One of the various misconceptions about the Mandarin Chinese language is that it has no grammar. However, despite not having noun declension, verb conjugation, and many other types of typical structures seen in European languages, Chinese grammar is still highly structured. Different from many other languages, Chinese doesn’t have many form changes in the words, but the whole sentence structure and its order change. Chinese grammatical particles are the key you can’t miss.
These grammatical particles usually have no real meaning by themselves. They are often attached to the words, phrases, or sentences to help construct the sentence or serve certain functions. Nouns, verbs, and adjectives are often easier to understand and memorize since they do have concrete meanings. These grammatical particles are often a tough task for Chinese learners. There are various types of particles. Some help express tone of voice. Some help with the formation of a sentence. Some help indicates the tense. They are just too essential and practical to ignore. The good news is all of these particles have fixed patterns and uses, which make them handy. As long as you get familiar with these particles, you won’t get lost in them.
Chinese Aspectual Particles 动态助词
Unlike English, Chinese doesn’t change the tense directly by changing the form of the verbs. There are particles which help express tense in Chinese. The aspectual particle is often put after a verb or an adjective to indicate the states of action or change. The most commonly used particles are 着，了，and 过.
着 is often used after a verb to indicate the continuation of an action or state. The common structure is Subject + Verb + 着（+ Object）.
门开着。(Mén kāizhe.) The door is open.
地上坐着一只狗。(Dìshàng zuòzhe yī zhī gǒu.) A dog is sitting on the ground.
他穿着一件长袖。(Tā chuān zhe yī jiàn cháng xiù.) He is wearing long sleeves.
When 着 is used with words like 在 or 正在, it indicates the present progressive tense .
我正在做着饭，他就来了。(Wǒ zhèngzài zuòzhe fàn, tā jiù láile.) I was cooking when he came.
他在公园里听着歌呢。(Tā zài gōngyuán lǐ tīngzhe gē ne.) He was listening to music in the park.
我们正在思考着这件事。(Tā zài gōngyuán lǐ tīngzhe gē ne.) We are thinking about this.
As a particle of tense, 了 indicates the completion of an action and is often put after a verb.
昨天我买了两件衣服。(Zuótiān wǒ mǎile liǎng jiàn yīfu.) I bought two pieces of clothing yesterday.
早上我喝了一杯咖啡。(Zǎoshang wǒ hēle yībēi kāfēi.) I had a cup of coffee in the morning.
我中午去了公园，没去图书馆。(Wǒ zhōngwǔ qùle gōngyuán, méi qù túshū guǎn.) I went to the park at noon and didn’t go to the library.
过 is used in the past tense. It’s usually put after a verb to indicate it has happened before. The verbs that 过 is used with have certain limits. Verbs of recognition and verbs that only happens once can’t be used with 过.
我去过北京。(Wǒ qùguò běijīng.) I have been to Beijing.
你吃过饺子吗？(Nǐ chīguò jiǎozi ma?) Have you ever eaten dumplings?
我们学过这本书。(Wǒmen xuéguò zhè běn shū.) We have studied this book.
Chinese Structural Particles 结构助词
Structural particles are the words often attached before or after certain words to indicate the structure of the sentence. And in modern Chinese, 的，地，and 得 are the most commonly used structural particles, which have the same pronunciation, but different uses.
的 is one of the first few Chinese characters we learn at the beginning. It’s actually also the first grammatical particle we meet. As a structural particle, 的 is used after an attribute and before a noun as an attributive marker.
…… + 的 +Noun
- 我的口红 (Wǒ de kǒuhóng) my lipstick
- 学校的书 (xuéxiào de shū) the school’s book
- 漂亮的鸟 (piàoliang de niǎo) beautiful bird
- 吃的东西 (chī de dōngxi) things to eat
- 妈妈做的饭 (māma zuò de fàn) mom’s cooking
Even some native Chinese speakers often misuse 的 and 地. They both can be structural particles. 地 is often used after an adverbial modifier as an adverbial marker.
Adjective / Adverb + 地 + Verb phrase / Adjective
学生们努力地学习。(Xuéshēngmen nǔlì de xuéxí.) The students study hard.
老师认真地上课。(Lǎoshī rènzhēn de shàngkè.) The teacher takes the class seriously.
我早早地去学校了。 (Wǒ zǎozǎo de qù xuéxiàole.) I went to school early.
When 得 is used as a structural particle, it’s often used between the verb and the complement.
Verb + 得 + Complement
他总是回来得很晚。(Tā zǒng shì huílái de hěn wǎn.) He always comes back late.
她写字写得不错。(Tā xiězì xiě de bùcuò.) She writes well.
