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Lesson 6 What is the right order of words in a Chinese sentence

Posted by Grace Feng on December 16, 2011

fruit ChineseDepends on the context, this question could turn into a big topic, or a small one. Generally speaking, if you compose your Chinese sentence by the following rule, it won’t go wrong:

when + where + adj. + who + verb + what

Are you frowning over the above formula? Come on, relax, I’ll show you an example right away. It explains the equation in a much easier way. The order of the words IS different from English and some other languages. Please pay attention to the difference while studying the example. I’ll get into more details after the new words are being studied.

Example – a long sentence:

zuó tiān zài xué xiào nà ge gāo nán hái jiǎn le gè kuà bāo

昨天在学校那个高男孩捡了个挎包.

昨天(when) 在学校(where) 那个(that) 高(adj.) 男孩(who) 捡了(verb) 个 挎包(what).

The tall boy picked up a handbag at school yesterday.

[mp3j track=”L6-zuo-tian-zai-xue-xiao.mp3″]

Let’s go through some of the new words that appear in this lesson first:

zuó tiān xué xiào nà ge
昨天 (yesterday)
学校 (school) 那个 (that)
gāo nán hái jiǎn
(tall) 男孩 (boy) (pick up)
kuà bāo chī fàn zuò
挎包 (handbag)
吃饭 (have dinner) (do)
dì di
弟弟 (baby brother)

Please use the following estroke tool to help you learn how to write them:

  • You can copy and paste a few characters together into the box. They’ll show in the animation window one by one.
  • Once the stroke animation stops, click in the animation window and hit ENTER to replay it.
  • You can use the sliding bar to control writing speed of the animation.

If you’re focused enough, you might have noticed that in English we put “where” word and “when” word after the verb unless you need to emphasize them. Yet in Chinese, it’s completely reversed. You always put “when” before “where”, and both before verb. For the rest part of the sentence, there’s no difference between the two languages. The correct orders in Chinese could be either of the following:

when + where + adj. + who + verb + what

adj. + who + when + where + verb + what

So please keep in mind to use the right order to structure your Chinese lines if “when” and/or “where” are needed in your expression.

Now, I’d like to show you how to tell time and places. We won’t go too deep inside this, just a few highly useful words that you might need to use frequently:

jīn tiān zuótiān qiántiān
今天(today) 昨天(yesterday) 前天 (the day before yesterday)
míng tiān hòu tiān
明天(tomorrow) 后天(the day after tomorrow)

To tell places, in most cases, you can add “在” before the place to create a “where” phrase:

Such as:

zài xué xiào zài gōng sī zài jiā
在学校 (at school) 在公司 (at the company) 在家 (at home)
[mp3j track=”L6-zai-xue-xiao.mp3″] [mp3j track=”L6-zai-gong-si.mp3″] [mp3j track=”L6-zai-jia.mp3″]

Now let’s look at more examples:

tā de gē ge qián tiān zài xué xiào chī fàn

1) 他的哥哥前天在学校吃饭.

His brother had dinner at school the day before yesterday.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

wǒ jīn tiān zài gōng sī zuò bào gào

2) 我今天在公司做报告.

I did my presentation in my company today.

* 做报告 means “give presentation”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

tā de mèi mei zuó tiān zài wǒ jiā rèn shi le wǒ de dì di

3) 她的妹妹昨天在我家认识了我的弟弟.

Her sister got to know my baby brother at my home yesterday.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Are you happy with what you’ve learned so far? Do you think you’re gaining progress on your Chinese through these lessons? Let me know your thoughts and never hesitate to bring up your suggestions in your comments.

Before you go, could you recognize the following little persons in Chinese? You’ve learned all these words through the six lessons, just for fun, try it …

Have yourself a wonderful weekend and see you next time!

