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Chinese 101: Other Sentence Forms & Additional Grammar

Manzai August 5, 2011 User blog:Manzai

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Sorry I've been away for a while. I didn't realize we had this new editor. Made it kind of hard to put a table on this, espescially with the long vocabulary list in this entry. But anyway, here's the new Chinese 101 lesson. You'll find a lot of vocabulary about buildings, things you find in dwellings like furniture, etc, and a lot of terms related to schools. There's a lot of vocabulary, but I only covered the more important usage issues in the grammar section, so if you have any more questions ask me, and I'll answer what I can.

Vocabulary

yāoqiú Demand, request
tài Too, excessively
zǎo Early, or “Good morning”
huài Bad
bùhǎo Bad
jīntiān Today
zuótiān Yesterday
zǎoshàng Morning
zhōngwǔ Noon
wǎnshàng Evening
yǒu yìdiǎnr A bit, a little
yǒu Have, or there is/there are
shūfú comfortable
bùshūfú Uncomfortable
juéde To feel, to think
hěn Very
lèi Tired
chuáng Bed
ruǎn Soft
yìng Hard
bùgòu Not enough, insufficient, insufficiently
yěxǔ Perhaps
jiù Old (applied to certain inanimate things like furniture)
.le Particle for a new situation
sùshè Dormitory
wūzi Room
jiàoshì Classroom
jiān AN for rooms
xuéxiào School
chuānghù Window
mén Door
qiú Ball
qiúchǎng Ball field, game court
bùtài Not quite
nèmme, zèmme So
bùcuò Not wrong; not bad, pretty good
liàng Bright
zhēn True; Truly, really
fàn Meal, food (literally “cooked rice”)
zǎofàn Breakfast (“early meal”)
zhōngfàn Lunch (“middle meal”)
wǎnfàn Dinner/Supper (“late meal”)
chī Eat
hǎochī Tasty, delicious
bùhǎochī Bad-tasting
shēng Raw, undercooked
ròu Meat
niú Cow
Chicken
dàn Egg
jīdàn Chicken egg
huàidàn Bad egg, rotten egg (an insult)
shuō Say, speak
yǒumíng Famous (literally "have-name")
duō Many, a lot
shǎo Few; less
duó/duóme How
xìngqíng Temperament, personality
qíguài Strange
Zhōngwén Chinese culture & language; of or from China
kàn Look
hǎokan Good-looking
bùhǎokan Ugly
yǎnjīng Eyes
bízi Nose
ǎi Short
bié Don't
mǔqīn Mother
wèi Polite form of AN for people


Grammar

1. Zǎo came to mean “good morning” because it was originally short for nǐ zǎo, which literally means “you early” (as in “You’re up so early in the morning” which was a compliment implying the person was hard-working). In actual use though, zǎo is just a general greeting, like “good morning” is in English.

2. Time words like jīntiān and zuótiān are their own class of words. They must always come before the verb in the sentence, and they are usually the first word in the sentence when they are used.

3. Yǒu yìdiǎnr is pronounced “yo EE-dee-er”. I don’t know why it’s pronounced that way, but that’s how my instructor always pronounced it. It’s worth mentioning that the –r ending is a convention of northern dialects of Mandarin, especially in Beijing. It indicates intimacy or a lack of formality. Apparently in other regions the –r ending is often dropped from the pronunciation, although I only ever heard my instructor pronounce it with the –r, and he’s from Taiwan.

Yǒu is actually the word for “have.” Yìdiǎnr is the part that means “a little,” but in Chinese grammar yǒu has to come before yìdiǎnr when it modifies an adjective. Yìdiǎnr alone can modify a noun. Yǒu yìdiǎnr is usually used with negative pronouns to indicate a condition beyond what the speaker would desire (Yǒu yìdiǎnr bùshūfú, Yǒu yìdiǎnr yìng).

4. Bùgòu. Because bùgòu is a modifier, it comes before the word it modifies, as in bùgòu liàng, so in Chinese the word order always sounds like “not-enough bright.”

5. The particle .le has to do with time. You might remember in the first post I said Chinese verbs are tenseless. Besides the time words above, .le is one of the ways Chinese gets around this. It is used at he end of sentences to indicate either (a) the situation described is new or (b) the speaker has newly discovered the situation that existed already. When the verb or adjective in the sentence is positive, .le conveys the sense of “now” or “became” in English.

