Learn Chinese -- Chinese grammar 80/20 Guide

It’s called the 80/20 guide to Chinese Grammar – spend 20% of your time on the 80% that’s important. Fortunately for Chinese learners, Chinese grammar is a relatively straightforward affair. Chinese grammar is less complicated than English grammar.


The goal here is to give you the basic rules of Chinese grammar – enough to get you by. The most important thing is to learn the order of words in a basic sentence. Then you can simply "plug" new words into the sentence.

Wouldn't it be great it there was a way to "grab" the grammatical rules of Chinese as you're listening to Chinese conversations? And even better, to begin speaking sentences in Chinese almost right away without any real effort on your part? There is a proven way to acquire Chinese grammar naturally and you can read about it here.

Sentence Order

Basic sentence order in Chinese is similar to English

Subject+ Verb + Object我 去 上班 (place)
I go to work

Learn Chinese: Verbs

You’ll be glad to know there are NO tenses in Chinese. Verbs have only ONE form regardless of the time of action – yesterday, today, tomorrow, next month or last week.

To indicate time, words such as “yesterday”, “today” and “tomorrow” are added before or after the subject.

To indicate that an action is completed, le4 is added to the end of sentences.

Don’t know what are “conjugating” or “irregular” verbs? That’s okay, because in Chinese you don’t need to know what they are.

Compare these examples. Note that the verb “go” qu4 去 does not change.

Wo3 qu4 shang4 ban1
I go to work.

Wo3 qu4 shang4 ban1 le4
I have gone to work.

Wo3 ming2 tian1 qu4 shang4 ban1
I am going to work tomorrow.

Ming2 tian1 wo3 qu4 shang4 ban1
Tomorrow I go to work.

Learn Chinese: Adjectives and Adverbs

In Chinese, verbs are not necessary to make a sentence complete. In English, a sentence is incomplete without a verb.


Wo3 gao1 xing4
I happy

This is perfectly grammatical in Chinese. The adverb “hen3” meaning “very” is regularly added between the subject and adjective:

Wo3 hen3 gao1 xing4
I very happy

“Happy” can be replaced with adjectives such as “hungry”, “sad” and “busy”

To indicate a negative meaning, the adverb bu4 不 is added before the adjective.

Wo3 bu4 gao1 xing4
I not happy

Learn Chinese: Nouns and Pronouns

Nouns are simple in Chinese. Like verbs, there are only ONE form of nouns which does not change whether it’s masculine, feminine or plural.

To make nouns and pronouns plural, a Chinese character men2 们 can be added after the subject:

Wo3 hen3 gao1 xing4
I very happy

Wo3 men2 hen3 gao1 xing4
We are very happy

Ni3 men2 hen3 gao1 xing4
You all very happy

Xiong1 di4 men2 hen3 gao1 xing4
Brothers very happy

Note: In Chinese, there are special measure words that precede nouns to indicate number. These measure words don’t exist in English. A similar example in English would be “loaves” in “two loaves of bread” or “pair” in “a pair of jeans”:


Yi1 tiao2 ku4 zi3
A pair of trousers
Measure word: 条tiao2

Liang3 ge4 dan4 gao1
Two cakes
Measure word: 个ge4

San1 zhang1 yi3 zi3
Three chairs
Measure word: 张zhang1

You’ll need to take note when to use which measure word for different types of nouns. But you can use the general form个ge4 if you don’t know what the measure word is. You can get more Chinese measure words here:


Learn Chinese: Possession

This is a Chinese character you’ll hear Chinese people use a lot. I’m talking about “de” 的. Using “de” 的 after the pronoun indicates possession.

Wo3 de4 xie2
My shoes

Ta1 men2 de4 yi1 fu2
Their clothes



Recommended Books:

There are two very good books on Chinese grammar you can get from Amazon. For most people, I'll recommend Schaum's Outline of Chinese Grammar (Paperback) by Claudia Ross. It has loads of examples showing the variations in usage and is great for beginners who need a practical book to kick start their learning of Chinese grammar.

The other book is Chinese: A Comprehensive Grammar (Routledge Grammars) by DR. PO-CHING . This book aims to be the last word on Chinese grammar and is hence very comphrensive. It's more suited for intermediate to advanced learners who want to fine tune their Chinese grammar. If you're looking for a reference, this is it.