Mastering Existential Sentences(存现句) in Mandarin

Let’s now look at ‘存现句’, which are called Existential Sentences. Existential Sentences are an especially useful structure in Mandarin. Chinese people use it to express the existence, appearance, or disappearance of someone or something. It is similar to the ‘There is’ grammatical structure in English, though it is not exactly equivalent.

Existential Sentences follow a structure that is used to express that someone or something exists, appears, or disappears somewhere. Usually, it consists of three main parts: the Front Part indicates ‘a place’, the Middle Part uses Verbs which express ‘existence/appearance/disappearance’, and the Final Part indicates ‘someone or something’. If this sounds abstract, then the concrete grammatical form can be expressed as:

‘Place+ Verb + Object’

*(Verb: for existence or appearance or disappearance)

*(Object: Something or Somebody)

Let’s look at some specific examples:

1) 书包里有一本书。(Shūbāo lǐ yǒu yì běn shū.

There is a book in the schoolbag.

2) 墙上挂着一件衣服。(Qiánɡshànɡ ɡuàzhe yí jiàn yīfu.

There is a piece of cloth on the wall.

3) 小河旁边是一条大马路。(Xiǎohé pánɡbiān shì yì tiáo dàmǎlù.

Beside the creek, there is a road.

4) 家里来了几位客人。(Jiālǐ láile jǐ wèi kèrén.

Several guests came to my house.

5) 鱼缸里死了一条金鱼。(Yúɡānɡ lǐ sǐle yì tiáo jīnyú.

A goldfish has died in the fish tank.

From those sentences above, (1)、(2)、 and(3) express existence, (4)expresses appearance, and(5)expresses disappearance. According to the concept of Existential Sentences above, they can be summarized in the following chart:

existential-sentences

1. For the Front Part of the Sentence

This part is structured as ‘Noun + Locality Words’ to indicate a place.

Examples: 桌子上(Zhuōzi shànɡ)on the table,杯子左边(Bēizi zuǒbiɑn)the left of the cup,房间里(Fánɡjiān lǐ)inside the room,etc.

2. For the Middle Part of the Sentence

We use ‘有’, ‘V着’, ‘是’ to connect the front and final parts of the sentence to indicate existence, showing a state or a mode, while ‘V了’ usually shows a dynamic meaning that indicates appearance or disappearance.

3. For the Final Part

The Object is definitely needed in this structure to complete the Existential Sentence, and usually is uncertain or impermanent (except in Example (3) above).  There is usually no modifying adjective before the Object, and the elements before it are usually a Descriptive or Numerical phrase.

Other notes:

1). Generally speaking, in Existential Sentences, the front of the whole structure should follow ‘Noun + Locality Words’,and prepositions such as ‘在’, ‘从’ and so on cannot be used.

2). Time words could exist before the Front Part in Existential Sentences as an adverbial modifier, but are really unnecessary.

E.g.

家里来几位客人。(Jiālǐ láile jǐ wèi kèrén.

 Several guests came to my house.

刚刚家里来几位客人。(Gānɡɡānɡ jiālǐ láile jǐ wèi kèrén.

Just now, several guests came to my house.

3). The Object is often uncertain except in ‘是’ sentences. In a ‘是’ sentence, there is only a singular thing or person that is certain.

E.g.

小河旁边是一条大马路。(Xiǎohé pánɡbiān shì yì tiáo dàmǎlù.

Beside the creek, there is a road.

商店后面是超市。(Shānɡdiàn hòumiɑn shì chāoshì.

There is a supermarket behind the shop.

To conclude, we’ve learned that the structure of Existential Sentences consists of three parts, and each has its own usage and structural rules. In addition, we have also pointed out some key points that you need to watch out for while constructing Existential Sentences.

 

Cecilia He

Cecilia majored in teaching Chinese as a foreign language. She has vast experience in educating her students on how to listen to and speak Chinese, and is trained to teach HSK courses. She has mastered the method and practice of teaching the structure, historical development, and relationships of languages as an academic subject, and has also done extensive research on Intercultural Communication and Sinology.