Bumi lǎo.le –“Bumi became old (he wasn’t before)” or “Now Bumi is old (he wasn’t before)” Also note that this example shows that the situation need not be “new” in an objective timely sense. Obviously Bumi got old over a very long period of time.

If the verb or adjective is negative, .le conveys the sense of “any more.”

Sokka bù chī ròu .le—“Sokka doesn’t eat meat (anymore—He did before he met Foo-foo Cuddleypoops :P ).”

6. Tài means “too” or “excessively,” and comes before an adjective. Bùtài does not mean the exact opposite of tài, but instead it means something like “not quite” or “not very.” It is used as a polite way to speak of a displeasing situation, like if someone asked you how their cooking was and you wanted to give them polite criticism you could say the food was bùtài hǎochī—“not quite tasty.”

7. Shēng is an adjective used to describe food that is raw or undercooked. To say that food is overcooked or just old, you simply use lǎo, the same word to call a person old.

8. The adjective duó means “how” in the sense of “how much?” or “to what degree?” Nà ròu duó lǎo ?—“How old is this meat?”

Duó can also be used to mean “how” the other way we use it in English, that being as an exclamation (“How pretty she is!”), but is usually altered to duóme. Also when constructing a sentence this way, it must end with the particle .a.

Tā duóme qíguài .a!—“How strange he is!”

9. Wèi is a polite form of AN for people. It has the same function as ge, but saying Zhèi ge rén is like saying “This guy,” where Zhèi wèi rén is like “This gentleman.”

10. There is a certain way to construct a sentence to make a concession. A concession is something like “Sure, there’s a lot of food, but it doesn’t taste good.” To say this in Chinese it’s Fàn duō shi duō, dànshi bùhǎochī. Notice how shi is inserted between the two verbs or adjectives, which gives the sense of “Sure, there’s a lot.” The second verb/adjective is followed by a form of “but” (either dànshi or kěshi).

11. Bié (“don’t”) is the most common way to issue a negative command, as in bié shuō—“Don’t speak!” or “don’t say it!” This is used if the person being addressed has not yet started the action. If the addressee has already started the action, simply add .le to the verb:

bié shuōle—“Stop talking!” or “Don’t talk anymore!” bié chīle—“Stop eating!” or “Don’t eat anymore!”

12. There are several mild insults in Chinese which use the word dàn (“egg”), such as huài dàn (“rotten egg”or “bad egg”), and bèn dàn. These aren’t very bad curse words. They’re about as intense as calling someone “jackass,” from what I understand. An adjective placed in front of dàn like that is always negative. There is no hǎo dàn, like there is “a good egg” in English. To talk of literal eggs, like the kind you eat, you usually name the variety of egg you mean, such as jī dàn, “chicken egg.”

13. When you speak of certain things for which you feel a very close affinity, like body parts and relatives, the possessive particle .de drops out, so you say Wǒ mǔqīn and Wǒ bízi, rather than Wǒde mǔqīn and Wǒde bízi.

Also regarding mǔqīn and fùqīn (father), these terms are used to refer to parents, even your own, but cannot be used as direct address. The terms for addressing one’s own parents are māmā for mother and bàbà for father. (If you watch American Dad, you may have seen one of the episodes in which Francine refers to her adoptive Chinese parents by these terms).

14. Cultural note on greetings: A lot of the types of greetings used in Chinese are the same sort of construction used in English. For example, ou can greet someone by just saying their name and title, as in Zhāng lǎoshī (“Teacher Zhang”). You can also greet someone by observing what they’re doing and making it into a question, which we also do in English. For example, if you see some one you know buying a paper, you can greet him/her by saying mǎi bào a?—“Buying a paper?” To respond to this, the person usually uses the particles ng or ê: Ng, mǎi bào—“Right, buying a paper.”

The greeting most people know as Chinese for hello is Nǐ hǎo, which literally means “You good/well?” This sort of greeting, called an exchanged-word greeting because you simply reply with a certain word to acknowledge the greeting, was actually pretty uncommon in China before Western influences appeared. In English we just say “Hello” and reply with “Hello” to greet each other. To reply to “Nǐ hǎo” you can simply say “Nǐ hǎo.” However, the traditional, older way to greet people—which is still very common in rural areas, is to ask Chīle fàn méi yǒu?—“Have you eaten?” Answering in the positive (chīle) means you are well, even if you haven’t actually eaten recently. Answering in the negative (méi chī) means you aren’t. Like asking “How are you?” in English, the point of the exchange is just to exchange a greeting, not actually report on the condition of your stomach.

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