When learning a new language, sentence structure is one of the topics in which you have to have a solid foundation. In this article, we are going to talk about:
- Basic Chinese sentence structure.
- “Time When” in Chinese sentence structure.
- “Location” in Chinese sentence structure.
- “Time duration” in Chinese sentence structure.
- Exceptions to certain verbs + location words.
Before we start, there is one thing that you need to keep in mind. Sentence structures in different languages are usually very different. They may have some similarities, but most likely when adding more details in the sentence, those details are put in different places within a sentence. Bear this in mind, then off we go!
Basic Chinese Sentence Structure
The “MOST” basic Chinese sentence structure is similar to the structure in English.
Basic Chinese sentence structure: Subject (S) + Verb (V) + Object (O).
Example: He plays ball.
He, 他 tā (This is the subject.)
Play, 打 dǎ, 玩 wán (This is the verb.)
Ball, 球 qiú (This is the object.)
The word “play” in Chinese can be translated to 打 dǎ or 玩 wán. When speaking “playing ball,” we use “打 dǎ,” which literally means “to hit.”
So the correct order will be,
他 (S) + 打 (V) + 球(O)。 Tā dǎ qiú.
He plays ball.
Note: In English, the verb will change according to the subject and the tense. In the example above, “he” is the reason the verb “play” needs to add an “s.” In Chinese, we DO NOT change the form of the verb. See the examples below:
我 打 球。 Wǒ dǎqiú. I play ball.
你 打 球。 Nǐ dǎqiú. You play ball.
他 打 球。 Tā dǎqiú. He plays ball.
他們 打 球。Tāmen dǎqiú. They play ball.
王朋 打 球。Wáng péng dǎqiú. Wang Peng plays ball.
Now you get the point. It doesn’t matter if the subject is singular or plural, the verb “打 dǎ” remains the same.
But when adding time, location, and time duration, where would they go?
For clarity, in the sections below, we will use “time when” to represent “the time moment.” And we use “time duration” to represent “a period of time.”
“Time When” in Chinese sentence structure
“Time when” will go either right before the subject or right after the subject. So, the sentence structure will become:
Subject + Time when + Verb + Object
Time when + Subject + Verb + Object
Let’s use the same example from above:
He plays ball at 4 this afternoon.
4 o’clock this afternoon is the “time when.” It can be placed either right before, or right after, the subject.
To apply the sentence structure Subject + Time when + Verb + Object,
the order will be:
He + today afternoon 4 o’clock + plays + ball.
他今天 下午 四点 打球。
Tā jīntiān xiàwǔ sì diǎn dǎ qiú.
Note: If there is more detail about the time, they go from big to small in Chinese. For example, you have an appointment at 11:30 AM. There are two, time words, 11:30 and AM. As we just mentioned, the correct time words order is from big to small. AM has a bigger time range (12 hours) and 11:30 is a moment. So, the order in Chinese should be AM 11:30, which is 上午 十一点半 Shàngwǔ shíyī diǎn bàn. 上午 shàngwǔ means late morning, 十一点半 shíyī diǎn bàn means 11:30.
Let’s practice one more question, how do we say 7 PM this Friday?
First, find all of the time words:
- 7 o’clock
- This Friday
Second, arrange them from big to small:
- This Friday (24 hour time frame)
- PM (12 hour time frame)
- 7 o’clock (a moment)
- This Friday 这个星期五 zhège xīngqīwǔ
- PM 晚上 wǎnshàng
- 7 o’clock 七点 qī diǎn
这个星期五 晚上 七点 Zhège xīngqíwǔ wǎnshàng qī diǎn is the answer!
For more details about how to express time in Chinese, we have a very thorough post about this topic.
“Location” in Chinese sentence structure
Location is another important piece of information when making an appointment. If you need to add “location,” you should place it after the subject and time. The structure will look like this,
Subject + Time when + Location + Verb + Object
If the location contains a smaller area in a location, it’s the same idea as time, bigger location first and then smaller.
He plays ball at the gym, in the school, at 4 this afternoon.
