Learn Chinese: grammar 4
The interrogative word 哪
You have certainly noticed in the vocabulary that nationality is constructed by adding "human" 人 rén to the name of the country:
中国 China => 中国人 the Chinese
法国 France => 法国人 the French
日本 Japan => 日本人 the Japanese
Be careful to say 日本 and not
日国 for Japan, equally do not say 日国人 but 日本人 for the Japanese.
The question will be constructed by replacing the first syllable of the country name with 哪 nǎ:
你是哪国人？ Nǐ shì nǎguórén ? Where are you from? / What is your nationality?
You notice that this is a Wh question (which cannot be answered by yes or no) and that one should not put 吗 at the end of the sentence, nor use the affirmative-negative question form (as seen in the previous lesson).
You will sometimes hear the phrase: 你是什么人？ Nǐ shì shénme rén ? to ask for nationality, but this sentence is not elegant at all and can also be understood by "What kind of person are you?"
It is better to avoid it, but you must also know that it exists and can be heard.
What is the difference between 哪 and 什么? Both can be translated by "what, which?" but 哪 is used with countable groups (there is not an infinity of countries on our planet) and 什么 with uncountable quantities (there are, for example, an infinite number of different people, at least on a human scale of course).
The adverb 都
都 dōu "all" is an adverb and, like all adverbs in Chinese, it stands before the verb (or before any adverbs positioned in front of verb).
Example: 我们都是法国人。 We are all French.
"Not all" will result in 不都. Example: 她们不都说汉语。 They do not all speak Chinese.
都不 will be translated by "none" (all not): 我的学生都不会说日语。 None of my students speak Japanese.
The verb 在 and the circumstantial complement
When we saw the verb "to be" 是 shì, we said that its use was more restricted than in English.
For example, to say "to be somewhere" we do not use 是 shì but 在 zài:
example: 他在北京。 Tā zài Běijīng. He is in Beijing.
The interrogative word is 哪儿 nǎr: where?
她在哪儿？ Tā zài nǎr ? Where is she?
The verb "live" 住 zhù can be used with or without 在 zài:
你住在哪儿？ Nǐ zhù zài nǎr ? Where do you live ?
你住哪儿？ Nǐ zhù nǎr ? Where do you live ?
我住在北京。 Wǒ zhù zài Běijing. I live in Beijing.
我住北京。 Wǒ zhù Běijing. I live in Beijing.
To indicate that "we do something at a certain place", using the adverbial complement of place, we use 在 zài followed by the complement of place; unlike English, the position of this complement is before the verb of action, whereas it goes in end position in English:
我在中国学中文。 Wǒ zài zhōngguó xué zhōngwén. I study Chinese in China.
Remember the structure:
Subject + 在 + place + verb + complement.
The verb 会
We have already seen three action verbs: 学 xué to learn/ to study 说 shuō to speak, 写 xiě to write.
They are easy to use:
他学日语。 Tā xué rìyǔ. He studies Japanese.
我说英语。 Wǒ shuō yīngyǔ. I speak English.
我的学生都写汉字。 Wǒ de xuéshēng dōu xiě hànzì. All my students write Chinese characters.
The verb 会 huì is an auxiliary verb which means "to know how to do something / can do something". It is placed before the verb:
他会说法语。 Tā huì shuō fǎyǔ. He can speak French.
To form an affirmative-negative question, which of two verbs needs repeated?
It will be necessary to repeat the verb to which the question relates. For example, in the question "Can you speak Chinese?" The question is on "can" rather than on "speak":