Quick Chinese Lessons

Got 5 minutes? Boost Your Elementary Mandarin With These Quick Chinese Lessons

1. To be or not shì (是)

Quick Chinese Lessons: Our 1st Quick Chinese Lesson is about one of the first verbs that beginners encounter on their Chinese-learning journey is the verb “to be”, which is pronounced as “shì(是)”. It is equivalent to “am, is, are” in the present tense and “was, were” in the future tense.

However, you should not use “shì 是” in the same way you use it in English. For example, in English, the basic structure used to make a simple sentence is noun + auxiliary verb (am/is/are) + adjective, like “you are tall” or “China is beautiful”.

to be or not to be helpful tips

In Chinese, you need to use an adverb instead of “am/is/are” in front an adjective. The most commonly used adverb in Chinese is “hěn 很”, which literally means “very”. Therefore, in Chinese, “you are tall” should be “nǐ hěn gāo (你很高)”.

Let’s have a look at two more examples:

English Chinese Pinyin Chinese Characters
I am good wǒ hěn hǎo 我很好
China is beautiful zhōng guó hěn piàò liàng 中国很漂亮

to be or not to be i am fine

Here, a question arises. What if I want to say “China is very beautiful.”? In this case, you can use a “stronger” adverb of degree, such as “fēi cháng (非常)”. So, it will be “zhōng guó fēi cháng piào liàng (中国非常漂亮)”.

To wrap up, for beginners, just remember “shì 是” is usually followed by a noun, whereas an adverb like “hěn” is usually followed by an adjective.

 

2. Using ‘de (的)’ with Adjectives

Quick Chinese Lessons: In English, it’s common to see phrases like “a beautiful park”, “an interesting person”, “a big room”, etc. You don’t need to put anything between an adjective

and a noun in these cases. In Chinese, things get a bit more complicated. You might need to insert a “de(的)” between an adjective and a noun, depending on what adjective it is. Generally speaking, A “de(的)” is not needed if the adjective only contains one syllable. If an adjective contains two or more syllables, then a “de(的)” needs to be inserted in between the adjective and the noun. Just follow this simple rule and you will be fine.  Now let’s have a look at some examples:

English

a beautiful park

Chinese (Pinyin)

yī  gè  piào liàng  de  gōng yuán

Chinese (Character)

一个漂亮公园

(The adjective “piào liàng(漂亮)” contains more than one syllable, so a “de(的)” is needed in this case.)

de and adjectives beautiful park

English

an interesting person

Chinese (Pinyin)

yī  gè  yǒu qù  de  rén

Chinese (Character)

一个有趣

English

a big room

Chinese (Pinyin)

yī  gè  dà  fáng jiān

Chinese (Character)

一个大房间

(The adjective “dà(大)” only contains one syllable, so a “de(的)” is not needed in this case.)

 

3. Simple sentence structure

Quick Chinese Lessons: The 3rd When Chinese learners are making sentences, they sometimes have problems with the unfamiliar sentence structure. As a beginner, learning these four structures by heart will help you avoid committing grammatical mistakes when creating simple Chinese sentences:

Structure No.1: subject + verb + object

English

I am going to school.

Chinese (Pinyin)

Wǒ qù  xué xiào。

Literal translation: I go to school

Chinese (Character)

我去学校。

sentence structure going to school

Structure No.2: subject + time + verb + object

English

I am going to school at 8 o’clock.

Chinese (Pinyin)

Wǒ bā diǎn qù xué xiào。

I at 8 o’clock go to school

Chinese (Character)

我八点去学校。

Structure No.3: subject + place + verb + object

English

I am having dinner at home.

Chinese (Pinyin)

Wǒ zài  jiā chī wǎn fàn。

I at home eat dinner 

Chinese (Character)

我在家吃晚饭。

sentence structure dinner at home

Structure No.4: subject + time + place + verb + object

English

I am having dinner at home at 6:30.

