Is it raining cats and dogs?

“April, April, it makes what it will.” This German saying comes to mind when we receive a bit of rain, sunshine and hail all on the same day, and not necessarily in that order. While most people associate a good day with a sunny one, there are quite a few nice songs written about rainy weather, such as: “Listen to the Rhythem of the Falling Rain”, “Stormy Weather”, “Singing in the Rain”, etc.

Let’s listen to 雨中即景 (Yǔ Zhōng Jíjǐng The Rain Impromptu) composed by王梦麟 (Wáng Mènglín) and performed by刘文正 (Liú Wénzhèng).

(yǔ) is rain, which is aptly represented by the four drops of water in the character.
(zhōng) is the middle. As an adverb, it means amidst, among or on the dot. It is also used as a verb that means hitting smack on target.
(jí) means at present, approaching, immediately, or even if.
(jǐng) is a view or a scene.

The lyrics are fun but we will just look at the first two lines for now:

Huālālālā xiàyǔ le.
Splish, splash, it’s raining.

Kàndào dàjiā dōu zài pǎo.
(I) see everyone running.

下雨 (xiàyǔ) means to rain. 哗啦 (huālā) mimicks the sound of pouring rain or rustling leaves. When singing a song, the word (le) is often pronounced as liǎo.

Suppose you want to tell someone in Chinese, “It’s raining.” You’d be tempted to say, “它下雨了. (Tā xiàyǔ le.) ” After all, (tā) means “it”. Beware. This simple statement will immediately give you away as a beginner even if your Mandarin pronounciation is perfect. The Chinese do not use “it” as a filler. The correct wording is:

Xiàyǔ le.

If it’s raining heavily, don’t talk about raining cats and dogs or pitch forks, simply say:

Xià dà yǔ le.

Similarly, when you hear rolling thunder, you would say:

Dǎ léi le.

看到 (kàndào) means to see or to catch a glimpse of something.
大家 (dàjiā) means everybody or everyone.
(dōu) is an adverb that indicates the action is performed by mulitiple subjects.
(zài) has multiple meanings and uses. Here, it is added to the main verb to form the progressive tense.
(pǎo) is the verb “to run”.

Action words such as “rain”, “run”, “walk” and “stay” do not normally take an object. They are called intransitive verbs. This leads us to our next simple sentence pattern:

V. Noun + Intransitive Verb

Xiǎo gǒu pǎo le.
The puppy has run away.

Dàjiā dōu lái le.
Everybody has come.

Bàba zài shuìjiào.
Dad is sleeping.

Just as in English, the pronoun “you” is omitted from a statement issued in the imperative tone. Here are different ways to ask someone to sit down:

Sit. (Sit down.)

Qǐng zuò.
Please, sit. (Sit down, please. Have a seat, please.)

Qǐng shàng zuò.
Please, sit on the high (VIP) seat.

Acutally, all you have to remember is: 请坐. (Qǐng zuò. Sit down, please.) The above three statements are often cited to ridicule those people who look down upon the poor and fawn on the rich and powerful. Please note that in the above sentences, the word 请. (qǐng) is placed in front of the verb. Do not say, “坐,请. (Zuò, qǐng )”, as you would in English.

This is a good time to review the five sentence patterns that have been presented so far. As you acquire new Chinese words, think about how you would fit them into one of these sentence structures. It is so much easier to remember a new word when you can associate it with a meaningful context.

Soup, anyone?

Soups are an important part of Chinese meals. Whereas in western countries soup is usually served at the beginning of the meal, at a formal Chinese dinner the large soup bowl is normally presented as the last course. Sometimes, more than one soup would be served. In some Chinese provinces, people take so much pride in their soups that, when they invite a friend over for dinner, intead of saying:

Lái wǒ jiā chīfàn.
Come to my home to have a meal.

they would say:

Lái wǒ jiā hē tāng.
Come to my home to drink soup.

