Learn Chinese: introduction to Chinese grammar
Chinese grammar is quite simple: no gender (masculine / feminine), no number (singular / plural), no conjugation: all words are all invariable. This is why the place of words is very important and, as we shall see later, it follows a logical order (but often opposite to ours). Context plays an important role in knowing, for example, whether one is talking about one or several things.
The simple sentence in Mandarin Chinese
In Mandarin Chinese, the simple sentence follows the SUBJECT + VERB (+ OBJECT) word order.
Adjectival stative verbs
But first surprise: 好 "to be well" is what is called an adjectival stative verb , that is to say that the adjective "good" functions as a verb itself, the verb "to be" is already included in the structure. Therefore, in Chinese, one must not translate it before adjectives.
The peculiarity of these adjectival stative verbs (to be well, to be tired, to be content, etc.) is that in the affirmative they imply a comparison . So: 我好， Wǒ hǎo, is not a finished sentence and would translate as "I'm fine when ..." (...you're not", for instance. One needs to finish the sentence).
To remove the comparison and complete the sentence, one must add the adverb 很 hěn.
The sentence "I'm fine" is therefore written like this: 我很好 Wǒ hěn hǎo.
But then, does this phrase translates as "I'm fine" or "I'm very fine"? In writing, the difference is impossible to make, so there is some ambiguity. In spoken language, though, if the 很 hěn is not accentuated it means "I'm fine."
If 很 hěn is emphasized, then it means "I'm very fine."
In Chinese, there is no conjugation:
我很好。 Wǒ hěn hǎo. I am fine.
你很好。 Nǐ hěn hǎo. You are fine.
他很好。 Tā hěn hǎo. He is fine.
The negative sentence in Chinese
To form a negative sentence, add the negation 不 bù in front of the verb:
我不好。 Wǒ bù hǎo. I'm not well.
不 bù is an adverb and in Mandarin Chinese the adverbs are always placed before the verb.
Since this is not an affirmative sentence, the adjectival stative verb does not express any comparison. It is therefore not necessary to add the adverb 很 hěn.
The interrogative sentence
In Mandarin Chinese, the yes or no question (that is a question for which the expected answer is either "yes" or "no" as in "Are you okay?", whereas "How are you?" is not a closed question), is constructed in a very simple way:
Example: 你好吗？ Nǐ hǎo ma ? Are you okay?
- Since it is not an affirmative sentence, the adjectival stative verb (好 hǎo "to be well/fine") does not imply a comparison. It is therefore not worth adding 很 hěn. If added, it then means "Are you very fine?" 你很好吗？ Nǐ hěn hǎo ma ?
- In Chinese there is no inversion of subject and verb in questions. The structure of the sentence remains the same: "subject + verb + complement".
The interrogative particle "ne"
The interrogative particle 呢 ne is used to ask ‘bounce-back’ questions when you return the question to someone after answering it. For instance:
你好吗？ Nǐ hǎo ma ? Are you okay?
我很好，谢谢，你呢？ Wǒ hěn hǎo, xièxie, nǐ ne ? I'm fine, thank you, and you?
我不好。 Wǒ bù hǎo. I'm not fine.