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Chinese Language Lesson Plans: Mandarin Grammar - Chinese Word Order

written by: Sujanti Djuanda • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 3/2/2012

Basically, Chinese and English have the same word order of subject – verb – object but it doesn’t mean that all Chinese sentences have the same structure as English. If you are new in teaching Chinese, here is a Chinese language lesson plan: how to teach Chinese word order.

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    Chinese language lesson plans:

    1. Explain Subject + Verb + Object Order (SVO Order) with examples

    2. Explain Negative Sentences with examples

    3. Explain WH-Questions with examples

    4. Explain Yes-No Questions with examples

    5. Explain Position of Chinese Adverbials with examples

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    I. Subject + Verb + Object Order (SVO Order)

    Word Order in Chinese

    Basically Chinese uses the same word order for sentences as English, - Subject - Verb - Object. However, some Chinese sentences use different structures for some types of sentences. Here ask students to look at Chinese sentences and phrases which use the structure they are familiar with in English, and then some of the exceptions.

    Example 1:

    I + learn + Mandarin

    我 【wǒ=I】 + 学 【xué=learn】+ 中 文 【zhōngwén=Chinese, Mandarin】

    我 + 学 + 中 文

    Example 2:

    We + go to + the library

    我 们 【wǒmén=we】+ 去【qù=go】+ 图 书 馆【túshūguǎn=library】

    我 们 + 去 + 图 书 馆

    Example 3:

    I + like + chocolate

    我 【wǒ=I】 + 喜 欢 【xǐhuān=like】 + 巧 克 力 【qiǎokèlì=chocolate】

    我 + 喜 欢 + 巧 克 力

    Example 4:

    I + have + two pieces of cake

    我 【wǒ=I】 + 有 【yǒu=have】 + 两 【liǎng=two】 块 【kuài= pieces, a measure word for cake(s)】 糕 【gāo=cake

    我 + 有 + 两 块 糕。

    Ask students to give the other similar examples.

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    Measure words used with numbers, 'this' and 'that'

    Description:

    Chinese uses measure words more widely than English. Chinese measure words must be used whenever the noun is used with a numeral or after ‘this’ or ‘that’.

    Example 1:

    Two pieces of cake

    两 【liǎng=two】 块 【kuài= pieces】 糕 【gāo=cake】

    两 块 糕

    Example 2:

    A cup of tea

    杯 【yībēi=a cup】 茶 【chá=tea】

    一杯 茶

    Example 3:

    A sheet of paper

    张 【yīzhāng=a sheet】 纸 【zhǐ=paper】

    一张纸

    Example 4:

    That towel

    那 【nà=that】 条 【tiáo= a measure word for towel(s)】 毛 巾 【máojín=towel】

    那 条 毛 巾

    Description:

    There is no measure word for towel in English.

    Example 5:

    This pen

    这 【zhè=this】 支 【zhī=a measure word for pen(s)】 笔 【bǐ=pen】

    这 支 笔

    Description:

    There is no measure word for pen in English.

    Ask students to give the other examples.

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    II. Negative Sentences

    Example 1:

    She is not a doctor.

    她 【tā=she】 不 【bù=not】 是 【shì=is】 医 生 【yīshēng=doctor】

    Literally means: “She not is doctor".

    她 不 是 医 生

    Example 2:

    I don’t like exams.

    我 【wǒ=I】 不 【bù=not】 喜 欢 【xǐhuān=like】 考 试 【kǎoshì=exams】。

    我 不 喜 欢 考 试。

    Ask students to give the other similar examples.

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    III. WH-Questions

    In Chinese, the question words What, Who, Where and How about are put at the end of the sentence.

    Subject + Verb + (What, Who, Where, How about)

    However

    The question words Why, How, When and Which one, or Which can be placed at the beginning of the sentence or after the subject.

    (Why, How, When, Which, Which one) + Subect + Verb

    Subject + (Why, How, When, Which, Which one) + Verb

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    In Chinese, the question word (such as 什 么 【shénme=what】 , 谁 【shéi=who】 , 哪 里 【nǎli=where】 , 怎 么 样 【zěnmeyàng=how about】) is at the end of the sentence.