Chinese (Pinyin)

Wǒ liù diǎn bàn zài  jiā chī  wǎn fàn。

I at 6.30 at home eat dinner

Chinese (Character)

我六点半在家吃晚饭。

 

4. How to ask basic questions

Quick Chinese Lessons: Many Chinese learners are told that “ma(吗)” is used at the end to form a question. However, this statement is not always correct even when creating basic questions.

“Ma(吗)” needs to be added at the end of a yes-no question only. For questions like “Where are you?”, “What time is it?”, there is no need to add “ma(吗)”.

Let’s have a look at some examples:

English Chinese Pinyin Chinese Character
Do you like Shanghai? Nǐ xǐ huān shàng hǎi ma? 你喜欢上海吗?
Does he have a Chinese name? Tā yǒu zhōng wén míng zì  ma? 他有中文名字吗?
Where are you? Nǐ zài  nǎ lǐ? 你在哪里?(“ma(吗)” is not needed in this case as this is not a yes-no question.)

5. When to use hé (和)

Quick Chinese Lessons: The Chinese word “hé(和)” is another basic, but the important word which is often misused by Chinese learners. Although its equivalent meaning in English is indeed “and”, when it comes to the usage of this word, we need to get rid of our “English way of thinking”.

In English, the word “and” can connect nouns, adjectives, phrases, and sentences. For example, “I like apples and bananas. (noun + and + noun)”; “I am happy and excited. (adjective + and + adjective)”; “I am interested in reading novels and playing chess. (phrase + and + phrase)”; “I am Mike and this is my friend Tom. (sentence + and + sentence)”.

when to use and apple and banana

However, in the Chinese language, the word “hé(和)” can only connect two nouns or two phrases. The structure for “adjective + and + adjective” in Chinese is “yòu(又) + adjective + yòu(又) + adjective”, whereas for “sentence + and + sentence”, you just need to put a comma to separate them. Here are some examples to indicate the usage of “hé(和)”:

English Chinese (Pinyin) Chinese (Character)
I like apples and bananas. wǒ xǐhuān píng guǒ hé xiāng jiāo。 我喜欢苹果和香蕉。
I am happy and excited. Wǒ yòu  gāo xìng yòu  jī dòng。 我又高兴又激动。
I am interested in reading novels and playing chess. wǒ duì dú xiǎo shuō hé xià qí  gǎn  xìng qù。 我对读小说和下棋感兴趣。
I am Mike and this is my friend Tom. wǒ  shì  Mike , zhè  shì  wǒ  de  péng yǒu  Tom. 我是Mike, 这是我的朋友Tom.

There you go! Put this into practice and you’re one step closer to mastering the Chinese language.

 

 

6. hé shì (合适) or shì hé (适合)

Quick Chinese Lessons: Our first Quick Chinese Lessons is about “hé shì(合适)” and “shì hé(适合)” sometimes also cause trouble to Chinese learners as both words consist of exactly the same characters, the only difference is the word order. In addition, their meanings are very similar, what you need to remember is that “hé shì(合适)” is an adjective, meaning “suitable”, whereas “shì hé(适合)” is a verb, which means “to suit”. Therefore, when it comes to the usage of the words, the structures are sth. + hěn (很) + “hé shì(合适)” and sth. + (hěn 很) + “shì hé(适合)” + sb. respectively. Let’s have a look at some examples to help you understand these two structures:

English

This shirt is the right one.

Chinese (Pinyin)

zhè jiàn chèn shān hěn hé shì。

Chinese (Character)

这件衬衫很合适。

he shi or shi he suitable shirt

English

This shirt suits you well.

Chinese (Pinyin)

zhè  jiàn  chèn shān  hěn  shì hé  nǐ。

Chinese (Character)

这件衬衫很适合你。

 

7. To meet, jiàn (见) or jiàn miàn (见面)

Quick Chinese Lessons: “jiàn (见)” and “jiàn miàn (见面)” both mean “to meet, to see”. However, in order to express “A meets B”, the structures used are A + jiàn (见) + B and A + hé(和) + B + jiàn miàn (见面) respectively. Let’s have a look at some examples:

English

I want to see you.

