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Lesson Transcript

Victor: 大家好 (dàjiā hǎo), I’m Victor.
Amber: Hey, and I’m Amber. Welcome back to All About Chinese Lesson 3. What’s our lesson about today, Victor?
Victor: We are talking about the basic Chinese grammar.
Amber: Yes, and I would like to first extend some congratulations to all of you, who are listening, for having the guts to click play on a grammar lesson.
Victor: Right, grammar sounds… The word grammar sounds a little bit intimidating.
Amber: Yes, a lot of us have grammar anxiety. I call it post-traumatic grammar disorder. I think I have it.
Victor: Yeah, I had that one when I was learning English.
Amber: Yeah, but fortunately at ChineseClass101.com, we have developed a therapy just for this disorder.
Victor: Right, painless therapy.
Amber: Yes, and we know the current practice is to use grammar book shock therapy, used in Chinese classes all around the world or in your home, when you try and learn yourself by ordering 10 pounds worth of grammar textbooks from Amazon and then never opening them.
Victor: Yeah, definitely.
Amber: However, we’re going to give you some sort of break down a few basic things about Chinese grammar here, today, that will help you have a head start. For example, if you hate conjugating verbs or you hate all those gender things, words that have male and female, masculine, feminine, or you can’t roll your R’s, I think Chinese is the language for you.
Victor: Yeah, definitely. That’s one promise we can make is that there is no conjugation.
Amber: And no masculine, feminine, that kind of stuff. But it is important to note that do not believe the rumors circulating around that Chinese has no grammar. Some people will say that to you. I’ve heard many Chinese people tell me that, “But Chinese has no grammar.”
Victor: Right.
Amber: It’s cause you speak Chinese, you don’t have to think about it. That’s just an urban legend. There is some grammar.
Victor: It’s just a lot easier.
Amber: Ok, but Victor, I think the gods of language were kind to Chinese. There’s a lot to contend with, the tones and the characters.
Victor: Yeah, definitely. So, easy grammar kind of compensates for everything else in Chinese.

Lesson focus

Amber: That’s right, and we can start with aspects of grammar. How about with the verbs? I mean, that’s a really, sort of, comforting thing about Chinese. The great thing about Chinese verbs is that they don’t change form.
Victor: Right, exactly. So only one form of each verb exists, so that must be a big relief to a lot of people already.
Amber: Yeah. So I think a lot of people probably are in a little bit of disbelief thinking this is false advertising. But it’s not, really it does not matter who’s talking, what they’re talking about, who they’re talking to, when they’re talking; the verb is always the same. So it’s kind of like, Victor, Chinese people when they come and learn English, right? Ok, you know when Chinese people, sometimes when they’re learning English and they’re not that fluent yet, sometimes they speak in very simple form of English. They’ll say like, “I go store,” right?
Victor: Exactly.
Amber: But that’s just Chinese. It really is like that.
Victor: Right. It’s basically you say what you want to say and put a word for time or when happened and that’s it.
Amber: Yeah, we’ll talk more about that in a minute. So Victor, in Chinese, how, for example, would you say, “I go store”?
Victor: Yeah, you just 我去商店 (wǒ qù shāngdiàn).
Amber: So 我 (wǒ) “I”, 去 (qù) “go”, 商店 (shāngdiàn) “store”.
Victor: Right.
Amber: See? That easy.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: So that being said, it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing telling us when something happens, right Victor? There are other things that will tell us when things that normally the verbal conjugation will tell us.
Victor: Yes, in Chinese, word order is the most important thing.
Amber: Yeah, because the word order is often your clue to figure out who is doing what and then also there’s some time words that tell you when things are happening.
Victor: Right.
Amber: But no conjugation.
Victor: Yeah. So let’s start with the most basic kind of sentence, just to illustrate.
Amber: Yeah, so we can talk about word order in Chinese with the normal, say, Chinese declarative sentence, same as the type of sentence we would use in English being subject, verb, object. Same order in Chinese.
Victor: Right. For example 我学中文 (wǒ xué zhōngwén).
Amber: Ok, so Victor just said “I study Chinese”.
Victor: 我学中文 (wǒ xué zhōngwén).