 

 

Related posts:

Lesson 10 How to understand and use Chinese sentence pattern “...把...”
Lesson 28 How to express "used to do ..." in Chinese?
Reading, Listening and Speaking practice 16

 

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24 Responses to “Lesson 6 What is the right order of words in a Chinese sentence”

  1. nothing

    Alex Moen:

    12-28-2011 4:41 am

    今天我发现了你的网站。我喜欢这个。我要练习和阅读,哈哈。

    This is a good break down for making fairly complex sentences in Chinese. It’s easy to mix up the proper order (and I may have still made grammar mistakes in my sentence above), or just try and translate the sentences in your head from one language to the other. Thanks for the refresher :)

    Reply

  2. nothing

    Grace:

    12-28-2011 4:53 am

    Alex, thanks for your encouragement. Actually, the Chinese sentence you wrote has no grammar mistake at all. The only thing that needs to be touched on is to add a noun after 我喜欢这个. Such as 我喜欢这个站.

    希望我的网站能帮你加速你的中文学习. 欢迎常来!

    Reply

  3. nothing

    betti elena:

    07-06-2012 5:07 pm

    Dear Grace,
    according to the rules given in the first part of lesson nbr 6 the following sentence

    他的哥哥前天在学校吃饭.

    could be written also like this?

    前天在学校他的哥哥吃饭.
    if this is correct there are 2 ways of writing the same thing them?
    thanks for your answer.
    Elena

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace:

      07-07-2012 3:36 am

      Elena,

      You’ve brought up a very good question!

      “前天在学校他的哥哥吃饭” is grammatically correct. However, it sounds like the sentence is not finished. Usually if you put both when and where at beginning, then you should add 了 after the verb to balance the sentence and make the sentence sound finished. At the same time to emphasize the completion of the verb. So for this one, we can try this: 前天在学校他的哥哥吃了饭. Now it’s getting better. However, this sentence can only placed in certain context to really make sense.

      After all, there are a few particles in Chinese that you really need to pay some effort to learn and feel. Once you get a hang of them, your sentence will flow better.

      One sentence usually can be reordered into a few different ways depends on what you need to emphasize, but keep the key rule in mind: when before where.

      Hope this helps…

      Grace

      Reply

  4. nothing

    Jeanette Carolina:

    10-30-2013 9:54 am

    Thank you so much for this awesome website, it’s really helping me understand Chinese so much better. :-)

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      10-30-2013 12:46 pm

      You’re welcome Jeanette, happy to hear that it does help. :-)

      Grace

      Reply

  5. nothing

    Ryan:

    11-29-2014 9:20 pm

    Let me try the sentence structure out.

    我的妹妹今天在公司做包告

    她的姐姐昨天在学校捉了一个挎包

    你的哥哥每天在饭店吃烤鸡

    我们的第第前天在市场发现了苹果

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      12-04-2014 12:52 am

      Hi Ryan, good work! All your word order are right! There are only a few typos:

      我的妹妹今天在公司做(报)告

      她的姐姐昨天在学校(捡)了一个挎包

      你的哥哥每天在饭店吃烤鸡

      我们的(弟弟)前天在市场发现了苹果

      Please keep it up!

      Grace

      Reply

      • nothing

        Hana:

        04-09-2015 11:17 pm

        I also live at Toronto. Thank you for your hard work. I am surprised that I can catch on what you have taught us when the elderly Chinese men speak to each other at the Woodside Square library. xie xie ni. Why did you put the verbs and didi in brackets?

        Reply

        • nothing

          Grace Feng:

          04-10-2015 1:27 pm

          Hi Hana, that’s a smart approach to practice your ears in the library. Chinese supermarkets or restaurants in GTA are all places with opportunities. I’d say Toronto makes it much easier to practice Chinese than most other places in the world, agree?

          For your question, the characters or word I put in brackets are corrections to Ryan’s sentences. Do they make sense?

          Reply

  6. nothing

    Chanden:

    12-21-2014 4:41 am

    Dear grace Feng
    I used the form ( when+where+adj+who+v+what) in the sentence in English:
    I went to see my teacher at school yesterday.
    昨天在学校我去看我的老师。
    Is this sentence correct or not?
    Thank you so much.

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      12-24-2014 5:04 am

      Chandon,

      Grammatically your sentence is correct.

      If both you and your teacher were at school before you actually went to see him, then your sentence is correct.

      If only your teacher was at school before you visited him, then it should be told this way:

      昨天我去学校看我的老师。

      Here you clarify that you went to see your teacher from ” outside of the school”. You actually was not in school before you visited your teacher.