(fàn) is cooked rice. (mǐ) is raw, uncooked rice.
(chī) means to eat. (cháng) means to taste. 尝尝 (chángchang) is a colloquial way of saying “to taste a bit of”.
吃饭 (chīfàn) literally translates to “eat rice”, but this term genearlly means to have a meal.
(hē) means to drink. 喝水 (hē shuǐ) means to drink water.
(tāng) is a soup. Do you like 馄饨汤 (húntun tāng wonton soup)? (gēng) or 羹汤 (gēng tāng) is a thick soup, like a clam chowder or a bisque. (nóng) stands for thick, dense or creamy (when referring to a bisque).
(guō) is a pot or a pan used for cooking. So, 饭锅 (fàn guō) is a rice cooker, and 汤锅 (tāng guō) is a pot for cooking soup .
掀起 (xiān qǐ) is a verb that means to lift up.
(gài) is a cover or a lid. 锅盖 (guō gài) is the lid of a pot or pan. (gài) also serves as a verb that means to cover an object.
(ràng) means to let or to permit.
(xiāng) means good-tasting or good-smelling.
餐厅 (cāntīng) is a restaurant. 餐厅的 (cāntīng de) means “that which pertains to a restaurant”.
好像 (hǎoxiàng) means “seems like” or “be like”. 一样 (yīyàng) means the same, or equally alike. These two terms are often paired together when likening one thing to another.

Now, read the following sentences. Do you recognize our Sentence Patterns I and IV? If you would like to sing these lines to the tune of the lively “Lift your Veil” song, then repeat the last two lines.

Xiān qǐ nǐ de guōgài lái.
Lift up the lid of your wok.

Ràng wǒ chángchang nǐ de tāng.
Let me have a taste of your soup.

Nǐ de gēng tāng nóng yòu xiāng ya,
Your soup is so creamy and tasty.

Hǎoxiàng nà cāntīng de yīyàng hǎo.
It’s as good as that from a restaurant.
(Your soup is like that from a restaurant, both being equally good.)

When you watched the video for the 泥娃娃 (Ní Wáwa Clay Doll) song referred to in my last post, did you not wish that pinyin were displyed along with the Chinese lyrics? The good news is that, with a little work, you can make your own lyrics sheet to use when singing along with that song. So, here is your homework assignment for this week: Create a lyrics sheet for the 泥娃娃 (Ní Wáwa Clay Doll) song by putting all the relevant Chinese characters into a Windows Notepad file. Follow the above format for placing the lines of Chinese characters and the corresponding pinyin. Type in your own English translation as well. As I mentioned before, you will need to use the Save As function to save the text file in the UTF-8 format. With the printout laid before you, it will be easier for you to practice writing the Chinese characters and sentences by hand.

For the above exercise, you can find all the needed characters in my previous posts, except for (zhe). This character has multiple meanings and uses. What concerns us now is its function to help indicate the progressive tense. For example, 喝著 (hē zhe) means “to be drinking”, and 爱著 (ài zhe) means “to be loving”. Therefore, 我永远爱著她. (Wǒ yǒngyuǎn ài zhe tā) translates to: “I’ll be loving her always”.

Have you filed your tax returns?

While “Sentence Pattern I” we talked about last week takes a little getting used to, the following sentence pattern is more intuitive to an English-speaking person because it shows the “be” verb explicitly. You can use it to assign a characterization to someone or something.

III. Noun + (shì) + Adjective ending in (de)

Zhè chāopiào shì jiǎ de.
This paper bill is forged (counterfeit).

Tā de tóufa shì hēisè de.
Her hair is black colored.

Nà bùshì zhēn de.
That isn’t true. (or) That isn’t real.

(bù) means “no” or “not”. You can put it in front of any verb to negate the indicated status or action.
Please note that 不是 (bùshì) is pronounced “bú shì”. In fact, whenever (bù) is followed by a 4th-tone character, it will take on the 2nd tone; and it sounds much better that way.

The following sentence pattern also works the same in English and Chinese.

IV. Noun (subject) + Trasitive Verb + Noun (object)
The action word in this sentence structure is called a transitive verb because it takes an object. For example:

(yǒu) is the verb “to have” or “to possess”.
没有 (méiyǒu) means “not tohave” or “to be without”.

Tā yǒu yī zhī xiǎo gǒu.
He has a puppy (small dog).

Tā yǒu hěn duō péngyǒu
He has many friends.

Wǒ méiyǒu jiākè.
I don’t have a jacket.

In the above sentences, the puppy, the friends and the jacket are the objects of the verb “to have” or “not to have”. When referring to an animal, we use 一只
(yī zhī) instead of 一个 (yī gè).

