A helpful guide to basic Chinese sentence structures & grammar

Learning Chinese sentence structures is an incredibly helpful skill and one that is also relatively easy to acquire.

If you’ve just started learning Chinese or are only thinking about signing up for your first Chinese class, you’re probably wondering if Chinese is hard to learn. While Chinese does have some challenging aspects, like learning the characters and getting the tones right, we’re happy to report that grammar isn’t one of them.

In fact, Chinese grammar is often cited as the easiest part of learning the language by non-native speakers. That’s because Chinese has a very lenient sentence structure, no verb conjugations, and no gender agreement. In fact, if you translated Chinese to English word for word, it may sound like you’re just deciding to ignore all grammar rules.

However, that doesn’t mean that there is no Chinese grammar or that you can get away with stringing sentences together as you see fit. There are many Chinese grammar structures that you can learn to express yourself more clearly, especially as you get more advanced.

And if you’re just getting started with Chinese, then following some grammar structures can help you figure out the language while you start understanding it. Just plug in any verb/subject/object into the sentence structure, and voilà! You’ve got yourself a fully coherent Chinese sentence.

Want to see what we mean? Let’s start with the basics!

Table of contents

Man learning Chinese sentence structures.

Chinese grammar basics

The most basic grammar structures are some of the clearest examples of why Chinese grammar is so easy to learn. Here are some of the most important things you need to know about Chinese grammar:

No conjugations

If you’ve studied a Romance language like French or Spanish, then you already know how troublesome verb conjugations can be. The good news about Chinese is that you won’t have to conjugate verbs — ever. There is no need to conjugate based on pronouns or even verb tense as the verb stays the same no matter what.

Time at the beginning

Part of the reason verbs don’t need to be conjugated in Chinese is that the time something happened always goes at the beginning of the sentence, either before or immediately after the subject. This will make it abundantly clear when the action happened right off the bat, making it easy for people to follow your story.

You can choose to be as specific or as general as you want. If you already know how to tell the time in Chinese, then feel free to be as specific as you wish! Otherwise, here are some common time words in Chinese.

Today今天jīn tiānjin tian
Tomorrow明天míng tiānming tian
Yesterday昨天zuó tiāntzwo tian
Morning早上zǎo shàngtzao shang
Noon中午zhōng wǔjong wuu
Afternoon下午xià wǔshiah wuu
Evening晚上wǎn shàngwoan shanq
Last week上个星期shàng gè xīng qīshanq geh shing chyi
Next week下个星期xià gè xīng qīshiah geh shing chyi
Last month上个月shàng gè yuèshanq geh yueh
Next month下个月xià gè yuèshiah geh yueh
Last year去年qù niánchiuh nian
Next year明年míng niánming nian

Plural and singular

Pluralizing words can be messy in some languages, but Chinese isn’t one of them. Let’s start with the basics. The auxiliary word 们 (men) will help you pluralize pronouns and human nouns. All you need to do is put it immediately after the pronoun or noun to pluralize.

For example:

Us/wewǒ menwoo mhen
You (singular)nii
You (plural)nǐ mennii mhen
Themtā menta mhen
Friend朋友péng yǒuperng yeou
Friends朋友péng yǒu menperng yeou mhen
Teacher老师lǎo shīlao shy
Teachers老师lǎo shī menlao shy mhen

See, simple as that! And want to hear the best part? It gets even easier! Besides pronouns and human nouns, all other nouns don’t need to be changed to be pluralized. But how can that be? Well, all you need to do is add the Chinese number along with the correct Chinese measure word in front of it, and that will be enough pluralization.