    However, 为 什 么 【wèishénme=why】 , 怎 样 【zěnyàng=how】 , 什 么 时 候 【shénme shíhòu=when】and 哪 一 个 【nǎyīge=which one, which】are placed at the beginning of the sentence or after the subject.

    Example 1:

    What do you say?

    你 【nǐ=you】 说 【shuō=say】 什 么 【shénme=what】

    Literally means: “You say what?"

    你 说 什 么

    Example 2:

    Who is he?

    他 【tā=he】 是 【shì=is】 谁 【shéi=who】?

    Literally means: “He is who?"

    他 是 谁

    Example 3:

    Where do you go?

    你 【nǐ=you】 去 【qù=go】 哪 里 【nǎli=where】

    Literally means: “You go where?"

    你 去 哪 里

    Example 4:

    Why you like him?

    为 什 么 【wèishénme=why】 你 【nǐ=you】 喜 欢 【xǐhuān=like】 他 【tā=him】

    为 什 么 你 喜 欢 他

    Or you can say," 你 【nǐ=you】 为 什 么 【wèishénme=why】 喜 欢 【xǐhuān=like】 他 【tā=him】

    Literally means: “You why like him?"

    你 为 什 么 喜 欢 他

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    Example 5:

    When do you come?

    么 时 候 【shénme shíhòu=when】 你 【nǐ=you】 来 【lái=come

    什 么 时 候 你 来

    Or you can say," 你 【nǐ=you】 什 么 时 候 【shénme shíhòu=when】 来 【lái=come】 ?"

    Literally means: “You when come?"

    你 什 么 时 候 来

    Example 6:

    Which one is cheaper?

    哪 一 个 【nǎyīge=which one, which】 比 较 【bǐjiào=more】 便 宜 【piányi=cheap】 ?

    Literally means: “Which one more cheap?"

    哪 一 个 比 较 便 宜

    Example 7:

    How about recently?

    最 近 【zuìjìn=recently】 怎 么 样 【zěnmeyàng=how about】

    Literally means: “Recently how about?"

    最 近 怎 么 样

    Example 8:

    How can he succeed?

    怎 样 【zěnyàng=how】 他 【tā=he】 会 【huì=can】 成 功 【chénggōng=success】

    Literally means: “How he can succeed?"

    怎 样 他 会 成 功

    Or you can say," 他 【tā=he】 怎 样 【zěnyàng=how】 会 【huì=can】 成 功 【chénggōng=success】 ?"

    Literally means: “He how can succeed?"

    他 怎 样 会 成 功

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    Exceptions for 'How' Questions:

    Exceptions for 'How' Questions: In this case, Chinese word order is not the same as English.

    In this case, Chinese word order is totally different with English.

    Example 1: How are you? 你 【nǐ=you】 好 【hǎo=good】

    Literally means: “You good?" 你 好

    Example 2: How old are you? 你 【nǐ=you】 几 【jǐ=how many】 岁 【suì=years】

    Literally means: “You how many years?" 你 几 岁

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    IV. Yes-No Questions

    A Chinese yes-no question uses the 吗 【ma】particle at the end of the sentence or a positive/negative sentence structure.

    Example 1:

    Does she want to drink tea?

    她 【tā=she】 要 【yào=wants】 喝 【hē=drink】 茶 【chá= tea】 【ma】?

    Literarlly means: “She wants to drink tea+ MA particle?"

    她 要 喝 茶

    Or you can say," 她 【tā=she】 要不要 【yào bùyào=wants or doesn’t want】 喝 【hē=drink】 茶 【chá=tea】?"

    Literally means: “She wants or doesn’t want drink tea?"

    她 要 不 要 喝 茶

    Example 2:

    Are you his elder sister?

    你 【nǐ=you】 是 【shì=are】 他 【tā=his】 姐 姐 【jiějie=elder sister】 吗 【ma】

    Literally means: “You are his elder sister+ MA particle?"

    你 是 他 姐 姐

    Or you can say, “ 你 【nǐ=you】 是不是 【shìbùshì=yes or no】 他 【tā=his】 姐姐 【jiějie=sister】 ?"

