future actions – if you look at tenses this way, then it is true that Chinese has no tenses. Yay!
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