Amber: Right. So 我 (wǒ) it means “I”, which is the subject, 学 (xué) is the verb, which means “to study”, 中文 (zhōngwén) means “Chinese”. So actually, in English it’s the same – “I study Chinese”.
Victor: Yeah, that’s it.
Amber: The same word order. So I'm sure everyone’s thinking, “Awesome! Chinese and English are the same!”
Victor: Yes, awesomely easy.
Amber: Yeah, and it is, it is the same in this case. A lot of the word order, I find, in Chinese is not that different from English.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Ok, Victor, so it works for “I study Chinese”. Does it work for anything, give us some other very simple subject, verb, object sentences.
Victor: Sure. How about 我喝茶 (wǒ hē chá).
Amber: Oh, you sound so good when you say that 喝茶 (hē chá).
Victor: 我喝茶 (wǒ hē chá).
Amber: So again we hear 我 (wǒ), which means “I”. Next we hear the verb, which is…
Victor: “Drink”, 喝 (hē).
Amber: And then the object.
M1:茶 (chá) is “the tea”.
Amber: Yeah. So victor, is it true? Do you drink tea? Is the cliché true that Chinese people drink tea every day?
Victor: Yes, China has very good tea. I tried that once myself, in the southern China, in Suzhou, at the 龙井 (lóngjǐng), The Dragon Well Tea. It’s amazing.
Amber: So do you drink tea everyday yourself?
Victor: I don’t do it here. But I think people in China definitely do. I think they tend to be older people who do it, the younger people… Cause you have to boil the water, and it’s hot, it’s always…
Amber: You don’t like to cook, do you, Victor?
Victor: … sit down and come down to enjoy.
Amber: Boiling water is such a hassle. What would these electric kettles they have nowadays. You have to pour the water into the kettle. Yeah, well, I can’t really say I drink tea every day, but I do drink coffee every day. How would I say that, “I drink coffee”?
Victor: That will be 我喝咖啡 (wǒ hē kāfēi).
Amber: Yeah, 咖啡 (kāfēi) it sounds like coffee.
Victor: There you go.
Amber: Ok, so everybody can see how easy it is to start speaking Chinese. We can already say three sentences. Do you want to review them for us, Victor? “I study Chinese.”
Victor: 我学中文 (wǒ xué zhōngwén).
Amber: I drink tea.
Victor: 我喝茶 (wǒ hē chá).
Amber: And I, personally, drink coffee.
Victor: 我喝咖啡 (wǒ hē kāfēi).
Amber: Right, it’s so easy. Ok, but I'm sorry to say Victor, but now we are going to get negative, after all that positivity.
Victor: Oh, why?
Amber: No, no, not in a sad way, but in a negating verbs way.
Victor: Oh, negating words.
Amber: Yes, making sentences negative.
Victor: Right, ok. That’s easy too.
Amber: Yes, and it’s not a negative thing at all because it’s very easy.
Victor: Yeah
Amber: Yes, throw the grammar book out the window. Like we said, burn it. No, ok, what happens in Chinese is that to negate a verb, what do we do?
Victor: The negation occurs just before the verb and any prepositional phrase. And all we have to do is to add our negation word there.
Amber: Well, two different words for negating verbs. Small, little words that you put right in front of the verb. So what is the most common one?
Victor: It’s 不 (bù).
Amber: 不 (bù).
Victor: Very simple, but very powerful. It changes the meaning completely.
Amber: Yeah, so let’s just concentrate on 不 (bù) because it’s the most common for now, easiest. So if we’re going to go revisit our Chinese that we just learned, “I study Chinese”. What if I don’t study Chinese? How would I say that?
Victor: You just put the 不 (bù) in front of the verb.
Amber: So, in that sentence, our verb was “study”, which was…
Victor: 学 (xué).
Amber: So how would I say “I don’t study Chinese”?
Victor: So you would just say 我不学中文 (wǒ bù xué zhōngwén). You see the difference? Put the 不 (bù) in front of 学.
Amber: Exactly.
Victor: So instead of 我学中文 (wǒ xué zhōngwén), which is “I study Chinese”, you would say 我不学中文 (wǒ bù xué zhōngwén).
Amber: So easy.
Victor: It works.