    Literally means: “You yes or no his sister?"

    你 是 不 是 他 姐 姐

    Example 3:

    Do you have a computer?

    你 【nǐ=you】 有 【yǒu=have】 电 脑 【diànnǎo=computer】 吗 【ma】

    Literally means: “You have computer+ MA particle?"

    你 有 电 脑

    Or you can say," 你 【nǐ=you】 有 没 有 【yǒuméiyǒu=have or don’t have】 电 脑 【diànnǎo=computer】 ?"

    Literally means: “You have or don’t have computer?"

    你 有 没 有 电 脑

    Ask students to give the other similar examples.

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    V. Position of Chinese Adverbials

    In writing Chinese, Averbials of different types are put in different places in a sentence.

    An adverb of place can be placed before or after the verb in a sentence.

    Subject + Verb + Adverb of place

    Subject + Adverb of place + Verb

    An Adverb of time is placed at the beginning of the sentence or after the subject.

    Adverb of time + Subject + Verb Subject + Adverb of time + Verb

    An Adverb of manner is placed before the verb.

    Subject + Adverb of manner + Verb

    Subject + Adverb of manner + Verb + Object

    When an Adverb of manner and an Adverb of place are in the same sentence, the rules for both are followed.

    This can create a sentence with this formation:

    Subject + Adverb of manner + Verb + Adverb of place Or this formation

    Subject + Adverb of place + Adverb of manner + Verb

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    a. Adverb of place is placed before or after the verb.

    Example:

    They sit under the tree.

    · Subject + Verb + Adverb of place

    他 们 【tāmen=they】+ 坐 【zuò=sit】+ 在 【zài=at】 树 【shù=tree】 下 【xià= under

    Literally means: “They sit at tree under".

    他 们 + 坐 + 在 树 下

    · Subject + Adverb of place + Verb

    他 们 【tāmen=they】+ 在 【zài=at】+ 树 【shù=tree】 下 【xià= under】+ 坐 【zuò=sit】

    Literally means: “They at tree under sit".

    他 们 + 在 树 下 + 坐

    b. Adverb of time is placed at the beginning of the sentence or after the subject.

    Example:

    Every day I eat bread.

    · Adverb of time + Subject + Verb + Object

    每 天 【měitiān=every day】+ 我 【wǒ=I】+ 吃 【chī=eat】+ 面包 【miànbāo=bread】

    每 天 + 我 + 吃 + 面 包

    · Subject + Adverb of time + Verb+ Object

    我 【wǒ=I】+ 每 天 【měitiān=every day】+ 吃 【chī=eat】+ 面 包 【miànbāo=bread】

    Literally means: “I every day eat bread".

    我 + 每 天 + 吃 + 面 包

    c. Adverb of manner is placed before the verb.

    · Subject + Adverb of manner + Verb

    Example:

    He slowly walked.

    他 【tā=he】+ 慢 慢 地 【mànmàn de=slowly】+ 走 【zǒu=walked】

    他 + 慢 慢 地 + 走

    · Subject + Adverb of manner + Verb + Object

    Example:

    He patiently taught me.

    他 【tā=he】+ 耐 心 地 【nàixīn de= patiently】+ 教 【jiào=taught】+ 我 【wǒ=me】

    他 + 耐 心 地 + 教 + 我

    · Subject + Adverb of manner + Verb + Adverb of place

    Example:

    He quietly lay on the grassland.

    他 【tā=he】+ 静 静 地 【jìng jìng de=quietly】+ 躺【tǎng=lay】 + 在 【zài=at】+ 草 地 【cǎodì=grassland】 上 【shàng=on】

    Literally means: “He quietly lay at grassland on".

    他 + 静 静 地 + 躺 + 在 草 地 上

    Or you can say, “ 他 【tā=he】+ 在 【zài=at】+ 草 地 【cǎodì=grassland】 上 【shàng=on】+ 静 静 地 【jìng jìng de=quietly】+ 躺 【tǎng=lay】 ".

    Literally means: “He at grassland on quietly lay".

    他 + 在 草 地 上 + 静 静 地 + 躺

    Ask students to give the other similar examples.