Here are some examples:

I will buy one ticket我要买一张票wǒ yào mǎi yì zhāng piàowoo iau mae i jang piaw
I will buy three tickets我要买三张票wǒ yào mǎi sān zhāng piàowoo iau mae san jang piaw
Today, I took one train我今天坐了一辆火车wǒ jīn tiān zuò le yí liàng huǒ chēwoo jin tian tzuoh lhe i lianq huoo che
Today, I took four trains我今天坐了四辆火车wǒ jīn tiān zuò le sì liàng huǒ chēwoo jin tian tzuoh lhe syh lianq huoo che
The bag has one book inside包里面有一本书bāo lǐ miàn yǒu yì běn shūbau lii miann yeou i been shu
The bag has five books inside包里面有五本书bāo lǐ miàn yǒu wú běn shūbau lii miann yeou wuu been shu

No gender agreement

English is a genderless language, which means that nouns don’t have gender. If you’ve studied German before, you know that getting nouns to agree in gender with adjectives and articles can be extremely difficult. Luckily, you won’t have to worry about this in Chinese as nouns have no gender!

Indicating possessions

Indicating possession in Chinese is extremely easy thanks to the particle 的 (de). This nifty particle is used to modify nouns and has many uses, one of which is to indicate possession. It’s very similar to the ’s in English, as it is added after a noun to show the possession of another noun. The general structure is:

  • Noun 1 + 的 + Noun 2

In these situations, noun 1 owns noun 2. Here are some examples:

My bedroom卧室wǒ de wò shìwoo de woh shyh
Mom’s car妈妈mā ma de chēmha mha de che
Your friend朋友nǐ de péng yǒunii de perng yeou

Measure words

Measure words are a critical component of Chinese grammar. As an English speaker, you’re already familiar with measure words, which are used to count uncountable nouns. For example, you might say you want two apples and two glasses of juice, since saying “two juices” wouldn’t be specific enough.

In Chinese, however, all nouns require a measure word, even if they’re countable. There is no English equivalent for many of these words, as they’re simply measure words that don’t have any other meanings. There are also over 200 Chinese measure words, and each noun has a corresponding measure word. That means that you will have to learn the appropriate measure word for each noun.

Here are some examples of measure words in action:

There are three cars on the road.路上有三lù shàng yǒu sān liàng chēluh shanq yeou san lianq che
He bought two computers.他买了两电脑tā mǎi le liǎng tái diàn nǎota mae lhe leang tair diann nao
I want to order a bottle of soda.给我来一汽水gěi wǒ lái yì píng qì shuǐgeei woo lai i pyng chih shoei

The most basic Chinese sentence structures

Now that you’re familiar with the essentials of Chinese grammar, let’s take a look at some of the most common sentence structures in Chinese along with a few examples.

Woman learning some of the most basic Chinese sentence structures.

Subject + Verb + Object (SVO)

The most basic grammar structure in English also happens to be the most basic grammar structure in Chinese. You’re used to starting your sentences with the subject, followed by a verb, and then the object. In other words, sentences are structured in a “Who does what” way.

Here are some examples:

I study Chinese我学习中文wǒ xué xí zhōng wénwoo shyue shyi jong wen
Mom eats fruit妈妈吃水果mā ma chī shuí guǒmha mha chy shoei guoo
I love Shanghai我爱上海wǒ ài shàng hǎiwoo ay shanq hae

Subject + Time + Verb + (Object)

The next sentence type adds an element of time into the mix. As you learned earlier in this article, time always comes towards the beginning of the sentence, usually right after the subject. This will help you immediately establish when something happened, thus removing the need to conjugate the verb.

Here are some examples:

I will rest today我今天会休息wǒ jīn tiān huì xiū xiwoo jin tian huey shiou shyi
She studies Chinese in the mornings她早上学习中文tā zǎo shàng xué xí zhōng wénta tzao shang shyue shyi jong wen
I watched a movie yesterday我昨天看了一部电影wǒ zuó tiān kàn le yí bù diàn yǐngwoo tzwo tian kann lhe i buh diann yiing

Subject + Time + Location + Verb + (Object)

Now things are getting a bit spicier! You can add the location of an action by using the preposition 在 (zài) followed by the location right before the main verb of the sentence.