Amber: But we are studying Chinese, so let’s talk about something else. The 不 (bù) is nice and easy, another part of Chinese grammar. The other thing which is really important which we touched on was if we don’t conjugate words, how do we express verb tense?
Victor: Yeah, don’t worry, it’s also very easy.
Amber: Yes. You don’t have to get tense. We know that usually verb tenses make us tense, well, let’s go get a Chinese massage, but in Chinese they’re very easy. So what do we do, then, to express verb tense, Victor?
Victor: So instead of conjugating verbs, we just slip in a time word to indicate when this action happened. Either it was yesterday that it happened, or it’s happening now or it’s going to happen in the future.
Amber: Yeah, so the time word just basically means the Chinese equivalent of yesterday, today, tomorrow, now, later. These time words are just put in to the sentence and it tells everyone when it’s happening.
Victor: Let’s start with the sentence, with the verb “to go”, for example, in Chinese it’s 去 (qù).
Amber: Right. Remember we talked about “I go store”, 我去商店 (wǒ qù shāngdiàn). So this 去 (qù) will never change. We won’t mess around with the verb, but what, Victor, if I wanted to say “I’m going to the store”, I'm getting the feeling that we just have to use this word tomorrow to tell us when we’re going.
Victor: Right, exactly.
Amber: So what’s the word for tomorrow in Chinese?
Victor: It’s 明天 (míngtiān).
Amber: 明天 (míngtiān). Now, we already learned “I go store”, what was that again?
Victor: 我去商店 (wǒ qù shāngdiàn).
Amber: Ok, so now where do we slip in this 明天 (míngtiān), which is “tomorrow”.
Victor: You just put it right in front of the verb and you say 我明天去商店 (wǒ míngtiān qù shāngdiàn).
Amber: Right. So that makes the future tense. It makes more sense.
Victor: “I will go to the store tomorrow.”
Amber: See, we promised you’d become pragmatic and logical, just like Victor, if you learned Chinese. So logical, so easy.
Victor: Just say what you need to say, and then..
Amber: Don’t mess around.
Victor: Whatever happens, right.
Amber: Don’t mess around with verbs and crap like that. OK, so good, well, 我明天去商店 (wǒ míngtiān qù shāngdiàn). “I tomorrow go store” and that will tell me that I'm going to the store tomorrow.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Ok, now what about if the time is now. What is the word for “now” in Chinese? I bet we can just swap it out, right?
Victor: 现在 (xiànzài).
Amber: 现在 (xiànzài).
Victor: Yeah, that means “now”.
Amber: Ok, so for right now we’re not going to go into the tones, we’re more talking about the word order, but in another lesson – we have a lot of lessons about pronunciation. So we’ll go more into the tones at that point. So right now, the word for “now”, where do we put that? Can you just give us a sentence if we’re saying “I’m going to the store now”, Victor?
Victor: You can just say 我现在去商店 (wǒ xiànzài qù shāngdiàn).
Amber: So great.
Victor: Yeah, there you go. You can put it in front of the sentence as well. You can say 现在我去商店 (xiànzài wǒ qù shāngdiàn).
Amber: Oh, ok. So you can either put it at the beginning or before the verb.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Ok, so how about “yesterday”?
Victor: 昨天 (zuótiān).
Amber: 昨天 (zuótiān) is the word for “yesterday”. So “Yesterday I go store,” how do you say that? “Yesterday I went to the store.”
Victor: Ok, so you will say 昨天我去商店了 (zuótiān wǒ qù shāngdiàn le).
Amber: Right, so 昨天 (zuótiān) came at the beginning or it could be 我昨天去商店了 (wǒ zuótiān qù shāngdiàn le).
Victor: Right.
Amber: Now, there’s a little 了 (le) at the end. This is also a time market that we’ll teach you more about later, but it shows when an action is completed. It comes in a sentence when an action’s been completed. Bu basically here, if you hear 昨天 (zuótiān), you know it’s yesterday.
Victor: Right.
Amber: That’s a good indication that it’s past tense.
Victor: Right. Just a side note, the time, word or any kind of adjectives always, always come before the noun or the verb. So in English you can say “I went to the store tomorrow”, but in Chinese “tomorrow” will always be before the verb.