      Do you get that?

      Grace

      Reply

      • nothing

        Chanden:

        12-25-2014 4:37 pm

        Dear Grace Feng

        Yes, thank you so much Grace. Now I do understand. Happy Marry Christmas :)

        Chanden

        Reply

  7. nothing

    Noah:

    01-19-2015 2:43 am

    Hello,

    Your website is very helpful.

    When asking a question isn’t the location put at the end of the sentence such as
    洗手間在哪裡?

    謝謝

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      01-19-2015 5:30 am

      Hi Noah,

      Yes, your question sentence is correct. In your example, even if it’s not a question, the location is still in the end because it’s a sentence pattern of “What is where”:

      洗手间在那里。

      The focus of this lesson is to explain the right word order when “where” and “when” are used as the adjective for an action. I should have made a note of this condition in the post.

      That’s a very good question, Noah, thanks!

      Grace

      Reply

  8. nothing

    YRabbit:

    09-05-2015 9:43 am

    Grace, 你好!
    I feel that the following sentence is correct:)
    早上在长城我喝了咖啡。

    btw 高 (gao) <– I think that there must be a translation.

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      09-05-2015 12:07 pm

      Hi Rabbit, yes that’s a good sentence you made. Good job!

      Thank you for reminding me of the error, I’ve just corrected it with translation.

      Cheers,

      Grace

      Reply

  9. nothing

    Mary:

    09-18-2015 8:12 am

    您好Grace老师.我喜欢您的网站。它帮助我练习中文。
    我的问题是,我知道很多中文话但是我不说好。我能做什么?

    Reply

  10. nothing

    will:

    07-12-2016 10:34 am

    Dear Grace,

    following your word order rule from above I composed this sentence : 前天在学校他的哥哥吃饭.

    Is it correct? google translates it as: The day before his brother in school meals.

    Why do you start with the “who-part”?

    Best regards, Will

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      08-05-2016 3:45 am

      Hi Will, there’s nothing wrong with your sentence. But it’s better to put who-part at the beginning for this one:

      他的哥哥前天在学校吃饭.

      After re-reading my lesson, I noticed that part of the explanation needs rewording to reduce the confusion of the order of “who-part” and “when, where”. I’ve just modified, please read it again.

      Feel free to ask questions. You’ve just asked a very good one.

      Thanks,

      Grace

      Reply

  11. nothing

    苏:

    10-12-2016 10:44 am

    老师您好,

    我有几个问题。请帮我清楚。多谢多谢非常好的老师。:)

    1)这个句子《你愿意嫁给我吗?》和那个《你给我愿意嫁吗?》是一样吗?可以用那样《你给我愿意嫁吗?》吗?
    2)我知道 ‘嫁’ 给女人可以只用。《婚》和《结婚》 呢? 他们给男人可以只用吗?
    3)在第二问题,《给》的用法对吗?
    4)最后,《嫁娶》和《婚嫁》是一样吗?

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      10-13-2016 2:46 am

      苏, 你好!

      1)这个句子《你愿意嫁给我吗?》和那个《你给我愿意嫁吗?》是一样吗?可以用那样《你给我愿意嫁吗?》吗?
      不可以。“嫁给+someone” 意思是 ”(woman) marry to someone”. “嫁给” means “marry to”. 这两个字不能分开用。

      2)我知道 ‘嫁’ 给女人可以只用。《婚》和《结婚》 呢? 他们给男人可以只用吗?
      结婚可以用于男人, 或者女人。“我和他结婚。” “我和她结婚” 都可以。

      3)在第二问题,《给》的用法对吗?
      不对。“他们给男人可以只用吗?” 可以这样写: “他们可以只给男人用吗?”
      Your problem is the order of words in a sentence is not right. This can be improved by more reading in Chinese I believe.:-)

      4)最后,《嫁娶》和《婚嫁》是一样吗?
      Answer is no in most cases, depends on the context.

      Grace

      Reply

  12. nothing

    :

    10-13-2016 1:11 pm

    老师多感谢,我一定会念很多中文。

    Reply

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