Chinese (Pinyin)

wǒ yào jiàn nǐ。

Chinese (Character)

我要见你。

the verb to meet conversation

English

I met him yesterday.

Chinese (Pinyin)

zuó tiān wǒ hé tā jiàn miàn le。

Chinese (Character)

昨天我和他见面了。

 

 

8. Should you use hái shì (还是) or huò zhě (或者)

Quick Chinese Lessons: Some Chinese learners also mix up “hái shì(还是)” with “huò zhě(或者)” as they both mean “or”. However, there is a big difference between “hái shì(还是)” and “huò zhě(或者)” when it comes to the usage of these two words. “hái shì(还是)” is usually used to ask questions such as “Do you want to drink tea or coffee?”; “Do you like Shanghai or Beijing?”, it’s like someone is asking you to make a choice from two or more options. “huò zhě(或者)” is used to make a statement like “Either tea or coffee is OK.” Now let’s have a look at some examples to help you understand the difference between the two words:

English

Do you want tea or coffee?

Chinese (Pinyin)

nǐ  yào  chá  hái shì  kā fēi?

Chinese (Character)

你要茶还是咖啡?

when to use or tea or coffee

English

Do you like Shanghai or Beijing?

Chinese (Pinyin)

nǐ  xǐ huān  shàng hǎi  hái shì  běi jīng?

Chinese (Character)

你喜欢上海还是北京?

English:

A: Do you want to drink tea or coffee?

B: Either tea or coffee is OK.

Chinese (Pinyin):

A: nǐ  yào  chá  hái shì  kā fēi?

B: chá huò zhě kā fēi。

Chinese (Character):

A: 你要茶还是咖啡?

B: 茶或者咖啡。

 

9. How to use negatives bù (不) and méi (没)

Quick Chinese Lessons: In Chinese, both “bù(不)” and “méi(没)” can be used to negate a verb. However, when it comes to the verb “to have”, which is “yǒu(有)”, you can only say “méi yǒu(没有)” to express the negatives “not have”. NEVER EVER say “bù yǒu(不有)”, because there is no such word. Here are some simple examples for you to understand the expression of “méi yǒu(没有)”.

English

I don’t have a girlfriend.

Chinese (Pinyin)

wǒ méi yǒu nǚ péng yǒu。

Chinese (Character)

我没有女朋友。

English

I don’t have any money.

Chinese (Pinyin)

wǒ méi yǒu qián。

Chinese (Character)

我没有钱。

negatives no money

When adding a verb

Some Chinese learners are confused by the difference between “bù + v. (不 + v.)” and “méi(yǒu) + v. 没(有)+ v.” when negating actions. What you need to remember is that “bù + v. (不 + v.)” is used for negation of present and future actions, whereas “méi(yǒu) + v. 没(有)+ v.” is used for negation of past actions, in this case “yǒu(有)” is optional. Let’s have a look at some examples:

méi(yǒu) + v. ()+ v.:

English

Yesterday I didn’t go to school.

Chinese (Pinyin)

zuó tiān wǒ méi(yǒu)  qù xué xiào。

Chinese (Character)

昨天我没(有)去学校。

English

I didn’t have breakfast today.

Chinese (Pinyin)

jīn tiān wǒméi(yǒu)  chī zāo fān。

Chinese (Character)

今天我没(有)吃早饭。

negatives no breakfast

“bù + v. ( + v.)”

English

I don’t go to school. / I am not going to school.

Chinese (Pinyin)

wǒ  bú(不)  qù  xué xiào。

Chinese (Character)

我不去学校。

English

I don’t eat breakfast. / I am not going to eat breakfast.

Chinese (Pinyin)

wǒ   bù  chī  zāo fān。

Chinese (Character)

我不吃早饭。