Amber: Oh, so don’t ever put the time word at the end, like we do in English.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Very good hint. Very good tip, Victor. Good thing you’re here. Ok, so of course life gets more complicated than this. We’re not saying this is the only way to indicate time, tense in Chinese, however, there are some ways of things like past experience, those sorts of things, but those will come later and they’re not much harder than this. You’ll master them in no time, we promise. Ok, so here’s another thing about Chinese grammar. Not to fear, but it is an issue, which is…
Victor: The measure words.
Amber: Yes, sometimes called measure words. Sometimes called classifiers.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Now, they’re not to fear, because English has them too, sort of. Like “loaf of bread”, “case of beer”, “pair of socks”, sometimes we have these little unit words.
Victor: Right.
Amber: But in Chinese, what’s the difference? Sometimes English has them, not always.
Victor: Yeah. Well, in Chinese, these measure counting words must be used when objects are enumerated.
Amber: Right, so whether it’s just one person or 1.3 billion people, you have to use a measure word between the number and the noun.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Ok, so how about… let’s take an example. If I wanted to say “one book”. In English, very simple, I just say the number plus the noun. But in chinese, we need our measure word.
Victor: Right. So you will say 一本书 (yī běn shū).
Amber: Ok, can you repeat it slower?
Victor: 一本书 (yī běn shū).
Amber: So 一 (yī) is the word for “one”, 书 (shū) is the word for “book”. 本 (běn) is the measure word.
Victor: Right. 本 (běn) is the measure word.
Amber: Right. So you can’t just say 一书 (yī shū). That’s wrong, it doesn’t make sense. You have to give this little measure word as a classifier. 本. Ok, how about if I wanted to say “four friends”. How would I say that, Victor?
Victor: You say 四个朋友 (sì gè péngyǒu).
Amber: Ok, now, here, what’s the word for “four”?
Victor: 四 (sì).
Amber: And the word for “friends”?
Victor: 朋友 (péngyǒu).
Amber: And the measure word?
Victor: Is 个 (gè).
Amber: So could you say it again?
Victor: 四个朋友 (sì gè péngyǒu).
Amber: “Four friends”. So here the measure word 个 (gè). So you may have noticed something, that the measure word’s not always the same.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Sometimes certain ones overlap, but there’s not necessarily always a rhyme or reason as to which measure word to use. You kind of have to memorize it.
Victor: That’s the thing, you kind of have to know, yeah.
Amber: But there are some that make a bit of sense. For example, if I wanted to say “that piece of paper”, some measure words are for, say, flat objects, right? In general, maybe a piece of paper. For example, how do you say that, Victor? “A piece of paper”.
Victor: 一张纸 (yī zhāng zhǐ).
Amber: Right. 一 (yī) is “one”.
Victor: 张 (zhāng) is the measure word here. 纸 (zhǐ) is “paper”. So 一张纸 (yī zhāng zhǐ).
Amber: Right.
Victor: Right.
Amber: So 张 (zhāng), this is good because this measure word, a lot of long, sort of flat objects take this measure word.
Victor: Right.
Amber: So sometimes you can sort of categorize them, but sometimes you can’t.
Victor: Right, you’re right. I guess the word 个 (gè) is kind of a fallback on the measure words.
Amber: Yeah, so we heard 个 (gè) when you said 四个朋友 (sì gè péngyǒu), “four friends”. Probably 个 (gè) is like the most common measure words, right?
Victor: Right. Although it does not go with everything, but most of the things…
Amber: Like it’s true, it doesn’t really go with everything. However, if you can’t remember the measure word, it’s better to say 个 (gè) than to say nothing at all.
Victor: People will know what you mean. Then maybe, hopefully, they’ll tell you what the right word is.
Amber: Exactly.
Victor: Right. So for example, “the piece of paper”, you would not say 一个纸 (yī gè zhǐ).
Amber: Yeah, it sounds weird.
Victor: But if you say that, people will probably tell you that it should be 一张纸 (yī zhāng zhǐ).
Amber: Yeah, and that’s a good way of learning. Ok, let’s move on to one more thing which is universal to all languages, which is pronouns, the grammar thing. So pronouns are things like, what, he, she, it, they, in English, right?
Victor: Right.
Amber: They’re used as replacements for nouns or noun phrases.