你的话我听得很清楚。(Nǐ dehuà wǒ tīng de hěn qīngchǔ.) I heard your words very clearly.
现在的孩子懂得很多。(Xiànzài de háizi dǒngde hěnduō.) Today’s children know a lot.
Chinese Modal Particles 语气助词
To express the tone of voice, we usually use a modal particle. They are often used in the middle or end of a sentence, and sometimes, they are even used independently. In many cases, one modal particle can express more than one tone. Therefore, it’s critical to understand the context. Here we will mainly introduce the five Chinese modal particles used in daily life.
吗 is used as a modal particle to indicate the questioning tone. With 吗, the question is usually a yes-no question. Sometimes, it can also be a rhetorical question.
这是你的书吗？(Zhè shì nǐ de shū ma?) Is this your book?
我可以借一点儿钱吗？(Wǒ kěyǐ jiè yīdiǎnr qián ma?) Can I borrow a little money?
那家饭店便宜吗？(Nà jiā fàndiàn piányi ma?) Is that hotel cheap?
这不是我的家吗？你怎么在这儿？(Zhè bùshì wǒ de jiā ma? Nǐ zěnme zài zhèr?) Isn’t this my home? Why are you here?
他难道不是你的朋友吗？(Tā nándào bùshì nǐ de péngyǒu ma?) Isn’t he your friend?
你认真的吗？那首歌好听吗？(Nǐ rènzhēn de ma? Nà shǒu gē hǎotīng ma?) Are you serious? Is that song good?
呢 is different from 吗. 呢 cannot be used in a yes-no question. But it’s still a very common particle that can indicate a question. 呢 is often used in alternative interrogation, positive-negative interrogation, and specific interrogation.
谁能帮我拿东西呢？(Shéi néng bāng wǒ ná dōngxī ne?) Who can help me carry something?
你在这喝酒，你妻子在哪儿呢？(Nǐ zài zhè hējiǔ, nǐ qīzi zài nǎr ne?) You are drinking here, where is your wife?
你想吃苹果还是葡萄呢？(Nǐ xiǎng chī píngguǒ háishì pútáo ne?) Would you like to eat apples or grapes?
他爱你。你爱不爱他呢？(Tā ài nǐ. Nǐ ài bù ài tā ne?) He loves you. Do you love him or not?
Besides questions, 呢 can be used in a declarative sentence too. It’s often used with 在，正在， and 正 to indicate that the action or situation is in progress.
我正在洗澡呢，你等一下。(Wǒ zhèngzài xǐzǎo ne, nǐ děng yīxià.) I’m taking a shower, wait a minute.
他正睡觉呢，小声点。(Tā zhèng shuìjiào ne, xiǎoshēng diǎn.) He’s sleeping, so be quiet.
我们在开会呢。(Wǒmen zài kāihuì ne.) We are in a meeting.
When 吧 is used at the end of a interrogative sentence, it indicates a tone of guessing and estimation. The speaker may have some estimate in mind, but is not sure about it.
我们好像见过面吧？(Wǒmen hǎoxiàng jiànguò miàn ba?) Looks like we’ve met, right?
你的工作都完成了吧？(Nǐ de gōngzuò dōu wánchéngle ba?) Is your work done?
这次考试不难吧？(Zhè cì kǎoshì bù nán ba?) This exam is not difficult, is it?
飞机大概九点到上海吧？(Fēijī dàgài jiǔ diǎn dào Shànghǎi ba?) The plane arrives in Shanghai at about nine o’clock, right?
吧 is also often used in imperative sentence that indicate a tone of urging, demanding, requesting or suggesting. The tone becomes more soft when using 吧.
我们结婚吧。(Wǒmen jiéhūn ba.) Let’s get married.
你们去玩吧，我不去了。(Nǐmen qù wán ba, wǒ bù qùle.) Go and play, I’m not going.
你快去道歉吧。(Nǐ kuài qù dàoqiàn ba.) Go and apologize.
啊 might be the most natural modal particle that all learners know. It can be used at the end of a sentence to strengthen the tone of it. Sometimes, it can also be put after the subject in spoken language to indicate a pause in the speech.
你儿子啊，总是不写作业。(Nǐ érzi a, zǒng shì bù xiě zuòyè.) Your son, he never does his homework.
你家人也来啊？太好了！(Nǐ jiārén yě lái a? Tài hǎole!) Is your family coming too? Great!
谁在敲门啊？(Shéi zài qiāo mén a?) Who is knocking on the door?
这个地方真漂亮啊！(Zhègè dìfāng zhēn piàoliang a!) This place is so beautiful!