Mandarin Chinese Grammar Patterns and Structures

Common Chinese Grammar Structures for 的 (de) vs. 得 (de) vs. 地(de)
They even sound the same! How can words be so similar, without meaning the same thing?

It boils down to this main difference: 的 is used with nouns and 得 is used with verbs. The last one, 地, is mainly used to modify verbs (like the “ly” in English).

1. Noun + 的 + Noun
Possessive words (my, your, her, his, our, their, etc.) don’t directly translate into one word in Chinese, you add 的 to the end of the pronoun (I – 我) to make it possessive (My – 我+的).

For example:

wǒ de shū
my book

2. Attribute + 的 + Noun
When 的 is used between an attribute and noun, it gives the noun the attribute:

hěn piàoliang de lǎoshī
pretty teacher

3. Verb + 得 + State
This particle is used after a verb and indicates effect, degree, possibility, etc:

fēi de kuài
to fly quickly

4. Adj + 地 + Verb
This particle is mainly used as an adverb, like “ly” in English. It’s used before a verb.

For example:

màn màn de zǒu
to walk slowly

5. Adj + 地 + Adj
地 can also be used to modify/qualify an adjective:

tè bié de zhēn guì
Particularly precious

Common Chinese Grammar Patterns for 吗 (ma) vs. 吧 (ba) vs. 呢 (ne)
So maybe your mind was blown when you first heard about question words – words which convert sentences into questions when they’re placed at the end of a sentence.

Now you have more question words than you know what to do with. How should you distinguish between them?

In short, 吗 is for yes-no questions. 吧 is for making suggestions or requests. 呢 is for shifting the conversation to another topic or the other person.

6. Clause + 吗
It might be helpful to think of this as the equivalent of a question mark. The answer to a 吗 question should be yes or no (or to be more precise, confirm or negate the verb).

For example:

nǐ huì shuō zhōng wén ma?
Can you speak Chinese?

7. Clause + 吧
Unlike 吗 or 呢, 吧 doesn’t always indicate a question. It’s commonly used when making a suggestion or request. Much like “how about…” or “let’s…” in English.

However, you can also add it to the end of a statement, and it suggests that you’re seeking confirmation (like “…right?” in English):

wǒ men chū qù chī fàn ba
How about we go eat? (or lets go eat!)

8. Clause + 呢
呢 is a great way to shift the conversation to another topic, or the other person.

Answers to a 呢 question don’t have to be a simple yes or no (unlike 吗), and can be more open ended. The English equivalent is “and…” or “and what about…”

For example:

wǒ guò de hěn hǎo, nǐ ne
I‘ve been well, you?

Common Chinese Grammar Patterns for 会 (huì) vs. 能 (néng)
So 会 and 能 both mean “can,” but they don’t mean the same thing. What’s the difference?

The bottom line: 会 is for learned knowledge or the future. 能 is for physical ability, and for indicating permission.

9. 会 + Verb
会 most commonly means “can” or “able to,” specifically for learned knowledge. Use it for acquired skills, not abilities which you were born with.

For example:

Tā huì zuò fàn
He can cook

会 is also often used for “will”, or “will be”:

nǐ huì qù ma?
Will you go?

10. 能 + Verb
Use 能 to indicate that you’re physically able to do something or complete a task.

Nǐ néng bāng wǒ yī gè máng 吗?
Can you help me for a minute?

Unlike 会 (but similar to 可以) 能 can also mean “be allowed to” or “may do.”

zài shì nèi bù néng chōu yān
Smoking not allowed inside

Common Chinese Grammar Patterns for 想 (xiǎng) vs. 觉得 (juéde)
想 and 觉得 both mean to think or feel, so what’s the difference?

想 is most commonly used to casually express that you want to do something. 觉得 is mainly used to express your opinion about something.

11. 想 + Verb
Use 想 when you feel like (doing something):

wǒ xiǎng chī dōngxi
I want to eat something.

12. 觉得 + Verb
Use 觉得 when you’re expressing your opinion about something.

wǒ juéde hěn hǎo chī
I think it tastes good.

Common Chinese Grammar Patterns for 了
Finally, we’re at 了, the most frustrating Chinese grammar pattern that I’ve personally ever learned.

了 is used to indicate the completion of an action, or a change of circumstances.

13. Verb + 了
了 is mainly used in 2 situations. First, it’s placed after a verb (or occasionally adjective) to indicate completion of an action, which usually indicates the past tense. (It’s also important to note that there are cases when it is used to indicate the expected completion of an action – in that case it’s not necessarily past tense.)

wǒ chī le fàn yǐ hòu yào chū qù
After I’m done eating, I want to go out

Aside from signaling the completion of a specific verb, when 了 is added to the end of a sentence, it that a new state exists.

wǒ è le
I’m hungry (I wasn’t hungry before, but now I am.)

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