This is the lesson attached to the Chinese learning game Mao's House. Learn how to construct a basic Chinese sentence while learning some essential survival vocabulary! Play the FREE version of the game or join us and get the full version!
Sometimes one Chinese character can be considered as the equivalent of one English word (it is then known as a monosyllabic word), but most of the time two Chinese characters are needed to fully equal one English word (those are called disyllabic words).
For disyllabic words, each character is then known as a morpheme, the smallest combination of meaning and phonetic sound in Chinese.
Interestingly, while modern Chinese prefers to use disyllabic words, ancient Chinese favored monosyllabic words. Those ancient words are now simple morphemes in modern Chinese. This evolution explains why so many disyllabic words in Chinese are made up of morphemes that are totally synonymous or even identical.
Example 洗澡 xǐzǎo take a bath or 尿尿 niàoniào pee
English verbs can change (e.g. walk, walked) but Chinese verbs don't. Additional characters in the sentence will tell you if it's in the past or future.
Example 要洗澡 yào xǐ zǎo means want to take a bath.
Same as in English: subject verb …
Example 我要洗澡 wǒ yào xǐ zǎo I want to take a bath.
However, closed questions are simpler than in English: just add 吗 ma, a question particle at the end of the sentence.
subject verb … 吗 ?
Example 我要洗澡吗? wǒ yào xǐ zǎo ma? Do I want to take a bath?
Imperative sentences are the same as in English:
or 不要 Verb …
In Chinese, DO NOT is 不要 bú yào where separately 不 means NOT and 要 means WANT. However, 要 in this case does not act as a verb, it is just part of the negation of the real verb in the sentence.
Example 尿尿! niàoniào means pee! and 不要尿尿 bú yào niào niào means don't pee! (and not don't want to pee).
Some English words such as BYE or HI made it into the Chinese language. They are represented by characters whose prononciation matches the English word. In that case, they loose their original Chinese meaning.
Example 拜 bài means bye in the game, and not to worship or to visit.
Disyllabic words are not grouped by any punctuation marks or blank spaces, so that makes it hard for learners to identify Chinese words. Only memorization and usage can get you familiar with character groups.
Example Wǒ yào xǐ zǎo will appear like this: 我要洗澡 and not like 我 要 洗澡 or 我要 ·洗澡· or 我要[洗澡], etc.
Tone changes in Mandarin are called sandhi. There are many rules about tone changes, but today let's focus on 不 bù (NOT). Bù becomes bú when followed by a fourth tone.
Example 不要 bú yào
HELLO is 你好 nǐ hǎo, which literally means YOU GOOD. HOW ARE YOU DOING in Chinese is simply asking: 你好吗 nǐ hǎo ma or YOU GOOD?
As in English, sometimes subjects are omitted. But this can get tricky.