Chinese “to be”, 是 (shì)


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:

EnglishChinese PinyinChinese Characters
I am goodwǒ hěn hǎo我很好
China is beautifulzhōng 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.

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