Here’s what that looks like:

I studied abroad in Guangzhou last year.我去年在广州留学。wǒ qù nián zài guǎng zhōu liú xuéwoo chiuh nian tzay goang jou liou shyue
We will meet at the door tomorrow.我们明天在门口见面。wǒ men míng tiān zài mén kǒu jiàn miànwoo mhen ming tian tzay men koou jiann miann
My sister will compete in the sports field today.我妹妹今天在运动场比赛。wǒ mèi mei jīn tiān zài yùn dòng chǎng bǐ sàiwoo mey mhei jin tian tzay yunn donq chaang bii say

Subject + Time + Location + Verb + Duration + (Object)

This is the longest of the elementary sentence structures, and it will allow you to express a tremendous amount of information without using any complicated grammar structures.

Here are a few examples:

I studied in the library for six hours yesterday.我昨天在图书馆学了六个小时。wǒ zuó tiān zài tú shū guǎn xué le liù gè xiǎo shí.woo tzwo tian tzay twu shu goan shyue lhe liow geh sheau shyr
Dad will work ten hours in the office tomorrow.爸爸明天在办公室会工作十个小时。bà ba míng tiān zài bàn gōng shì huì gōng zuò shí gè xiǎo shí.bah ba ming tian tzay bann gong shyh huey gong tzuoh shyr geh sheau shyr
I exercise in the gym for forty-five minutes every day.我每天在健身房锻炼四十五分钟。wǒ měi tiān zài jiàn shēn fáng duàn liàn sì shí wǔ fēn zhōng.woo meei tian tzay jiann shen farng duann liann syh shyr wuu fen jong

Commonly used Chinese sentence structures

Most Chinese sentence structures follow modified versions of the essential sentence structures covered above. If you don’t know when or how to start modifying them, we’ve put together a simple guide for some of the most common (and useful!) sentence structures in Chinese:

Man learning commonly used Chinese sentence structures.

Basic negations

There are two main ways to express negations in Chinese: 不 (bù) and 没有 (méi yǒu). Although they both form negations, they are almost never interchangeable, so you need to learn how to use the right negation in the right circumstance. Let’s take a look:

Negations with 不

This is likely the first type of negation you will learn in your Chinese class as it helps us negate the most basic types of sentences: present and future tense. It is placed immediately before a verb or adjective to negate it. Some of the most common uses of 不 (bù) include:

  • Present tense (except for the verb 有)
  • Future tense
  • Actions you don’t want to do
  • Habitual actions
  • Adjectives
  • Asking questions
  • In most cases, only 不 can negate the verbs 是, 在 and 认识

Let’s take a look at some examples:

I am not American.是美国人。wǒ bú shì měi guó rén.woo buh shyh meei gwo ren
I will not give up!会放弃!wǒ bú huì fàng qì!woo buh huey fanq chih
I don’t drink beer.喝啤酒。wǒ bù hē pí jiǔ.woo buh he pyi jeou
I don't eat meat.吃肉。wǒ bù chī ròu.woo buh chy row
I'm not satisfied.满意。wǒ bù mǎn yì.woo buh maan yih
Are you Chinese?你是是中国人?nǐ shì bú shì zhōng guó rén?nii shyh buh shyh jong gwo ren

Negations with 没有

The other common negation is 没有 (méi yǒu), which is commonly abbreviated as simply 没. It is generally used to:

  • Negate actions that happened in the past
  • Negate the verb 有
  • To make comparisons (A isn’t as [adjective] as B)

Here are some examples:

I didn’t see your message.没看到你的短信。wǒ méi kàn dào nǐ de duǎn xìn.woo mei kann daw nii de doan shinn
I have never seen that movie before.我从来看过那部电影。wǒ cóng lái méi kàn guò nà bù diàn yǐng.woo tsorng lai mei kann guoh nah buh diann yiing
I have no money.没有钱。wǒ méi yǒu qián.woo mei yeou chyan
China isn’t as big as Russia.中国没有俄罗斯那么大。zhōng guó méi yǒu é luó sī nà me dà.jong gwo mei yeou eh luo sy nah me dah
Shenzhen isn’t as cold as Beijing.深圳没有北京冷。shēn zhèn méi yǒu běi jīng lěng.shen jenn mei yeou beei jing leeng

Questions with 吗 and question words

There are two main ways to ask questions in Chinese, and both are extremely easy. The first and most common way is to simply add the question particle 吗 (ma) at the end of what would otherwise be a statement to turn it into a question. Here are some examples:

StatementHe knows how to ski.他会滑雪tā huì huá xuěta huey hwa sheue
QuestionDoes he know how to ski?他会滑雪?tā huì huá xuě ma?ta huey hwa sheue mha
StatementIt will rain tomorrow.明天会下雨míng tiān huì xià yǔming tian huey shiah yeu
QuestionWill it rain tomorrow?明天会下雨?míng tiān huì xià yǔ ma?ming tian huey shiah yeu mha
StatementHe is your friend.他是你的朋友tā shì nǐ de péng yǒuta shyh nii de perng yeou
QuestionIs he your friend?他是你的朋友?tā shì nǐ de péng yǒu ma?ta shyh nii de perng yeou mha

The second way to ask questions in Chinese is to use a question word. In English, these are the “what, where how, why” words. If you use one of these words in Chinese, then you no longer need to use 吗 (ma) at the end of the sentence. Here are some of the most common question sentences in Chinese:

What什么shén meshern me
Where哪里nǎ lǐnaa lii
Why为什么wèi shén mewey shern me
When什么时候shén me shí hòushern me shyr how
Which one哪个nǎ genaa ge
What time什么时候shén me shí houshern me shyr hou
What time (precise)几点jí diǎnjii dean
How怎么zěn metzeen me
How much多少duō shǎoduo shao
How manyjii

Here are some examples of questions using question words:

What time do we start?我们几点开始?wǒ men jí diǎn kāi shǐ?woo mhen jii dean kai shyy
Who gave me this present?这个礼物是给我的?zhè ge lǐ wù shì shéi gěi wǒ de?jeh ge lii wuh shyh sheir geei woo de
Where are you from?你从哪里来?nǐ cóng nǎ lǐ lái?nii tsorng naa lii lai

Conjunctions with 和

The most common way to express “and” in Chinese is with 和 (hé). However, keep in mind that there are several ways to express “and” in Chinese, so you can’t always rely on it. You will want to use this structure when listing out two or more nouns, such as:

He and his friend are also coming.他和他的朋友也会来。tā hé tā de péng yǒu yě huì lái.ta her ta de perng yeou yee huey lai
I have been to Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Chengdu.我去过上海、北京、香港和成都。wǒ qù guò shàng hǎi, běi jīng, xiāng gǎng hé chéng dū.woo chiuh guoh shanq hae beei jing shiang gaang her cherng du
I can speak English and Chinese.我会说英文和中文。wǒ huì shuō yīng wén hé zhōng wén.woo huey shuo ing wen her jong wen

Comparisons with 也

The Chinese adverb 也 (yě) works similarly to the English “also” and “too.” It always comes before a verb or adjective, as opposed to 和 (hé), which comes before nouns. You can use 也 (yě) to compare your behaviors

I can also speak Chinese.会说中文。wǒ yě huì shuō zhōng wénwoo yee huey shuo jong wen
I also like to eat spicy food.喜欢吃辣。 yě xǐ huān chī là.woo yee shii huan chy lah
She is also a teacher.是老师。tā yě shì lǎo shī.ta yee shyh lao shy

Using 有

This is undoubtedly one of the most helpful Chinese verbs. This sentence structure, though simple, will help you express what you have, both physical and abstract. For example, if you’ve just started taking online group Mandarin classes, you can use this sentence to say you have a question!

  • Subject + 有 + Object

Here are some examples:

I have a question.一个问题。wǒ yǒu yí gè wèn tí.

woo yeou i geh wenn tyi
He has one car.一辆车。tā yǒu yí liàng chē.ta yeou i lianq che
We have a lot of time.我们很多时间。wǒ men yǒu hěn duō shí jiān.woo mhen yeou heen duo shyr jian

Advanced Chinese sentence structures

So far, so good? If you’ve gotten through the previous sentence structures with no trouble, then it’s time to introduce you to some advanced Chinese grammar structures. These are just some of the most common sentence structures you’ll run into:

Berlitz students learning advanced Chinese sentence structures.

