On Basic Chinese Sentence Model: "Subject - Predicate - Object"

(Last Modified: 2019-07-02 15:48:17    Author: jinyu)

For Chinese learners, they may be set back from those odd characters, complicated pronunciations or tones, or from distinctive grammatical rules. However, no matter how hard it is for speaking out or for writing down, learners will not have problem understanding some basic Chinese sentence models.

structure for Chinese sentence

Why should one learn sentence model?

Let's see a group of examples first:

Table 1 - Declarative and Interrogative Sentences
Chinese English Translation
你是中国
("nǐ shì zhōng guó rén")
You are Chinese.
你是哪里
("nǐ shì nǎ lǐ rén")
Where are you from?
你叫小明。
("nǐ jiào xiǎo míng")
You name is Xiao Ming.
你叫什么?
("nǐ jiào shén me")
What is your name?

In the above table, sentences in English change their internal order for questioning, which is called interrogative inversion. In contrast, orders of the corresponding Chinese sentences remain the same ("你是……人", "你叫……").

Let's see other examples:

Table 2 - Expansion of a Chinese Sentence
Chinese English Translation
他喝酒
("tā hē jiǔ")
He drinks.
开心地喝酒
("tā kāi xīn de hē jiǔ")
He drinks cheerfully.
和我开心地喝酒
("tā hé wǒ kāi xīn de hē jiǔ")
He drinks with me cheerfully.
昨晚和我开心地喝酒
("tā zuó wǎn hé wǒ kāi xīn de hē jiǔ")
He drank with me cheerfully last night.
昨晚和我在酒吧开心地喝酒
("tā zuó wǎn hé wǒ zài jiǔ bā kāi xīn de hē jiǔ")
He drank with me cheerfully in the bar last night.

In the above table, the Chinese sentence on the left column expands in a stable way ("他……喝酒"), irrespective of the tense, modifiers or insertions. On the contrary, its English translation changes its verb form when past tense is applied.

As Chinese sentence orders are relatively fixed, knowing something about sentence forming rules is good for study. While the basic sentence pattern constitutes the foundation for Chinese sentence formation system, the "Subject - Predicate (verb) - Object" structure becomes the key to study.

What is the "Subject - Predicate - Object" model?

It is a common pattern in both simple and complex sentences. For example, in the sentence "他喝酒 (tā hē jiǔ) [He drinks wine]", the first character " (tā) [he]" is the subject, with the second character " (hē) [drinks]" being the predicate, while the last character " (jiǔ) [wine]" acts as the sentence object.

Specifically speaking, a subject is usually the core for a sentence. In Chinese, subjects come from nouns, pronouns, or noun phrases, which is similar to that of English. For instance:

Table 3 - Noun Subjects
Chinese English Translation
爸爸在吃饭。
("bà bà zài chī fàn")
Father is eating.
天气不错。
("tiān qì bú cuò")
The weather is fine.
花完了。
("qián huā wán le")
The money has been used up.
Table 4 - Pronoun Subjects
Chinese English Translation
这个很咸。
("zhè ge hěn xián")
This is salty.
在哪?
("nǐ zài nǎ")
Where are you?
爱你。
("wǒ ài nǐ")
I love you.
Table 5 - Noun Phrase Subjects
Chinese English Translation
我的老师住在这里。
("wǒ de lǎo shī zhù zài zhè lǐ")
My teacher is living here.
建筑工业在这里非常发达。
("jiàn zhù gōng yè zài zhè lǐ fēi cháng fā dá")
Architectural industry is highly advanced here.
一个村民骑车经过。
("yī gè cūn mín qí chē jīng guò")
One villager rides by.

A predicate is a kind of language structure used to describe the status or the action of its subject. In English, predicates are verbs or expressions headed with verbs, however, In Chinese, both verbs and adjectives can work as predicates. Here are them:

Table 6 - Verb Predicates
Chinese English Translation
我。
("tā dǎ wǒ")
He hits me.
我在手机。
("wǒ zài wán shǒu jī")
I am playing phone.
没有钱。
("nǐ méi yǒu qián")
You don't have money.
Table 7 - Adjective Predicates
Chinese English Translation
你很漂亮
("nǐ hěn piào liàng")
You are very beautiful.
这个很
("zhè ge hěn xián")
This is salty.
树叶了。
("shù yè huáng le")
leaves are turning yellow

In the table 7, adjectives act as predicates in Chinese sentences, while their English counterparts are headed with a linking verb.

An object is the element that is acted upon by the subject. Below are Chinese examples:

Table 8 - Objects
Chinese English Translation
他打
("tā dǎ wǒ")
He hits me.
我在玩手机
("wǒ zài wán shǒu jī")
I am playing phone.
你没有
("nǐ méi yǒu qián")
You don't have money.

In the above tables, we can see that some Chinese sentences are lacking of objects, which can be found in that of intransitive verbs or elliptical components.

In general, conclusion can be drawn that:

  • "Subject - Predicate - Object" is the main trunk in Chinese sentences.
  • The orders & forms of "Subject - Predicate - Object" remain the same in nearly all kind of sentences.
  • The order & form of "Subject - Predicate - Object" remains the same no matter how a sentence expands itself.

More Examples

Here are examples demonstrating how the "Subject - Predicate - Object" model performs in a blend of complex sentences:

Subject - Predicate - Object

Table 9 - More Examples of "Subject - Predicate - Object" Model
Chinese English Translation
一名优秀的英语老师
("tā shì yī míng yōu xiù de yīng yǔ lǎo shī")
He is an excellent English teacher.
这幅画中的年轻女子
("zhè fú huà zhōng de nián qīng nǚ zǐ shì shuí")
Who is the young girl in the picture?
几年过去了,这个家庭依然十分贫穷
("jǐ nián guò qù le, zhè gè jiā tíng yī rán shí fēn pín qióng")
Several years passed, the family was still quite destitute.
一碗热腾腾的放在了他前面的桌上
("yī wǎn rè tēng tēng de miàn fàng zài le tā qián miàn de zhuō shàng")
A bowl of steaming hot noodles has been put on the table in front of him.
闰土的心里无穷无尽的稀奇的
("rùn tǔ de xīn lǐ yǒu wú qióng wú jìn de xī qí de shì")
There are countless and remarkable things in Run Tu's mind.
一大早,勤奋的同学们就在复习着各门功课
("yī dà zǎo, qín fèn de tóng xué men jiù zài fú xí zhe gè mén gōng kè")
In the early morning, diligent students are reviewing of various lessons.
房间里所有人资料了吗?
("fáng jiān lǐ suǒ yǒu rén dōu lǐng dào zī liào le mā")
Did everyone in the room get the document?
昨晚去买了一朵花。
("tā zuó wǎn yào wǒ qù mǎi le yī duō huā")
She asked me to buy a flower last night.

From the above table, we can find that there may be a lot of additional rules for Chinese sentence forming (we will talk about them in other blogs here), the major architecture for those sentences is permanent.

Conclusion

Chinese is somehow easy to study, for its stability in sentence forming, in which one can always find the basic "Subject - Predicate - Object" pattern. Without any hassle in tense, number, or order, learners may quickly develop the habit of analyzing sentence component, which is definitely useful for language comprehension.

structure for Chinese sentence