Now, click on the following link to listen to the first of the three songs sung by four talented little girls. Clay Dolls
This song provides a good review of the Sentence Patterns II and IV that we have discussed in this and the previous lesson. I hope it will also inspire you to learn the new words listed below:

(ní) means mud, clay or plaster.
娃娃 (wáwa) means a baby or a doll. Therefore, 泥娃娃 (Ní wáwa) is a clay doll.
眉毛 (méimao) are the eyebrows. 眼睛 (yǎnjīng) are the eyes.
不会 (bùhuì) means “unable to”, “not capable of”, or “not likely”.
(zhǎ) means to blink or wink.
鼻子 (bízi) is the nose. 嘴巴 (zuǐba) is the mouth.
说话 (shuōhuà) means to blink or wink.
(zhēn) means real or true, and (jiǎ) means phony or untrue.
(ài) means to love. 亲爱的
(qīnàide) means “dear”.
(zuò) means to do something, or to act as someone.
永远 (yǒngyuǎn) means forever.

To bring you down to earth, here’s a friendly reminder to file your U.S. tax returns by next Monday (April 18, 2011):

Nĭ bàoshuì le méi?
Have you already reported your taxes?

(bào) means to report or to announce. It is also used to refer to a report,
报告 (bàogào), or a newspaper, 报纸 (bàozhǐ).
(shuì) is the word for taxes or duties.
(le) is an auxiliary word that indicates the completion of an action.

He happy?

“A woman wife is my sharp.”

I see you scratching your head. You know every word in this sentence, but this line simply doesn’t make sense – until you unscramble it to read: “My wife is a sharp woman.” This goes to show that, to make a meaningful statement, it’s quite important to put the words in the proper order. Shooting out the words any which way just won’t cut it.

Over the ages, each population sharing the same language has arrived at a concensus about what “sounds right”. When you are learning a new language, it is natural to want to apply the language rules with which you are familiar. This is why pidgin English was prevalent among the coolies who came over from China in the 19th century and early 20th century to earn a living. To make the statement: “He is happy.”, someone might say:

Tā kuàilè.

Therefore, to put it in English, he would say, “He happy.” This sounds perfectly all right to the Chinese ear.

In a similar way, if you simply superimpose English grammar onto Chinese words, your statements may become jumbled and difficult to understand. I think this is a good time to caution you against trying to translate your English statements into Chinese verbatim. Instead, please focus on the meaning you wish to get across and put the relevant Chinese words and phrases into the proper Chinese sentence patterns.

Fortunately, human minds work more or less alike, and you will be pleasantly surprised that many sentence patterns are similar in English and Chinese. Last week we learned two simple sentence patterns. To make them more concise, we will employ the names of the parts of speech, such as nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, etc. You know that the name of anyone or anything you can see or feel or think about or talk about is considered a noun. We will let the term “Noun” also represent noun phrases such as “my beautiful wife”. A word or phrase that describes a noun is an adjective. A word or phrase that modifies an adjective or a verb is an adverb. I will rewrite the first two sentence patterns as follows:

I. Noun + Adjective

Tā de yǎnjing dà.
Her eyes are large.

Please note that the “be” verb is omitted in this Chinese sentence pattern, which is commonly used when one wishes to express one’s feeling or opinion about someone or something.

If her eyes are large and bright, you would say:

Tā de yǎnjing dà yòu liàng.
Her eyes are large and also bright.

(yòu) means “also” or “again”. It may be used singly or in a pair, such as in: 又大又亮 (yòu dà yòu liàng large and bright as well).

Listen to the song “Lift Your Veil” by clicking on the link below, and see if you can pick out the sentences that follow the above sentence pattern. This song is fully annotated in “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” to illustrate the use of adjectives.

Lift Your Veil (video)


You may insert an adverb to qualify the description. For example, (hěn) means “very”, and (tài) means “exceedingly”.

Fēngniǎo hěn kěài.
Hummingbirds are very lovely (cute).

Wǒ de nǚyǒu hěn piàoliàng.
My girlfriend is very pretty.

Tā tài xiǎoqì le!
He is too stingy!

II. Noun + (shì) + Noun

Tā shì xiàozhǎng.
He is the school principal.

