Commonly used Chinese Grammar Particles

One of the various misconceptions about Mandarin Chinese language is that it has no grammar. However, despite not having noun declension, verb conjugation and many other types of typical structures for European languages, Chinese grammar is still highly structured.

Here are some words used in the most common sentence patterns.


Commonly used Chinese Grammar Particles

1. 是(shì)

是(shì) is used to connect two nouns.

我是老师。(Wǒ shì lǎoshī.) – I am a teacher.

In this case, it is translated as “to be”. Unlike the English verb “to be”, it is not conjugated. Also, you can’t use 是(shì) to connect a noun and an adjective. For this purpose, the word 很(hěn) is used.

她很好。(Tā hěn hǎo.) – She is fine.

Sometimes 很 (hěn) may be translated as “very”, but in the vast majority of situations it is just a way to link a noun to an adjective and carries no significant meaning.

2. 都(dōu)

都(dōu) appearing after the subject and before the verb means “all”. You may be surprised how often it is used in sentence patterns where it would not be necessary in English.

她们都很好。(Tāmen dōu hěn hǎo.) – They are (all) fine.

3. 的(de)

The 的particle, when it is placed after a noun, a pronoun or a noun phrase, marks possession. Do you remember personal pronouns that we learnt last time [link]? By adding 的 after any of them, you will get a Chinese possessive pronoun: e.g., 我的 (wǒ de) – my; 他们的 (tāmen de) – their.

For beginners, using 的(de) and 得(de) may seem confusing. There are many grammatical points associated with得(de). However, the most common is the sentence pattern with 得(de) used as a structural particle with complements.

说得很好 ( shuō de hěn hǎo) – to say well

4. 了(le)

Another frequently used Chinese particle is 了. Depending on context, this word can express many things: from ongoing action to change of state, to action completion. It may also indicate “excessiveness”:

太贵了 (Tài guìle!) – Too expensive!

5. 要(yào)

要(yào) as an auxiliary verb has multiple meanings. It also appears in many sentence patterns related to future.

我要买这个东西。(Wǒ yào mǎi zhège dōngxi.) – I am going to buy this item.

6. 有(yǒu)

有(yǒu) expresses existence or possession.

我有狗。(Wǒ yǒu gǒu.) – I have a dog.

右边有狗。(Yòubiān yǒu gǒu.) – There is a dog on the right.

Remember that 有(yǒu) is negated differently from most Chinese verbs. For negation of 有(yǒu) the particle 没(méi) is used, while 是(shì),要(yào) and many other verbs can be negated with the particle 不(bù). To reply in the affirmative, 对(duì) is often used as a positive response or as a part of tag questions with 吗(ma) and 吧(ba).

他有很多钱, 对吗? ( Tā yǒu hěnduō qián, duì ma?) – Does he have much money?

对, 他有很多钱。(Duì, tā yǒu hěnduō qián.) – Yes, he has a lot of money.

7. 在(zài)

在(zài) expresses either existence (location) in a certain place or action in progress.

她在外面。 (Tā zài wàimiàn.) – She is outside.

他在说话。 (Tā zài shuōhuà.) – He is talking.


Both classical Chinese and modern Chinese contain a number of grammatical particles. If you know more, share them with us!

Oksana Ermolaeva

Oxana Ermolaeva is a freelance writer, editor and translator from Russia. She loves studying new languages and cultures. Her special interest is Chinese language. She owns a page on Facebook and a website about learning Chinese. Now she is also running a channel Hacking Chinese Characters at Dig Mandarin.