Let’s take a close look at the location information here. There are two location words:
Let’s arrange them in the correct order in Chinese grammar:
- School (a bigger location) and
- Gym (a smaller location which is inside the school)
School: 学校 xuéxiào
Gym: 运动场 tyùndòngchǎng
So, the correct order in Chinese will be:
He + today afternoon 4 o’clock + in the school at the gym + play + ball.
他今天下午四点 在学校 运动场 打球。
Tā jīntiān xiàwǔ sì diǎn zài xuéxiào yùndòngchǎng dǎ qiú.
Here is another example for you to practice with. How do we say “the restroom in the restaurant” in Chinese? Same steps as we did with the time words.
First, find the location words.
- Restroom and
Second, arrange them from big to small.
- Restaurant (Bigger location)
- Restroom (Smaller location that is inside a restaurant)
- Restaurant: 饭馆 or 餐厅 fànguǎn/ cāntīng
- Restroom: 厕所 / 洗手间 cèsuǒ/ xǐshǒujiān
So, the restroom that inside of the restaurant in Chinese is 饭馆 (里的) 厕所.
Now we are going to learn where “time duration” will go in Chinese sentence structure.
“Time Duration” in Chinese sentence structure
When you would like to express that an action has been continued for a period of time, you need time duration in the sentence. The structure will look like this:
Subject + Time when + Location + Verb + Object + Verb + Time duration
We place the time duration at the end of the sentence.
The example below can show you where all three elements (time when, location, and time duration) are placed in a Chinese sentence.
He played ball for three hours at the gym, in the school, this afternoon.
So, the correct order in Chinese will be:
He + today afternoon + in the school at the gym + played + ball + for three hours
他 今天下午 在学校运动场 *打球打了 三个小时。
Tā jīntiān xiàwǔ zài xuéxiào yùndòngchǎng dǎqiú dǎle sān gè xiǎoshí.
*In Chinese, when adding time duration, the verb sometimes, not all the time, repeats before the time duration. So, the whole sentence structure will look like this:
Subject + time when (from big to small) + location (from big to small) + verb + object + (verb) + (了) + time duration.
Exceptions to certain verbs + location words
In most cases, we follow the rules above. But there are a few certain verbs that may break the rules.
Here are a few examples of exception verbs:
住 zhù, to live
走 zǒu, to walk
坐 zuò, to sit
For those exception verbs, the sentence structure will be like this:
Subject + time when (from big to small) + verb + location.
The only difference is that the location words will now go after the verb. Let’s see a couple of examples below:
We live in Texas, United States.
我们 住在 美国 德州。 Wǒmen zhù zài měiguó dézhōu.
住在 zhù zài means live in…
美国 měiguó is United States (Bigger place, 50 states)
德州 dézhōu is Texas (Smaller place, State of Texas)
The location words still remain in the same order, from big to small.
They sit on the grass, in the park.
他们 坐在 公园 草地上。 Tāmen zuò zài gōngyuán cǎodì shàng.
坐在 zuò zài sit on
公园 gōngyuán park (Bigger place)
草地上 on the grass (Smaller area in the park)
(在…上 means “on …”)
Beginner Grammar Package
Want to learn more basic Chinese grammar, check out our grammar infographics section. Here you can find more grammar infographics. If you, or your students, want to learn most of the beginner grammar, we have a Beginner Grammar Package (Grammar package, quizzes, and answer sheets are all included!).
We have two practice questions below:
- She watched TV at home, for half an hour, last night.
- I did homework at school, for 40 minutes, this afternoon.
Find the answer at the end of the infographic below. The answers are upside down.
Chinese Sentence Structure Simplified Chinese Version Infographic
Chinese Sentence Structure Video
Chinese Sentence Sturcture Traditional Chinese Version
⃞ I can understand the basic Chinese sentence structure and put the parts in the correct order.
⃞ I can recognize when people use “time when”, “location” and/or “time duration” in a Chinese conversation.
⃞ I can place “time when” correctly within a sentence.
⃞ I can place “location” correctly within a sentence.
⃞ I can place “time duration” correctly within a sentence.
⃞ I can correctly place all three of them (time when, location and time duration) within a sentence.