Using the 把 structure

The 把 (bǎ) structure is one of the hardest for non-native speakers to grasp because it doesn’t have a direct English equivalent. Its closest equivalent would be something like “[subject] took [object] and [verb],” such as “I took the keys and put them on the table.” However, you don’t necessarily have to physically take something to use the 把 (bǎ) structure. Don’t worry, though, this sentence structure becomes quite intuitive after some practice.

The 把 (bǎ) structure places the object before the verb (as opposed to a normal SVO structure) to emphasize the movement of the object:

  • Subject + 把 (bǎ) + Object + Verb

Here are some examples:

I put your phone on the table.你的手机放在桌子上。wǒ bǎ nǐ de shǒu jī fàng zài zhuō zi shàng.woo baa nii de shoou ji fanq tzay juo tzy shanq
I gave her the gift.礼物送给她了。wǒ bǎ lǐ wù sòng gěi tā le.woo baa lii wuh sonq geei ta lhe
I finished my water.水喝完了。wǒ bǎ shuǐ hē wán le.woo baa shoei he wan lhe

Using the 被 structure

This structure isn’t as common as the 把 (bǎ) structure, but it’s still very helpful to know. Fortunately, the 被 (bèi) structure does have an English equivalent: the passive voice. It works by putting the receiver of the action before 被 and following it with the doer of the action. This is the general structure:

  • Subject + 被 + (Doer) + Verb + 了

Here are some examples:

The sandwich was eaten by the cat.三明治被猫吃了。sān míng zhì bèi māo chī le.san ming jyh bey mhau chy lhe
The sweater was ruined by the rain.毛衣被雨水弄坏了。máo yī bèi yú shuǐ nòng huài le.mau i bey yu shoei nonq huay lhe
He was beaten by a thief.他被小偷打了。tā bèi xiǎo tōu dǎ le.ta bey sheau tou daa lhe

Using 看来 to express perspectives

The 看来 construction is extremely helpful when you want to express perspectives, be it your own or someone else’s. It can help you put yourself in other people’s shoes, and describe what your friends and family are thinking. You can even use it to hypothesize about what another person might be thinking and what led them to behave a certain way! The basic construction is:

  • 在 + Person + 看来 + Perspective

Here are some examples:

In my opinion, dandan noodles are the best noodles.在我看来,担担面是最好吃的面。zài wǒ kàn lái, dàn dàn miàn shì zuì hǎo chī de miàn.tzay woo kann lai dann dann miann shyh tzuey haw chy de miann
In the teacher's opinion, my argument was not strong enough.在老师看来,我的论点不够有力。zài lǎo shī kàn lái, wǒ de lùn diǎn bú gòu yǒu lì.tzay lao shy kann lai woo de luenn dean buh gow yeou lih
From the boss's point of view, this matter is very important.在老板看来,这件事情很重要。zài láo bǎn kàn lái, zhè jiàn shì qíng hěn zhòng yào.tzay lao baan kann lai jeh jiann shyh chyng heen jonq yaw

Using 随着

Another nifty verb structure in Chinese is the use of 随着 to express changing trends or circumstances. The English equivalent would be “As [trend], [result]” as in “As the sun went down, the temperature dropped.” The structure in Chinese is the following:

  • 随着 + Trend,Subject + Predicate

Here are some examples:

As the weather changed, we decided to wait at home.随着天气的改变,我们决定在家里等。suí zhe tiān qì de gǎi biàn , wǒ men jué dìng zài jiā lǐ děng.swei je tian chih de gae biann woo mhen jyue dinq tzay jia lii deeng
As China's economy improves, Chinese people are becoming happier.随着中国经济的提高,中国人也变得越来越开心。suí zhe zhōng guó jīng jì de tí gāo, zhōng guó rén yě biàn dé yuè lái yuè kāi xīn.swei je jong gwo jing jih de tyi gau jong gwo ren yee biann der yueh lai yueh kai shin
As the population continues to increase, housing prices will not stop rising.随着人口不断增加,房价不会停止上涨。suí zhe rén kǒu bú duàn zēng jiā, fáng jià bú huì tíng zhǐ shàng zhǎng.swei je ren koou buh duann tzeng jia farng jiah buh huey tyng jyy shanq jaang

Using 并 / 并且

并 (bìng) / 并且 (bìngqiě) can help you express complex sentences by taking things even further with “moreover.” This will help you expand on your ideas by adding subordinate clauses expanding on your first action.

