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Grammar Talk: The use of 是…的 (shì…de) Sentence Structure in Chinese

In our ‘Chinese Made Simple Level 1 course’, we studied the grammar structure of ‘是…的 (shì…de)’. In this article, we’re going to elaborate a bit more about it.

The ‘是…的 (shì…de)’ combination has the function of emphasizing information. It’s similar to the English ‘It is (that)…’, and is therefore often used to indicate either a fact or past incidents which have been confirmed to have happened. To help make this clearer, below is a short summary of the use of the structure.

‘Main topic + 是+ information emphasized + 的’

  • To emphasize the content in between ‘是(shì)’ and ‘的(de)’
  • ‘是(shì)’ will always be put right before the information to be emphasized
  • ‘的(de)’ will always be at the end of the sentence
  • Equivalent to ‘it is (that)…’ in English
  • Often used to indicate a fact or past incidents
  • Main topic can be anything the sentence is talking about, e.g. subject, objects, etc.


(wǒ shì wǔ nián qián rènsh Lìli de.)
It was 5 years ago that I knew Lily.

(Nǐ zuótiān shì zěnme lái jīchǎng de?)
By what method did you come 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.)
Mother made that dish.

‘Main topic + information emphasized + 的’

In some cases, (shì)’, from the structure “Main topic + 是+ information emphasized + 的”, can actually be omitted without distorting the sentence’s meaning.


(Wǒ hé Dàshān (shì) zuótiān yìqǐ qù de.)
It was yesterday that me and Dashan went together.

(Zhè bēi hóngchá (shì) wǒ tèyì mǎi gěi nǐ de.)
I specially bought this red tea for you.

However, when the the sentences include too much content, omitting ‘是(shì)’ could make it unclear as to which is the ‘main topic’ and which is the ‘information’. Therefore, in these situations,(shì)’ should be used to clearly divide between the ‘main topic’ and ‘information’.


(Wǒ hé Xiǎohóng shàng zhōu zài kāfēitīng jiànmiàn de.)
Me and Xiaohong met in a cafe last week.

The above example is not clear about which information is emphasized, as it could mean any of the following:

(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.

‘Main topic + 不是 + information emphasized + 的’

Lastly, to express the negative form for the sentence structure ‘main topic + 是 + information emphasized + 的’, simply put ‘不(bù)’ before ‘是(shì)’, to make it 不是(búshì)’.


(Wǒmen zuótiān bú shì zuò dìtiě huí gōngsī de.)
It was not by taking the tube that we came to office yesterday.

(Zhè ge lǐwù bú shì sòng gěi lǎoshī de.)
This gift is not for the teacher.

The grammar structure of ‘是…的 (shì…de)’ may seem confusing at first, especially the part where you can opt to omit ‘是’, but once you master this, you will be able to express emphasis in your sentences better. This can only help you make your Chinese clearer and is part of your journey as a student in trying to sound like a native Chinese speaker.

Winkie Wong

Passionate about teaching and as a Chinese speaker, Winkie is also qualified with the Certificate of Proficiency in Putonghua by the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority. She's now dedicated to offering Chinese lessons on ChineseQQ, via Skype and face to face. Her students are from various backgrounds, levels and ages.

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