Exploring Emphasis: Understanding the ‘是…的’ Structure in Chinese Grammar
If you’re a beginner Chinese learner looking to delve beyond the basics and start creating more dynamic sentences, look no further! In our Chinese Made Simple Level 1 Course, we recently introduced the 是…的 (shì…de) sentence structure, which is used to add emphasis.
In this article, we’ll take an even closer look at this construction and provide some useful examples to help you incorporate it into your daily Chinese speech.
Let’s start with a brief overview of the 是…的 (shì…de) structure.
Structure 1: Main topic + 是+ emphasized information+ 的
The 是…的 (shì…de) structure is formed by combining the main topic, 是 (shì) to emphasize a piece of information, and 的 (de) at the end of the sentence. This structure serves to highlight the content between 是 (shì) and 的 (de) and is equivalent to the English phrase ”it is… (that).” It is commonly used to indicate facts or past events. The main topic can refer to any other elements in the sentence, such as subjects or objects.
(wǒ shì wǔ nián qián rènsh Lìli de.)
It was 5 years ago that I knew Lily.
(Nǐ zuótiān shì zěnme lái jīchǎng de?)
How is it that you came to the airport yesterday?
(Wǒ shì zài Měiguó niàn dàxué de.)
It’s in the U.S. that I studied university.
(Zhè kuài shǒubiǎo shì sān bǎi kuài mǎi de.)
This watch was bought at 300 RMB.
(Zhèxiē píngguǒ shì zài nǎli mǎi de?)
At what place were these apples bought?
(Cài shì māma zuò de.)
Mom made that dish.
Structure 2: Main topic + emphasized information + 的
Sometimes, you can omit 是 (shì) from the structure without changing the sentence’s meaning.
(Wǒ hé Dàshān (shì) zuótiān yìqǐ qù de.)
It was yesterday that Dashan and I went together.
(Zhè bēi hóngchá (shì) wǒ tèyì mǎi gěi nǐ de.)
I bought this red tea specially for you.
However, if the sentence contains a lot of content, leaving out 是 (shì) can create confusion between the main topic and the emphasized information. So, in such cases, it is advisable to use 是 (shì) to clearly distinguish between the main topic and the information being emphasized.
For instance, consider the ambiguity in the following example:
(Wǒ hé Xiǎohóng shàng zhōu zài kāfēitīng jiànmiàn de.)
Me and Xiaohong met in a cafe last week.
This sentence could have various interpretations without specifying which piece of information is being emphasized. It could mean:
(Wǒ shì hé Xiǎohóng shàng zhōu zài kāfēitīng jiànmiàn de.)
It was Xiaohong that I met last week in a cafe.
(Wǒ hé Xiǎohóng shì shàng zhōu zài kāfēitīng jiànmiàn de.)
It was last week that me and Xiaohong met in a cafe.
(Wǒ hé xiǎo hóng shàng zhōu shì zài kā fēi tīng jiàn miàn dí.)
It was at a cafe that me and Xiaohong met last week.
To ensure clarity, it is essential to use 是 (shì) in these situations. By employing the 是…的 (shì…de) structure, you can precisely convey the intended emphasis and avoid ambiguity in your Chinese sentences.
Structure 3: Main topic + 不是 + emphasized information + 的
To create the negative form of the 是…的(shì…de) structure, simply add 不 (bù) before 是 (shì), forming the structure 不是… 的(búshì…de).
(Wǒmen zuótiān bú shì zuò dìtiě huí gōngsī de.)
It was not by taking the subway that we came to office yesterday.
(Zhè ge lǐwù bú shì sòng gěi lǎoshī de.)
This gift is not for the teacher.
At first, the grammar structure 是…的 (shì…de) may appear perplexing, particularly the option to omit 是(shì) in certain situations. However, mastering this structure empowers you to convey emphasis more effectively in your sentences. By doing so, you can improve your clarity in Chinese and embark on a journey towards sounding like a native speaker. Tackling new and difficult grammar structures is an essential aspect of the learning process, so embrace it and watch as your Chinese fluency flourishes.
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