Top 5 Basic Chinese Sentence Structures

So, you have heard this time and again - With commitment and daily practice, it is certainly possible to speak Chinese fluently, but you still feel at sea. One of the reasons is that you may not know the structure of Chinese language.

Chinese is a language that focuses on the meaning. If you compare it with English, you will find that it is very common to see a long English sentence which is organized by certain grammar rules. While in Chinese you can only find short sentences or long sentences divided to short phrases.

Chinese Sentence Structure

Having said that, it doesn’t mean Chinese has no grammar. As a matter of fact, Chinese is a highly pattern-based language. And knowing these structures will enable you to converse more efficiently in Chinese.

The golden rule is: Subject + When + Where + How + Action + Complement

  • Subject - the core of a sentence
  • When - the time when an action took place
  • Where - the place where an action took place
  • How - the way an action is performed
  • Action – a verb or a verb phrase
  • Complement – to what extent an action is done.
  • These components of the structure don’t necessarily come together in a single sentence. Most often, we only see part of the whole structure. In the following, we will introduce the top 5 basic and most commonly-used sentence patterns in Chinese.

    1. Subject + Verb + Object

    This is the easiest type of sentence in Chinese grammar. The word order is normally the same as in English. E.g.

    tā shì yīnɡɡuórén.


    He is British.

    jiékè xǐhuān zúqiú.


    Jack likes football.

    āijí yǒu jīnzìtǎ.


    There are Pyramids is Egypt.

    We can put “不” or “没有” before the verb to express a negative meaning and “吗” at the end of the sentence to form questions. E.g.

    tā búshì yīnɡɡuórén.


    He is not British.

    zhōnɡɡuó méiyǒu jīnzìtǎ.


    There are not Pyramids in China.

    jiékè xǐhuān zúqiú mɑ?


    Does Jack like football?

    2. Subject + Verb + Direct Object + Indirect Object

    In order to express “She teaches me Chinese”, we need to add two objects after the verb. The direct object represents what is being transferred as a result of the action, and the indirect object denotes who is being affected by that action. As in the example, “me” plays the role of a “direct object” and “Chinese” plays the role of an “indirect object”.

    Besides “教” (to teach), other verbs that can occur with indirect objects include “给” (to give), “告诉” (to tell), “借” (to lend), etc.

    qǐnɡ ɡěi wǒ yìbēi kāfēi.


    Please give me a cup of coffee.

    tā ɡàosu wǒ yíɡè mìmì.


    She told me a secret.

    nǐ nénɡ jiè wǒ nǐde chē mɑ?


    Can you lend me your car?

    3. Subject + Time When + Verb + Object

    To express when an action or an event occurs, we can put the time words immediately after the subject. One difference from English is that Chinese doesn’t a preposition before the time words. E.g. “She got up at 7 in the morning.” is translated as “她在早上在七点起床。”

    More examples:

    tāmen mínɡtiān yào qù měiɡuó.


    They will go to the United States tomorrow.

    wǒde pénɡyǒu zuótiān lái xī’ān.


    My friends came to Xi’an yesterday.

    4. Subject + Verb + Complement

    A complement is a word or phrase following the verb. In Chinese, a complement has a variety of functions, such as showing the duration, place, degree, result, direction or possibility of an action. E.g.

    tā měitiān ɡōnɡzuò bāɡè xiǎoshí.


    He works eight hours everyday.

    wǒde ɡēɡe zhù zài shànɡhǎi.


    My brother lives in Shanghai.

    nǐ tīnɡ dé qīnɡ chu mɑ?


    Can you hear (something) clearly?

    pí jiǔ, tā hē wán liǎo.


    He has drunk all the beer.

    5. Topic + Comment

    In the last example “啤酒,他喝完了”, “喝” is the verb, “啤酒” is the object. You might be wondering: According to “Subject + Verb + Object”, should object not come after “喝”? That’s a good question! In Chinese, objects can be moved to the beginning of a sentence where it becomes the topic. And following that topic is a comment or statement. This is done in order to keep balance of the sentence or to put an emphasis. E.g.

    jīntiān de ɡōnɡzuò, nǐ zuò wán lemɑ?


    Have you finished today’s work?

    zǎofàn, nǐ chī lemɑ?


    Did you eat breakfast?

    mínɡtiān de jùhuì, wǒ bùxiǎnɡ qù le.


    I don’t feel liking going to the party tomorrow.

    Knowing and understanding the basic sentence patterns will help you get on the right track, especially for beginner learners. If you are considering learning more sentence structures and patterns, you can try out iChineseLearning’s free Chinese grammar lessons that are recorded by native speakers. Chinese grammar wiki is also on our recommendation list.

    If you have any questions about this article or about Chinese grammar, please feel free to let us know in the comment below!

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