Victor: And Chinese has first, second, and third person pronouns.
Amber: Right, and just like English, they have singular forms, like I, you, he, she it. And plural forms, we, you, they.
Victor: Yeah, so the word for 我 (wǒ).
Amber: Which is “I”.
Victor: Has not changed, but it can either mean “I” or “me”, depending on the position in the sentence or context.
Amber: Right. So there’s only one word for “I” or “me”, but you can tell which one they mean just by context. Now, what about if we want to make a pronoun plural?
Victor: Just add the suffix 们 (men) to the pronoun.
Amber: Ok, so for example, we just learned 我 (wǒ) was “I”. Now, if I wanted to say “us” or “we”, how would I say it?
Victor: You just say 我们 (wǒmen).
Amber: Right. Sounds like “women”.
Victor: A little bit, yes.
Amber: A little bit. That’s a good way to remember, “women”, we if you’re a woman… not. Ok, now here’s something else interesting, speaking of women, is that in Chinese, gender is not reflected in the spoken language.
Victor: Correct.
Amber: So what we mean by this is that the word for “he” is what?
Victor: 他 (tā).
Amber: And the word for “she” is what?
Victor: 她 (tā).
Amber: It comes in very handy when you have something to hide, like you don’t want someone to know if your lunch date was a boy or a girl, a man or a woman. If you have a man friend, but you don’t want your friends to know, you can just say, “Oh, I went for lunch with TA”, and they don’t know if it’s a guy or a girl.
Victor: Right. From speaking they don’t know.
Amber: Yeah, it’s very ambiguous.
Victor: Although we should say for the written language there is a difference.
Amber: That’s right. So if you write it down, there’s a different character for the female 她 (tā) than from the male 他 (tā).
Victor: Or it’s.
Amber: Also has its own as well.
Victor: But all three, when you say it, you can tell which one…
Amber: Yeah, that’s right. It too. So it could be a male, female or an it. They don’t know who you’re having lunch with. Good. So how about, can you give us some pronouns in Chinese? We’ve heard a few, let’s just go through the list, Victor.
Victor: Sure, definitely. To say “I” or “me” is 我 (wǒ), like we say earlier. Also, “we” or “us” is 我们 (wǒmen).
Amber: Good. Ok, how about “you”, singular?
Victor: That’s 你 (nǐ).
Amber: And then “you”, plural.
Victor: 你们 (nǐmen).
Amber: Good. Now, we heard that “he/she/it” was all TA. That’s the easy one.
Victor: 他/她/它 (tā).
Amber: And what about “they”
Victor: “They” it will be 他们 / 她们 / 它们 (tāmen).
Amber: And “they”, girls, boys, its, otherwise.
Victor: It’s all the same.
Amber: All (tāmen).
Victor: All the same. It’s just (tāmen), yeah.
Amber: So easy. Great. And then last, but not least, we’re going to talk about one last thing in grammar because we know grammar’s… we said it was going to be easy so we’re not going to give you too much. The last thing, best for last, how do you make things plural in Chinese? Now we’re talking nouns, not pronouns. When you have a noun, how do you make it plural?
Victor: You don’t.
Amber: Best answer ever. That’s right. You’ve got to love Chinese grammar, we promised. Chinese people know how to keep it simple. You do not pluralize nouns.
Victor: You could do anything, you just say however number of things you’re talking about and that’s it. The noun always stays the same.


Amber: So I think, Victor, honestly, that Chinese has redeemed those 34 stroke characters by all this simple grammar.
Victor: Compensate for those kind of things.
Amber: Exactly. They made it easy in other ways. Ok, so I think it was pretty painless. What do you think?
Victor: Yeah, definitely. I hope that listeners find it too.
Amber: Yeah. And don’t worry, Chinese grammar doesn’t get much more complicated than this. You can practically just learn it through listening to lessons, though hearing other people. It will come naturally. And make sure you come to ChineseClass101.com for more lessons that will teach you Mandarin in this natural way that we want to learn without pain. We promise.
Victor: Ok, so this is it for now, and we’ll see you next time. 下次再见 (xià cì zàijiàn).
Amber: We’ll see you next time. ChineseClass101.com. 再见 (zàijiàn).