There are three main ways to use this word:

  • Verb 1 + 并且 / 并 + Verb 2
  • Verb 1 + 并且 + 也 / 还 + Verb 2
  • 不但 / 不仅 + Verb 1 + 并且 + 也 / 还 + Verb 2

Here are some examples:

I passed the exam and got top marks too.我通过考试并且也得到最高的成绩。wǒ tōng guò kǎo shì bìng qiě yě dé dào zuì gāo de chéng jì.woo tong guoh kao shyh binq chiee yee der daw tzuey gau de cherng ji
I called them and emailed them too.我给他们打了电话并且也发了邮件。wó gěi tā men dǎ le diàn huà bìng qiě yě fā le yóu jiàn.wo geei ta mhen daa lhe diann huah binq chye yee fa lhe you jiann
Dad not only works, but also studies as a graduate student.爸爸不但工作,并且还读研究生。bà ba bú dàn gōng zuò, bìng qiě hái dú yán jiū shēng.bah ba buh dann gong tzuoh binq chiee hair dwu yan jiou sheng

Using 只好

This is a very useful phrase that can help you express that you ought to do something. It works similar to the English equivalent of “have to + verb,” as in “I have to leave.” It’s relatively easy to use once you’re familiar with this comparison and its sentence structure:

  • Initial phrase,(Subject +) 只好 + [Verb] (+ Object)

Here are some examples:

It started raining outside, so I have to stay home.外面下雨了,我只好呆在家里面。wài miàn xià yǔ le, wǒ zhí hǎo dāi zài jiā lǐ miàn.way miann shiah yeu lhe, woo jyr hao dai tzay jia lii miann
The exam is coming soon, so I have to start studying.考试快到了,我只好开始学习。kǎo shì kuài dào le, wǒ zhí hǎo kāi shǐ xué xí.kao shyh kuay daw lhe, woo jyr hao kai shyy shyue shyi
Dinner was ready, so I had to start eating.晚餐做好了,我只好开始吃饭。wǎn cān zuò hǎo le, wǒ zhí hǎo kāi shǐ chī fàn.woan tsan tzuoh hao lhe, woo jyr hao kai shyy chy fann

Using 不得不

This structure is very similar to the one above, but it expresses a higher degree of necessity. It emphasizes that the subject had no choice but to do the action immediately after 不得不 (bù dé bù), as it was out of the subject’s hands.

  • Subject + 不得不 + Verb

Here are some examples:

The restaurant is closed and we are not allowed to order takeout.餐厅已经关门了,我们得不得点外卖。cān tīng yǐ jīng guān mén le, wǒ men bù dé bù diǎn wài mài.tsan ting yii jing guan men lhe, woo mhen buh der buh dean way may
My phone is out of battery so I have to pay with cash.我的手机没电了,我不得不用现金支付。wǒ de shǒu jī méi diàn le, wǒ bù dé bù yòng xiàn jīn zhī fù.woo de shoou ji mei diann lhe, woo buh der buh yonq shiann jin jy fuh
He is sick, he has no choice but to rest.他生病了,他不得不休息。tā shēng bìng le, tā bù dé bù xiū xí.ta sheng binq lhe, ta buh der buh shiou shyi

Start using these sentence structures right away!

Although learning grammar can be a grueling process in many languages, that doesn't have to be the case with Chinese. No matter how many Chinese lessons you’ve taken, you can use one of the sentence structures above, insert some vocabulary words, and start speaking right away!

Not sure where you can find the vocabulary words to fill in your sentence structures? Take a look at our Mandarin blog! We regularly publish helpful vocabulary and grammar blogs to propel your learning, like our guide to over 200 drinks in Chinese and 186 ways to say I love you in Chinese.

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