Tag Archives: mandarin chinese grammar

14 common mistakes Chinese learners make

While there are some similarities between English and Chinese, we all know that the two languages are pretty different. As a result, when English speakers start learning Chinese (Mandarin), there are some common mistakes that they make. Lets look at 14 common mistakes Chinese learners make:

1. Tones
Mandarin’s tones are a source of a lot of trouble for learners. There are 5 tones in the language. If you get it wrong: you may end up calling your mother (mā) a horse (mă)!

2. Gender confusion: In the Chinese language, gender pronouns are not separated (he and she, his and hers) for example.

3. Singular/plural noun confusion: Singular and plural nouns are not different in the Chinese language. Context is what differentiates between singular and plural nouns. As an example, if someone said ‘one cat’, in Chinese then “cat” is singular, but if someone said, ‘many cat’, then “cat” is plural. But there is no separate plural form ‘cats’ in Chinese

4. Over-using 和 (Hé)
The word “and” in English is very versatile, and this often causes English-speaking learners to latch on to 和 in Mandarin and use it for everything.
The main mistake with 和 is using it to connect phrases.

5. Misuse of prepositions:  In Chinese there is a character that can mean, ‘in’, or ‘at’ depending on the context .

6. Word order of adverbials (time, manner and place)
Mandarin word order: In Mandarin adverbials of time, manner, and place nearly always come before the verb. This is different to English where the placement varies a lot.

7. zh, ch, sh / j, q, x and ü
Back to the pronunciation! Tones are by far the most important part of Mandarin pronunciation but some consonants have peculiar pronunciations too! Here are some examples:

q: similar to ‘ch’ in the English ‘cheap’ – tongue is positioned below lower teeth
x: similar to ‘sh’ in the English ‘sheep’ – tongue is positioned below lower teeth
zh: similar to ‘j’ in the English ‘jam’

8. Not using topic-comment structure
A big feature of Mandarin sentence structure is that it is topic-prominent. This means that the most important item in the sentence should usually be put first, regardless of its grammatical role

9. Conjugations: In Chinese, there is no verb conjugation. In English, we would say, ‘I love dancing’, ‘he loves dancing’. In Chinese however, there are no separate forms: love and loves - it is just “love” for all subjects

10.  是 + adj
The most common way to link adjectives to nouns is with 很. This is often described as meaning “very”, but its main function in this case is just to sit between the noun and adjective. “她很高” can just be translated as “she’s tall”.

11.  没有 + 了
没有 is used to negate past actions, and 了 is used to mark completed actions.了 grammar is confusing, so it’s easy to mistakenly think that 了 is about the past tense. This then leads people to use 了 in phrases with 没有

12. Positive-negative inversion + 吗 (Ma)
Two common ways to form questions in Mandarin are positive-negative inversion, and adding 吗 (ma). After learning both, you can easily slip into putting both into one sentence, which is usually incorrect.

13. Inserting articles: The articles (a, an and the) are not needed in Chinese before a noun. But English speakers usually insert them.

14. Confusing first and last names: In China, the family name is written before the first name, the opposite being the case in English speaking countries.

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Top 10 Reasons why learning Mandarin Chinese is not hard

For a lot of new learners, learning Mandarin Chinese seems like a daunting task. There is a general notion that Mandarin Chinese is very difficult to learn, and learning it is an almost impossible task.

More than a billion people in this world speak Mandarin Chinese – it can’t be impossible to learn, can it? :)

Our primary focus here is on learning spoken Mandarin Chinese and not the script.

So, if your aim is to learn spoken or conversational Mandarin Chinese, here are the top 10 reasons why learning Mandarin Chinese is not hard:

  1. Mandarin Chinese has no tenses

    While in English or other European languages, we struggle to remember all the verb forms and tenses to talk about the past, future, etc., in Mandarin Chinese we can use the same word for all tenses.
    There are some particles that are used to indicate the time of the action – but it is much easier than remembering verb forms for so many tenses!

    So, while in English we say go, went, gone, going; in Mandarin Chinese, we just use  Qù 

  2. Nouns do not have gender!

    In spoken Mandarin Chinese, there is no gender distinction in personal pronouns:

    the pronoun () can mean ‘he’, ‘she’, or ‘it’

  3. Nouns do not have plurals either!

    You don’t have to worry about adding the -s or -es! The plural form of the word remains the same as its singular form in Mandarin! Mandarin usually employs quantity words or measure words to indicate plurality.  Lets take an example:

    1 Friend = Yīgè péngyǒu (1 = )
    3 friends =  Sān gè péngyǒu ( 3 = Sān)

    The words ‘friend’ and ‘friends’ both translate as péngyǒu. ‘gè’ is a measure word.

  4. Mandarin Chinese has no articles

    No need to worry about the ‘a’, ‘an’, or ‘the’. There are some measure words which are quite easy to learn

  5. Things like days of the week, names of months are extremely intuitive.

    These names use numbers extremely effectively. For example:

    Month =  Yuè
    January =yuè (1 Month)
    February = Èr yuè (2 Month)
    March = Sān yuè (3 Month)


    Week = Xīngqí
    Monday = Xīngqí (week 1)
    Tuesday = Xīngqí‘èr (week 2)
    Wednesday = Xīngqí sān (week 3)

    Simple, isn’t it?

  6. Vocabulary is also quite intuitive

    Nationalities are simply country name + people (rén)

    America = Měiguó,
    American(s) = Měiguó rén (America people)
    China = Zhōngguó,
    Chinese =  Zhōngguó rén (China people)


    Electricity = Diàn
    Computer = Diànnǎo (Electronic brain)
    Telephone = Diànhuà (Electronic speech)

  7. Verbs don’t conjugate in Chinese

    I eat = chī
    He eats = chī

  8. Possessives are simple!

    Just add ‘de’ and you are done! :)

    My = de, Your = de, His = Tā de

  9. The sentence structure stays standard for most cases – SVO (Subject-Verb-Object)

  10. The characters themselves can be quite indicative of what they meanChinese-Characters-Pictoraphs-Logic

    A more detailed post on Mandarin Chinese characters is coming up soon!

    Learn Mandarin Chinese logically, for free: CultureAlley Mandarin