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Common Sentence Structures in Mandarin Chinese

written by: Nikei Meade • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 9/11/2012

This article presents some of the most commonly used sentence patterns in Mandarin Chinese. Examples of how to use each sentence structure will be given, and pinyin as well as English translations will be provided.

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    What is Learned in This Lesson?

    Every language has structures and patterns for forming sentences. Mandarin Chinese is just the same. Needless to say, it is very important to learn the most commonly used Mandarin Chinese sentence patterns. This will help students form complete sentences and make it easier for Chinese language learners, or CSL language learners, to begin to speak fluently and express their opinions, thoughts and daily happenings accurately. Many students know many Chinese words, but lack the ability to use such Mandarin vocabulary fluently in speaking or writing Chinese; understanding how to use common Mandarin sentence structures is a great way to polish up your Chinese and make better use of your Chinese vocabulary.

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    越来越 (yue4lai2yue4)

    越来越 means "more and more." This phrase is very useful. Typically an adjective is placed after the phrase in order to describe what is becoming more and more or what is becoming better. Here are a few example sentences:

    你的中文越来越好。(Ni de zhong wen yue lai yue hao) = Your Chinese is getting better and better.

    你的女儿越来越漂亮。(Ni de nv er yue lai yue piao liang) = Your daughter is getter more and more beautiful.

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    A 比 B...(bi3)

    比 (bi3) is the character that is used for comparisons in Mandarin Chinese. For those who have yet to learn how to make comparisons in Chinese, this is the most useful character to learn. Used in a sentence, its structure is pretty simple; the structure goes as follows: A 比 B and then an adjective. Have a look at a couple of examples:

    今天的天气比昨天的天气热。(Jin tian de tian qi bi zuo tian de tian qi re) = The weather today is hotter than the weather yesterday.

    他的篮球比我的篮球好。(Ta de lan qiu bi wo de lan qiu hao) = He is better at basketball than me.

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    虽然。。。可是 (sui1ran2...ke3shi4)

    虽然 means "although" or "though" and 可是 means "but" or "however." This 可是 is placed here for emphasis. Check out a few example usages to get the hang of this commonly used Chinese sentence structure:

    虽然老师很严 格,可是他心低不坏。(Sui ran lao shi hen yan ge, ke shi ta xin di bu huai) = Although the teacher is very strict, he is good person at heart.

    虽 然下雨很大,可是我还想去打高尔夫。(Sui ran xia yu hen da, ke shi wo hai xiang qu da gao er fu) = Though the rain is very big, I still want to go play golf.

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    当。。。的时候 (dang1...de shi2 hou)

    When you say "when" in Chinese, you must use the enclosed structure of "当。。。的时候." 当 means "to be" or "to be equal to" in this sense and 的时候 means "time" or "when" in this sense. In spoken Chinese, the 当 is not necessary but it is always good to add for clarity. Notice that the time expression of 时候 comes after the topic of the sentence.

    当我去中国的时候,我买了很多纪念品。(dang wo qu zhong guo de shi hou, wo mai le hen duo ji nian pin) = When I went to China, I bought lots of souvenirs.

    我小的时候,我很喜欢吃肯德基。(wo xiao de shi hou, wo hen xi huan chi ken de ji) = When I was little, I really liked to eat KFC.

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    ....以后 (yi3 hou 4)

    以后 means "after" or "afterwards" in Chinese and is usually placed after the event. For example, Chinese word order goes as follows: We go to the movies after, we can eat. Have a look:

    我做作业以后,我要看电视。(wo zuo zuo ye yi hou, wo yao kan dian shi) = After I do my homework, I want to watch television. Notice how 以后 is place after "I do my homework"; this is common in all Chinese sentence structures.

    他走以后,我会哭。(ta zou yi hou, wo hui ku) = After he goes, I will cry.

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    不管...还 (bu4 guan3...hai2)

    不管 means "regardless of" or "no matter..." and 还 means "still." Although 还 is not always constructed with 不管, it is still often used together with it and it is good to remember this structure.

    不管怎样,我还会爱你。(Bu guan zen yang, wo hai hui ai ni) = No matter what, I will still love you.

    不管别人听没听,我还会说。(Bu guan bie ren ting mei ting, wo hai hui shuo) = Regardless of whether or not people are listening, I will still speak.

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    非...不可 (fei1...bu4ke3)

    This is one of the most commonly used double negative structures in Mandarin Chinese. It essentially means "must" or "absolutely must" or "need to." 非 means "not" or "no" and 不可 "not able to"; hence it literally translates as "not not able to." 非 is placed after the subject of the sentence and 不可 closes out the sentence.

    我非批评她不可。(wo fei pi ping ta bu ke) = I absolutely must criticize her.

    我们非学习不可。(wo men fei xue xi bu ke) = We must study.

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    以...为主 (yi3 wei4 zhu3)

    This structure best translates as "to be mainly focused on..." or "to mainly value..." This is important if you want to describe the things that are important to you or the things your life is currently concerned with.

    他以世界和平为主 (ta yi shi jie he ping wei zhu) = He is mainly focused on world peace.

    政府以提高生活水平为主. (Zheng fu yi ti gao sheng huo shui ping wei zhu) = The government is mainly concerned with improving the quality of life.

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