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:

他快乐.
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

她的眼睛大.
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:

她的眼睛大又亮.
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)

Hummingbird

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

蜂鸟很可爱.
Fēngniǎo hěn kěài.
Hummingbirds are very lovely (cute).

我的女友很漂亮.
Wǒ de nǚyǒu hěn piàoliàng.
My girlfriend is very pretty.

他太小氣了!
Tā tài xiǎoqì le!
He is too stingy!

II. Noun + (shì) + Noun

他是校长.
Tā shì xiàozhǎng.
He is the school principal.

我先生是一位老师.
Wǒ xiānsheng shì yī wèi lǎoshī.
My husband is a teacher.

我太太是个伶俐的女人.
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.

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