Wǒ xiānsheng shì yī wèi lǎoshī.
My husband is a teacher.

Wǒ tàitai shì gè línglì de nǚrén.
My wife is a quick-witted woman.

This sentence pattern works the same in English as in Chinese. The noun phrases may contain optional adjectives. To show respect to teachers, we use 一位 (yī wèi) instead of 一个 (yī gè)

How would you describe yourself? Also find some nice words to describe your family and your friends. As for the people you don’t like, there are plenty of appropriate words in your dictionary for them as well.

What’s your IQ?

April Fools’ Day is called 愚人节 (yúrén jié). (jié) stands for a holiday or a festival. 愚人 (yúrén) is the abbreviation of 愚笨的人 (yúbèn de rén), which means a foolish person, or a fool.

愚蠢 (yúchǔn), 愚笨 (yúbèn) and (bèn) all mean stupid or foolish.
(dāi) means dim-witted or wooden-headed.
(shǎ) means stupid or muddle-headed.

Therefore, there are a few additional ways of saying “a fool”.

傻子 (shǎzi) A foolish person.
呆子 (dāizi) A dim-witted person.
傻瓜 (shǎguā) A foolish melon.
笨瓜 (bènguā) A stupid melon.
呆瓜 (dāiguā) A dim-witted melon (a wooden head).
笨蛋 (bèndàn) A stupid egg.

You can tell from the above examples that the Chinese don’t hold melons and eggs in high esteem. While a parent may say “小傻瓜 (xiǎo shǎguā little fool)”, to his or her own child in an endearing way, please don’t call anyone a melon or, worse, an egg.

Of course, all of us want to be regarded as being intelligent and smart.

聪明 (cōngmíng) means intelligent or sharp.
伶俐 (línglì) means clever or quick-witted
头脑好 (tóunǎo hǎo) means to have (good) brains.
脑筋好 (nǎojīn hǎo) means to have a good mind.
有智慧 (yǒu zhìhuì) means to possess wisdom.

Correspondingly, you may refer to a bright person as follows:

聪明的人 (cōngmíng de rén) An intelligent person.
伶俐的人 (línglì de rén) A clever or quick-witted person.
头脑好的人 (tóunǎo hǎo de rén) A smart person.
脑筋好的人 (nǎojīn hǎo de rén) An intelligent person.
有智慧的人 (yǒu zhìhuì de rén) A wise person.
智者 (zhì zhě) A sage. The word is a formal word used to refer to a person.

The Chinese word for IQ, the Intelligence Quotient, is 智商 (zhìshāng). I believe that, whatever IQ you start with, the process of learning a new skill, such as a foreign language, will add a few points to your malleable intelligence and education quotient.

Now let’s fit some of the above words into a couple simple sentence patterns.

I. Someone or something + a description

Tā cōngmíng.
He is intelligent.
Wǒ de xiǎohái nǎojīn hǎo.
My child is bright.

II. Someone or something + be + optional description + someone or something

Shéi shì nĭ de xīn shàng rén?
Who’s your sweetheart?

Tā shì yī gè fùqin.
He is a father.
Tā shì yī gè yǒu zhìhuì de rén.
He is a wise person

Nĭ shì yī gè cōngmíng de rén.
You are a smart person.

Pòhuài huánjìng shì yúchǔn de xíngwéi.
Damaging the environment is a foolish action.

破坏 Pòhuàimeans to damage or to destroy.
环境 (huánjìng) is the environment.
行为 (xíngwéi) means action or behavior.

Often, 一个 (yī gè) is shorted to (gè), as in:
Nĭ shì gè cōngmíng de rén.
You are a smart person.

As an exercise, please make a sentence that says, “He is happy.” Also make a sentence that says, “My wife is a quick-witted woman.”

While it’s not so easy to write or input the Chinese words, you could make sentences by looking for the needed Chinese characters in my current and previous posts then copying and pasting them into Windows Notepad. Use the Save As function to save the text file in the UTF-8 format so the Chinese characters will display properly when you open the file later.

By the way, if you’re inclined to play an April Fools’ joke on someone, be sure to say this afterwards:
Wǒ zhǐshì kāi ge wánxiào de.
I’m only joking.

Hopefully, you will get this gracious response:
No problem. (That’s all right.)

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